Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I'm not blaming anyone for what I'm blogging about this morning. Really good people were doing the best they knew how to do. The fault is largely mine. But I was trained to be a professional. It was great training for a Constantinian world in which the church is the center of all life. But it doesn't fit our current situation of living in a post-Christian, post-modern world. One of my graduate school professors insisted that a preacher should spend one hour in study for every minute he preaches. That's great advice -- if the goal is to preach sermons. For much of my preaching life, I've preached two sermons a week. That would be 50 hours of study. While in Searcy, I preached three sermons a week. That would be 75 hours of study. I was trained to do just that. With seven years of Greek and a couple years of Hebrew along with class after class of textual studies, I was prepared to do one thing: study. I had (for the most part) incredible profs. I don't regret most of the classes. But I was never taught other things: like how to be missional, how to help form a missional church, how to pray, how to disciple people in the way of Christ, etc. Again, good people were teaching me what they knew. It wasn't them--it was more a whole system that didn't understand what we're facing. We majored in information transfer. We hardly even minored in formation and transformation. There was never any training and mentoring in how to connect with lost people, how to move Christians from consumer-demands to kingdom-service, how to start justice-based ministries, or how to plan worship that forms people and prepares to send them out in Jesus' name. It's easier to train professionals. People who know how to caretake the organization. They know how to bring about slow change. How to do studies. How to organize. Basically, how to do all the things really good businesses do. So churches have learned to rely on people who know very little about Christian mission and formation but know a LOT about professional matters. I remember taking a class on evangelism. The whole class was, of course, a study of evangelism. We spent the whole semester getting ready to perform a skit from GO YE MEANS GO ME. And there was a class on "the work of a preacher" that was basically a study of the pastoral epistles--in other words, another textual class. My class on worship studied the issues of worship and worked toward the big project: of each group preparing a devotional for one class period. I'm thinking we don't need any more professionalism. (That isn't to say, of course, that we want to give up serious study of scripture, including languages!) We need missionaries. Missionaries right here: people who can learn the language, teach the language, learn the culture, teach the culture, mentor, equip, train, reach out. Here are some realities we'll have to face: 1. Some don't want to be missional. They want the organization to work smoothly. They will leave. We need to love them as they struggle, helping them to mature beyond consumer complaints, and then bless them as they leave. Jesus didn't leave the church so everyone could be comfortable and happy; he left it as an outpost of the in-breaking kingdom. It is not safe! 2. There will be conflict as this happens. But this conflict is best resolved by people staying focused on what the central mission is. As people join hands in evangelism, in feeding people, or in training people for jobs, they tend to learn to accept one another despite differences. 3. The day of megachurches is probably coming to an end. Megachurches are great at offering services. But they haven't historically been great at forming people into the image of Christ. I'm thrilled when I hear about students (of various majors) eager to go out and start a house church. This isn't either/or. I'm committed to helping a large church. But I think the future will be smaller. 4. I hope our theological training stays rigorous: in languages, history, theology, etc. But along with all the information we must find a way to form lives. We need to keep raising up teachers who are actively involved in the mission of Christ. (And I'm discovering more and more of them!) One final word of grace here: God has used all our stumbling efforts--including my own pitiful ones--to his glory. This doesn't discount any of the sacrifices that others have made. But it's just a chance to think ahead and dream.


  • I keep noticing that you write some of your best stuff before most of us are awake! Keep it coming.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/28/2004 05:42:00 AM  

  • Thanks, Mike.

    By Blogger Brad, at 9/28/2004 06:00:00 AM  

  • Wow--the Holy Spirit is at work through your blog this morning Mike. There have been a few families from our fewllowship who have decided that the megachurch down the road is where they want to be. One family stated that things weren't happening fast enough at our church. I've been agonizing with questions, "what about community, love, support and Christ's work here?" The reminder to love these people was especially timely, because I think it's human nature to reject when you feel rejected. The weird thing is, we've never as a body been so immersed in missionary work and outreach. We are incorporating light instrumentation to an a capella assembly; we've gone from a single male song leader to a group praise team. Things are happening almost too fast for me. It's upside down, because what I hear about from these people is the great preaching, music and children's programs this other church has to offer. Christ uplifted my head this morning through your message.

    By Blogger Cindy, at 9/28/2004 06:07:00 AM  

  • We’re always learning and stretching to be like Jesus aren’t we? And that’s a good thing.

    For years mission was a word where far borders beckoned my call. Only in the last couple of years have I learned what missionaries do.

