Monday, May 29, 2017

Don't Sweat It, for the Kingdom of God is Real

Monroe County

If you are looking for summer reading I recommend Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation. I finished it this morning. It's touching, moving, deep, and inspiring.

I have highlighted many things. I'm going to slow-cook more in this book by re-reading all I highlighted.

God is addressing me in many ways through Willard's life. One is my need to do my best in obedience to God, and then to leave the results to him. I still worry too much about results. My worrying adds nothing to the outcome, but subtracts from the wellness of my soul.

Mindy Caliguire writes:

"One of Dallas’s greatest gifts to me personally was his repeated, if simple, challenge to place my confidence in the reality of the kingdom...  Whatever part I have to play in this world, I will do it with all the intensity and passion I have to offer. But not with more than I have to offer. And having made my offering, I can let go of the outcomes. I can rest. I can both care and not care." (Kindle Locations 2812-2817)

Kent Carlson writes:

Dallas "continually trusted that the kingdom of God was real, active, operative and advancing all the time. Since this was true, it was not dependent on him or anybody to make it real, active, operative or advancing. Therefore there was no need for worry, anxiety, manipulating, controlling, rushing about or “making it happen.” Certainly we are to work, and to work hard. This is neither an invitation to laziness nor to passivity. Rather, it is an invitation to a life lived in actual confidence in God." (Kindle Locations 2897-2900)

Keith Meyer quotes Dallas as saying, "Leave the results to God - don't sweat it."

The process looks like this.

1. To the best of my knowledge, I have heard from God.

2. To the best of my ability, I have obeyed God.

3. To the best of my faith, I leave the outcome to God.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Show Up on Sunday Mornings

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Redeemer sanctuary

Studies show that people who call themselves Christians are going less and less to Sunday morning worship experiences. This phenomenon is part of the general colonization of secular, individuated culture, in the Church. Like the alien who found a host in the astronaut, anti-Christness lives in the belly of the American Church. (If you doubt this read The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher.)

Christians who go less and less on Sunday mornings are being occupied and secularized. Secular culture places no worth on Jesus-followers gathering together. Sports leagues for kids is but one example of paganism successfully colonizing the Church. (See here.)

This is tragic, because if you are a Jesus-follower, then you are one of the "called-out" (
ek-kaleo; ekklesia) people of God and his Kingdom. You are part of The Movement. You are the Church.

"Church" is a tribal thing. We see this in the little word "you." In the letters of Paul, "you" is almost always plural. This is significant.

Tribal Church is seen in the "body of Christ" passages of 1 Corinthians 12-13-14. We are members of one Body. We need one another. None of this is about individual happiness. In Scripture there is no true blessedness unless it is corporate blessedness.

Hebrews 10:25 says, Do
not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. Today the word "some" has become "many," and in the days ahead "many" will become "most." At that point, pagan individualism will have won the day, at least in the Western Church.

Meet with your family members. And plug in. Get active. Stop being a mere attender. Be a contributing body part. Stop saying your church does little for you; start doing much for your tribe.

Be exorcised of Western consumerism. Church is not something you either like or don't like (like salad dressings). It was never about that.

Don't forsake gathering as Church. If you forsake Church gatherings you are abandoning your spiritual brothers and sisters. And you are forsaking your core identity as a follower of Jesus.

Jesus did not say "I will build individuals," but "I will build my Church."

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Uninterested, Uninvolved God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, argues Rod Dreher in The Benedict Option, has won in the West; Mere Christianity has lost.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is, argues U of Notre Dame's Christian Smith, the de facto, default religion of American teenagers today. MTD's core beliefs are:

1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.

2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Smith writes:

"Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents. This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of a sovereign divine, of steadfastly saying one’s prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God’s love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, etc. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people."

The God of MTD is "one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in our affairs—especially affairs in which we would prefer not to have God involved. Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance."

I meet MTD-ers all the time in my MCCC philosophy classes. Some even think they are Christians, or that the worldview of MTD is the worldview of Jesus. The reason for this is that, while MTD is not an official, organized religion, MTD is "colonizing" other religions. Think now of the alien in the astronaut's body who is waiting to bust out of his chest.

Read Smith's entire article for the details. See also Smith's book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

One more quote from Smith:

"When teenagers talked in their interviews about “grace,” they were usually talking about the television show Will and Grace, not about God’s grace. When teenagers discussed “honor,” they were almost always talking about taking honors courses or making the honor role at school, very rarely about honoring God with their lives. When teens mentioned being “justified,” they almost always meant having a reason for doing something behaviorally questionable, not having their relationship with God made right."

For Smith's research project see National Study of Youth and Religion. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Join Me at the Holy Spirit Renewal Conference - June 25-29

Holy Spirit Renewal Conference
Coming Soon ~ June 25-29 
Teamwork couple hikers success in sunset mountains accomplish with arms up outstretched. Young man and woman on rocky mountain range looking at beautiful inspirational landscape view Gran Canaria Canary Islands.

There's a whole new world waiting to open up to you this summer at the
Holy Spirit Renewal Conference, Green Lake, Wisconsin.
Come and receive strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
Great is God's faithfulness!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

There Probably Was a Global Flood

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See the New York Times, "Looming Floods, Threatened Cities."

