For this week's edition of Interview Thursday (which is actually every other week) I got to speak with Jeff Flowers. He is a Pastor in Cincinnati and we met about 6 or 8 months ago through Twitter. He's a good guy with a lot of good questions and conversations on his blog regarding Christianity and the current status of "Church Culture." I think you're really going to enjoy the conversation we had this week.
Also, check out his site http://www.cincymissionary.com for more on Jeff!
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NATHAN KEY: First, Jeff, thanks for giving me a chance to interview you. You're the first "Pastor" I've had the opportunity to talk with for my Thursday sessions. I guess that means you've got the power to really take this thing anywhere you want to. Scary, huh?
JEFF FLOWERS: Thanks for having me, Nate. I’m honored to be a part of your Thursday sessions. I tune into your blog every week and I’m glad we’ve hooked up through Twitter, it’s been a fun connection.
NATHAN KEY: It has been fun.
**Side note to my readers: If you are using Twitter, be sure to look up Jeff - he uses the name: Cincymissionary.**
Speaking of connection- you recently joined a church plant in Cincinnati. I'm sure it took a lot of courage to move from full time employment to "missionary" work. Can you tell me a little bit about what made you and your family head in this direction with your ministry?
JEFF FLOWERS: Yes, I recently joined The Bridge as the Executive Pastor. The Bridge is a church plant located near the University of Cincinnati Campus in uptown Cincy. I have always wanted to do ministry in the city. I believe the city is where culture is made and where I can impact the most as a Christian. The Bridge came along at the right time.
NK: Now, I hate to say that "Church planting" is all the rage these days, but it does seem that a lot of churches are moving toward house churches, church plants, and multiple campuses instead of the Mega-Church Model of the 80's and 90's. Why do you make of this trend? Is it merely a cultural correction to institution or do you think there's some sort of deep theological shift that's moving the church in this direction?
JF: Great question. You’re correct that “church planting” is the rage these days. In the 80’s you saw a conservative religious resurgence in America. And in a far-swung reaction, the “seeker” movement was born in the 90’s and that’s where you saw the mega-church and mega-personality pastor really take off. For about ten years now, the “church-planting” model has been the birthing of “little” mega church models with a heavy emphasis on church health and creativity. The next ten years will be about one word: mission or missional.
Now are these theological shifts? Unfortunately, no they are not. A lot of emphasis has been placed on “cultural relevance”, but there are a few good young pastors that are focusing on truth and theology and its transcendence over relevance that are reaching the millennials.
NK: You just said that it's unfortunate that there haven't been a lot of theological shifts that are causing the "church planting movement." What are some theological shifts that you think need to take place in order for us to continue aligning ourselves with Christ?
JF: I think the evangelical church in America needs to shift toward the primacy of biblical preaching. I recently had a medical doctor as a guest at The Bridge and she told me she was tired of relevant, she wanted truth. This is true of a lot of young Americans in this post-Christian era we’re heading toward.
There also seems to be a lopsided emphasis on “spiritual formation” being more about the quest for a greater self than for a greater God. Somewhere on the journey, we have forgotten about the personal nature of God and His plan for redemption. We want to approach our relationship with God in ways that makes Him a mystical experience to pursue. Our discipleship takes the form of “figuring out what God is up to in our lives” instead of believing He is an ever-present loving God that never changes. This is the picture of God that Jesus gives us in the parable of the prodigal son.
And this is the “difficulty” in following God. We take too seriously our fickle and weird nature. We try very hard to change so God will reveal Himself, or accept us. The Bible is very clear. In Jesus, we have the full revelation of God and we need nothing else. He is our sufficiency. He is fully accepting of who we are and not as we should be.
These are theological issues. It’s theological to believe that I must decrease and He must increase. It takes theology to understand suffering and humiliation. It takes theology to have a solid belief in the power of God to make one righteous. To have “spirituality” without substance can be destructive to one’s faith.
Whew. You got me started with that question, sorry for the rambling.
NK: No worries. And I agree with you that we've often sacrificed substance for relevance. At the same time, however, we obviously don't want to go too far the other way and isolate ourselves from culture, right? So, are there any solutions you can think of that will help us communicate in the language of the people we're serving without compromising the Gospel as we do it?
JF: Balance? I guess the longer I follow Christ the more I don’t believe in balance. I may get a lot of push back from this answer, so here it goes.
Is the Christian to live in balance with the culture? A lot of us -and I include myself here- are afraid of becoming irrelevant to the culture around us so we swing back and forth on this never-ending question to find how we will maximize growth without compromising the message. I don’t think this is the thinking of a missional Christ-follower.
Here’s what I mean. Most Christian’s have memorized Romans 12:1-2- you know, the verses about not conforming to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind? These are the ultimate verse about our relationship to the world as believers, right? But, have we understood these verses in context? I challenge you to read Romans 12:3-21 today. Is this the Christianity you see in the world today? It seems to me that we should be less worried about communicating in the language of the people and more concerned about not thinking too highly of ourselves (v. 3), letting our love be genuine (v. 10) and associating with the lowly (v. 16). This is the “relevant” language all people are looking for everywhere. This is best said by Jesus, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden (isolated).” Therefore, the best way to serve without compromise is to allow the light of Christ to shine in my life so people will glorify (make relevant) my Father in heaven. This is the relevant language of God.
NK: I love that. And I agree with you that there are some things, like love, that are never irrelevant. It doesn’t matter how you dress them up, or fail to dress them up, the core fruit of the Spirit isn’t at risk for being rejected. People want to be loved and they want hope and peace. So yea, we should probably get back to that, huh? OK, This is totally off topic, but I was wondering about gotees. You’ve got one, yourself, and it seems like gotees are sort of standard issue for a lot pastors these days. Thoughts?
JF: Ha. Yes. There’s a funny graphic or YouTube thing out there about gotees and other prerequisites for the job. I look like a baby-face without mine.
NK: That’s funny. I want to talk about your blog for a moment. On there I've seen a lot of good thoughts and discussions regarding "what church is" or "what it should be." Have you come to any conclusions about where "church" should be headed or what it should ideally "look like" in order to be not only effective, but also a truer reflection of what Christ intended it to be.
JF: Yes, there are some “lively” discussions on the blog. I think the truest reflection of what Christ intended the church to be is that the authenticity of my love for Jesus Christ should be measured in how I relate to people everyday on the street. Church should look like Jesus.
Most of the discussions today are about style and substance as it’s relevant, again, to the culture. Most churches try to minister in reaction to the culture instead of going to where the centers of culture are and joining the conversation. Remember, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” A biblical church is a sending church. That’s why I call myself a missionary to Cincinnati.
NK: One last question before we go. Sometimes people put pastors into a little box where they don't seem like real people. I'm convinced that planting a church is probably not your ONLY passion in life. So, could you tell us about some of the other things you're crazy about?
JF: Sure. I think more and more people are relaxing on the “pastors in a box” thing. But, you’re right, the minute someone finds out you’re a pastor, the atmosphere in the room changes. I love Stephen King short stories, blogging and NASCAR (I know, sorry). I have a tattoo and will be getting a second after swim season. Mostly, I’m crazy about my wife and 4 kids (2 girls, 2 boys), they are the coolest people I know.
NK: I can understand that, I get more crazy about Beth and Ethan every day! Jeff, thanks so much for allowing me to ask some of these questions. I’m excited that I get to continue following your story. Thanks for the interview!
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If you’ve enjoyed these thoughts from Jeff Flowers, be sure to check out his website/blog: http://www.cincymissionary.com
Nathan Key likes to think about faith and philosophy and talk about it with others. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. He doesn't always refer to himself in the third person.