    It's learning to cross streets and become fellow explorers, sometimes guides as we journey toward Christ with those who are near and far from him. No longer am I so quick to the punch line … I simply want to create "safe places" for other explorers.

    thank you for the very honest and thoughtful post. I mentioned it on Abductive Columns this morning.

    Abductive Columns

    By Blogger Fred Peatross, at 9/28/2004 06:36:00 AM  

  • Mike, Bless you and may you continue to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit!

    What you wrote in this paragraph, imo, tells it all, from a member's point of view.

    "As people join hands in evangelism, in feeding people, or in training people for jobs, they tend to learn to accept one another despite differences."

    One of my prayers for Highland is that the demographic makeup begin to change. As we reach out to those Jesus told us to include, this change will be a given, and the "learn[ing] to accept on another despite differences' will be imperative.

    There's that word again. Inclusion! A great part of evangelism will be just that, inclusion of those that may seem different to us. Our soul and spirit are the same, it's just that God has packaged us in different containers. Learning to not only accept those differences, but learning to rejoice in God's good taste may be a challenging task.

    I'm so thankful God brought me out here on this prairie! There's nothing more thrilling in this life than being God's vessel in reaching out to a lost soul - witnessing their walk toward the cross - culminating in their 'being scrubbed by Jesus' in their acceptance of and dedication to Him!! Is there any greater joy?

    I'm right there with you, Mike!

    By Blogger Kathy, at 9/28/2004 06:42:00 AM  

  • Amen, Amen, and again I say, AMEN!

    By Blogger MarkS, at 9/28/2004 06:51:00 AM  

  • thanks, Mike. So great. I love how you think. I wish you would come down and share some of this with the worship ministers on Friday afternoon. Any possibility?

    By Blogger Brandon Scott, at 9/28/2004 07:39:00 AM  

  • excellent post. i must give props to two of my many wonderful grad professors who try and resemble this type of transformative teaching style: (the duke) earl lavendar and lee camp. and a big thanks to all the folks who are teachers for a living. kudos.

    By Blogger c, at 9/28/2004 08:06:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Your visioneering is right on!

    Just a hunch, my guess is that your training was based on the underlying premise that the primary role of the minster is to "preach the Word." Your seminary had "an end in mind," and you were well trained to "be all that they believed you should be." Leading a congregation to become a "missional church" was probably not one of their objectives.

    The past few years, it has been very interesting to observe preacher friends who have left their "heritage" and started missional churches. I visited one of these churches several times when I was working in the area. It was amazing and refreshing to witness a "preacher" humbly leading a church, reaching out to people that for some reason felt uncomfortable going to the "heritage" church. The difference I believe is not that he is preaching or leading any different; it is a difference in perception. One church perceived him as a preacher of the Word who would be best served by leaving leadership up to the "appointed." However, his present church perceives him as a leader who preaches the Word as part of his leadership responsibilities. He is definitely not a one man show. He is a part of a leadership team. I guess what I am desribing is "an empowered minister."

    By Blogger David Michael, at 9/28/2004 08:42:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    Great post. I'd like to comment on one of the points you made - the blurb about megachurches being a thing of the past. I think you are right, and I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on this.

    I read a good book two years ago by Nancy Eiesland (from Candler/Emory) - it's called "A Particular Place: Urban Restructuring and Religious Ecology in a Southern Exurb." I find her use of the term "religious ecology" fascinating - basically, religious ecology is the manner by which individual congregations relate to one another in a particular geographic area (Eiesland explores Atlanta).

    It seems that lots of good can be done in megachurches...but lots of bad can happen when those who find themselves in neighboring churches of a "non-mega" variety desperately want to be a megachurch. Our only frustration with our church in Michigan was the small number of individuals who wanted to turn it into a megachurch by instituting megachurch methodologies and megachurch bureaucracies on a church of 150 - it didn't work. Eiesland looks at how the ascendance of a megachurch in a particular town can wreck/ruin other churches in ways that creepily look like what happens when a Wal-Mart Supercenter lands in town (anyone who lives in Nashville or Dallas probably knows this better than I!).

    Again, I think megachurches do wonderful things...but to intentionally set out to become the next Willow Creek or Saddleback or Southeast Christian instead of seeking to transform lives really does no one a service.

    That's probably nowhere near what you meant to write about!

