Here is the “third way” style of growing congregations, which I believe to be nearest to New Testament practice. Lets look at the two ways first, then at the third way.

Way 1: build your congregation

There are fellow Christians who believe that the best one can do to God’s kingdom is to employ the modern strategies of business management and controlling. There’s much talk about strategy and doing this and that, but little about being a holy character and the natural expression of this. To give feeling of this way of church planting, here’s what service is made of in phase 2 of 4 in one such program:

  1. Work as director’s assistent in two ministry teams.
  2. Member and director’s assistent in a cell group.
  3. Preach once in each quarter year.
  4. Moderate Sunday services.
  5. Attend director team meetings, pastoral team meetings, elder’s team meetings, deacon group meetings, LITE assemblies (leader in training and encouragement).
  6. Organize and lead a discoverer group series twice a year.
  7. Networking: 12 hours a week, ca. 9 contacts.
  8. Pastoral care: at least two people a week.
  9. Hospitality: at least once a week.

[Dr. Stephen Beck: “CITY Mentoring Programm“, accessed 2007-09-01; original in German]

Before making up your opinion about this, you might want to read related material. Beck mentions in his “CITY Mentoring Programm” the “Church Planter’s Manual”, which is: Timothy J. Keller, J. Allen Thompson: Church Planter Manual (sadly not for download). This book is published by the Redeemer Church Planting Center, a ministry of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. So perhaps take a look at their pages … .

Now, when looking at the New Testament records, it appears that the early church had no such to-do lists as the above one. No step by step plan how to spread over the whole earth. One cannot find an explicit or implicit testimonial to this in the NT texts. Disprove me if I’m wrong. If spreading the Gospel and missionary activity would be this kind of strategic work, who could argue successfully that Christianity is more than any other religion which relies on this? Like, say, the missionary activity in the LDS Church, which is actually a really good example.

Way 2: wait for God to build your congregation

There are other fellow Christians who believe that it’s basically not the task of humans to build a local congregation, but instead God’s task. They expect God to initiate the fundamental changes and steps in each single local congregation. That is, they expect God’s concrete agency in dealing with each congregation.

A problem with this way is, when looking at the New Testament records, it appears that the early church had few concrete experiences with God’s agency in a local congregation, e.g. founding and building them. One cannot find an explicit or implicit testimonial to this in the NT texts. Disprove me if I’m wrong. For example, look at Paul’s travelling plans: the only example when God interfered concretely with Paul’s plans was when he sent him to Macedonia [Acts 16:6-10 ISV]. So there is no meaning in forbidding God to prescribe concrete stuff when on mission, as God would probably not care. But most decisions will not concretely depend on God’s agency. Which leads to the third way.

Way 3: be your congregation

And be it with all your life.

“(11) And it is he who gifted some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, and still others to be pastors and teachers, (12) to perfect the saints, to do the work of ministry, and to build up the body of Christ (13) until all of us are united in the faith and in the full knowledge of God’s Son, and until we attain mature adulthood and the full standard of development in Christ. (14) Then we will no longer be little children, tossed like waves and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, or by clever strategies that would lead us astray. (15) Instead, by speaking the truth in love, we will grow up completely into the one who is the head, that is, into Christ, (16) in whom the whole body is united and held together by every ligament with which it is supplied. As each individual part does its job, the body’s growth is promoted so that it builds itself up in love.” [Ephesians 4:11-16 ISV]

This indicates that, for growth and perfection, the “Body of Christ” needs the service of people gifted by God, but not God’s concrete, immediate deeds. In the average case, the “Body of Christ” builds up itself, that is, it has already all the necessary resources to do so. In practice, a local congregation is a so-called “complex system”, that is, it feeds back its own results as new input. This happens for example when on member can help another one by his gifts, and the other one in turn gets thus able to complement and help the first in another area.