“I don’t think the biblical deluge is just a fairy tale,” said Terence J. Hughes, a retired University of Maine glaciologist living in South Dakota. “I think some kind of major flood happened all over the world, and it left an indelible imprint on the collective memory of mankind that got preserved in these stories.”

I Don't Believe in Fairies Either (On the Conceptual Confusion of Unlearned Atheists)

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Small Plates restaurant, Detroit

David Bentley Hart, in The Experience of God (Yale University Press), writes something related to my post "It's False That an Atheist Just Believes in One Fewer God than a Theist Does." Hart states (pay attention here):

"At a trivial level, one sees the confusion in some of the more shopworn witticisms of popular atheism: “I believe neither in God nor in the fairies at the bottom of my garden,” for instance, or “All people are atheists in regard to Zeus, Wotan, and most other gods; I simply disbelieve in one god more.” Once, in an age long since vanished in the mists of legend, those might even have been amusing remarks, eliciting sincere rather than merely liturgical laughter; but, even so, all they have ever demonstrated is a deplorable ignorance of elementary conceptual categories." (Hart, The Experience of God, p. 33)

When you do a philosophy degree, you regularly meet, interact, and dialogue with atheists and theists. In all my years of studying I never heard one of my atheist professors compare their God-disbelief with fairy-disbelief, or disbelief in Zeus. The proliferation of these silly quotes are the result of not-so-brights invading the intellectual atheist camp. It's embarrassing! (Remember atheist Michael Ruse's embarrassment at Richard Dawkins's God Delusion?)

In the real discussion about God's existence or non-existence these quotes mean nothing. Let me help the unscholarly atheist out of their conceptual confusion by quoting Hart once again.

"Beliefs regarding fairies are beliefs about a certain kind of object that may or may not exist within the world, and such beliefs have much the same sort of intentional shape and rational content as beliefs regarding one’s neighbors over the hill or whether there are such things as black swans. Beliefs regarding God concern the source and ground and end of all reality, the unity and existence of every particular thing and of the totality of all things, the ground of the possibility of anything at all." (Ib.)

If you understand that ,then you've been set free from all those cute quotes about fairies, Zeus, Osiris, "my invisible friend," the Flying Spaghetti Monster," "we atheists just believe in one less god than you," and so on and on and...

Seeking Knowledge, or Just Doing Research?

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Linda's piano/vocal students - May 2017

In my college Logic classes I told my students that critical thinking helps us arrive at the truth or falsity of statements (claims, beliefs). We want to know if our beliefs are true.

I loved talking with students about logic and truth. Many of them had never heard such talk before, and seemed confused by it. They were especially boggled by the idea that, in logic, if a statement is true, it is true for everyone.

For example: Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This statement is true, which means: the described state of affairs obtains. If it obtains, it obtains for everyone. Thus, regarding statements, there is no "true for you, but false for me" discussion.

Logic is a tool that can help us evaluate and formulate what we can know. It is precisely this claim to knowledge that troubles students, since it seems arrogant. Dallas Willard (USC Prof. of Philosophy) understood this. He wrote:

"It is not irrelevant that contemporary institutions of higher education see themselves not as knowledge institutions, but as research institutions. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, when people no longer believe in truth, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in research." (Willard, Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation, Kindle Locations 1273-1278)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Feeling God's Presence (The Presence-Driven Church)

Redeemer sanctuary

"When I entered your church's sanctuary I felt the presence of God."

Over my twenty-five years at Redeemer I have heard these words many times, in many variations, spoken by people new to our Jesus-community.

"I sensed God's peace as I approached your building."

"I encountered God's power as I worshiped with your people."

"Surely the Lord is in this place."

I experience this, too. This is how it should be. Jesus-followers encounter, regularly, the earth-shattering presence of God.

This is not about a physical building, but about a people who host the presence of God. Remember how Jesus changed the whole Temple thing from a physical structure to a people, individually (1 Cor. 3:16) and corporately (1 Cor. 6:19). (In the first verse the word 'you' is singular; in the second verse the word 'you' is plural.) God has come to dwell among His people, to inhabit His lovers, in their singular hearts, and in their plural midst.

This is a visceral, experiential reality, and not just a theory or a propositional truth. One
feels God, within and without.

As God lavishly pours out His love into our hearts, this is, precisely and Hebraically, best understood as a feeling. (Note: part of my evangelical heritage is to pause at this point and warn me about the dangers of "feelings." I respond to this by noting the dangers and vacuity of theory and intellect without feelings. I want to know God-feelings as experience, since experience, not theory, breeds conviction. All talk about God's "love" is meaning-deficient if it does not include feeling.)

Consider these words from Robert Barclay, written in 1701.

"When I came into the silent assemblies of God's people, I felt a secret power among them, which touched my heart. And as I gave way to it, I found the evil in me weakening, and the good lifted up. Thus it was that I was knit into them and united with them. And I hungered more and more for the increase of this power and life until I could feel myself perfectly redeemed." (Barclay - see
here, p. 357; cited in Richard J. Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, Kindle Locations 302-304)

Welcome God's presence into your life today.

