Between You and God: A Review of Surrender to Love

Surrender to Love: Discovering the  Heart of Christian Spirituality
by David G. Benner.

What does God think of you?
Do you relate to Him with fear or trust?
How does that affect your life?

David Benner, a professor of psychology and spirituality, summarizes the Christian life in his title: Surrender to Love. He recognizes our longing for love and connection – indeed, it is our life purpose – yet we are hesitant to be vulnerable.

The book contains only five chapters, and is not burdensome to read. It takes the reader through a progression as follows:

First, he poses the question, “what do you think God feels about you?” He encourages us to think if God as the Father of the prodigal son – loving us despite our sin. He also points out that Jesus, God incarnate shows us that God is love. The problem, however, is that many people know this, but don’t feel it. They need to experience it.

Second, Benner addresses fear. Some people relate to God in this way, as if God only offered His gift of Love “at gunpoint.” And, living in fear, we seek safety by seeking to control ourselves and others. Only knowing the safety of God’s uninventable, inconceivable gracious love can free us from fear, to vulnerably receive.

Third, he argues that obedience to God, which leads to our well-being, needs to be in surrender. We can’t strive to obey by our own strength; we must abandon control, and trust His love. Obedience should be restful, like flowing in a stream, rather than striving by our own strength. It is preferring His way, and saying “yes” to Him – only possible if we trust His love.

Fourth, Benner outlines the transformational journey this involves. It begins with conversion, which involves repenting or turning from our sin, to God. This requires trusting His love and reorienting toward Him. Next, one must receive the love in vulnerability – only then can it truly transform us. One may know the truth, but they will not be able to change by sheer willpower. Finally, after opening oneself to God, one must “leap beyond belief” and truly experience His love. Only God’s love can truly satisfy, and only His love is perfect enough for absolute surrender; but our love can partially reflect it enough to partially enjoy this transformative love in a human context.

Fifth, Benner addresses how we can “become love.” He points out that conversion involves a death and rebirth of the self. And to become new, it involves meditating on God’s love, rather than trying to mimic it. But, one must experience this love through the cross alone – recognizing our sinfulness and need, and receiving His gift. From there, we lose ourselves and become others-oriented; we become love, in the image of the One Who is love.

What can I say about this book?

If you prefer practical, hands-on, formulaic, how-to ministry manuals, this isn’t for you. Yet, in a way, it does present us with very simple and clear instructions on how to benefit from God’s love.

Perhaps, you may wonder, ‘How can Benner, or anyone for that matter, speak of such things? Aren’t these issues private, between us and God?’

No. Read the Psalms. Read the Bible! We need to talk more about our relationship with God. Yes, it is individual and unique, but it is strengthened in community. Benner doesn’t have the complete view, but neither does anyone else. Yet, we can learn from one another, and I dare say we should learn from what Benner shares here.

So, by all means, check out this book, read it with an open mind, and take from it what you can!

“Know Thyself:” An Introduction to the Enneagram

Navel Gazers 

The ancient Greeks are known for their philosophy – almost any idea can be traced, or connected in some way, to the preserved writings of their famous thinkers.  The phrase in the title, “Know Thyself,” or γνῶθι σεαυτόν in Greek, is a well-known aphorism, attributed to various ancient philosophers, but famously expounded by Socrates, who concluded, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

While this idea may sound like self-absorbed navel-gazing to a Christian, the value of introspection is not foreign to Biblical and later Christian writers.  For example, King David’s words in Psalm 139:23-24 are still repeated by Christians today, as part of what is called the Prayer of Examen:

Search me, God, and know my heart; 
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Such a prayer makes it clear that, while a Christian’s primary pursuit would be to know God (Philippians 3:8-10), a healthy and reciprocal relationship with our Creator will involve learning about ourselves from the One Who knows us best.  Perhaps the greatest example of this in later Christian writings would be Augustine of Hippo, who practically invented the genre of autobiography.  After his long search for meaning and truth brought him back to the faith of his childhood, he confessed:

For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there. 

Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. (Confessions)

Centuries later, Paul wrote to the Roman church, instructing them on the essential beliefs of the Christian faith.  Then, he closes his letter with practical instructions on how to get along and function in relationship to one another:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. (Romans 12:3-6).

For Paul, a self-awareness of one’s personal identity in Christ, and of one’s personal gifting, is crucial for healthy participation in Christ’s community. While many later writers have built on this idea, one notable example from recent times would be Henri Nouwen.  In his book, Reaching Out, he argues that one must come to peace within themselves in order to reach out to others:  

It is there that our changing relationship to ourself can be brought to fruition in an ever-changing relationship to our fellow human beings.  It is there that our reaching out to our innermost being can lead to a reaching out to the many strangers whom we meet on our way through life (65).

Again, one last time, this idea should not lead to self-absorption.  For Paul, knowing one’s unique gifting comes after surrendering oneself to be transformed by God and conformed to His will (Romans 12:1-2).  It is in relation to God that we find our true selves.  Jesus states, even clearer, that we must give up our lives in order to truly gain them (Luke 9:24)  As C.S. Lewis states in Mere Christianity,

But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away “blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him…Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

So, as we proceed to explore the Enneagram, may we do so with an attitude of openness to God, joining David in saying, “search me, O God.

The Enneagram

I recently finished reading Discovering Your Personality Type: The Essential Introduction to the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson.

As the title indicates, this would be a good first book for anyone wanting to learn about this fascinating and useful personality indicator.  It contains introductory materials, a 144-question survey to indicate your type, an explanation of each of the 9 types, and some guidelines of interpretation.

As with any good personality indicator, the results should seem intuitive.  This test should put into words what a person already feels and observes.  And, equally important, it should give language to what we observe in others.  The enneagram has become widely used in business circles, counseling, and faith communities in order to gain insight into our personal, relational, and spiritual dynamics.

Underlying the mechanics of the enneagram is a belief that everyone has a basic type.  While nurturing factors can affect the way that we develop, relate, and act outwardly, there is an assumption that, deep down, we all have an inborn nature that affects the way we experience life.  As far as this paradigm is concerned, our “type” is  irrespective of gender, ethnicity, or season of life.  Rather, those external factors may affect other aspects of the enneagram.  No type is better than another; rather, each type has its own corresponding vices, fears, and levels of health.

While many personality paradigms present binary choices, and simply provide people with a static label, the
enneagram is more dynamic.

First, rather than binary, it is tertiary.  All people are divided into one of three triads, based on their “centre of consciousness:” thinking, feeling, or instinctive (gut).  These three categories essentially express how people make decisions.  Then, within each triad are three sub-sections: one assertive, one dutiful, and one withdrawn.  The result is that each person has two characteristics, assigning them one of nine basic types.  There are additional levels that psychologists have added, further dividing each type again.

Perhaps most uniquely, the enneagram is dynamic.  Not only does a person stand solidly within their “basic type;” but there is also conditional movement between the types.  When a person is stressed, they tend to act like a specific other type; when they are secure, they tend to act like another type.  People also tend to have a “wing,” or secondary type that is adjacent to their main one.  Thus, the enneagram accounts for the diversity we experience, and provides an explanation for human development and regression when experiencing consolation and desolation.

In short, the enneagram explains a lot.  And the more familiar one becomes with it, the more insight one can gain into personal, relational, and spiritual dynamics.  We can gain language to explain why we feel, think and do things, why we clash with certain people, and what wholeness and health looks like for us and others.  The enneagram does not rank types in comparison to each other, but provides a framework for seeking maximum health within one’s own type.

So, if you are curious to explore your personality dynamics further,
or if you are inclined to openly approach God as David did in Psalm 139,
or if you are ready to heed Christ’s call to turn your life over to Him for transformation, consider using the enneagram as a practical tool!