Now let’s look at another passage:

“(31) So Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are really my disciples. (32) And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (33) They replied to him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anybody. So how can you say, ‘You will be set free’?” (34) Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly I tell you that everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. (35) The slave does not remain in the household forever, but the son does remain forever. (36) So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!”” [John 8:31-36 ISV]

That “the truth will make you free” is in parallel to Ephesians 4:15 from above: “by speaking the truth in love, we will grow up completely” [Ephesians 4:15 ISV]. So we need “just” truth and love, which is apparently not God’s personal agency. Perhaps we can say, God does not “build” churches concretely, but he looks at the growing churches. They grow on the truth of the Gospel, without need for further concrete action on God’s side.

It is the truth that sets us free. This serves an interesting observation: Christian living is not “naturally supernatural”, instead, most of its positive effects are “natural” effects of the truth once a person came to know it. For example: I remember to have heard a story from a tribe of native south-Americans where 90% of all people dies from homicide committed by people of their own tribe (I think these were the Waorani people, but I’m unsure). Then after Christian missionaries told them that homicide is something bad and that God disguises it, this habit ended. So they got to be free from this slavery of fear, hurts and hate by the natural effect of learning the truth!

Now, of course, this is not all that has to be said here. God did not leave us “saved and alone”. Though not necessary for the growth of congregations or for holy Christian living, God’s concrete agency is important for our personal motivation, well-being and ever-new continued affirmation that what we believe is true.

Closing, I will summarize the third way in some sort of definition: a congregation grows as a complex system in an organic way; it does not need a global human-generated plan or the concrete agency of God; instead, it grows if every member serves with his resp. her gifts, that is, if the congregation lives out being a congregation, instead of planning to be one or waiting for God to make it one.

I imagine that this kind of being congregation could be really, really intense and transformational … changing peoples lives inside out and upside down. It just depends on being what we are: everybody at his and her place, being consequently what we have become so far, through the initial grace of God in Jesus which affected our lives so gracefully through the Body of Jesus Christ.

Here is one passage, however, which I was unable to integrate into this view. Perhaps you can help me do so, or disprove me from this passage:

(6) I did the planting, Apollos did the watering, but God kept everything growing. (7) So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is significant, but God, who keeps everything growing, is the one who matters. [I Corinthians 3:6-7 ISV]

Start date: 2007-09-01

Version date: 2007-09-09 (for last meaningful change)

Some thoughts inspired by a friend’s notes on work. I mean work: this thing that makes you weary and sleepy, not just the fun thing where you play with interesting technical stuff all day long. I am currently in the interesting situation that I need only about 5 days a month to work for my material needs … and basically I’m happy that way. Not that I’d have much money, but I have no unsatisfied basic material needs. The rest of my time has to be spent on other things (sadly I do not know how to save time so that I can spend it later for other things … but, ok, working for excess money is something like that).

So, the question that arises in this situation is: what work is rewarding? And I mean work, this thing that … see above. Actually, I have no idea what kind of work would be rewarding in this world … as this world will pass away, and death renders all to be nothing. Somewhere in Ecclesiastes Solomon said something very similiar, and he hated life ’cause of that. Vanity!!!

It’s not that I would not have a vision for my life … see my post “My vision for my life, as of today“. But, umh, this kinda feels like something “nice to have”. It would not make me happy, I guess, just as anything you can have or reach. So it does not motivate me to really work for it.

Motivation for work must be a strong one, as a weak one is not sufficient to work until you’re k.o., and this for weeks, months, and years. Basic material needs serve such a motivation, but what after these have been met? As is the case with me?

What deemed Jesus “rewarding work” while on earth”? Travelling around and preaching the gospel, healing people. And I can imagine that he was quite k.o. on evenings, so this was work, really.

It’s not that I’d miss Jesus, food, friends, work or a vision for my life. All this is in place. But I miss the cognition that all this stuff is rewarding (… at some point in life I stopped to work for these goals that one by one turn out to be Fata Morgana, among them my profession). A cognition that is at least in part based upon observations, e.g. from what other people did and the reward they got. Or, lets put is thus: a cognition that is justifiably true. Not jst something you believe for pragmatic reasons: “because it works” for motivating you. You’re welcome to tell me: something rewarding to work for, and why it is rewarding, and why the cognition of this is justifiably true.