Host the earth-shattering presence of God.

Get ready to "know," in the sense of to "feel."

Dallas Willard and the God Who Is Near

Dead tree in my backyard

For anyone who has been influenced by the life and writings of Dallas Willard here is required reading - Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teachings on Faith and Formation. This book is a collection of thirty people who knew Dallas, and their gratefulness to God for his friendship.

Two Evangelical Friends pastors recommended it to me at the conference last week. One of them said he has read it three times. I can see why. I just picked it up and am halfway through it. Along the way I have been touched by many things, including the reflections on Dallas's life and integrity. Reading these testimonials makes me want to be a better person.

Dallas believed that reality is far bigger than what can be accessed via the five physical senses. He believed we could know reality, to include spiritual realities. In support of this thesis Dallas drew heavily on phenomenological philosopher Edmund Husserl. And, he drew upon personal experiences that corroborated it.

Here is one story of an experience Dallas had with God.

"One evening, following a special service on campus, Dallas had an unexpected encounter with God...  a vivid experience with the presence of God. “It stayed with me for days, weeks. It never left me really,” Dallas said. “After that I never had the feeling that God was distant or had a problem hearing me.” That night when they went to bed, Jane related, Dallas exclaimed, “There is an angel at each corner of the bed.” Dallas added, “I did not have an image but a sense that they were there.”"  (Willard, Eternal Living, Kindle Locations 183-188)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

How To Hear the Voice of God

Monroe (D & J's home)

Often people ask me the question "How do I hear the voice of God?" A related question is, "How do I know it's God speaking to me and not just myself or some other voice?" In brief, here's my response.

1. Abide in Christ. Dwell with God. Spend much time with God. There's simply no substitute for this. For about "Mc-hearing" God. God can't be fast-fooded. Hearing the voice of God is largely an acquired thing. Analogically, I spend much time talking with Linda and listening to her. The result is that I know her heart, and her heart's desires, very well.

2. Saturate yourself in Scripture. The greater one's familiarity with Scripture is, the greater one will be able to know when it's God speaking and not something else. Begin by saturating yourself in Matthew-Mark-Luke-John. Try reading these over and over and over, slowly and meditatively, for a year. I did it recently for two years and found it very helpful. Read the four Gospels as if you've never read them before. As you read them, when God speaks to you, write it down in a journal.

3. Hang around people who do 1 and 2. Meet with other Jesus-followers who actually pray. Talk together about what you feel God has been saying to you. It won't do any good to talk to people who don't spend time alone with God. You'll just end up speculating about theology. They won't have a clue about what it means to hear the voice of God. Meeting together with people who do 1&2 provides corporate discernment. One can learn a lot about hearing God in such an environment.

Additionally - Don't multi-task the God-relationship. Spend much time with God... alone. Just you and God. Face to face. Heart to heart.

If you're unfamiliar with this, my recommendation is: just start doing it. In the process you'll learn what this is about because God so much wants you to know Him experientially and relationally.

One very good book on hearing the voice of God is: Dallas Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.

See also my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Many Who Leave Christianity Don't Know What They Have Left

"New social science research indicate[s] that young adults are almost entirely ignorant of the teachings and practices of the historical Christian faith." (Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, p. 2)

Seventeen years of teaching philosophy at our local college confirms this, for me. Even most students who call themselves Christians don't know what historic Christianity is.

The "nones," Millennials who say they have left Christianity, are ignorant of what they claim to have abandoned.

None: "I left the Christian faith."

What is the Christian faith?

None: "I don't know."


None: "I left a caricature of Christianity, which was not historical Christianity."

The ignorance of the "nones" extends to their "noneness." They don't believe, and don't know why. Or, they don't believe, and then google to find a reason why they don't believe, and then present that reason as a justification for unbelief. (This especially applies to nones raised in legalistic, fundamentalist environments.) 

Socrates, in an appeal to critical thinking, said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Most, he said, would rather be pigs who are nonreflective but satisfied. Socrates would rather live the examined life, even if it dissatisfied him.

That was 2500 years ago. Since then, no progress has been made.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Pride and Shame

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Dead tree, in my backyard

I tell my seminary students that they still have too much pride. I say this because I believe it to be true. So do you.

So do I.

This includes, obversely, having too much shame.

Pride and shame are two sides of the same coin. The coin is self-obsession. Pride and shame are both forms of self-obsession. Pride says, "I am great and to be admired," and shame says, "I am  despicable and deserving of neglect."

The antidote to self-obsession is humility. Humility is produced as one abides in Christ and is transformed into greater and greater Christlikeness. The humble person discards the coin of self-obsession, knowing it has no cash value in the kingdom of heaven. The humble person is therefore the free person, having been rescued out of their subhumanity.

Proud and shameful people cannot love others purely, being tainted by their need to be recognized. A humble person does not need to be recognized; therefore, they are free to recognize others. 

Non-Discursive Experiences of God

Kitty Hawk, NC

A non-discursive experience is an experience that is felt and "known" as real, but which cannot be captured in the steel nets of literal language. One has such experiences, but cannot discourse about them. (On religious experiences that "I know that I know that I know" but cannot speak of, see James K.A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues.)