Is Your Church is Too Safe?

Just over a year ago, I was called by Parkdale Evangelical Free Church to join their family and serve as Pastor.  God had led me through a searching year of letting go of where I was and what I was doing – and now He had shown me the next step.  God provided us with a ministry calling, a home, and a loving community to join.  We moved on September 1, 2016.

Since then, people have often asked me, “How’s it going at Parkdale?”  I tell them that I am very grateful to be part of such a healthy, loving family of believers.  I appreciate that our gatherings can provide a time and place for people of various generations and backgrounds to unite in worship and warm fellowship.  It is a family that likes being together – whether it be cheering on their softball team, building homes in Mexico, or enjoying a barbecue lunch.  Parkdale is a community that I am glad to share about with others, and when they visit, they speak of it’s warm atmosphere.

Not long into my time as pastor here, a senior member of the church showed me a photo directory of Parkdale, from the early 1980’s – before the time that I was born.  What struck me most was not the odd hairdos, or the lack of ethnic diversity that are characteristic of that decade – it was simply this: that less than a handful of the people in this directory still attended the church!

This is not to say that there are no seniors at Parkdale.  Thankfully, we have a good cohort from that generation.  While some from the 1980’s directory have passed on to glory, there are many who have not.
So, where are they?

Some people leave.  It can be connected to a pastor’s departure – three have left since the early ’80’s.  It can also be for personal reasons – a crisis of faith, a personal conflict, or a new chapter in their life journey.  But, for every “leaver,” there is usually a “comer” – someone leaving elsewhere and coming our way for a similar reason.  So, what do we do when they come?

Some people move.  People don’t keep jobs and careers like they used to.  And when one member of the family moves, it can start a chain reaction, as others follow to support or be supported by living closer together.  And yet, Victoria is not de-populating.  On the contrary, Victoria’s population has grown from 64,000 in 1981 to 85,000 in 2016.  Over the same time, Saanich has grown from 78,000 to 109,000.  People leave and people come.  Are we reaching those newcomers?

This is where the conversation gets a little uncomfortable.  It is wonderful to enjoy and participate in a loving church family.  But times change, and people don’t always stay forever.  Therefore, unless new people are welcomed into the fold, it’s only a matter of time before every church will go extinct.  Fortunately, in Parkdale’s case, the departure of 90% of the people from the early 1980’s has not resulted in the extinction of the church.  It lives on!

What does this mean for us, today?

Well, for one, the church is not all about us – nor is it all about the people who are in it.  Just like a family, there is an understanding that we are living, gathering, and serving for others – for the lost who will be found, for the next generation, who will rise to take our place.

Second – safety, stability, and even unity are not our goal.  They are wonderful to have, but are fruits of something else, something deeper: a common mission of following Jesus Christ.  In church, there can develop a “Noah’s Ark” mentality, of creating a safe place to gather and visit – safe from the world and its evils.  But, pursuing safety leads to exclusivity, and stagnation.  We fear people who are different, who might hurt us or influence our kids badly.  We hesitate to try new things, or to be too generous.  We shrink back from doing anything together outside of the walls of our building – for fear of being seen, tested, and rejected.  And, as a result, the life is drained from the fellowship.

If, however, our goal is to follow Jesus, and to invite His transformation of our lives, then safety takes a back seat.  Jesus calls us to give up our lives and trust that He will give us a better, truer, eternal one.  Paul tells us that God’s will is our sanctification and wholeness.  He is working through all the challenges of our lives, to make us more like Christ.  As we give up our old lives, our new lives are being restored back into the likeness of our Creator.

This transformative journey can involve discomfort.  We may experience turbulence.  But, strangely, there is nowhere where we will find a deeper sense of safety than in our Heavenly Father’s arms; there is no more stability than in being part of God’s eternal plan; there is no truer unity than the fellowship of following Christ together, being one in Spirit and purpose.

