Author: admin

09.17.22


THE FUTURE OF OUR CREATIVE MINORITY

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

In our last reflection, we discussed how the early church became a creative minority within Israel and the rest of the Roman Empire and how God uses creative minorities as remnants that host and usher in revival for the surrounding culture. 

In this our final first seek reflection, we want to talk about a critical but often overlooked factor in how the early church went from 120 believers huddled in the upper room to a global movement that spread to multiple continents and took over the Roman Empire. 

It took time. In fact, it took nearly 300 years for Christianity to be made a legal religion in the Roman Empire. 300 years is somewhere in the ballpark of 12-15 generations. The patient ferment of the early church that spread exponentially through the Roman Empire took 12-15 generations to accomplish. And the faith had to be passed on to the next generation. 

The rise of Christianity was an intergenerational relay race. And because of this, the early Church, led by the Spirit, took very seriously the process of raising up and discipling each successive generation of believers. 

If we want to see the gospel and the Kingdom grow in a sustained way in our own time, not only will we need to recover our creative minority mojo, but we will need to take our children seriously, prioritizing their discipleship. According to the most recent Barna study, 50% of youth who are actively involved in church in high school will walk away from their faith after college. These are not good statistics. But as it turns out, in the same study, children whose parents talk about and practice faith in the home are much more likely to remain Christians as adults. 82% of them, to be exact. What is needed is intentionality, on the part of parents and the church, to prioritize the discipleship of the next generation. 

Think of it this way. Revival could come in our time, in this place…but if the church is not committed to raise up the next generation in the way of Jesus, the fruits of revival won’t go multi-generational. So from the beginning, as we seek God for revival, we need to decide if we want this revival to be a flash in the pan…or if we are interested in its fruits and effects going the distance and lasting many generations. And if we want this (which we should) we must prioritize the discipleship of the next generation.

When Moses entered the promised land, Israel was called to be a creative minority amidst the Canaanites, Jebusites, Hivites, Gergashites, Edomites, all the surrounding cultures. These cultures were polytheistic. They practiced fertility rites like ritual prostitution. They practiced child sacrifice. They did not know the LORD, Yahweh, the God of Israel and the one true God of the universe. Israel would have to function for many generations as a creative minority. So God gave Israel the law to help them do this. But then Moses commanded the people with these words:

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

The way a creative minority goes multiple generations is by talking about our faith and God with our children.

NEXT STEPS:

  1. If you have children, how have you been intentional (or not) in terms of talking about God with them. How have you been intentional (or not) in their discipleship?
  2. If you do not have biological or adopted children, who are your spiritual children? Who in the next generation is God calling you to invest in intentionally? To whom is he inviting you to entrust and pass on your faith?
  3. Who are some young people you can be praying for regularly?
  4. How could you support parents or the church in discipling young people?

Prayer Prompts:

Pray for the next generation, to know and love Jesus, to walk in the way of Jesus. 

Pray for young people in your life to have direct encounters with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Pray for the parents, pastors, and youth leaders in our church to be anointed and empowered and equipped to disciple young people.

Ask the LORD if he wants you to help out with ministry to young people.

Pray for other churches to be equipped and take seriously the discipleship of the next generation.

09.16.22


THE POWER OF A CREATIVE MINORITY

Acts 2:42-47

We have talked about what God did in the early church in revival. Today, we want to reflect on how God used the early church in the surrounding culture as an agent of renewal. Consider the uphill battle the church was facing. The upper room they prayed in before Pentecost was the same upper room used as a hideout for the disciples after Jesus’ was essentially…lynched by a mob. The same leaders that killed Jesus were looking for them. And they were a tiny persecuted minority in the midst of a vast, mighty, invincible Roman Empire. The early church was facing an existential crisis. Its back was against a wall. 

In our time, in New England, in Providence – the Church is facing a similar uphill battle. We have for some time been in a state of spiritual decline and are moving into what is known as post-Christian culture. Post-Christianity is a culture which has been in essence vaccinated against Christianity. It has developed a kind of immunity to the gospel. Mark Sayers says that post-Christian culture is marked by a desire to have “the Kingdom without the King.” 

The trends are not good, from a demographic perspective. Affiliation with Christianity is declining faster than at any time in our national history. And some of this is with good reason. The Church, from the Catholics to the Baptists, to celebrity pastors has faced scandal after scandal, leading to a widespread loss of trust and a crisis of spiritual authority. This in turn has led many Christians to deconstruct and lose their faith in recent years. 

