Wednesday, April 13, 2016

City Notes 24 | Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture Part 1 of 3

City Notes 24: Books in 30 minutes or less

City Notes are more than a book review. They are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read in the last year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read. 

Here are links to the previous City Notes books:

So I actually read Brandon Hatmaker's Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture back in 2014. When God first began to provide a vision for Emmaus City, this was one of the books along with Interrupted, A Meal with JesusBuilding a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church, and Everyday Church that He used to bring clarity, conviction, and encouragement to pursue what we saw God calling us to in Worcester. And He keeps bringing me back to the pages in Barefoot Church in 2016 to remind me of what could occur ahead through His steadfast love and power. The notes below will not suffice to capture the heart of the book; there are stories inside that I could not record, but are worth the price of the book. As it has with me, may God use Barefoot Church to help increase your faith that He can transform each of us no matter where we are at in our journey of faith by His grace to become more like Jesus together in word and deed for the sake of our cities. 

Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture Part 1 of 3

Chapter 1 | There’s Got to Be More

We’ve (too often) settled for serving ourselves and serving as an event rather than serving those in need and living a new way of life that Jesus has called us to. – pg. 16

Mother Theresa lived by a belief that there is physical, emotional, and spiritual need in every community. Need is everywhere, yet we too often fail to see it. If we don’t see it, we won’t be bothered by it. If we’re not bothered by it, we won’t engage it. By our neglect, we become the oppressor. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he told us to serve the least. He knew that if we would serve them, we would become agents of change. Despair would change to hope. The reputation of his bride would change. And along the way, our hearts and minds would change. – pg. 22 
All movement toward mission requires sacrifice. Nothing of great value comes without great cost. … Let’s stop complaining about the church we see and start becoming the church we dream of … my prayer is that God will raise up in you a new and fresh passion for the church. I pray that you will feel an affirming movement of the Spirit when you consider taking your affections off yourself, placing them on people who have nothing to offer you, and leading others to do the same. – pg. 25

We’ll use the word missional in this book to describe the sending or incarnational efforts of the church. Incarnation literally means to "put on flesh." Jesus was God incarnate. He literally put on skin and dwelt among us. He moved into our neighborhood and spoke our language. So when we say we are to live incarnationally, we mean we are to ‘put on’ Jesus and represent him by focusing on being his hands and feet to our world. To live on mission. This includes but is not limited to serving the least. It might be a sending toward your neighbor or to a complete stranger in need. Either way, the focus is essentially on the church becoming missionaries to our culture. – pg. 26

Both mercy and justice are motivated by compassion; each requires a physical response at different levels, and each benefits from increasing awareness. Both can exist independent of one another, yet together they encompass the biblical concept of serving the least. An act of mercy can quickly become an act of justice when a need is engaged through an intentional relationship. Mercy offers relief and compassion. Justice offers an advocate and action. Simply put, mercy offers immediate and compassionate treatment of those in distress, and justice is the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action. Scripture clearly calls us to act justly and to love mercy (Micah 6:8).” – pgs. 28-29

Chapter 2  |  A Call and a Response

Richard E. Stearns offers a modern-day version of Matthew 25:44-46: "For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved." If we were honest, our response to the poor might sometimes be better described by this irreverent version. Whatever the case, Christ’s words in this passage cannot be dismissed out of hand. We have to face their implications no matter how disquieting. God has clear expectations for those who choose to follow Him. Any authentic and genuine commitment to Christ will be accompanied by demonstrable evidence of a transformed life. In contemporary terms, those who talk the talk but do not walk the walk will be exposed as false. – pg. 33

Misguided and shortsighted intentions are not new to Christianity. Time after time the disciples misunderstood the way and intent of Jesus. Yet there was hope. They often tried to sabotage his message and make it about themselves. Yet there was hope. They would have loved to just set up camp and stay with Jesus after the transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). After seeing the humility of Jesus firsthand, they still argued over which one of them would be the greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46-48). It even came to the point where Jesus had to threaten to withhold eternity from them if they didn’t change their ways (Matthew 18:3). At times the disciples were self-centered. Yet there was hope. There is always hope, even in our neglect. When doing right becomes our plan, when that’s our heart’s motive and our desire, there is hope. And Scripture reveals that our hope will always start with love and faithfulness. It’s through love and faithfulness that our neglect is overlooked. It’s through realizing his kingdom, replacing our plans with his plans, that we succeed. "To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue. All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD. Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. … Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD evil is avoided. When the LORD takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them (Proverbs 16:1-3, 6-7).” – pgs. 34-35

