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A Great Answer

Having some food and time with Erwin McManus, lead pastor of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, and a handful of other Toronto pastors last night was incredible. 

I know I said I would ask one question of Erwin McManus last night, and the one I selected in my mind was "how does Erwin know when he/Mosaic is doing
something for creativity’s sake rather than for Christ’s sake?"  While I was trying to figure out how not ask it offensively, he answered it with a passion that took me back.  I loved his ‘answer’.

Erwin’s passion is contagious.  Jesus has so changed and shaped his life that he is desperate to have others follow Jesus.  He is so sure of Jesus and so sure people need him that he’s willing to do just about anything to reach people.  He said he was willing to die trying to do different things in the name of Jesus to introduce people to Jesus.   He wants to spend the rest of his life going for broke trying to figure out how to connect people with the One who changed him.  I think with that kind of attitude, how can you go wrong on the motive front?

He went even further in his talk last night at the Nova Experience, which ranked as one of the best talks about the church I’ve heard in a long time.  Some challenges he posed:

  • Speaking on Acts 17:16-34, he said most Christians expect to have dialogue with people who don’t know Jesus on our terms in our environment.  We expect them to come to us.  He called this evangelism in the "first place" (the church).  Some Christians are willing to venture to a second place (like a Tim Hortons) to talk about life and faith.  But Paul was willing to go to a third place (like the Aereopagus) and dialogue with people where they were.  How many leaders are willing to do that?  How many churches are willing to do that? 
  • Most of the energy in our churches is spent on incremental improvements in discipleship for the already-convinced, and Erwin wonders what would happen if we took all the energy we put into things like making music for Christians and simply became an environment for normal humans to interact.
  • He dreams of leaders who are even willing to be ostracized by other Christians for their radicality in making Jesus known (this actually is what biblically between Jesus-followers and "religious" people), who will go to "third" places and even be shunned by denominations (his words) and accused of heresy (which he has been, again and again) because of their passion to make Christ known.

Erwin’s talk moved me deeply, because I think it resonates with the core calling I have felt and I think our community at Connexus has felt.  Moving church from the comfort of a multi-million dollar facility into the sticky floors and pungent smell of a movie theater where normal people actually gather has been challenging but great, and is some ways is like a first step into a third place. (Erwin’s church meets in venues like night clubs where his volunteer team puts on while gloves and wipes excrement and vomit off the walls to prepare for worship). Some Christians may feel alienated by a move like that, but there are so many fresh faces who finally feel like God is becoming more accessible – who realize for the first time that Jesus actually wants a relationship with them.

It challenged me to make more space in my life for living in third places, for engaging the curiosity and hunger of thousands of people who would probably like to know this Jesus but don’t.  As much as I feel there is this call on my life, I am still so incredibly comfortable.  I’d love to die trying to figure out innovative ways to reshape lives around Jesus.  Clearly what we’re doing in the North American church now isn’t really working, with 60% of Americans and 85% of Canadians voting "no" to Christianity every weekend.

If we really believe that Jesus is who He said He is, why don’t we go for broke in sharing all of Him with the world?  I’m excited to be part of a community that more and more is willing to risk it all for the sake of those who don’t yet know Jesus.

This is radical stuff.  I’m sure I didn’t give Erwin’s talk justice, but even in the bullet points, how do you react to this?

10 Comments

  1. carey nieuwhof on April 16, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    thanks for the feedback on the third place idea. i think one of the most important things we followers of Jesus can do is engage people in a third place on their issues. too often i think we assume we know what they want to "hear" or listen to. too often we don't listen. i don't listen. i so want to change that. often christians think if we just get louder with what we're saying/doing, people will listen. sometimes that just means we're irrelevant at a louder volume.

    music can be a very powerful venue for that. i would love to think about how we could engage that media to connect deeply with our culture. great thoughts.

    tank…i'm a big fan of what God is doing through Mark Batterson at National too.

  2. tank on April 16, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Amazing how we're both thinking a lot about "third places" these days, my friend. I just blogged about it yesterday 🙂 I've been familiar with the concept for a long time since my days in city planning, but just read a great article by Mark Batterson on how National Community Church has used their Ebenezer's Coffeehouse as a third place for the church to interact daily with people who simply want a good cup of coffee and place to hang.
    Love Erwin's thoughts on and passion for the Church too.

  3. Jayne on April 16, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Last summer worship was held in the amphi-theatre almost every Friday night. It featured some prayer time and different bands each week. Pretty well attended most nights but the opportunity to reach the 'passers-by' was amazing. We were told people could hear us across the lake and downtown! Not sure if it's planned again for this summer but be sure to check it out…there were 2 or 3 different bands from Trinity/Connexus playing last year.

  4. Shirley on April 16, 2008 at 9:01 am

    What do you think about having a "worship" session in a park by the lake… Really informal, playing contemporary music… Couchiching Park comes to mind as a great spot with the already existing theater…we would just need one of our trailers! I guess that is one of the advantages of being a portable church, it would not be such a big effort for us. The suggestion was brought up during our small group meeting and it seems to me like a great way to reach the every day people where they are…

  5. Nell Maxwell on April 14, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Carey,I am interested in knowung about Erwin McManus since he and his wife will be speaking at West Park Church here in London on April 26th by simulcast.Your words re his vision excites me and we are looking forward to hearing from him then.It is a day for Married Couples so that we are expecting great things from God.
    Blessings

  6. ed on April 14, 2008 at 9:56 am

    This is totally cool to read through and encouraging. It is also convicting because it is reminding me of something God has be laying on my heart to do.

  7. Lon on April 14, 2008 at 1:29 am

    great post and summary. I've heard Erwin speak on this passage a number of times, i'm always amazed how he's continued to grow and draw new insight from it.

    glad you were impacted as well

  8. carey nieuwhof on April 12, 2008 at 8:53 am

    Laurie. I loved "Unstoppable Force" and "Barbarian Way" is on the list for next month. Pretty much everything he writes is engaging and challenging.

    Casey, I just get what you are saying. It's a heartbreaker for me to see Christian after Christian self-focus and shrink their world until it's 100% Christian, completely losing their influence on the wider community. I struggle with this too, but want to fight it tooth and nail. Salt that sits in a container all by itself will never flavour or impact anything.

    McManus spent a lot of time saying virtually everyone he meets has questions about God — Christians just give up on the dialogue to easily, never engage others or always ask the wrong questions. Most people have questions. We need to dig to find out what they are and start answering questions people are actually asking.

    Thanks man.

  9. Casey Ross on April 11, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Oh man, I resonate with this. I'm not all the way there yet, but I'm getting there.

    What used to frustrate me and now breaks my heart is talking with Christians about this kind of thing…and they just don't get it. They mentally cannot even connect with what McManus is talking about. If they cannot even get there mentally, they are miles away from connecting with it emotionally. And I don't think we'll see true change until this conversation engages Christians' hearts.

  10. L Fournier on April 11, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Wow. Wish I had been there. It sounds like it was a great experience. I've been looking at some reviews of his books; any recommendations?

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