Where have you experienced these things?  For me, it is when I know that I am in the centre of God’s will for me, exactly where he wants me, doing what He has created and called me to do.  Whether that be on an overseas mission trip, or feeding the downtown homeless, playing with my children, or praying with church members, there is safety, stability, and unity in following Jesus together.

What is He calling us to do?

Not long after I began serving at Parkdale, I invited the church to read a book together: Your Church is too Safe.  Perhaps the title turned some people off; but, evidently, the title attracted some – before long a group was gathering to discuss it.  The author, Mark Buchanan, had pastored on the Island for 17 years, and this was his 7th and final book – a last word, before he moved on to teach at a Seminary.  The book was full of stories – funny stories, inspiring stories, challenging stories.  Together, our group caught a vision for what church could be:

In the world:

  • Venturing into middle ground to meet people
  • Offering compassionate presence, not just money
  • Being hospitable guests, not just hosts
  • A fellowship of travellers, not tourists
  • Break down walls: free the captives

Not of the world:

  • Both attractive and relevant, by loving well
  • Utterly dependent on God, embodying faith
  • Full of grace and truth
  • Attractive and magnetic, unified community
  • Build walls: distinguish selves

Overcoming evil with good:

  • Transforming, not avoiding what is unclean
  • Reflecting God’s risky generosity
  • Turning the world upside down

Over the past year, it has been encouraging to see God at work among us at Parkdale, in some of these ways.

  • When an AA group asked to use our building, they were welcomed and accommodated.  We opened our doors, knowing that hospitality also means vulnerability.  What will come of this?  I hope and pray that our new friends will discover Jesus as the Higher Power.
  • When COBS Bread asked for charities to distribute their leftover bread, our people jumped at the opportunity.  Each week, bread is gathered, bagged, and given to those in need (even of just some cheer).  Gathering and bagging takes time and energy.  Distributing it takes courage.  What will come of this?  I hope and pray that it will create common ground with others and facilitate fruitful conversations
  • When I asked if there’d be an interest in beginning Freedom Session at our church, again, the response was positive.  This ministry will involve confession.  It will involve openness.  It will involve accountability.  But, I trust, it will open the door to healing and spiritual growth in our lives, and the lives of others who we reach.

Are we still too safe?  Perhaps.  Who knows what steps of faith Jesus will call us to take, as we follow Him?  How can our worship, our fellowship, our Daycare/Preschool, our homes, our jobs, and our social lives become instruments for His glory?

But I am grateful for the steps we’ve already taken together on this journey together.  Let’s be listening for His voice as we proceed.


C. S. Lewis and “The Four Loves”

C.S. Lewis has written many books on many subjects, in many genres.  Often, people find his non-fiction writing to be too complex to navigate, or its context too distant to understand.  His examples from his contemporary world don’t always relate to today’s reader, and so they require a sort of translation.   Many great writers have undertaken this task – of studying and interpreting Lewis’ works, and applying them to the issues of today.  In many cases, this proves worthwhile, as Lewis’s writings are often quite applicable to issues that arise in postmodernity.

But, even for those who have not read Lewis or looked into his ideas with any great depth, the name Lewis carries an authority, perhaps unlike any other writer in contemporary Christianity.  If one can attach a Lewis quote to any claim, it provides instant validation.  Lewis is one of those few people who, after finding success in his given academic field (literature), became an authority in almost any other field – at least in the eyes of his followers.  Something similar could be said of Einstein (just look up what the famous physicist says about marriage, philosophy, etc.).

I grew up having the Chronicles of Narnia read to me and my siblings every summer vacation.  Their overall narrative allegorised the great meta-narrative of which we are all part; the plot and characters accomplished something similar to what the Bible’s narrative can do.  As a young adult, I worked through Mere Christianity, finding well-reasoned treatments of classic philosophical problems – especially concerning the existence of God.  Since then, I’ve tried to chip away, little by little, at his other writings.  I’m glad to say that, finally, I’ve finished The Four Loves.