Peter, the one promised the keys to the kingdom, denied Jesus three times. Yet there was hope, and it started with the issue of love. In John 21:15, when Jesus reinstates Peter, he starts with a question: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ This was a heart-wrenching question for Peter. First, Jesus calls him by the name he had prior to meeting Jesus, representing that he had taken a few steps back in his faith. Second, Jesus challenges his love. This question could be translated in any one of three ways: (1) Do you love me more than these men love me? (2) Do you love me more than you love these men? (3) Do you love me more than you love your things? Each possibility proposes a unique question when thinking about our love of and loyalty to Jesus and our commitment to his way. Why do we live the way we live? Why do we do the things we do? Why do we not do what we do not do? – pgs. 35-36

Jesus did not define ‘neighbor’ by proximity. He defined it by mercy. The whole world is our neighbor. Only after we move past the argument of who our neighbors are and what Jesus meant by loving them will we be moved to accomplish anything of significance. Until then, our questions remain excuses. – pg. 37

Pray that the Holy Spirit convicts us. Pray that our minds are renewed. Pray for indignation. "Each individual has the spiritual responsibility of cultivating that indignation. Tapping into that rage. And then allowing that rage to be converted into compassionate action." It’s both a personal and a collective responsibility. If no one else will go, we must still go. If no one else will care, we must still care. If every Christian in the world thinks we’re crazy, it doesn’t matter. In our indignation we will find joy, and the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). We will find it to be our heart’s delight. And in that joy we will find hope for both ourselves and for the church. For when we live recklessly by the Word and commands of God, we bear his name, not ours. "When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, LORD God Almighty. I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation" (Jeremiah 15:16-17). – pgs. 40-41

Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work. – Mother Theresa

Chapter 3 |  Where Gathering and Scattering Collide

If God finds no pleasure in our worship, yet we continue to worship, then who is it for? The answer is easy. It’s for us. When that happens, according to Isaiah (Isaiah 1:11-15), God considers even our worship evil. Seems pretty counterproductive to me. And he goes beyond that. Because of this, he won’t even listen to our prayers, even if we pray a lot. He’s so serious about this that Scripture says he doesn’t even want to look at us. It wasn’t their style or method of worship that was making God angry. They were worshiping with the precision in which they were instructed. What he was saying is that something had taken place that was inhibiting their worship from achieving its goal. That there was something else going on that had defiled a pure thing. … Throughout Scripture, (God) reminds Israel that his greatest indictment is their neglect of the poor and oppressed. And it’s not just worship that’s impacted. While Isaiah reminds us that serving the poor validates our worship (Isaiah 1) and fasting (Isaiah 58), James reminds us that it gives evidence of our faith (James 4), and Jesus reminds us that it is somehow linked to our eternity (Matthew 25). ... Our journey is not about finding a place where we no longer have to struggle to balance this. According to the Bible, the goal is not to live without the struggle; the goal is to find God and deny ourselves throughout the struggle. – pgs. 47-49