I experience God in a variety of ways, many of which are non-discursive. This is how it should be, right? None of us has epistemic access to the being of God. We have no clue about what it's like to be all-knowing, or all-loving, or all-powerful.

The expression of a non-discursive experience is confessional and testimonial. There is a sense in which it cannot be refuted. What does this mean? Say, for example, that I now feel joy. I make the statement, “Now I feel joy.” It would be odd, in a Wittgensteinian-kind of way, for someone to say “You’re wrong.” That would be leaving the language-game I’m now playing. (Wittgensteinian “playing” is what I have here in mind.)

Consider the statement, “I felt God close to me today.” Even a philosophical materialist could not doubt that today I had some kind of numinous experience which I describe as God being with me. They could and would doubt that what caused my experience was “God.” I understand this. But their doubt has no real effect on my experience and the interpretation of it. Their doubt does not make me a doubter, precisely because I am not a philosophical materialist. I see no reason to disbelieve my experiences because others do not have them. This relates, I think, to Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne's "principle of credulity."

At this point I’m influenced by theistic philosophers Alvin Plantinga and William P. Alston. For them, belief in God is properly basic if the noetic framework of Christian theism is true. Plantinga’s work on “warranted belief” and Alston’s work on the “experiential basis of theism” is helpful here. Alston writes: “the relatively abstract belief that God exists is constitutive of the doxastic practice of forming particular beliefs about God's presence and activity in our lives on the basis of theistic experience.” I realize that sentence may need a lot of unpacking. Suffice it to say here that, for Alston, experiential support for theism is analogous to experiential support for belief in the physical world.

Alston explains what he means by “theistic experience.” He writes:

I “mean it to range over all experiences that are taken by the experiencer to be an awareness of God (where God is thought of theistically). I impose no restrictions on its phenomenal quality. It could be a rapturous loss of conscious self-identity in the mystical unity with God; it could involve "visions and voices"; it could be an awareness of God through the experience of nature, the words of the Bible, or the interaction with other persons; it could be a background sense of the presence of God, sustaining one in one's ongoing activities. Thus the category is demarcated by what cognitive significance the subject takes it to have, rather than by any distinctive phenomenal feel.”

For Plantinga, if the noetic framework of Christian theism is true, then I can expect to experience God. On this noetic framework God exists, has made us in his image, has placed a moral consciousness within us, has revealed himself in the creation, and desires for us to know him. Plantinga, of course, believes this noetic framework is true. As do I. One then expects experiential encounters with God. They come to us, as Alston says, like sense-experiences.

This is to argue for the rationality of theistic experiences. One can have “warrant” for the belief that such experiences are from God. But these experiences do not function as “proofs” of God’s existence.

Non-discursive experiences, and experiences in general, cannot be caught in the steel nets of literal language. “Experience” qua experience has what French philosopher Paul Ricoeur has called a “surplus of meaning.” “Words” never capture all of experience. Never. All experiencing has a non-discursive quality. Here the relationship, if any, of words to experiencing leads to volumes of discussion in areas such as linguistic semantics and philosophy of language.

Even a sentence as seemingly simple as “I see a tree” is, phenomenally, incomplete. Consider this experience: sitting on an ocean beach watching the sun set with the person you are falling in love with. Ricoeur called such experiences “limit-experiences”; viz., experiences that arise outside the limits of thought and language. But people want to express, in words, these events. For that, Ricoeur says a “limit-language” is needed, such as metaphorical expression. So-called “literal language” cannot express limit-experiences.

Every person has limit-experiences that move into the arena of non-discursiveness.

I believe that experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Theorizing either for or against God is not as convincing as the sense of the presence of God or the sense of the absence of God. This is precisely why, in spite of all my previous and ongoing theoretical studies about God, I keep returning to my “conversion experience.”

Among the God-experiences I consistently have are:
- A sense that God is with me
- Numinous experiences of awe and wonder (not mere “Einsteinian wonder”)
- God speaking to me
- God leading me
- God comforting me
- God’s love expressed towards me
- God’s Spirit convicting me
- God directing me
- Overwhelming experience of God
- God revealing more of himself to me

These experiences are mediated through:
-Corporate worship
-Solitary times of prayer
-Study of the Christian scriptures
-Observing the creation
-In difficult and testing situations

And sometimes I have experienced God in an unmediated way.

I discern and judge such things to be experiences of God because:
-I spend many hours a week praying
-I have heavily invested myself in prayer and meditation for the past 40 years
-I saturate myself in the Christian scriptures
-I have studied the history of Christian spirituality
-I keep a spiritual journal and, over the past 3 years, have 3000+ pages of journal entries having to do with God experiences and the voice of God to me
-I hang out with a lot of people who do all of the above
- I've taught and yet teach this stuff in various seminaries, at conferences, in the United States & elsewhere around the world. Thus I've gained a multi-ethnic perspective on the subject of experiencing God.

All the above seem to me to increase one’s diacritical ability (dia-krisis; “discernment”; lit. “to cut through”). Spiritual diacritical ability is mostly acquired. Discernment is in direct proportion to familiarity.