Rather than formally reviewing it, and rather than picking out juicy quotes to share, I’d like to share what I got from it: a framework for understanding love.  Lewis did not provide a chart, like I have below; he followed his typical essay-format, progressively working through the topics in sequence.  Yet, as I worked through it, my systematic mind began noticing relationships between the Four Loves – how they were similar or different in various ways.  Below, I’ve attempted to express a few findings that have proved helpful for me:

Survival, Need
Involuntary Feeling
Civilisation, Enrichment
Voluntary Decision
Not Exclusive
Affection” = Storge
-“Need Love”
– Natural sentiment, loyalty, familiarity
– Family care
“Care for”
Charity” = Agape
– Giving without self-interest; sacrificial without self-protection
– Divine source
Eros” = Eros
– Desire to possess
– Romantic attraction
Friendship” = Philos
– Approval, appreciation
– Culture, camaraderie

To me, the advantage of a chart like this is that it doesn’t rank them; like many personality tests, it simply expresses them as a combination of binary choices.  The Myers-Briggs test offers four binary choices, resulting in sixteen possible personality types; similarly, Lewis presents us with four possible Love-types, and I have attempted to identify the two binary choices.

Lewis begins with a discussion of Affection, coming from the Greek word, Storge.  In many ways, he rehabilitates this word, showing how essential it is for the survival and stability of humanity.  It refers to a mother’s care for an infant, and any person’s pity for someone in need.  Moreover, it can apply to any sentimental feeling, toward something familiar – a place, a taste, an old friend.  The difference between this and Friendship is it’s indiscriminate, involuntary nature; while friendship comes from approval, affection reflects a deeper loyalty.  For me, I can think of a few friends who have become like brothers – through our common experience, especially in my younger years, they have become like brothers to me; because of our common past, there is a sense of loyalty.  Though I may find others with whom I have more in common, or even for whom I have more respect, no one can share my past.  What about for you – what happens when you meet someone new, who has had a similar past, or who is from the same hometown?  Perhaps that feeling, that sense of brotherhood, is Storge.

Lewis proceeds to describe Friendship, coming from the Greek word, Philos.  Unlike Affection, it is discriminate, or selective.  It occurs where there is commonality – of opinions, values, and preferences.  A bond forms when people, who have identified themselves with certain interests and characteristics, find the same in each other.  Yet, also unlike Affection, it is not needy.  Lewis warns of how familial affection can become a “need-love,” when the lover desires to continue being needed.  In contrast, Friendship respects the individuality of the other, appreciating and reinforcing his or her unique qualities that make him or her worthy of appreciation.  I can think of classmates, teammates, roommates, and co-workers who have stood out from the pack because of their unique qualities.  A mutual appreciation formed, where we did not try to change or control the other.  Yet, Friendship can also move beyond this to become needy – to become Eros…

Eros, a Greek word referring to romantic, possessive desire, is fairly straightforward.  Like Friendship, it is conditional, and discriminate.  But, beyond appreciation, Eros involves attraction; like Affection, it is needy and possessive.  Family affection can involve an unconditional, but possessive care.  Friendship involves appreciation from a healthy distance.  Eros combines elements of both – a conditional attraction with a desire to possess.  Obviously, this can sound rather negative; indeed, conditional and possessive love can become ugly.  But, in light of its similarity to the other loves, Eros can have a positive outcome.  Essentially, it involves a desire to move someone from “friend” to “family.”  In my own life, I’m glad to have Eros in this assigned place.