What is the response of the people of God to this existential crisis? What will keep the Church from slowly withering away?

The Church has essentially five options.

  1. We can give up. We can slowly manage the inevitable decline of Christianity in the west. Trying to coast as long as we can on the inertia of the past until we close up shop. This doesn’t sound attractive…so what are the other options.
  2. 2. We can try harder. We can work smarter. We can be more strategic. We can import the insights from modern business theory to the church. We can ask for more out of our pastors and leaders. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. The only problem with this is that we are all exhausted. Especially pastors and church leaders. The rate of burnout is hitting historic highs…for many in society but especially those who are leading the church and carrying the emotional loads of so many others. Just try harder is actually a recipe for disaster. You can paddle as hard as you want…but you will never canoe over a mountain. 
  3. We can fight back. We can respond to the slow loss of the perks, power, and privileges of Christendom by trying to hold on as long as we can to power. We can try to place our hope in the political system to return us to some notion of past glory (even though we have never been a Christian nation). Like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, when we sense a threat to the faith, we can take up the sword. The Lord will say to us, however, what he said to Peter. “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the father has given me?” The reality is that the Kingdom never comes through force or politics, but through cross and resurrection.
  4. We can retreat and hide. We can run for the hills. We can pull ourselves away from meaningful engagement with the surrounding culture. This instinct is not altogether wrong. The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher explores the need for cloistering in times of spiritual decline. There is a holy circling of the wagons to go deeper in discipleship and hold onto our unique identity as believers in a culture that is caustic to historic Christianity. However, we can’t hide forever. The faith will die with us if we do. We cannot hide our light permanently under the bushel (Mt 5:13-16). Jesus did not hide from the world, he engaged it fully.
  5. We can camouflage. We can mix our faith so thoroughly with the spirit of the age so that it feels relevant and unthreatening to a secular world. Those aspects of our faith that are stumbling blocks to the post-Christian secular culture around us we can hide or abandon to try to make the faith as “up-to-date” as possible. The theological word for this is syncretism. The only problem with syncretism is that it is never honored by God in revival. Jesus said, “you are the salt of the earth…but if the salt loses its saltiness…its potency and distinctiveness, it is no longer useful for anything.” 

So…what can we do, as the people of God in the face of a secularizing culture in spiritual decline?

We can become a creative minority. In their book, Creative Minority, Heather Grizzle and Jon Tyson point out that, especially in seasons of spiritual decline, the church is called to be a creative minority that operates within the surrounding culture as a redemptive influence within it. The Bible is full of moments where the people of God became or acted as a creative minority. Daniel and his friends in Babylon. Israel among the nations of Canaan. And of course, the early church in the book of Acts. Before God sends revival, he raises up a creative minority…which he then empowers and positions and uses to bless and advance his Kingdom in the surrounding culture. 

A creative minority can be very small and still incredibly powerful in the hands of God. In the upper room before Pentecost, there were only 120 believers, praying and seeking God and waiting for the power of the Spirit. They were still but a tiny minority of Israel which was a backwater region of a Roman Empire which numbered 60 million souls. But by the fourth century, this creative minority had not only survived, but had grown (under persecution no less) to be by some estimates a third of the Roman Empire…20 million strong. A creative minority can start very small but grow very big and transform the surrounding environment. Jesus’ parable of the yeast…and the mustard seed…are creative minority parables. The Kingdom is like something very small, but very potent, that grows to be huge and impossible to miss.

As we look around today, what is the solution to the spiritual decline we see around us. God is calling his people, once again, to become a remnant he will use in revival. A creative minority like the early Church, that even under persecution, he will use as a redemptive influence in the surrounding culture. 

NEXT STEPS:

  1. What is your response to the decline of Christianity in America? In Providence? Is it apathy? Bewilderment? Despair? Or is it not something you commonly think about?
  2. What response do you identify most with to the decline of Christianity? Is it trying harder? Fighting back? Running away and hiding? Is it syncretism or jettisoning the parts of the faith that feel out of date or out of vogue? 
  3. What excites you about being part of a creative minority? What scares or frightens you?