Exposing Need: Any church that gathers has an opportunity on Sunday to hold the attention of the entire church family. We come together to worship, to teach, and to take communion. We encourage and we lead. We equip and we exhort, all in just one hour a week. That’s a tough task. But if ever there is an opportunity to expose need in our community and world, it’s then. With this in mind, we’ve chosen to teach through Scripture on Sundays and let the topics be chosen by the text. It’s not that we think that’s the only way to teach during a worship gathering; we just believe that it’s a great way to keep focus completely vertical between the people and God. If our focus of a Sunday gathering is exaltation and adoration, we hope to do everything we can to point people toward a vertical focus. You will find, as we have, that Scripture exposes need with every verse. Spiritual need? Check. Relational need? Check. Physical need? Check. It’s not a stretch to apply Scripture directly to mission. And we’re never at a loss for seeing what we can and should do next. Combine that with some creative promotional efforts and intentional partnerships, and we’ll be exposing need at levels few of us have ever seen. We’re not creating need; we’re exposing the need that is all around us. We’re training our people to see with new eyes. It’s a bit embarrassing when we realize how long we’ve been surrounded by need, and yet have walked blindly through it. We can’t help but want to respond. People will be motivated to do something significant – with purpose and with a hope to be good news. – pg. 51

Beyond being selfish, unmotivated, and unconvinced, the big issue is that our flesh literally opposes serving others. In other words, without a transformed heart, we simply won’t want to serve. While it’s an ugly truth, it’s good to be honest with ourselves and know our starting point. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:17, "For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want." We feel sympathy for those in need. But it’s the Spirit that leads us to compassion. And there is a huge difference between the two. We can’t make ourselves change the way we feel. But we can change what we do and trust that the Spirit will move. Richard Rohr, author of Simplicity, put it this way, "You cannot think your way into a new way of living. You have to live your way into a new way of thinking." – pg. 52

On fifth Sundays, our church cancels our regular worship gathering to go be the church. We choose a number of projects to do with strategic nonprofit organizations across our city and just go out and serve together. Although this event is designed as an entry-level service opportunity, it’s amazing how much it impacts those who’ve never served. It’s amazing to see how easy it is to invite a neighbor to join us. And it’s amazing to see how quickly people grow when they step into leading at the event itself rather than simply attending. … It creates a service-minded DNA. … It changes our posture to the community. … It provides opportunity to invite others. Serve Austin Sunday is hands down our most highly attended Sunday by nonbelievers, skeptics, the unchurched, and the dechurched. It’s easy to invite someone to join you to go downtown and grill burgers for homeless people or go to a poor eastside elementary school to do a classroom makeover. – pgs. 53-54

If we take spiritual formation seriously, eventually we need to get people to engage need on their own. It has to be decentralized. … That’s where our Restore Communities came into play. The moment we charged our communities to serve once a month and moved Serve Austin Sundays to a once-per-quarter event, our church went from doing just one project to anywhere from twelve to twenty-five service projects a month. Through their own community groups, people planned, led, and served. Everything was taken care of in and through community. Service intuitively went from a potentially consumer experience to something lived out as a part of missional incarnational community. – pg. 55 
“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is to try to please everybody." This might be our problem. We see focusing on gathering and sending as opposing things because it typically pleases two different types of people and serves two different functions. And it’s true: it’s hard to place our affections on sending people, resources, and attention outward where we’re so in love with what we do inside the camp. We need to come to grips with the reality that we’re not here to please or impress each other and do only what we like or prefer. We’re here to please God. We may have a calling, a gifting, or a leaning toward gathering or serving, but only by doing both do we become all things to all people. – pg. 56

Chapter 4 | Serving Through Missional Community

In learning to become a community that is "not about us," we more intuitively lean into the leading of the Spirit as we seek to participate in God’s mission to the world. When we do so, it becomes a reminder of God’s redemption, a preview of what that redemption is like, and it offers a strategy to carry redemption’s hope into every context. In essence, missional community may serve as one of the best ways we can embody the incarnation of Christ – putting on flesh and being Jesus to our world. When we live this out, the focus of the church shifts to hearing and responding to the Spirit. When this is translated collectively, congregations as a whole tend to take more seriously the how and when to engage communities where they live. – pg. 59 
Just as church without community falls short of biblical church, community without mission falls short of biblical community. I just can’t help but ask the question: Is our typical idea of community in line with God’s will and purpose for community? ... We need to look at how we’ve organized ourselves and evaluate if we’re making disciples on mission or fostering consumerism. More often than not, this has less to do with what we do on Sunday and everything to do with what we do Monday through Saturday. – pg. 60