Charity, (based on the Greek word, Agape) similarly, combines elements of Affection and Friendship – only they might be considered to be the positive ones.   Like Affection, Charity is indiscriminate.  The objects of Affection and Charity are not selected – and so the love must be unconditional.  Yet, rather than being based on the un-chosen factors of family and background, Charity is based on the un-chosen, un-merited love of God.  Charity is given to us by our Creator, because we are His creation.  This is often referred to as “common grace;” God shines the sun and drops the rain on everyone (Matthew 5:44-45).  Charity is also shown preeminently in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, Who died for the sins of humanity (1 John 2:2), so that we can be forgiven, and reconciled with God.  It is from receiving this love that we can love (1 John 4:19).  While sharing the non-selective nature of Affection, Charity also shares the disinterested nature of Friendship.  It is not needy, but enriching to the other.  While Eros and Affection desire to possess and be needed, Charity gives unconditionally.  Rather than arising from a felt need, Charity, like Friendship, is a voluntary decision.  Yet, unlike Friendship, Charity is not exclusive; Charity gives to all, equally.

Charity, of course, is impossible – humanly speaking.  I just performed a wedding where the couple chose 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 as their theme verses.  It gives a perfect, beautiful picture of what Charity/agape is.  Yet, as we read this inspiring vision of the perfect love of God, we are also made aware of how much we fall short of it.  These verses serve as a double-edged sword, serving as both an inspiring ideal and a condemning comparison.  

I actually once heard someone tell another person to insert their name in place of the word “love” in 1 Corinthians 13, and to use it as instructions for life.  Imagine reading that – while at first it may sound flattering or inspiring, deep down you’ll know it’s a lie.  At the wedding I recently officiated, I didn’t want to just leave the poor newlyweds with a set of instructions.  I wanted to assure them that there is good news.  Look what the apostle John, “whom Jesus loved,” says about love:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)

In light of John’s words, how should we treat 1 Corinthians 13?
Try inserting “God” in place of the word “love.”  God is love.  Therefore, God is patient, God is kind…etc.

How does that change things?
We are made for love.  Loving God and our neighbor sums up all of God’s commandments, and Jesus’s special commandment to His followers is to “love one another.”  Pretty simple.  Yet, we are completely unable to do this, until we begin receiving His love.  We are not only made to love, but to be loved by God.  Only God satisfies the need that we feel, and once we find it in Him, we find ourselves loving others!

Augustine famously said in his Confessions,

“You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in You.”

Similarly, Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

If we are ever to love in the best way, we’d better get good at being loved.  We’d better get used to the fact that Christianity is not about what we can do, but what God has done, is doing, and will do for us and through us.  Jesus said that you cannot enter His kingdom unless you humble yourself like a child.  And this is how you become His child:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

Believe in Who Jesus is, receive His love, and it will transform you.
It will reverse the order of everything in your life, when you find that His love is actually the source of everything else you need to do.
It will re-orient your thinking, and make you a new person – a child of God, growing up to resemble your Father!

One Size Doesn’t Fit All, by Gary L. McIntosh

Some years ago, as I began shepherding my first church, I ran into some challenges.  The church where I was called to pastor was not like the church in which I grew up.  My childhood church had programs, leadership teams, and a variety of social sub-groups.  My new church was like one, big, extended family, informally led by a few patriarchs and matriarchs.  In my old church, novelty was sought after.  In my new church, history was valued.  Understandably, there were some communication barriers as I sought, along with the church leaders, to discern God’s direction for our way forward.  It was during that pastorate that I was given a book called One Size Doesn’t Fit All.

After following God’s call to a new church, one of the first things the elders and I agreed to do was read this book.  I hoped that it would help create some common ground between me and them – that it would help us understand where we were as a church, and where we should be going.  I wasn’t disappointed.

The book uses a narrative form to express points about the difference between small, medium, and large churches.  Each chapter involves a conversation between a young pastor and an older mentor – who offers him advice about how church ministry operates differently at different stages of growth.

Small churches are defined as 15-200 in attendance, and comprise 80% of all North American Churches.  Their defining characteristic is that they are small enough to be single-cell: they have one pastor, and everyone can know each other.  They grow by attracting people into their warm fellowship, but insist on remaining consistent with the history and culture of the church.  Key families provide continuity in leadership, and members value their individual voice in decision-making.