Start date: 2007-09-05

Version date: 2007-09-05 (for last meaningful change)

When searching for life as in this series of articles it’d be a good idea to know what life is. A major aspect is happiness. But what is happiness? I hereby invite you to share your definitions in the comments, and will give my own:

Happiness is that flavor of emotional well-being that is triggered at least by a perceived congruence of ones current situation and ones desired situation.

When assuming this definition, it leads to the following conclusions which (in my view) hold true in practice:

  • As an emotion, happiness is susceptible to deception: when the deception is erroneous, it can arise without reason or be missing though there is reason.
  • Happiness might be triggered by other things, but to define what kind of emotion is meant one trigger is mentioned in the definition.
  • Happiness is nothing one can obtain once and for all, but must be maintained moment by moment.
  • Happiness might be produced by changing ones situation, ones desires or ones perception of a situation.
  • Sorrows kill happiness.
  • Constant unhappiness is the average case. Because the “hedonic treadmill” means that ones desires for the situation tend to change constantly so that they are in the average case “ahead” of the current situation.
  • Constant happiness is only possible where one perceives a (basic) congruence between reality and wishes in every situation, i.e. basically wish to have the situation one is in, whatever it may be.
  • Faith can produce constant happiness. Because, believing that a beneficient higher instance (“god”) planned the current situation for one’s best makes it possible to desire exactly the current situation. Whatever it may be: the higher instance knows more than humans, wherefore it can be trusted that every current situation is good. In the case of a false faith, this happiness lasts until one finds out this falsity. In the case of a true faith (assuming here that there is one), this happiness is everlasting.

Start date: 2007-08-29

Version date: 2007-08-31 (for last meaningful change)

Is all of life banal? Me thinks it’s justified to ask so, as the non-banality is nowhere obvious at first glance. To find it, one should define it. I propose here the following definitions:

Each situation defines one or some actions as appropriate (or: wise, adequate, necessary, essential) answers to the situation. To act non-banally means to do this resp. one of these. To act banally means to do something different. So banal actions are those which miss the point, are secondary, are irrelevant.

It follows from this that actions are not banal, but tuples of situation and action are. For example: to party is mostly banal where one faces a significant relationship problem, but is non-banal where one realizes God’s blessings and wants to express one’s gratitude and joy. Another example: all of life is banal where one does something different from the purpose of living, which is, in my view, to live life in loving communion with God.

Some more observations. Equating appropriateness and non-banality serves an interesting understanding of some bible passages. Look here:

“(5) Behave wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of your time. (6) Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” [Col 4:5-6 ISV]

Wise is, as stated above, a synonym for “non-banal”. Because there is limited time, we need to act appropriately to the sad condition of the world we found it in. Which includes especially to live appropriately (i.e. inviting) in relation to those who are not yet Christians. And not to spend all of our life on private affairs, i.e. on a banal life, on irrlevevant activity in the context of a lost world. Note also that one’s action are limited by the available possibilities: one does not act banally if one does not help where one cannot. So banality is probably better determined by a triple (requirement,possibility,action), in this way: the difference between possibility and action, not between requirement and action, is a measure for banality.

“(29) This is what I mean, brothers: The time has been shortened. From now on, those who have wives should live as though they had none, (30) and those who mourn as though they did not mourn, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they did not own a thing, (31) and those who use the things in the world as though they were not dependent on them. For the world in its present form is passing away. (32) I want you to be free from concerns. An unmarried man is concerned about the affairs of the Lord, that is, about how he can please the Lord. (33) But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world, that is, about how he can please his wife, (34) and so his attention is divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the affairs of the Lord, so that she may be holy in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world, that is, about how she can please her husband. (35) I’m saying this for your benefit, not to put a noose around your necks, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.” [I Cor 7:29-35 ISV]

Not that crying or rejoicing (both about worldly things), buying, using technology or marrying is a bad idea, or should or even could be really avoided. But living for one’s private worldly affairs only while there is so much important stuff available is simply banal. Important stuff includes one’s relationship to God, personal sanctification and a missional lifestyle (for the latter, that was the point in Col 4:5-6).