My book on prayer is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church will be published this summer.

Presence-Driven Pastors Tend, Not Run, the Garden

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Snow falling on my back yard

A Presence-Driven Church is organic.

The soil is the hearts of the people.

The people are taught to abide in Christ.

God is the seed planter.

In the Christ-abiding connection, God sows dreams and visions, course correction and direction, into the hearts of the people.

The Presence-Driven Pastor is not threatened by this. They welcome and nurture it, like parents caring for a newborn baby. The Presence-Driven Pastor is like an expectant parent who prays for this child to be born, prepares a room for it to flourish, and celebrates its arrival.

This is Real Church, a community where everyone (not just the pastor) gets to play. Everyone is part of the movement. Everyone is a leader. When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

To allow this you must let go of control. Which is hard for an Entertainment-Driven Pastor to do. (Hard for many of us, right?) These pastors control the Studio Church. The many are not as talented or as beautiful or as camera-friendly as the few. So they run the garden, rather than tend it. The people are spiritually lobotomized, becoming an audience of outsiders. The Entertainment-Driven Pastor of the Consumer Church has been seduced and trafficked by the American honor-shame hierarchy.

This is, Eugene Peterson writes, a dark vocational shift. It is the "radical fall from vocational holiness to career idolatry," which "goes undetected by all but the serpent." (Eugene Peterson, Eugene H., Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 7)


I am now writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church. (Summer 2017)

The Twofold Task of a Presence-Driven Pastor

Kitty Hawk pier

The task of a pastor in a Presence-Driven Church is twofold:

1. Enter into God's presence and dwell there; and
2. Introduce your people to the presence of God in such a way that they abide there.

That will be enough because, as Howard Thurman once wrote, everything is available in the presence of God. To abide in God's presence is to live a fruit-bearing life.

Beyond this, nothing is needed. As Eugene Peterson writes:

"God and passion. That is why I was a pastor, that is why I had come to this place: to live in the presence of God, to live with passion — and to gather others into the presence of God, introducing them into the possibilities of a passionate life." (Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 45)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

(I'm re-posting this for my new friends from the conference in Kitty Hawk. Thank you so much for inviting me to be with you these past few days! Here are some things that are important to me about leading "church." These are core ideas that will be further spelled out in my forthcoming book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.) 

-      John Piippo


I pastor a Presence-Driven church, not a Program-Driven or Purpose-Driven church.[i] I am taken by the possibility that “church” (the people of God) can actually be guided, be led, by the Spirit of God. If this is true, then the primary thing a pastor is to do is connect with God, as a lifestyle. A pastor must resolutely abide in Christ. (John 14-15) This means that a presence-driven pastor has time, even much time, to pray.

Then, a pastor must shepherd his people into the presence of God, into the abiding relationship with Christ. It is precisely in this mutual-indwelling intimacy that the Spirit leads, loves, and heals.

I view my church community as an experiment in being-led by God. As this happens one result is that the people will recognize that the One doing the leading and producing the fruitfulness is not some great human genius, but the brilliance of God himself. This corporate realization will ignite worship.
If something like this isn’t true, then I fear we’re just leading our own selves. I’ve personally been there, done that, and don’t want to go there again.

Here are some things about how I think about Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

1.  The “Presence Motif” in Scripture

In the First Testament the greatest thing for a person to know,  experientially, is God’s presence. To experience God. Hebrew “knowing” (yadah) is essentially experiential.

Moses, In Exodus 33:15-16, appeals to God this way:  And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” 
Here we have what some have called “the presence motif.” The presence motif is, for example, the hermeneutical key to the book of Exodus.

The presence motif prevails throughout Scripture. The reason “better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” is precisely because of God’s desired, radiant, earth-shattering presence. Isaiah woefully wilts when he is encountered by the presence of God in the temple (Isaiah 6). In the gospels the reason the Temple will no longer stand, said Jesus, is because the religious leaders “shut the door to the kingdom of heaven.” God’s reigning presence is no longer there!

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee writes: “For Paul the Spirit, as an experienced and living reality, was the absolutely crucial matter for Christian life, from beginning to end.” (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit In the Letters of Paul, 1.) This is about the presence of God’s Spirit, not some theoretical understanding of God.

I assume that God’s Spirit both desires to and is capable of leading the Church. God wants to “go before us”; we, then, are to follow after God.
God is the Chief Architect of all he is doing. God desires to be The Builder. We read in Psalm 127:1 that “unless the Lord build the house, those who build it labor in vain.” God wants to “build his house.” Our role is to co-labor with the building that God is constructing. In addition to this, God is building Church using people. We are, individually and corporately, living stones being mortared into God’s temple.

God is capable of leading “Church.” As all-knowing, God knows more about building than we do. As all-powerful, God is not limited as we are. God is supremely able; we are shackled with inability.

Since we have a God who desires to lead Church and have his way with us, and who has an impressive resume that indicates vast job experience and great causal and intellectual capabilities, it makes logical sense that we allow God to lead us.

2.  The One Thing God’s Subordinate Leaders Must Do

The primary thing a pastor, a leader for Christ, must do is: dwell in God’s presence, and must resolutely abide in Christ. We see these concepts in both the First Testament and the Second Testament.