Medium churches are defined as 201-400 in attendance, and comprise 10% of churches.  They are described as “stretched cell,” where programs, teams, and committees have been added, but are still connected to a single building and leadership circle.  They grow through operating successful programs, which are run by teams and committees that are empowered with authority by the membership.  Leadership is transitioning from pastor + congregation to teams, who move beyond history to present needs.

Large churches have more than 400 in attendance, and comprise the remaining 10% of churches.  Only 1% of all churches have more than 2000 in attendance.  A large church has successfully transitioned to a multi-cell model, involving multiple pastors, services, and/or locations.  Growth occurs through word of mouth – the “buzz” created by its increasing size and impact.  Leadership becomes more centralized in select, specialized leaders, and is driven by a vision for the future.

Must every church progress from small to large, in order to be successful?  No.  While growth should always be sought, it can be accommodated through church planting as well as church expansion.

Does growth happen by simply changing church structure, by acting like a larger church?  No.  The size-descriptions above are descriptive, not prescriptive.  Yet, as growth occurs, these structures and modes of operation should follow closely behind.  They describe what is necessary to keep a church running optimally and smoothly, in its given size.

Then, how does growth happen?  How does a small church become medium?  The author identifies certain barriers to growth in small churches, with corresponding solutions:

  • A small-church image can become entrenched in its identity.  In response, a new sense of purpose must be connected to their identity – As followers of Jesus, what are we called to do?
  • Fellowship can become ingrown.  In response, new avenues must be opened for outsiders to become insiders: classes, small groups, leadership positions.  Ministries run by individuals should transition to being led by teams.
  • Evangelism and Programs can become stale.  In response, encourage new initiatives, celebrate successes, and raise the profile of activities that align with the renewed sense of purpose and mission.  Develop a “star program” that your church can specialize in.

As a church nudges toward medium-size, which issues arise, and how are they dealt with?

  • Complexity makes administration challenging.  In response, develop a distinct identity and focus as a church.  Work on a long-range plan, and improve quality of ministry before quantity.
  • Staff, facilities, and finances become stretched.  In response, duplicate services and ministries in the same location.  Hire more staff, before people begin falling through the cracks.

Clearly, as the book title indicates, there are different challenges and solutions for churches of different sizes.  For me, observing my church’s situation, a number of ideas stood out:

  1. Leaders must be intentional – we would be wise to learn from the past, be grounded in the present, while always looking forward.
  2. There are different sources of church growth – attractive fellowship, ministry programs, and word of mouth.  As the author puts it, “add…divide…multiply.”  To some extent, all can happen at any size, but we can play to our strengths.
  3. When it comes to programs, focus is key – we must identify the gifts and opportunities that God has provided, and respond to His specific leading.  We are not called to be everything to everyone.
  4. For a church to grow, leadership must make room – new leaders must be trained and welcomed.  Authority must transfer from individuals to teams, and from an inner circle to a broader group who share common values, mission, and vision.
  5. It all comes back to our sense of purpose and mission – we are led by Jesus Christ, Who calls us to follow Him, and invite others to do the same.

Did anything mentioned above resonate with you?  What have you seen and experienced in church life?

The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

This time of year, I hear of many people’s plans to fly south for a period during the winter.  In Canada, we call these people “snow birds.”  Some squeeze a week-long trip to Mexico into their busy plans.  Others spend half the year in Palm Springs or Arizona.  As for me, over the past month, listening to C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy audiobooks has felt like a bit of a virtual vacation.  These books captured my imagination and offered new perspectives in a way that I could compare to my experience of international travel.

To briefly summarize, without spoiling: the books take place on Mars, Venus, and Earth – in that order.  Their main protagonist is Dr. Ransom, who is originally kidnapped by two academic colleagues and taken to Mars in their spaceship, against his will.  Once there, he becomes acquainted with the intelligent species on the planet – both organic and angelic.  It is these angelic beings who then bring him to Venus in the second novel, where he is given an important task.  In the third novel, Dr. Ransom holds more of a background role, working behind the scenes of the other characters.