Date: 2007-08-19

Last meaningful change: 2007-08-21

The hedonic treadmill

Here is the basic assertion of our economy: the needs of human beings are infinite (… but the means to fulfill them are finite, so we have to be economical). Infinite needs are surely observable, but what’s the reason behind? From an evolutionist perspective it looks like this:

“And there are more anthropological constants: our emotional self-model makes it possible to consciously feel ourselves. It drives us forward in the steady attempt to feel good, to find emotional stability, protection and security. We are biological systems which are damned to search for happiness, which must try to feel as good as possible. But unfortunately, the reward system in our brain and our emotional self-model allow no stable kind of feeling good.

Admitted that especially the conscious self-models brought experiencing joy and happiness into the physical universe – to a place where these did not exist before. But psychological evolution did not optimize us for permanent happiness. On the contrary: it put us on the “hedonic treadmill“, which is driven by the permanent attempt to experience happiness and joy and to avoid pain and depression. But we also are kept in permanent motion: the hedonic treadmill – concretely the reward system in our brain – is the engine which mother nature built into us. We might discover its structure in ourselves, but it is unclear if we can ever get out of this treadmill. In some sense we are this structure. The Ego is the hedonic treadmill.”

[Thomas Metzinger: Der Preis der Selbsterkenntnis; in: Gehirn und Geist; 7-8/2006; S. 46; original in German; emphasis per original; hyperlink added to original]

We’re not interested in evolution here but in happiness: this guy thinks, permanent happiness cannot be found because the steady longing for happiness is the engine that drives all the people in this world with their lifestyle and “great achievements”. (By the way, if you need to know what’s a treadmill … .) It’s not that we want to live the way we do, but we’re driven by the search for happiness. And it’s not that we want to create, build, achieve something, but we’re again driven. Surely one finds the “hedonic treadmill” idea inspired and confirmed by so many experiences of private and public life.

Now, should we feel happy about working constantly (on “improving” circumstances) just to retain our level of happiness? That’s what the hedonic treadmill means. Up to a reasonable level of life quaity, the treadmill does a good job: it allows to feel happy while working on necessary improvements, i.e. to feel happier than “allowable” with respect to the amount of work done. And it enables humans to gain dominance over the rest of nature, which is not equipped with this treadmill thing. But after our basic needs are met, the treadmill thing should stop, and allow to do further improvements as creative freetime work, just for the fun of it, and just if one wishes to do so. But it does never stop, it has gone mad. It drives people further and further, stressing them with a desperate need for more happiness, for absolute happiness. But this need is never fulfilled, as it is not the idea behind the hedonic treadmill to produce this (but instead, to give motivation and reward while working on necessary improvements; any other use of the mechanism is actually abuse of this biological system).

Just, people seem not to realize this wrong direction of their search. They naively extrapolate that the “inner reward” they receive when reaching goals will be proportional to the goal reached, so try to reach goals that high that the reward remains for the rest of their life. Instead, the reward mechanism has a built-in fade-away mechanis, so that they can never stop to work though objectively possible after the basic needs have been met. It’s like having a job where one gets money only when beating one’s own record from yesterday … and that’s surely not happiness. Let’s envy the animals, which don’t have this treadmill thing and are happy without working for something beyond their basic needs. Where’s the way out?

Jesus about the hedonic treadmill

Me thinks that Jesus talks about the treadmill thing here:

“(24) ‘No man can work for two masters. He will hate one and love the other. Or he will obey one and despise the other. You cannot work for both God and money. (25) ‘So, I tell you this. Do not be troubled about what you will eat or drink to keep alive. Do not be troubled about what you will wear on your body. Life itself is worth more than food, and the body is worth more than clothes. (26) ‘Look at the birds that fly in the air. They do not plant or cut or keep any food. Yet your Father in heaven feeds them. Are you not worth more than birds? (27) Can any one of you live any longer by troubling yourself about these things? (28) And why are you troubled about clothes? See how the flowers grow in the fields. They do not work or make cloth. (29) I tell you, King Solomon was a great man. But he was not dressed as fine as one of these flowers. (30) God dresses the grass in the fields so it looks nice. It is in the field one day and the next day it is put on the fire. If God dresses the grass like that, he cares much more that you have clothes to wear. You do not believe in God very much! (31) ‘So then, do not keep asking, “What shall we eat?” “What shall we drink?” and “What shall we wear?” (32) It is the people who do not believe in God who work for all these things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need them all. (33) ‘Work first for God’s kingdom and what he calls good. Then you will have all these things also. (34) ‘So do not be troubling yourself about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have its own trouble. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’” [Matthew 24:24-34 BWE]