In the First Testament we have the idea of “the presence of God,” especially in the Temple. In the Second Testament we have the idea of “abiding in Christ” as given by Jesus, and the “in Christ” status of Paul’s letters.
I have an acronym I use to describe a Jesus-follower’s job description: 







·                     I will follow Jesus' final instructions to his disciples, given in John chapters 14-16. The results will be that...
·                     I am a branch, connected to Jesus the True Vine
·                     My life will be fruit-bearing
·                     I will experience his love
·                     I will experience his peace (not "peace" like our world gives)
·                     I will experience his joy
·                     With Christ in me I do the things that Jesus did
·                     I will not go up and down according to the circumstances of life
·                     I will not be a conference-dependent or book-dependent follower of Jesus
·                     I will live in expectation. Today, and this week, could contain a watershed moment. Anything good and amazing can happen to the Jesus-follower who lives attached to Jesus, who lives "in Christ."


·                     I will take the Book and read
·                     I will meditate on the biblical text
·                     I will slow-cook in the teriyaki sauce of God's thoughts and God's ways and God's promises
·                     I will shut my ears to our hyper-wordy world and attend to the deep words of Scripture
·                     I will fix my eyes, not on things seen, but on things unseen
·                     I will be illuminated by God's Spirit
·                     God's Spirit will escort my heart to its true home


·                     God has much to say to me this week
·                     Today, I have "ears to hear"
·                     I will be alert
·                     I will live with ears wide open
·                     When God speaks to me, I will write it down in my journal
·                     I will remember the words of the Lord, to me
·                     God will tell me that he loves me
·                     God will shepherd me
·                     God will lead me in paths of righteousness, not for my glory, but for his sake


·                     God will direct my paths
·                     God will make my paths straight
·                     The inner "GPS" ("God Positioning System") is turned on
·                     Where he leads me, I will follow
·                     I will experience life as an adventure
·                     In obedience to God, my life finds meaning and purpose


This is the primary “job responsibility” of pastors and Christian leaders. Without this a pastor will be irrelevant and inauthentic.

3.  Teach A.S.L.O to Your People

The number 1 thing individual Jesus-followers need, and the corporate body of Christ needs, is God. Therefore, out of their own intimate, relational familiarity with God and God’s Spirit, pastors will introduce their people into the presence of God and the abiding life in Christ.

Pastors “shepherd” their people into God’s presence (First Testament); pastors “shepherd” their people into the Jesus-connection. People are taught how to be “branches” connected to Jesus, the True Vine. (John 14-15) As this happens, much “fruit” will come forth.

A pastor must cultivate this in his/her people by introducing them to The Connected Life. This will include teaching them how to hear the voice of God. I teach our people how to hear God’s voice like this:

1.   Spend much time in God’s presence.
2.   Saturate yourself in Scripture
3.   Hang around (be in community with) people who do 1 and 2.

NOTE: Eugene Peterson wrote, in The Contemplative Pastor, that there was two things I could do as a pastor: 1) I can be a pastor who prays; and 2) I can be a pastor who preaches the Word of God.  (K172)

4. The Presence-Driven Church Nurtures Its Distinctiveness, Not Being “Relevant”

My observation is that the students in my MCCC philosophy classes are neither impressed nor lastingly interested in "relevant" churches; viz., churches that spend their money on being, e.g., an Entertainment Church in the middle of our entertainment culture. This, I observe, is not working. There may be Entertainment Churches that are large in size, but what they have gathered is an audience, not a movement. 

For the Jesus Movement to move we must not make it our goal to "blend in." "Blending in" signifies the loss of any movement. What we must do is lock into our distinctives and go with them. Our great distinctive is this: We  have God and God's presence. We have answers to the ultimate questions. We have Christ in us, the hope of glory. That's not bad. And, BTW, the core distinctives cost no money to maintain.

Check out Yale theologian Miroslav Volf's observations about this. Volf writes:

"Christian communities will be able to survive and thrive in contemporary societies only if they attend to their “difference” from surrounding cultures and subcultures. The following principle stands: whoever wants the Christian communities to exist must want their difference from the surrounding culture, not their blending into it. As a consequence, Christian communities must “manage” their identity by actively engaging in “boundary maintenance.” Without boundaries, communities dissolve." (Volf, Miroslav. 
A Public Faith, p. 81)

The Jesus-community is different from the surrounding culture. Shore up that which is distinctive to Christian culture and strengthen that which is central.

5.  What a Presence-Driven Church will look like.

The focus will be more on worship and praying and Jesus.
There will less human striving and inventing.
There will be intensity of a different kind than the pressure to staff programs and keep people pleased.
Structural changes will happen as God leads, for God cannot and will not be confined within human governmental systems. The Holy Spirit is nonprogrammable and unpredictable. Change will be the norm.
The basic questions of the Presence-Driven Church are variations on the basic question, which is: What is God saying to us?

The variations include:
·                     Where is God leading us?
·                     What is God telling us to do?
·                     What does God think of this?
·                     What does this look like from God's perspective?
·                     Is God building this house, or are we?
·                     Are we hearing God correctly?
·                     God, what are you saying to us?
·                     What is God now doing within us?

