EMMANUEL RESEARCH REVIEW
Resources for the urban pastor and community leader
published by Emmanuel Gospel Center, Boston
Issue No. 53 — February 2010
In this issue: The Cat & the Toaster: Living System Ministry in a Technological Age
The Cat & the Toaster: Living System Ministry in a Technological Age, a book by Doug Hall is now available
Introduced by Steve Daman
Communications Director, Emmanuel Gospel Center
& Co-author of The Cat & the Toaster
People make toasters. Only God makes cats. And, contrary to popular thought, we can’t fix a sick cat with the tools we may use to fix our toaster. So why do those of us who are in Christian ministry try to fix our churches with the tools we may use to fix a business or an organization? It doesn’t work.
The Cat and the Toaster: Living System Ministry in a Technological Age offers an approach to Christian ministry in the Western world that recognizes the differences between cats, the world God created, and toasters, the world we create using our technology and our capacities, limited as they are. When we understand the difference, and learn to work in and with God’s large living systems, our ministry will bemuch more effective.
My hope, when I worked with Doug and Judy Hall, President and Assistant to the President of Emmanuel Gospel Center in Boston, over the past four years to write this book, was to accomplish three things at once: I wanted to help Doug and Judy tell their story, which is a great story about learning to do ministry in a complex urban environment. Secondly, I wanted to pass on a lot of Doug’s core teachings about ministry, which together form the school of thought we call “Living System Ministry.” Doug has been teaching these concepts in urban ministry classes at the seminary level at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary since 1973. And thirdly, I wanted to give Doug a chance to voice his prophetic call to the Western church, urging us to learn to think and then act in ways that are more consistent with the way that God thinks and acts. All three of these are exciting subjects, I feel. And I am glad this book is available so that more people can explore these concepts for themselves.
In this issue of the Emmanuel Research Review, we offer a brief introduction to the themes covered throughout the six parts of the book, as well as links to the book’s website where you can learn more. Also, we have included links for ordering the book. At the end, we have included a selected bibliography from Dr. Hall’s book.
As always, we welcome your feedback! Contact us using the various methods on the right side of this page.
Preface: Are you ready for the coming revival?
Douglas A. Hall, President, Emmanuel Gospel Center and Author of The Cat & The Toaster
I can remember a time when I sensed God was very upset. The Bible says we are not to grieve the Holy Spirit, but on that day, I was with hundreds of Christians who, apparently, collectively caused him much grief.
I went to a meeting in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, sometime around 1979. Three hundred pastors and Christian leaders gathered that day. There had been much prayer before this gathering, and then it happened! The Spirit of God descended on all of us in a way I have seldom experienced before or since. There was spontaneous confession among those pastors present. People were deeply in prayer, aware of the presence of God, seeking him with all of their hearts. God’s Spirit filled the room.
Then someone got up and made a statement that initially sounded good to me and probably to others as well. What he said went something like this: “Let’s organize this and see it happen all over New England!”
It was a warm day and all the windows were open around the meeting hall. Before the man finished speaking, it seemed to me that the Spirit of God left us, as though blowing out through all the open windows. The sense of holiness and the fire of God’s revival presence disappeared like a mist and was gone. We sat together in an empty room.
“God,” I asked, “why are you so upset? Is it wrong for us to try to keep things going when you pour out your Spirit?” What seemed like the beginning of a revival ended just as suddenly as it had come, and I know of no long-lasting fruit or further developments from that event, powerful as it was.
How had we grieved the Holy Spirit? Did God get upset because of some small statement that one man had made? Was there something wrong with our trying to keep the fire burning? Can we ever get it right?
The Quiet Revival
I can tell you about another recent New England revival that lasted longer than the two-hours in Sturbridge. This revival has burned steadily now for about forty years, and during this time has not only transformed Boston, but has affected the region and the world. Yet, no one has stepped in to control it or organize it, because no one realized it was happening until long after it started.
Research conducted by the Emmanuel Gospel Center in the early 1990s showed that we were in the longest and most aggressive period of church planting the city had ever seen. There had been fifty percent growth in the number of churches since the 1960s, despite a sharp decline in the number of mainline, established Protestant churches whose spires once defined the Boston skyline. No one had expected this. Even those of us working in the city were unaware of the extent of what God was doing. Today we call this phenomenon the Quiet Revival. The movement continues today, not only in Boston, but it has emerged in different expressions in many urban communities worldwide.