As an experiment, I interpret Jesus’ words here as pragmatical verbalization, i.e. immediately do-able. Then, I suppose the theoretical background is this: Jesus does not promise riches to those who “work first for the kingdom of God”. He talks about not searching our happiness in material things like luxurious meals and fine clothing, as this results in the unnecessary activity produced by the hedonic treadmill after the basic needs are met. Working for the basic needs is oll korrect, but serving materialism like a slave on a (hedonic) treadmill is not [Matthew 24:24 BWE]. Me thinks, Jesus even teaches that fulfillment of the basic needs is possible without conscious effort, i.e. we won’t realize this as a fatigue [Matthew 24:26,28,30 BWE]. Why do you reduce life to material stuff by caring for material stuff all your life? Realize that life is more than food (or other material stuff), as Jesus said [Matthew 24:25 BWE].

But staying away from the hedonic treadmill does not provide what you searched on it. So where to find permanent happiness? Let’s look closer at the following verse: “Work first for God’s kingdom and what he calls good. Then you will have all these things also.” [Matthew 24:33 BWE]. I think that this means primarily: “[…] then you will have happiness in the material world also, the very thing you searched when serving money, the very thing you searched on the hedonic treadmill”. In my view, it cannot mean that God will add all the clothes and riches of Solomon as immediate gifts, as e.g. Paul did not experience this (we will look at this below). But the need for happiness is fulfilled, and that is the thing searched for. And how or when is this need fulfilled? When one is “first […] concerned about God’s kingdom and his righteousness” [Matthew 24:33 ISV]. This is exactly what (who …) we need for our materially unfulfilled need: God. A relationship to God, where one experiences God’s love for humans and expresses love for God by a straight life according to his will. And how exactly does a relationship with God make us permanently happy? Lets o further …

The autarky escape

I stumbled over Paul’s approach to happy practical living, which is quite interesting. He seems to have internalized what Jesus said about sorrows (see above). Let’s read what he writes:

“(10) The Lord made me very happy to know that you were thinking about me again. Yes, I know you were thinking of me before, but you had no way to help me. (11) I do not mean that I needed it. I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I am happy with whatever happens to me. (12) I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I am rich. No matter how things are, I have learned how to live: when I have plenty of food, or when I am hungry; when I have more things than I need, and when I do not have enough. (13) I can do all things because Christ gives me strength.” [Philippians 4:10-13 BWE]

You might want to read the wider context: Philippians 4:10-19 BWE. (And if you clicked the references and arrived at verse 9: these references are correct but the verse scheme at crosswire.org is shifted by mistake.) In Greek, Paul states that he learned to be satisfied whith what he has like this:

“ουχ οτι καθ υστερησιν λεγω εγω γαρ εμαθον εν οις ειμι αυταρκης ειναι” [Philippians 4:11 TR]

A word-by-word translation would be like “Not that with respect to want I say this; because I learned, in whatsoever I am, to be content.”. The word translated “content” is “αυταρκης” (transliterates “autarkes”). It comes from “αυτος” (autos), meaning “self”, and “αρκεω” (arkeo), meaning “to be sufficient”, “to be enough”, or literally “to ward off”. So together it means “self-sufficient”, and indeed this is where the word “autarky” comes from.