Prayer Prompts:

  1. Pray for Sanctuary and other churches in Providence and New England to become creative minorities.
  2. Pray that churches and believers will “retain their saltiness,” holding on to historical Christian theology and practice, even when people think we are weird or strange or don’t fit in. Pray that we will be willing to be different and at times not to fit in. Pray for the children and the next generation to be willing to be made fun of, perhaps even persecuted, for being Christian. And that their relationship with Jesus will be strong enough to help them live in the tension of being in the world but not of the world.
  3. Pray that churches and believers, while being faithful to engage in politics, will stop placing our trust in our political system to save us. Pray that God will destroy any idolatry or ways that Christians have made unholy alliances with political parties or political systems. Pray that we will stop worshiping politics or parties and worship God alone. Pray that our bonds as Christians will triumph over political differences. Pray for any who have, in the name of Jesus, taken up the sword to repent and put down the sword. Pray that we will embrace the way of the cross as the only way to life and redemption.
  4. Pray for believers and churches whose temptation is just to escape from a world that seems like a slow moving trainwreck. Whose primary response is to disengage and find some sort of safe Christian bubble to hide in. Pray that God will cause us, in response to his love and mercy, to engage meaningfully with a broken world around us. 
  5. Pray that God will raise up a remnant in our time, and in the next generation, that he can use to steward and lead revival in our culture. That God will use the church as he did in the first three centuries of Christianity, to transform the world around through their patient ferment as a creative minority. 
  6. Pray for the Sanctuary Conference – that God will equip and inspire us as we hunger to be this kind of creative minority in a city that needs God, his redemptive power, and his love. 

09.15.22


CONTAGIOUS CONVERSION CULTURE

“And God added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:47

Over the past several days, we’ve mentioned many marks of revival and renewal, including theological depth, anointed worship, compelling community life, prayer, power, signs, wanders, and compassionate social concern. The final element Luke mentions in Acts 2, and which we want to explore today is a culture of bold witness and conversion to Jesus. 

We live in a moment in time when people are turning away from Christianity in droves. Affiliation with the Christian faith and Christian church declined faster in the past decade than during any other point in American history. But what if it was the opposite? What if the gospel and the experience of new life in Christ were like the coronavirus? What if whole-life conversion to Jesus was a contagious reality that spread like an internet meme or a viral corn video on social media? 

In revival, this is what happens. It is no longer merely the “evangelists” among us who lead others to faith. Revival is not just about more Billy Grahams appearing on the scene – but in revival normal Christians are activated as Jesus’ witnesses. This is because two things happen: first, the Holy Spirit makes Jesus real to our hearts. And because Jesus is so good and so real, we cannot help but tell others about him. As Philip told Nathanael about Jesus or as the woman at the well (John 4) told her village about Jesus, in revival every day Christians become bold witnesses to their villages because Jesus is real to them. 

Secondly, everyday Christians become bold witnesses because God invades their hearts with His own burning love for lost people. Even though we would not like to admit it, there are so often things that matter to us more than our lost friends or family or coworkers. We think about dinner, or football, or weekend plans, or our careers, or how we look or what we wear, or that glass of wine at the end of the day. But God’s heart is consumed with a relentless, passionate love for the people he created. He longs to be in relationship with them, to heal them, to rescue them from sin, to save them, and to be in union with them. In revival, men and women simply allow the “overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God” for lost people to invade our hearts. 

The reality of God and the power of God’s love for lost people begins to move us to take risks and to initiate with others to share about Jesus with them. To invite them to church. To invite them to Alpha. And as in the book of Acts – the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved. Conversion becomes normal in our culture. And conversion to Jesus becomes a viral movement. And as new people come to faith, they tell their friends and invite them to know Jesus also. 

Next Steps:

  1. Who has God placed in your life? Who are your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues who do not know Jesus?
  2. What matters to you more than these people knowing coming to know Jesus and spending an eternity in heaven with Him, and with you!?
  3. Can you ask God to rearrange your priorities? Ask him to invade your heart with his burning love for lost people? So that the eternal destinies of others matter more to you than whatever else you happen to be doing today?
  4. Consider Jesus in John 4, who said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work. Open your eyes and look at the fields, they are ready for harvest.” How might God want to feed and satisfy your soul by helping others meet Jesus this year. 
  5. Is there someone you need to invite to Alpha or to Church this year? What would hold you back from doing that? What help or encouragement do you need to make that happen?

Pray:

  1. For Alpha. That Sanctuary and other participating churches would be overwhelmed with love for lost people and invite them to Alpha. 
  2. That God would use Sunday worship, community groups, and Alpha to lead people to faith and baptism this year.
  3. That new believers would invite their friends, coworkers, family members to church.
  4. For every believer this year to have the chance to share about Jesus with someone in their life.