This was a presentation I made to the Capital (Oklahoma City, OK) Baptist Association pastors conference on July 13, 2015. I was asked to work it up as a blog for the Church Planting website of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. It was posted on their website in two sections on August 10th and 18th, 2015.
About 20 years ago I was introduced to the concepts taught by futurist Joel Barker. One story he told was about the watch industry and the shift from “mainsprings and gears” to “quartz”.
“In 1968, Switzerland had 65% of the world market share and according to expert estimations, more than 80% of the profits. Yet, just ten years later, their market share had fallen below 10% and in the ensuing three years, they had to release 50,000 of their
65,000 watch workers. Today, Japan dominates the world of watch making. In 1968, Japan had virtually no market share. The Swiss watch industry was put back to zero by a paradigm shift. The Quartz Movement watch: Totally electronic. A thousand times more accurate than the mechanical watches it replaced. Battery powered. All new rules.
“The Swiss themselves invented this revolutionary design at their research laboratories in Neu-Chatel. Yet, when their own researchers presented this idea to the Swiss watch manufacturers in 1968, they rejected it. After all, it didn’t have any bearings. It didn’t require a lot of gears. It didn’t even have a mainspring. It had none of the marvelous mechanical complexity the Swiss were so good at. Therefore, it couldn’t possibly be the future of watches.
“So confident were the Swiss manufacturers in that conclusion, that they didn’t even protect the idea. Later that year, the researchers displayed that watch for all to see at the World Watch Congress. Seiko of Japan walked past, took one look, and the rest is history. Pages 13-14, Classic Consolidation 1.4, 8/2/01, Copyright 2001, Joel A. Barker.”
The point he was making is that when there is a paradigm shift “everything goes back to zero”. We are in a huge paradigm shift or as Reggie McNeal so poignantly states, a “hinge of history”. Everything is going back to zero, so maybe we need to go back to where it started and see what “zero” was like in the New Testament. I see at least four characteristics I would like to highlight.
- Go and Tell versus Come and Hear
In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says “As you are going develop followers who will obey”. We have focused on drawing people into our worship experience to hear the pastor.
We have focused on creating “seeker services”. Whether they be seeker sensitive or seeker friendly the impetus is to make those outside the church want to come to our church.
Even when we move outside the walls of the traditional church into homes our focus is on drawing people to where we are. Last year the Billy Graham organization promoted a process where it “invited church members to become Matthews, inviting neighbors into their homes”.
The New Testament paradigm was to go. Jesus modeled this as He went to the Temple (Matthew 21:12), the well at Samaria (John 4:7), and the Gaderene demoniac (Matthew 8:28). I love the passage in Acts 8:1 which tells us that as a result of the death of Stephen the lay people scattered sharing the Gospel while the clergy (Apostles) stayed in Jerusalem.
Jesus didn’t ask his disciples to be “Matthews”. He asked Matthew, a new Christian, to open his home to a “party” for his friends. Jesus went to where the ugliest of that society lived. The religious elite had real problems with this.
Where is God scattering us?
- Dependence on the Spirit versus Dependence on apologetics or persuasive arguments
We have developed some great apologetics and tremendous literature which has served us well in the old paradigm. The great arguments of past days as to whether God was Dead only heightened our need for these apologetic tools.
As a Type A high D task driven extrovert I resonate with the Nike logo “Just Do It”. I have trouble sitting around and waiting. Let’s get after it. When people say that the reason that we are not succeeding is that we are not doing enough they are speaking my language.
And yet, I wonder if I am trapped in Einstein’s definition of insanity – continuing to do the same (only more and harder), expecting different results.
How much prayer really takes place at the Wednesday Prayer meeting?
Prayer and dependence on the Spirit’s leadership are going to be paramount in this new paradigm. In Luke 10:1 we see Jesus sending out the 72, telling them to listen to the Spirit and as the Spirit opens the door share. If the Spirit has not been at work in the home where they go, then they are to go to another home.
Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said, “If I had five minutes to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first three sharpening my ax.” How much time do we spend in prayer seeking the Spirit before we go out and “do”?
The focus is on finding the Person of Peace who will open up their home and serve as an entry into their community. Jesus instructed His disciples (us) to seek these people and use them as conduits to the larger context where they have influence and we do not.
What doors is the Spirit opening?
- Starting where they are versus Starting where we would like for them to be
Many times our evangelistic strategy has been to “rescue the sinner”. The “turn or burn” mentality with which we have been labeled has too often been true. We presume those with whom we talk have a basic Christian understanding and world view. I am convinced that is no longer true in the American context.