    By Blogger Malibu Librarian, at 9/28/2004 10:26:00 AM  

  • Mike. I think about this everyday. I've got a Bible degree, but I've never had a mentor. I LONG for one. I think I even want someone to mentor/disciple me more than I want an iPod. :)

    All my life I've had natural leadership abilities. (youth group, campus ministry etc...) so when I entered into vocational ministry people had seen me as a leader and just thought I knew what I was doing. There are so many things that I've never been taught or had the chance to walk through with an older minister. I miss something that I've never known. I want someone who has planted a church, done mission work or something outside of "my field" to teach me how to encounter the areas that I don't normally touch. Pray for me to find that mentor in my life.

    As for mega-churches, I don't think they will die out soon. In the ATL area, some of the most mature Christian people I meet come from those churches. Granted, the secret is a vibrant small group ministry. But I also believe that small group discipleship coupled with the seemingly unlimited resources and opportunities provides a great atmosphere for spiritual development.

    Churches great and small do have a purpose in the Kingdom. That's why God positions them. I know you weren't saying anything other than that, but God's work is found not in the size of the congregation, but the size of the heart of the congregation.

    Thanks for the last couple of posts.

    By Blogger Jon, at 9/28/2004 11:03:00 AM  

  • Amen, Mike. I can sense that God is doing something in your heart, based on the BLOG posts of the last few weeks. If I have any encouragement to give, it is this: Go work alongside Him. This divine inspiration shouldn't be pushing you to write a book, give a sermon, or even blog anymore, but should spur you to action!
    Thanks for sharing your spiritual journey with your fellow travelers.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 9/28/2004 11:24:00 AM  

  • Mike,
    You are a light of hope in our religious tradition. Your understanding of your calling in your context inspires me.

    By Blogger Adam, at 9/28/2004 12:50:00 PM  

  • Great post. You really make me think. Not being a paid minister, I'm not sure I can fully see your point. BUT, as a teacher I wish I had had more training in my Christian University's education dept. on how to be a Christian without breaking the law in public schools. My husband wishes his business ethics class had truly been about ethics. As a mother, I wish I had had some training... period. Can you imagine why God trusted us with these babies with out having to get some type of certification? I guess the training you speak of will one day exist for ministers. For the rest of us it is just OJT with JC.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/28/2004 02:44:00 PM  

  • Mike,
    I'm sitting at the office at 11:00 P.M. on a Tuesday night trying to get my thoughts together for Sunday morning (not that I'm that far ahead of schedule, mind you, because our multi-media guy is leaving town tomorrow and it seems that in order to have a good sermon these days you also have to have good PowerPoint). I've recently read books like The Present Future by Reggie McNeal and Shaped By God's Heart by Milfred Mineatra that are calling me as a minister to help 1200 Jesus-followers begin to understand that faith has to hit the streets in order to make a difference in this world. I've also spent the last several days in a major "funk" because people that are supposed to be "mature" in the faith can't figure out how to plan a Sunday School lesson or make a LifeGroup study applicable without a "trained professional" showing them exactly what to do.

    I say all of that to say that I am encouraged by your words. Not that you have it figured out, but that you (as one of those guys that the rest of us look up to) are trying to figure out things like how to be missional in an emerging culture, and how to help people form into the image of Christ. I see and hear a longing in the hearts of many that want to join Paul and Silas in turning the world upside down, but as those that are "emerging" from something to something else we are struggling against the cocoon of the institution to which we have devoted so much time and energy.

    My tendency, as one that is short on patience, is to chuck the whole thing and start over. And while I'm impressed with my friends that have become church planters and bi-vocational ministers, I still think that there is potential for the institution to emerge and make a difference in the world in which it exists. I think that there will be pain along the way. But I believe that God will reward us as we venture into terra nova with his guidance and a reminder of the transformational power that his grace can have in the world when his people are living out his word and work.

    I warned you initially that it was late...so enough of the rambling. Thanks for your heart for Kingdom.

    By Blogger ourgreenroom, at 9/28/2004 09:17:00 PM  

  • Actual statistic. Since 1991:
    The U.S. population has grown 15 percent.

    The unchurched population has increased by 95 percent.

    Check out the research here: http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=163

    Does anyone else see a discrepancy? Does anyone else also feel like the U.S. has more evangelical Christian churches with more praise and worship radio stations and more "voice" than any other time in its history? That's because this nation does. And somehow, these institutional churches are not getting the job done. People are walking away from church buildings in droves, and Christians automatically turn to bigger buildings as the solution. Forgive us, Lord!