Do we have the community structures in place to survive the loss of our Sunday gatherings? So we asked the question. In fact, for us, this becomes an excellent measuring stick for our ministry efforts and connectivity outside of Sunday. If the gathering disappeared, what would remain? And the collateral questions: What would happen to the mission? What would happen to community? What would happen to our incarnational efforts? What would happen to our church? ... As long as it was the pastors who planned, scheduled, promoted, and recruited for a service project, it would always just be something that had ‘attenders’ and ‘volunteers.’ It would always be an event that could be consumed. As long as serving remains an event that people attend, it never becomes self-sustaining, much less heart-transforming, regardless of how we change our weekend structure. – pgs. 61-62

We were training them to not only serve the least, but our neighbors as well. To do this, we recruited three groups of leaders for each community. The beauty of this approach is that each group instantly had six bought-in leaders who were committed to the mission and DNA of their group. One couple (the "hosts") was in charge of "hospitality" and coordinated communications, location for the meeting, the snacks, and the childcare. One couple (the "facilitators") was in charge of leading the Bible study, discussion, and prayer. And one couple (the "restore leaders") was in charge of "mission." The "restore leaders" were responsible for making sure their group committed at least two of their community gatherings a month, half of their time, to either loving their neighbor or serving their city. The other half could be spent on them. That was it. Simple, really. If we love our neighbor as much as ourselves, why wouldn’t we give away as much time as we get each week? So every other week we had dinner together, held a Bible study or spiritual discussion, and broke out into prayer groups. And on alternate weeks, we canceled the gathering to "Love Our Neighbor" by inviting a neighbor to dinner, throwing a party, planning a neighborhood family night, or some other strategically intentional effort to foster relationships; or we would "Serve the City" by doing a family-friendly service project with one of our nonprofit partners in our city. Our mantra emerged: "Love your neighbor. Serve your city." … Our goal was not to control the process; it was to enable, encourage, and release our people for mission. Once the group had landed on a service opportunity, they signed themselves up, organized it, and paid for it. They did everything. Why? It was their project. – pgs. 63-64

We were able to identify four critical leadership shifts that were required to empower our Restore Communities to serve: 

(1) From Control to Accountability: We need to be careful to check in and to check up, but not control the situation.  
(2) From Suspicion to Permission: It’s critical that we clearly communicate in advance what the goal of missional community is and then give people permission to make it their own.  
(3) From Fixed to Flexible: In community, finding solutions to problems or even navigating failure can be as effective as succeeding. That’s what growth as a community is all about – learning from our mistakes together.  
(4) From Majority to Priority: The beauty is not found in the magnitude of the mission but in the priority it takes in our lives. We have to create structure and give permission to make mission and community a priority. – pg. 65
We’ve learned that when we seek community, we may or may not end up finding it. But whenever we lock our arms together for the sake of mission, we inevitably find community with those we serve with. … We have missional communities that are geographical and some that are affinity based, but as we’ve served together, our church has emerged as a church that is as diverse as the city we serve. – pg. 65

You can’t force a group to be great. There is either a natural connection among the people in a group or there isn’t. This is one of the reasons we don’t funnel people into a community directly from our Sunday morning gatherings. Instead, we found it much more productive to train leaders and then try to send them out to start new groups with people they already know who don’t attend a church. This is certainly a much slower process, but we’ve found that it always makes for better company. … A community on mission together will typically maintain a longer life span as they work together to engage changing needs in the community. … With this in mind, we must create a sending culture among our missional communities. If we don’t do this, they’ll eventually become lifeless social gatherings. – pg. 67

We require a lot from our Restore Communities. Since they are the place where we most hope to see individual, collective, and social renewal, we should expect a lot from them. After all, the purpose of missional community is not to create a place where Christians can casually connect. It’s not just another place where we can study the Bible. It’s not just a support group to help us cope with struggles. The purpose of missional communities is to be a source of radical hope, to witness to the new identity and vision, the new way of life that has become a social reality in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The persistent problem is not how to keep the church from withdrawing from the world, but how to keep the world from withdrawing from the church. … The forming of Christian community is therefore not an option but the very lifestyle and vocation of the church. – pg. 69


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