The fact that this all happened under the radar may be part of God’s strategy. What if we had said at its outset, back in the mid-1960s, “Look at the great revival in urban communities! Now what can we do? How do we keep this going? How can we make this spread to other groups as well?” But we didn’t have the opportunity even to ask those questions because we didn’t know it was happening. It was almost as though God kept the revival a secret from us Christians so we wouldn’t ruin it! It was as if he couldn’t trust us! Is it any different now?
What’s Next? Revival?
The churches born in the early years of the Quiet Revival have matured. Though churches may die, merge, or move, today there are nearly twice as many churches in Boston as there were at the start of the revival. Today, one of every six churches in Boston and neighboring Cambridge has services in Spanish. Today, across New England, there are more than 420 Brazilian congregations as well as strong church systems in many other communities. For the first five years of this decade, from 2000 to 2005, a new church opened in Boston on average every twenty days, and it appears that the trend continues for the last half of this decade as well. We have seen revival! So today, I ask, what’s next for Boston, our region, and beyond?
I honestly believe God wants to do something new and major in Boston, and I really believe that this time he wants his church to be involved. He does not want to do this behind our backs. As a father draws his children into his work, he is longing for a partnership with his church, his own sons and daughters. He wants to hang the sign outside his shop: God & Sons & Daughters, Unlimited.
But are we ready for the coming revival? What would he have to do to get us ready? If we have a tendency to ruin what he is doing, if he can’t trust us with his work, how must we change? How can we learn to fit in?
A Letter from Jesus to the Western Churches
I think I have found, in Scripture and in life, a process that God can use to transform us from being people who are in the way, ineffective, inept, unfruitful, and out of step, to being people who are aligned with Christ, effective, bearing much fruit, in step with him, and ready to be a part of kingdom growth as God does his work.
Judy and I have had the privilege of visiting developing countries, and living in the global city of Boston gives us opportunity to get to know lots of folks from many cultures of the world, but I write from the perspective of a Westerner. I see a reflection of my Western church in the pages of the Bible, and I hear God speaking to our culture when I read Jesus’ letter to the Laodiceans in Revelation chapter 3. It starts out, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea,” but pretend with me for a moment that the words are: “To the angel of the Western church in the twenty-first century write. . .”
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Rev 3:14–22)
I do believe this message is as true for us Westerners today as it was for them. Our Lord has carefully, andlovingly, I might add, observed our deeds and found us wanting. Like the Laodiceans, our dependence on our riches, knowledge, and technology has made us proud and self-sufficient. We become like rulers. And that is not the role Jesus has mapped out for us!
Thankfully, Jesus offered the Laodiceans the way out of their ineffective life and he offers the same to us. In the pages that follow, I will use this little letter as an outline for sharing some of the principles I have learned in over forty years of ministry. I believe these principles will help you, too.
I have great hope for my culture and my Western church and I have great hope for you, whatever culture you are from, that together we can overcome the Laodicean problem, and that we can discover secrets to effective ministry that God has hidden right in front of our faces. May God give us all eyes to see what he is doing, ears to hear what he is saying, and the courage to obey him when he calls.
PART ONE: UNDERSTANDING OUR TIMES
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. —Revelation 3:14b–16
Maybe it’s time we took a new and closer look at our deeds, our actions, as the Western church. Instead of asking, “What would Jesus do?” maybe it is time to ask, “What are we doing and why are we doing it?”
PART TWO: EMBRACING OUR POVERTY
You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. —Revelation 3:17
Like the people of Laodicea, we as Western Christians are leaning heavily on our abilities and our resources. I don’t think God is impressed by this. Instead, he sees the Laodiceans wallowing in deep poverty. I think that, as a church, we need to own this for ourselves as well and repent of our self-sufficiency, agreeing with God that we are in inner poverty and that the shiny resources surrounding us are only empty shells!
PART THREE: DISCOVERING OUR WEALTH
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. —Revelation 3:18
It is a paradox, isn’t it, that only when we admit our death can we cross the line to participate fully in life. Admission of our fallenness, not wealth or righteousness, not perfection or wisdom or holiness, is the entry point to each of these three treasures that Jesus counsels us to buy. We need to admit our poverty to receive his refined gold, we need to admit our sin to receive his white clothes, and we need to admit our blindness to receive his eye salve.
