Friday, June 26, 2009

Bounded vs. Centered Set Video Clip

Dave Schmelzer, pastor of Boston Vineyard Church has put together a small video clip on Bounded vs. Centered Set thinking. This is helpful in understanding the idea a bit more that we talked about in small group last night.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In or Out? - Part 2 of Our Look into Core Values

Black or white, republican or democratic, rich or poor, trekkie or, well, everyone else… these are just a few of the identifiers used in our world to denote who is “in” and who is “out”. It starts at a very young age and is in full-bloom once we reach high school, but just because you graduate high school doesn’t mean that you are done with in/out thinking for good. The truth is that when we move into adulthood we may leave the cliques of prep, skater, jock, band geek, and stoner behind but we never outgrow our need to be “in”. So when we leave the high school identifiers behind we settle into other identifiers like social status, political affiliation, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. These identifiers provide us with comfort, security, and a sense of belonging—the feeling of being “in”. The problem is that being “in” causes us to look down on anyone who is “out” and to feel pride concerning our in-ness—“at least I’m not like those people!” All we need to do is take a cursory glance at world history to see that this type of thinking has been the breeding ground for nationalism, aggression, and even genocide when not diffused.

While this type of thinking and behaving comes naturally to humans it is nowhere more destructive than when it comes to religion because not only are we “in” but now, as Bob Dylan sang, we have "God on our side". When we get to this place, even as sincere believers, we can very easily end up aligned more with forces of destruction and division rather than redemption and reconciliation. Our words become arrogant and condescending, and even the truth we speak becomes tinged with venom—alienating rather reconciling, tearing down rather than redeeming, erecting barriers rather than building bridges.

No Barriers
One of the most revolutionary concepts in the New Testament is how completely Jesus has done away with the barriers in our world whether race, ethnicity, class, or gender. In Jesus we are reconciled and reconnected to God. Every barrier that kept us estranged from God has been dealt with. This fundamental reality has ramifications not only on our relationship as individuals to God but in relation to other people as well. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote in many places about how the identifiers and boundary markers of our world have all been done away with in Christ ( 1 Corinthians 12:13, Colossians 3:11, Ephesians 2:13 ).

Paul writes in Galatians 3:28,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul makes the case over and over that the only thing that ultimately matters is where we are in relation to Christ. If Christ is truly the center of life then everything else should, like spokes on a wheel, flow from that center. This doesn’t mean that we will be some kind of homogenous group of people who all look, talk, and act alike, but it will mean that the kinds of things that separate folks who are not Christ-followers should not separate us who are endeavoring to follow Jesus. We live in such a way as to bring this reality to bear in our world. We are reconcilers because we have been reconciled!

Bounded Set and Centered Set
A helpful way of working this out practically comes from the world of math, specifically Set Theory. One of the most common ways of grouping people in our world can be referred to as a Bounded Set. A Bounded Set is defined by its boundary. The boundary may be the Republican political ideology, for example, so if you identify with that ideology and the actions of that group you are "in" with that group and if you don’t then you are "out". This way of understanding groups can apply to just about any type of group whether ethnic, social, niche, class, or even churches. You are ‘in’ each of these groups (Bounded Sets) based on your participation in certain activities, by living according to certain rules, and perhaps by the way you dress or talk. The Bounded Set way of thinking (which is most common in our world) by its very nature erects many barriers or boundaries to outsiders.

Have you ever been an outsider?
Have you ever been around a bounded set of people without being able to make it in?

Unfortunately this is what happens with many people when it comes to church. They may be sincerely interested in matters of faith. They may have even had some kind of encounter with God. The problem is that as far as they can tell there are too many barriers to overcome to connect with faith communities. And so because they don’t know the jargon or the customs of the groups which are concerned with spirituality they are left to journey through their faith questions and doubts alone.

Perhaps a more helpful way of looking at things in light of the reconciling work of Christ is another set theory called- Centered Set (see illustration). In a Centered Set people are not identified by being in or out of a boundary but by their relation or movement towards or away from the center (which for Christ-followers is Jesus). This is a very helpful way of looking at things because instead of thinking of church or faith as something you do once such as praying a prayer or becoming a member, it becomes a journey that is consistently defined by where we are moving in relation to the center (Jesus).
For instance, in the gospels Jesus has numerous encounters with Pharisees and scribes who were much closer to him in terms of morality and observance of the law than say the prostitutes, tax collectors or even fishermen. Yet time and time again we see how it was the prostitute, the tax collector, or even the Roman soldier who were actually moving towards Jesus when those who were closest such as the scribes and Pharisees were moving away from him. A Centered Set approach to faith does not emphasize boundaries but connects with people wherever they are and at whatever stage of faith in which they may be.

Have you ever experienced times in your Christian walk where you were doing a lot of Christian activities such as going to church, serving, or standing up for righteousness when in fact you were moving away from Jesus?

Have you ever experienced God when you were doing nothing "religious" or "Christian"?

