Notes from Todd Hunter's talk on church

Todd Hunter gave a talk on, "The Church I Would Build", at the 1999 AVC pastor's conference: (these are notes of notes, edited for brevity).

On a personal note, I was privileged to walk beside Todd on our Journey's, 20 years ago; when we went on a ministry trip to New Zealand and Australia, with Todd leading our team.

Karl Barth: "Being the church for the sake of the world". (Todd) And my way of describing this phrase is, "God's missional communities".

From Miroslav Volf, "After Our Likeness":
No church without the reign of God.
No reign of God without the church.

(Todd) I would want a church that doesn't "dumb down" our faith, and that repeatedly tells our distinctive Christian story. We must remember that the church is a peculiar people that defines itself by an entirely different set of assumptions than those of the world. We need to realize that we are not helping seekers when we try to explain the Way of Christ in language that is primarily therapeutic or managerial.

One of the reasons we are increasingly without a voice in our culture is because we have "dumbed down" Christianity to a ludicrous level.

Is man seeking God or God seeking man? Perhaps man is hiding, pretending to seek God, but is really looking for a safe and predictable "god". And maybe as we dumb Christianity down, we play right into this scheme by becoming vendors of religious goods and services in order to meet peoples pretend needs.

A Godward church will not be intimidated by increasingly being pushed to the margins of society. In the NT and in history, the church has thrived when it was on the margins of society, not eating from the tables of societal power.

Take your place at the margins, get filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and do what John Wesley said- set yourself on fire, go into society and let them watch you burn.

Now would be a good time to educate yourself on how Israel acted in exile... Figure out what the church did when it was rejected in Jerusalem and was told they had no part in their society. What you'll find is that when the church received no preferential treatment or privileged position, God was most sovereign. I think that we are all just spoiled by the assumptions of Christendom. Well, those days are over.

WE have a tendency as evangelicals to understand what we are saved from, and less and understanding of what we're saved for..

In God's design, the church exists for God's mission in the world.

The church I would build would take seriously "equipping the saints" for meaningful ministry. John Wesley is a great example of leading a godly, missional people. He also perfectly blended community and mission. He had very laid-out methods for classes and societies where people learned to be disciples... They are a beautiful example of what it's like being "living stones" (1 Peter 1:4-5).

I sometimes find in pastors that, psychologically, we don't really like leading living stones, because they can be trouble... but the problem is that the alternative is dead stones. You can control them. But there's no life of the Spirit there. Wesley found a way to loose these living stones, making them increasingly mature Christians, so that they became a "sent" community living winsomely and powerfully in the public arena.

So, the church I would build would aim to be a "sent" community, a body of people sent on a mission. And that means that we need to be deeply in the world. Tragically, I'm finding that some of our pastors have it in reverse: they are of the world but are never really in it. We need to ensure that we are neither about marginalization nor worldly and captured by the world's distractions.

Rather, God has called us to be a display- a foretaste- of the reign of God in the midst of the real world. That means that not only do we have a message to announce, but we are actually to embody that message in our daily lives. Thus, we would never conceive of ourselves as local churches “with” a mission program; we need to understand that we are in fact missionary congregations. Emil Brunner said, “Mission is to the church as burning is to fire.”

We must recognize that we are perhaps now in a more difficult cross-cultural situation than some congregations reaching out halfway around the world. The Christian-pagan distinction is every bit as powerful here as anything the church faces in India or Asia. It’s time for us to learn to be missionaries. Mission can never be merely what the church “does.” Mission is who we are. The community of God is, at its most fundamental level, a missionary encounter with every city, suburb, and village in this universe.

The church that I would build would be a community of Christians who believe the Gospel so much that they actually order their lives around it.

Unfortunately, the statistics (from Barna, etc.) I’ve seen suggest there is little difference between the world and Christians when it comes to behaviors such as renting pornographic movies, giving to the poor, or getting divorced. If you’ve seen those stats, they are enormously depressing.

Our hope is to become an alternative community—one in which the world can see that we actually believe in Jesus so much, that we’ve attributed so much intelligence to him, so much worthiness, that we matter-of-factly order our lives around becoming like him. Actually being a peculiar people, a community intentionally living under the reign of God, would be a compelling argument for the Story of God in the world.

The church community I would build would not be denominationally-oriented. I do not think that differing expressions of Christianity are necessarily a bad thing, but four hundred years of denominationalism have been a major driving force in creating the consumer Christians who you now pull your hair out trying to pastor. Choice has been exploited for hundreds of years. In 1800 there were thirty-six denominations in America. Today there are over four hundred. The problem I have with a denominational orientation is that it’s an inward focus derived from a negative reaction to others. As Lesslie Newbigen says, denominationalism ends up being a type of secularism—a group form of privatized religion.