Perhaps Paul would accept the following variations to describe his condition:

  • I am self-sufficient, which means that my happiness depends on what is in myself rather than on what comes to myself from the outer circumstances. And in myself is Christ with his strength, resp. my relationship to him which does not depend on material circumstances.
  • I have learned that the material world with all its lack and abundance will vanish, but I know and experienced what is eternal: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and my company with them. See also what I wrote in I Corinthians 7:29-31 BWE.
  • I have learned how to deal with every situation. Which means, there was a time when I was not able to be happy instead of poverty and instead of richness, but I was trained to be.
  • I am content within every situation. This does not mean that I would be content if there’d be nothing at all and I’d be starving to death. Instead, God knows what I need, and supplies this for me. Some people will be surprised that God does not prevent me from bing poor at times, but I’m no longer surprised. Because what we call poverty also is a situation that has enough good things in it to be content with. I had to learn to see and use these goods and I did learn it.
  • God’s supply means I’ll never enter a situation where there objectively is less than I need (not: wish) to be content with.
  • The key is to basically think the present situation to be worth living (at least potentially or latently). With this premise, one will care about adapting, furnishing and customizing the situation, according to one’s abilities, and indeed arrive at something worth living. This is a situation of “conformance with one’s goals and wishes”, which is the very definition of happiness. If one instead wishes to escape the whole situation, one tries something beyond one’s abilities, which means that one’s practical life is no longer in conformance with one’s goals and wishes, which means unhappiness.

Paul that that he had to learn to be happy in all situations. Which means one has to know some things and get some training to do so. What, for example, does one have to learn to be content in poverty?

  • Create no plans how to escape from your present situation. You’d just see them fail (and get frustrated) because poverty means you have not the resources to escape.
  • Take good care to discover all the available resources and beneficient peculiarities of your situation, and use these with a creative mind to their fullest.
  • Wish just what you can achieve with the present resources, and think carefully about what can be achieved with the present resources. This is plenty of stuff, as “best things in life are free”.
  • Await a change of the situation from the outside, i.e. look out for open doors to walk through. That is, use very moderate force to search for open doors, but do not try with full force to break doors open. You wouldn’t succeed or would choose the wrong door, and you would get stressed and exhausted, anything far from being happy.

To-do’s

  • Important: Paul talks only about the missing correlation between his money and his happiness; in this context “I am happy with whatever happens to me.” (Phil 4:11 BWE) does not mean “really all” as this would consequently say that Paul would be happy in hell as well. So one should not blindly extrapolatethese words to friends and social needs as well.
  • Did Paul expect a change of his poor situation? Perhaps it was really really equal to him (Phil 4:10-11)?
  • Verbalize the insights here as the difference between top-down life (the idealistic approach that comes from (thinking about) the ideal) and bottom-up life (the pragmatic approach to the ideal).
  • Add examples how the “hedonic treadmill” idea is confirmed by life’s experiences (par. 5): “While private life is private, we might look at some publicly visible persons: […]”, then insert here 5-10 stories of tragic persons of public life who searched for money, love and might.

Date: 2007-08-14
Last meaningful change: 2007-08-19

Today it came to my mind to publish a list of my inventions (some inventions from friends are included as well). This list was never published before. It will illustrate that inventing solutions and other needless technical stuff is one of my strange spare-time interests. Sad for most of you: this list is written in German. Anyway, have fun with it … you will find many really funny things in there, welcome to laugh 🙂 Just, post some comments here what you did with this list, o.k.?

You’ll let me boast somewhat in this post, ok? … umh, I mean, here are some facts about it:

  • 1364 inventions
  • 149 pages A4 at 10pt variable width font
  • 11109 lines of text
  • 8,5 and more years of searching problems and solutions
  • includes the valuable contributions of various friends … thanx, guys
  • original, yet completely unpublished material
  • had no commercial impact yet

And here it goes: you find the document in its latest version on my Personal: Publications page.

Me thinks the following to be an interesting insight. Friendship is something that does not exist in a statical way, but consists solely of the dynamic components. Friendship is done, it consists of interaction between persons. (Which is a difference to partnership, which exists also statically as it is binding.)

So what does this mean: that there’s no value in thinking about friendship but only in doing friendship instead. In the time used for thinking one cannot do friendship. The same applies to the quality of friendships: there is no static quality one could think about but only the dynamic, moment-by-moment quality one practises.

Date: 2007-08-10
Last major change: 2007-08-10