    Mike is absolutely right, and the statistics support him: The time of the mega-church has expired. I'd go even further to say that the time of the institutional church has expired. Don't get me wrong: I think God still works in the midst of believers in existing institutional churches. But if missionaries in America (basically all Christians in a post-Christian nation) are to start from square one, they need not look to buildings and programs to bring in the people. In fact, they need not look to "bring in the people" at all. Our call is to "GO OUT into all the world." Since when did we expect the un-saved to just meander onto our territory? They haven't and won't. Count me out if the aim of church planting continues to be developing into a mega-church (which is technically any church over 200).

    Want to join God in how he's spreading his Kingdom in North America and the world? I dare any of you to read any of the following books. You'll catch a new vision for what the 21st Century church can be in a post-Christian, post-denominational country.

    "Cultivating a Life For God" by Neil Cole
    "Houses That Change the World" by Wolfgang Simpson
    "Simply Church" by Tony and Felicity Dale

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 9/28/2004 09:51:00 PM  

  • There are some "mega churches" that serve a genuine purpose. We are doing "40 Days of Purpose" with the Saddleback church. It is a growing experience. It is missional in alot of ways.
    Linda Dickerson

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/28/2004 10:58:00 PM  

  • I agree with you, Linda. All I'm saying is that mega-churches are not the ideal. The size of many mega churches alone hinders the kind of community and discipleship that are vital to a vibrant family of God. What's more, "40 Days of Purpose" is a program. A curriculum. We are called to a missional LIFESTYLE, which is much more radical. It means going where the lost people are, befriending them, and going from there. You see, too many Christians have the false assumption that living missionally means being a good example to those at work and school. Wrong. We are commanded to say something!

    And being missional shouldn't only mean inviting someone to an event. As the body of Christ, let's refocus. We need to find genuine ways to "make disciples," not just make converts. Disciple making often is not done in churches over 200 people. That is just the dead-honest truth.

    I'll leave you with this question:
    What would the body of Christ wherever you are do if...
    ...100 people came to Christ tomorrow?
    ...1,000 people came to Christ this month?
    ...1,000,000 people came to Christ this year?
    Would we know what to do with them? Would we "plug them in" (give me a break!) at the local mega-church? I think not.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 9/29/2004 06:25:00 AM  

  • I don't really think size is all that makes a mega church a mega church. SVCC, my home, is relatively large -- about 1200 -- and it's far from being a mega church. It's actually extremely service oriented and missionally minded.

    It reminds me of something on the sanctuary doorway of the church I grew up in (I can call it a "sanctuary;" it's a Baptist church. It didn't get to be an "auditorium" till I converted.). On the external side, above the door, was printed "Enter to Worship" and as one exited, above the door, "Exit to Serve." Except I think it sets a false dichotomy between serving and worshiping.

    The forty days thing is a great starting point, whether communally or personally. It's just that too many finish the forty, feel accomplished ... and sit back, relapsing until the next 'fix' comes along. I don't think God meant for his church to be fad-based. But as a consumeristic society, we've been more than willing to make it one: from The Prayer of Jabez to the Rick Warren methodology, and even Max Lucado, we've followed them with all the zeal of the 1980's parallel "quests for excellence." Maybe we should shelve the books and simply quest for God.

    By Blogger Q, at 9/29/2004 06:32:00 AM  

  • I'm a bit more "both/and" than I am "either/or."

    A church hasn't sold out just because it is large. And I've noticed that people from house churches tend to come to the larger churches when they're looking for financial support to do missions. :)

    But, in addition to large, growing churches, we absolutely must have an outbreak of new "plants" in houses.

    By Blogger Mike, at 9/29/2004 09:27:00 AM  

  • I think that "both/and" is a great start. Any start would be a move in the right direction, as far as I'm concerned.
    And if the "house church people" are doing things the right way, they really shouldn't need much outside support from institutional churches or friends to go do mission work. Well, maybe a little for the Matza and grape juice budget...

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 9/29/2004 09:56:00 AM  

  • Perhaps professionalism is antithetical to missional notions. However, in this day of blogging I think it gives an edge in understanding the multifaceted mind of God. The discipline involved in professional training gives one not only the study part of idea but the basis of whether to act in good judgment with all kinds of people. If we are interacting with all kinds of people, we need that good judgment. Good judgment also allows us to see the mind of God in his various people and places (his multifacets). Professional training allows one to interact a little faster with better judgment.

    By Blogger wds, at 10/03/2004 09:07:00 PM  

  • Ah.. transformation... the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me... my nature is to humble myself and connect created beings with the creator..

    Missional: The Leaf...ex cofc preacher

    By Blogger happytheman, at 10/07/2004 11:08:00 AM  

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