It’s time we re-discover our fundamental unity with the rest of the Body of Christ. I get up every morning not thinking, “Well, I’m not Toronto, I’m not Kansas City, I’m not Hank Hanegraaff or John MacArthur or Bill Hybels or Rick Warren.” That is not my orientation. My orientation is, “Those are my brothers, and they are all doing the very best they know how to do to serve God. We see their errors, they see ours. But they are our brothers.” I say to them, “My orientation is for God and for serving you, and we recognize our fundamental unity long before we recognize our minor differences."

Gordon Fee says, “The Christian community is called to manifest an alternative social order of Spirit-empowered Christlikeness.” The Christian community should, by definition, be counter-cultural without being escapist. Lives of sacrifice, humility, modesty, self-discipline, and preferring others are not always going to be considered normal in popular society. But the church of Jesus needs to challenge the worldly norms around it, not with signs held up that say, “God hates gays!” but with lives of such love and goodness that it defies understanding, doesn’t make sense to the world around, and that causes outsiders to ask, “What is it that causes you to live this way?”

Why did Christianity spread so rapidly in the early years of the church? Over and over again we can see that the first Christians didn’t out-argue pagans—they outlived them. Their relation to the world was proactive instead of reactionary. They simply made Jesus their master, and routinely gave to those who stole from them, loved those who were persecuting them, blessed those who cursed them, lived humbly, and laid down their lives for others. And it was in observing these communities of people that outsiders saw and understood the Gospel. So the communities we want to make in our churches should neither be fear-based, afraid of the dark, immoral world we live in—nor should our churches be merely a “safe harbor.” No, the church belongs out in the very middle of the terrible waves of life. That’s where God is, you know. We should follow him there.

Days of Awe

"May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."

The "Days of Awe" are the ten days between Rosh Hashana (last Friday) and Yom Kippur (next Monday). That makes tonight's Sabbath special. During these ten days, observant Jewish people greet each other with, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year," because the ten Days of Awe are about repentance, reconciliation, and introspection. It's a time to "do business with God" regarding past sins and start the new year right. It's a time to align and set your trajectory with God for the new year.

I went to Ezra 9:4 this morning:

'Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice."

From the Days of Awe article on the Religion Facts website:

"According to Jewish tradition, it is during the Days of Awe that God decides on each person's fate in the next year. He writes these judgments in "books" on Rosh Hashanah, but they can be changed until the end of Yom Kippur, when the books are sealed."

I believe that your life (path, destiny, destination) can be changed by your actions.

Winged and toothless

I got this idea that the enemy is like a Pteranodon. Pronounced "ter-AN-o-DON." The word means "winged and toothless." They were about 6 feet tall or long, with a wing-span of 25 to 33 feet. They were flying reptiles with a big beak. Being that large, they were no doubt very scary. You can imagine the screech from a creature that big. You can imagine the fear it would stir in you if it suddenly flew over you or your children, the elderly, the weak, or the infirm among you.

The idea I have about these Pteranodon's being like the enemy, and by the enemy I mean the demonic entities, is that the enemy's main strategy is to incite fear and to intimidate. His way is to stop people aligned with God from doing good or exercising their authority. He generally does this through scare tactics and intimidation. Like a little man behind a curtain with a big sound system and projector and smoke machines and weird lights (with mirrors), he is essentially toothless.

If you freeze in fear, he's got you; and if you run, he's accomplished his mission. But if you fight back, you'll find that he's toothless. This big bad wolf really has no weapon to follow through with his threats, if you're willing to stand and face him, spiritual sword and shield in hand.

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication."
Letter to the Church in Ephesus by Paul, Chapter 6


Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:27-31

If you are tired, weary, or burned out; wait on the Lord and renew your strength.
Waiting doesn't just mean to get some rest or to pause from your focuses, but it primarily means to attend to the Lord, just as a waiter does. Waiting is active. Waiters are on their feet most of the time. To wait on God is to pay attention or give your focus. Renewal comes from intentional attentiveness and refocusing on God. Sounds pretty simple, but we need to hear it because we constantly lose focus and lose our way when we are earthly followers of an invisible God who can seem far away. We have to intentionally get into the place between earth and heaven and get renewed.

Remembering where you were brought from intensifies your celebration

And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt.
And you shall be careful to observe these statutes.
Deuteronomy 16:12

God wanted them to remember that they once were slaves. Remembering from where we were taken by God helps us be thankful and humble and generous. We are saved unto good works. God redeems us so that we can in turn act redemptively with God. Part of the statutes that it's talking about are remembering to include the tribal priests, the poor, the widows and the orphans. Inclusivity.

Mary Magdalene

Mary of Magdalene was a regular person, just like you and I, and Jesus changed her life forever. She decided to follow him to such an extent that she was there when Jesus hung on the cross and she was there at the empty tomb. Because of her curiosity and desire to watch over Jesus, she got to be the first one to see him after he rose from the dead and she was sent by him to tell the other guys.

Your story of what Jesus has done for you is a powerful thing and you get to choose how closely you will follow him. And those who follow closer get to have deeper revelations of him, about him.

Sky Links, 9-27-17