We often presume others around us have our Christian background and that may be true for you, although I doubt it. When I was the Executive Director of Missions (DOM) in Tarrant (Fort Worth, TX) Baptist Association we discovered that 7 out of 10 people do not go to church anywhere and 56% indicated that they were not Christians. When people told me that everyone they knew was already a Christian, I would tell them that they “needed to get a life” and not live such a sheltered existence.
An article I recently read says that most of those around us have already decided not to go to our church. Jesus told his disciples to shake the dust from their sandals and move on. Maybe it’s time for us to broaden our horizons and look for where God is leading – not the easy road of the perceived “low hanging fruit” that surrounds our church building.
I think that the growing reality in this reflected in the conversation I had with a young woman when I asked her about her faith background. Her response was, “My grandmother was a Catholic”. Peter, in his famous sermon, started by saying, “what you see was predicted long ago” (Acts 2:16). Paul as he witnessed to King Agrippa said, “you are especially knowledgeable about all Jewish customs and issues” (Acts 26:3), Paul as he share on Mars Hill pointed out the unknown God they worshiped (Acts 17:23) and went from there. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture (Isaiah) he preached Jesus to him. (Acts 8:35 NASB)”. In this new paradigm we are going to have to determine where the people are and start the “gospel”, the Good News, there in order for them to really hear and understand.
In spite of the fact that “Secular Humanism” is the religion of choice of most American’s (including many who claim to be Christians) evidence shows that this generation is highly spiritual – we don’t have to convince them of the existence of a spiritual world. We need to allow the Spirit to use us to start where they are, helping them find Him.
An interesting phenomenon is that Boomers are looking at church again. Many are seeking spiritual things again for the first time in fifty years. The cause of this renewed interest is that they are facing end of life issues. Their trend is to go back to the church of their youth, but if they find the church of their youth they are not staying.
My son, a businessman, said recently, “We need to be venture capitalist rather than money managers”. Are we willing to “risk it all” or are were holding on hard to what we have in the hopes that continuing to do what we have done (only harder and more aggressively) will produce better results.
What is the “beginning” in the context where you are?
- Focus on the Group versus Singling out the Individual
In our Western frontier mentality we value the heroic individual, but even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.
Often we focus on the individual. In fact, much of our evangelistic effort has been to help someone find Jesus and then bring them into out circle of influence. Our theology says that Jesus died for each of us and each of us has to repent of our sin. Our desire to “rescue the sinner” has caused us to pull them out of their “sinful world” into our…”sinful world”. Yes that is right, we are all sinners and we continue to be such. Since all sin is equal in God’s eye, our world is really not any better than theirs. I would suggest that God would rather them become transformational agents in their world rather than abandon their circle of influence and join ours.
This new paradigm is highly relational and values the group. We see this mirrored time and again in the New Testament: the jailer and his family (Acts 16:32), Paul went to the Synagogue (Acts 13:14), Lydia and the women by the river (Acts 16:13), etc. Jesus did not invite one of His disciples to be a “Matthew” and open up his home. Matthew as a new believer (and a “man of peace” as reflected in Luke 10:6) invited his friends to a party at his home and asked Jesus to come (Mark 2:15).
David Watson’s new book Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery opened my eyes. A summary of this book is on my website at tomlaw.org. Watson show us how to get back to the basic relational aspects of our faith, where one person who has found Jesus helps someone else find Him guiding that person to then disciple someone else in their circle of influence. Millennials are tribal. The group (their group) is important to them. We need to use these relational avenues to open up whole new areas of culture and society that may be closed to us.
What home is the Spirit opening, where the person of peace is inviting their friends to come to their home so that we can have the opportunity to share the gospel through them to this new community?
As we evaluate our methods and plans maybe it would be good for us to use metrics like the ones mentioned to help us set the course for what we are doing. Where is the Spirit moving (have we prayed for His direction and discernment)? Are we ready to GO to the GROUP the SPIRIT has prepared, sharing with them FROM THE BEGINNING, so they can understand how to respond to the Spirit’s pull on their heart?
My prayer is, “Help us Lord to listen to your Spirit, go where He tells us, and share with those He has prepared so that Your Word will spread”.
Thomas L. Law, III
(Tom served as missionary church planter for 21+ years with the Foreign/International Mission Board before becoming the Executive Director of Tarrant Baptist Association – Fort Worth, Texas. After retiring, he served as the Interim Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa.)
http://www.oklahomachurchplanting.com/zero-part-1/ (First section posted August 10, 2015)
http://www.oklahomachurchplanting.com/zero-part-2/ (Second section posted August 17, 2015)