These are the questions to ask, primordially. Agree not to do anything or build anything or move in some direction just for movement's sake, but only as God has told us to do so.

The basic requirement of anyone who is a leader should be: one who abides in Christ, and hears the voice of God. This is one of the reasons why, as leaders and as a people, we don't vote on things. If the voters don't hear from God the voting will be in vain. If God isn't allowed into the house-building, then we are striving in vain.

In some contexts simply to raise the question "What is God saying to us?" creates tension. The person who asks this might be viewed as arrogant, or naive, or uneducated as to the correct protocol at "church meetings." If this question cannot be raised, then the church will be self-guided at best, demonically inspired at worst. (
Church leaders raised on rationalism lead ministries where the supernatural, the Vertical, is suppressed and where God Himself is at best an observer and certainly seldom, if ever, an obvious participant in church.” [MacDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be., Kindle Locations 533-535])

If these questions are unfamiliar one might ask: "But how can we know what God is saying to us?" That's a good question. Optimally, as a leader you want your co-leaders to know the answer to this. Begin to instruct your people on: 

If some are skeptical that God speaks to people today (or ever), then you've got deism. At this point the church is on their own, sans the leading of God. It makes me weary to even think of this, as a pastor.

Presence-driven leaders know what questions to ask.

Presence-driven leaders expect God to lead, and anticipate acting on God’s leading. For example, if God speaks out of his presence, saying “Begin Program X,” then do it. And if God says “It’s time to stop doing Program X,” then stop it. Here’s where program-driven people often falter, since they can get more invested in “their” programs than in the commanding presence of God.

The core value of "Presence" is seen as prior to "Program" and "Purpose." If, out of abiding in God's presence, God says "Build a program," then obey and build, empowered and led by God. In the Presence-Driven Church “being” comes before “doing.”

As for "purpose," the only purpose needed is: for the sake of God and the advancing of God’s kingdom. That is, if God says "Do this" or "Go here" or "Speak this," we do not need to know the answer to the question "Why?" Obeying God is reason enough. I have found that often I do not understand the purpose behind God's leading. We might like to know, but we are not going to wait around until I get an answer.

The Presence-Driven Church is different than the Purpose-Driven Church. Presence always comes before purpose.

Action and reason (telos) emerge out of dwelling in the presence of God.

The Presence-Driven Church risks all on the following:
·                     God exists
·                     God loves us
·                     God wants to be the Leader
·                     Human vessels must follow after God
·                     It is possible to hear God, and be led by God
·                     If God does not speak, we will not act but wait (no activity for activity's sake; no panic-room, knee-jerk "doing"
·                     When God leads, we will obey

We can't program, control, or predict how the Holy Spirit will lead. The Holy Spirit will not be tamed by us. On Sunday mornings, for example, we have some of the same things in place: an opening worship song, we pray for our children, announcements (if any), praise & worship, preaching, then a time of ministry. But all this can change. Recently, during the opening song, I was drawn to a person in our sanctuary. I did not know them, but sensed God's presence doing a very good thing in them. I felt led to share this with them. For me, the worship meeting was changing before my eyes.

We begin with a simple, basic structure. That's OK and, I think, good. God often leads me to prepare this way for his manifesting presence. But within this structure there is room for the Spirit to do his thing. And He does, always, in our context. Presence-driven leaders need to become familiar with this.

In that sense we do not have an "order of service" or "program" to be followed. The reason is, while God can and does pre-order what happens in our corporate gatherings, it is God, not myself or a committee, doing the pre-ordering. We can't order or program God.

Church leaders who suppress God are in the worst place to be, pastorally. Remember that Jesus shut down the Temple because the religious templeleaders "shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Matthew 23:13)

A.W. Tozer looked at the "Program-Driven Church" in dismay. Tozer wrote in 1948:

"Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us." (A.W. Tozer, 
The Pursuit of God, Kindle Locations 46-51)

6.  What Leaders in the Presence-Driven Church Look Like

The qualifications and expectations for leaders in our church context include:
·        spends much time praying (listening and speaking) with God
·        lives life in and out of the presence of God
·        saturates in Scripture
·        hears God/listens to God
·        obeys when God directs

Our church's leaders are non-task oriented. I've cringed at church boards that are run by non-spiritual, non-praying people who rely on their own mental abilities and lead the church, instead of being led by the Spirit. This is disaster since, as Ps. 127:1 tells us, unless God builds the house we're wasting our time.

The Core Value of the Presence-Driven Church is: Abide in Christ, like a branch connected to the true Vine. Presence-Driven leaders do this, and show their people how to do this.
Presence-Driven Jesus-followers trust that, as they dwell closely to Christ, their lives, individually and corporately, will bear much fruit.

The Presence-Driven Leader (PDL) is not essentially after more "tools" for ministry. Instead, the PDL views themself as a "tool," or "instrument," or even "weapon," formed and shaped and then wielded by God.

We read in Genesis 12:4 - So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. We see here that "God calls, and we go forth in faith without a map, not quite sure where we are going, but with trust in God's promised presence." (Life With God Bible, 32)

Presence-Driven Leaders trust in God’s promised presence.