How might our attitudes towards non-Christians be different if we took more of a Centered Set rather than a Bounded Set approach to church?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Compass (Intro to Core Values)

In West Texas where I grew up I rarely ever got lost. Why? Because there were no trees, very few clouds, hardly anything to obstruct ones view. Even when I moved to Dallas back in ’93 I never had much of a problem getting around. Though it was a big city I could usually find my bearings pretty easily. I never had much of a problem getting lost until I moved to Hammond, Louisiana about 15 years ago. You would think that because it was a small town it would be pretty easy to navigate around but I found out very quickly that I knew a whole lot of people who didn’t live in the actual town of Hammond but on the outskirts in places with strange sounding names like Pumpkin Center, Tickfaw, Loranger, and Blood River to name a few. And I found that many of the times when I was trying to go to a friend’s house my normally good sense of direction was obscured by trees and clouds, and further frustrated by the many Louisiana roads on which there are no trace of street signs.

My initiation into life in Louisiana included being introduced for the first time in my life to a type common type of driving directions that would go something like… “Well you need to go down that road about a half a mile until you come to an old gas station… pass the gas station and turn right on the black top just after the dirt road and then you will go down about a quarter mile until you see a huge oak tree… turn left on the dirt road and you will pass 2 dirt roads and a cow pasture and then our house is on the right…” So, needless to say, I spent a whole lot of time lost in those first few years that I lived in Louisiana.

My early years of getting lost in the Hammond area serve as a picture of how life is for many folks. We have an idea of where we are trying to go but getting there becomes confusing because of the trees, clouds, and lack of signs. So we begin looking to cues from our culture or society or even from other Christians to help us find our way… and sometimes we get there. But many times because we have no accurate way of maintaining our bearings we just end up adrift pushed to and fro by the waves of culture, the opinions of others, and our own impulsiveness.

There is a popular term in evangelical Christianity for those who have not found faith in Christ—“Lost”. As the great hymn Amazing Grace puts it, “I once was lost but now am found…” There is an understanding that apart from Jesus we are lost in this world meandering with no sense of direction or destination. Many have found this word a fitting description of their life before having faith in Christ. However when we surrender to Jesus our whole life begins to orient around him, life becomes clearer, our steps more sure, our purpose more clear. As we follow Jesus, and orient our lives around him, he frees us up to be our true selves. And from that point faith begins giving rise to our core values—values that, like a compass, will help us keep our bearings no matter where we may be.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vineyard Core Values Part 1

Over the next few months we will be discussing the core values and philosophy of ministry of the North Shore Vineyard in our small groups. In conjunction with the small groups I will be posting blogs to help stimulate the discussion and initiate our conversation.

The first topic we will be dealing with is why we need to have core values and how they can inform and guide the various aspects of Christian life individually and as a church.

Why Core Values?
The reality is that each of us has a set of core values around which we live our lives. We may not be conscious of them or even be able to articulate them but there are ideas and values that are fundamental to our existence that reside within every person.

A core value for one person may be financial security. Thus it will inform and guide the decisions that person makes concerning employment, saving, and investing. Another core value may be maintaining a high level of relationship in one’s family. Again this value will have ramifications on the type of job that one will work, and the type of activities that one might engage in. What makes these values core values is that they are fundamental in a person’s worldview and outlook on life. A person will not easily go against his or her core values without great anxiety, resentment, and pain because core values reside at such a heart level.

Becoming Aware of Individual Core Values
I suspect that many if not most people are not consciously aware of their core values and because of this they lead, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Lives of quiet desperation” because they are consistently transgressing something within that matters deeply even if they are not immediately conscious of it.

I have found it a great exercise from time to time to sit down and ask myself what really matters to me and how I am letting that inform and guide my life. While this is a helpful exercise it is sometimes a bit painful to see how much of my life and time I let be led by other values and forces that exist far outside of my core values whether it is the culture, trying to please people, or confusing the means with the goal. It is absolutely crucial to our thriving and living from our hearts that we get in touch with the core values within. Obviously for a Christian the ultimate core value should be Jesus. In other words Jesus should be the point around which everything else in our lives is oriented. That said, each of us will have a unique set of core values that arise from orienting our lives around Jesus.
I wrote a blog last April entitled What Matters that touches on how to begin getting in touch with one’s core values:

Core Values of a Vineyard Church
Just as becoming aware of our core values as individuals is tremendously important the same could be said of understanding the core values of a church. The leaders of the Vineyard movement have recently released a list of 5 distinct values of Vineyard Churches. These values may not be unique to Vineyard Churches only but the collection of these core values sets forth what should be fundamental in any Vineyard Church.

The core values are as follows:
1. The Theology and Practice of the Kingdom of God
2. Experiencing God
3. Reconciling Community
4. Compassionate Ministry
5. Culturally Relevant Mission

While we will be spending time in the next few months exploring these values I would highly recommend delving into them further by reading several articles on Vineyard Values.

Core Values Transcend Context
It is important to understand that core values can work in any context. For instance each of the above values can guide a gathering of Christians in a Sunday service but can also work just as well in an individual’s life whether in line at Wal-Mart, or having a conversation with a neighbor, visiting someone in the hospital, or even in one’s family. The way these values are expressed in different contexts may look a bit different from place to place and may even change over time but the guiding values remain the same.

How would you see the above 5 core values lived out in a weekly gathering of believers?

How would the above values be lived out daily in your personal life - at home, at work, in your neighborhood, etc?

And finally how might these core values inform the way we for people in various contexts from a church gathering to one's place of employment to standing in line at Wal-Mart?