Though the trilogy takes place in sequence, in the same universe, with some of the same characters, the novels are also strikingly different from each other.  Personally, I likened the first two to an exotic vacation, from which I felt sorry to return.  While following Dr. Ransom’s travels on Mars and Venus, I found myself gaining new perspectives of my own world – just as I have gained insight about my own culture while immersing myself in other cultures on Earth.  In contrast, the post-war English setting of the third book was a more specific context that did not easily connect with my own.  Rather, this book had more to offer the reader in terms of its plot and characters.

On Mars, (Out of the Silent Planet) Lewis depicts an old world that had never fallen into sin: different intelligent species coexisted in a complimentary fashion, in trusting obedience to their angelic overseer.  While their appearance, habitat and language awakened my imagination, it was their culture that I found most striking: they were content.  They felt no need to increase their population, amass literature, or develop technology; they embraced the seasons of life, and trusted in divine providence.

On Venus, (Perelandra) Lewis depicts a newly created world, where its first woman inhabitant is completely innocent and ignorant.  She lives completely in the moment, without perspective of time or space.  Her home is a floating island that is always changing form, and her food grows bountifully on trees.  The food satisfies, leaving no desire to gorge oneself; the land moves, offering no way to store possessions.  When she encounters an evil tempter, Dr. Ransom realizes his purpose in being sent – to intervene on her behalf.  While he struggles with the thought that his circumstances are predestined, he realizes that he still holds the freedom to choose his course; God’s will can take another route, if necessary.  After considerable deliberation, he breaks out of his passive resignation, opting for physical intervention in place of intellectual argument.  While doing so, he reflects on the proper application of hatred and the effect of evil on a person.

On Earth, (That Hideous Strength), Lewis chooses quite an un-exotic setting: a college town in post-war England.  But, while this book lacks the exotic setting of its prequels, it offers much deeper characters and a more complicated plot.  In fact, it is as long as the first two books, combined.  At the outset, Lewis informs his readers that he is presenting his argument from The Abolition of Man in the form of a story: when academics abandon truth, all hell breaks loose.  The The story’s conflict is instigated by the N.I.C.E., a government-sponsored research organization that plans to develop a new race of humans who can live eternally in a mechanized-disembodied state.  They are opposed by Dr. Ransom and his companions, aided by a combination of mythological forces from the previous books as well as England’s past.  The main two characters are a young couple who must choose a side, while working through the ordinary struggles of career and marriage.

As one might expect of Lewis, offers a “moral to the story” that was contemporary to his historical context.  Having extensively studied the historical period in which these books were written, I cannot help but see connections between these novels and the events in England during the time of their writing.  The first book was published in 1938, shortly before the imperialistic powers of the world would plunge headlong into World War II.  This human vice, clearly depicted in the novel’s main antagonist, Dr. Weston, is sharply contrasted with the contentment of the Martian races.  The second book was published in the midst of World War II, as Britain literally fought for its survival against the Nazi regime.  An apologetic for their efforts can be found in Dr. Ransom’s own intervention against evil on Venus.  The third book was published at the end of the Second World War – as the ugly effects of the Holocaust and Nazi plans to create a “master race” were being uncovered.  Interestingly, the antagonists in the third novel are also trying to manipulate the evolution of the human race.

Overall, the books are imaginative without being technical, and intentionally philosophical without being religious.  One might be disappointed if they approached this trilogy with hopes for “hard science fiction,” or “religious dogma.”  Rather, like Narnia, these fictional works serve as allegories that carry ethical considerations.  Similar to Lewis’s area of study, they might fit best into the category of mythology.  By approaching the books with these expectations, I hope that you can enjoy them for what they are!

While originally found in the form of 24 CDs, the 30 hours of audio are now downloadable on