7. The Language of the Presence-Driven Church

The vocabulary of the Presence-Driven Church is different from the Program-Driven Church.

Instead of the word “success” words like “connectedness” and “obedience” are used. If “success” is used at all it is redefined in terms of connectedness and obedience, and not in terms of numbers, size, and finances.

“Success” in the Presence-Driven Church, if it is measured at all, is measured in a different way. Presence-Driven “success” is more qualitative than quantitative. “Disciple” replaces “decider,”[ii] “influence” replaces “numbers” (of attendees) and “size” (of the church budget and building), “abiding” ontologically trumps “doing,” “being instruments of righteousness” replaces “getting tools for ministry,” “discernment” replaces “decision-making” (“What is God saying to us?” rather than “What do we think we should do?” and “Let’s vote on this”); “God-storming” rather than “brainstorming”), “listening” comes before “speaking,” and “relationship” (with God) replaces “rules of order.” 

When a way of speaking has changed a culture has changed. A church’s culture will change from Program-Driven to Presence-Driven as Presence-Driven Leaders (PDLs): 1) live the Christ-abiding life themselves, foundationally and continuously; 2) lead their people into God’s empowering presence; and 3) nurture and champion the God-produced fruit-bearing. As this happens, over time, the “language-game” of the church will change. When the language has changed the reality has happened.

8. “Discernment” Is a Fruit of a Presence-Driven Church

Ruth Haley Barton writes that some pastors have the "vague sense that our approach to decision making should be different from secular models—particularly when we are leading a church or an organization with a spiritual purpose. The problem is that we’re not quite sure what that difference is. In the absence of a clear consensus, that difference often gets reduced to an obligatory devotional (often viewed as irrelevant to the business portion of the meeting) or the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting. Sometimes even these well-meaning attempts at a spiritual focus get lost in the shuffle!" (Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Kindle Locations 180-185)

This difference is: God. God's presence. God, doing the leading. God, doing the building. Because unless God builds the house, we are laboring in vain.

What's needed is: discernment. 

"Discernment," writes Barton, "in a most general sense, is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives. The apostle Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2). This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind." (Ib., Kindle Locations 186-189)

What's fundamentally needed is mind-renewing transformation. Pastors and church leaders must therefore themselves be living in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about. Barton writes:

"It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do not have this as their clear mandate and reason for existence. This raises a serious question: If we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego?" (Ib., Kindle Locations 201-205)

9. Evangelism in the Presence-Driven Church

Many years ago Jesus-rocker Larry Norman wrote a song called “Sweet Song of Salvation.” The lyrics said: “When you know a pretty story, you don’t let it go unsaid. You tell it to your children, before you tuck them into bed. And when you know a wonderful secret you tell it to your friends.”

When the fire is lit, it doesn’t have to advertised or programmed. It does, however, need to be tended.
The P-DC doesn't need an evangelism program because an abiding people encounter God. Therefore, no program is needed to stir up a heart for telling others. As we focus on abiding in Christ, Christ becomes the one who does the stirring. When the people's hearts are stirred by God, then the purpose of an evangelism program will only be to nurture and cultivate this. Teach what is already aflame. But we cannot produce the flame. Only God can do that.

We teach our people to abide in Christ. If we have any evangelism program, that's it.

10. The Cost of a Presence-Driven Church

Real Church is a People Movement led by God's Spirit.

Three signs of Real Church are:

·         The people are growing in biblical literacy (BibleLife)
·         The people are growing in Jesus literacy (JesusLife)
·         The people actually engage in praying (PrayerLife)

This will produce an organic, fruit-bearing environment.

I think it is possible to do these things for no money. The more real Jesus-following disciples a church has, the more their program expenses decrease. (I think the paid staff of a Presence-Driven Church will be smaller than a Program-Driven Church.)

So: The line item in the Presence-Driven Church’s budget for "programs" is: $0.

My new book is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

[i] I did love Rick Warren’s “purpose-driven” books. I learned much from them. I have no quarrel here. I’m making a logical and experiential point, which I feel Warren would affirm. It is: out of the experiential presence of God “purpose” is given, by God and from God.

Warren taught that God has given 
5 purposes for the Church. The community of Jesus-followers is to grow…
·    Warmer through fellowship

·    Deeper through discipleship

·    Stronger through worship

·    Broader through ministry

·    And larger through evangelism

OK. That’s good. But I think that this way of looking at things relativizes the One Thing, which is: to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. To know God, in the sense of knowing-as-intimate-relationship. To abide in Christ, and to lead others into the abiding relationship, from which all God-things come (fellowship, discipleship, etc.).
I also think that it is only within God’s presence, only as we dwell in relationship with him, that any of the above 5 purposes gain experiential credibility. Unless God shows us such things, they can remain mere theory. I have found, for example, that as I focus on John 14-type abiding, my fellowship with other Jesus-followers grows warmer. From my current pastoral POV, I believe that as I live the abiding life, and lead my people into these beautiful relational and experiential fields of the Lord, that God will bear fruit of the Spirit in and through them.

[ii] See Scot McKnight, OneLife.