PART FOUR: ALIGNING OUR ACTIONS
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. —Revelation 3:19
Jesus’ tough love alerts us to align our actions to the way God does things in his world, rather than being misfits who blindly cause damage to living systems. He clearly does not want our ministry to bear temporary fruit or for us to be lukewarm believers. He wants us to work with him in his way in his living systems so that we will bear much fruit, the fruit that remains. As youth learn by trial and error, we will learn kingdom work by trial and error. And as we do, we start to take our place in the family, though still under discipline. This inward discipline demands a growing level of maturity and responsiveness to Jesus so that he does not have to speak sternly to us all the time.
PART FIVE: OPENING OUR DOORS
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. —Revelation 3:20
Jesus is knocking and calling. I see him knocking on the door of our Western, secondary culture church, so much like the church in Laodicea, and he is calling softly to us, asking if we will invite him into our high tech kitchen to have intimate friendship with him, joining him to do ministry with him in his way.
PART SIX: BEGINNING OUR JOURNEY
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. —Revelation 3:21
The hope for vitality in Western Christianity in our technological age is not found in our past, but in our future. We can’t go back to Eden. Nor will we be able to escape the growth of technology, should we even want to. As the benefits of technology continue to spread throughout the world, people will long for something to give direction to the way life will be. Heaven is that very practical and very real goal that can give shape to the way we live here and now. The new Jerusalem, with its perfect technology, is the perfect interrelationship of the three realms of reality—the physical, social, and spiritual creation, all operating as one living system, together eternally giving glory to the King, Jesus Christ, who was, is, and always will be the Ruler of God’s creation.
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Selected Bibliography from The Cat & the Toaster
Billings, Todd J. “What makes a church missional?” Christianity Today, March 2008. Online:http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/16.56.html.
Campbell, Dennis G. Congregations As Learning Communities: Tools for Shaping Your Future. Bethesda, MD: Alban Institute, 2000.
Cole, Neil. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.
Diamond, Jared M. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005.
Forrester, Jay W. “Churches at the Transition between Growth and World Equilibrium,” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 7, no. 3 (1972), in Toward Global Equilibrium: Collected Papers, ed. Dennis L. Meadows. Cambridge, MA: Wright-Allen Press, 1972, 145-167.
———. Urban Dynamics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969.
Gans, Herbert J. Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans. New York: The Free Press (Macmillan Co., Inc.), 1982.
Grigg, Viv. Companion to the Poor. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1990.
———. The Spirit of Christ and the Postmodern City: Transforming Revival Among Auckland’s Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2009.
Johnston, Tom. “285 Billion.” The Praxis Center for Church Development (www .praxiscenter.org), repr. Emmanuel Research Review 25 (March 2007), http://egc.org/research/issue_25.htm.
McGavran, Donald A. The Bridges of God; A Study in the Strategy of Missions. New York: Distributed by Friendship Press, 1955.
Morgan, Timothy C. with Thomas S. Giles. “Re-engineering the Seminary?” Christianity Today, Oct. 24, 1994, cover story.
New England’s Book of Acts. Boston: Emmanuel Gospel Center, 2007. Online:http://newenglandsbookofacts.org.
Rah, Soong-Chan. The Next Evangelicalism: Releasing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009.
Schaeffer, Francis. Pollution and the Death of Man. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1992.
Schwarz, Christian A. and Christoph Schalk. Implementation Guide to Natural Church Development.Carol Stream, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 1998.
Senge, Peter M. Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society. New York: Doubleday, 2005.
———. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Currency, Doubleday, 1990.
———. The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization. New York: Currency, Doubleday, 1994.
———. The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World. New York: Doubleday, 2008.
Stark, Rodney. The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.
Van Gelder, Craig. The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.
Whiteman, Darrell L. “Anthropology and Mission: The Incarnational Connection.” International Journal of Frontier Missions 21:2 (2004), 79–88. Online:http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/21_2_PDFs/79_Whiteman.pdf.
Winter, Gibson. The Suburban Captivity of the Churches; An Analysis of Protestant Responsibility in the Expanding Metropolis. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961.
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