Harold, my Friend


Harold, my Friend

I felt him sailing away

Last summer,

Going back

To places he knew, but we didn’t.

If you think demons don’t have power,

You are wrong.

We begged him not to go.

His rope broke free from our shore,

And he is over the horizon now. Our world is so much

Darker today. He took his lantern with him.

Friend. Ambassador. Encourager.

I will hear his laughter echo in my dreams

For a long time. I know he is in

A better place. But I am not.

I am still here.

What About the Change?


What About the Change?

“Nice sermon, Max. It really made me think.” I know that as he left worship that day he meant those words as encouragement. I didn’t see the need to tell him right then that whether or not a sermon made someone think doesn’t make a lick of difference to me. I simply don’t care whether anything I say makes someone “think”. I care whether they experienced the Holy Spirit in worship, and whether something in that experience led to a changed life. I took the encouragement and simply said, “Thank you. See Wednesday for breakfast?” That’s a better place for a conversation about the difference between “thinking” and “experiencing”, and “sparked interest” and “changed life”.

For our community, what happens on Sunday morning is not only not all of “church”, it isn’t even all of worship. We live life together here. And we live sent. Apart from Mondays, which are days of reflection, people are engaged in God’s mission every day. There are prophetic worship happenings, and healing worship on other days of the week than Sunday. We break bread together regularly. We meet for accountability sessions. And we pray together. We disciple one another around supper tables knowing that disciples aren’t really disciples if they aren’t making disciples. And we serve together in the mission. We get dirty together, fear together, cry together, and toil together. And we see miracles together, signs and wonders of the coming and present Kingdom. Corporate worship on Sundays is a celebration of all that the Lord has done in the mission during the week. And it’s a time to put the pieces together…to go after those parts of ourselves that Christ is trying to redeem and to claim as his. Part celebration and part reflection and part Spirit connection, corporate worship on Sunday is designed as an opportunity to experience the Holy Spirit in a unique way that leads us to change our behaviors, and thus to change our lives. A closer and closer walk. A deeper and deeper obedience. A thickening of our souls.

So, I don’t measure effectiveness by what folks say on the way out on Sunday. I am grateful for the encouragement because it has historically been few and far between. But I am looking for the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of folks, and in myself. Am I kinder? Am I better at discerning what’s really going on? Is my heart breaking for what’s breaking God’s heart? Am I more patient? Does my heart, and do my hands, reach out to people who I could never get anything from? Am I responding with my life and all that I have to the urgency of the situation in the world? Am I praying with all my heart for blessings upon those who have sought with all their hearts to do me harm? Am I inviting others into Kingdom participation with me…the most precious thing in my life? If I lost my checkbook and my calendar and you found them, would you be able to tell from them that I believe in a Kingdom not of this world…and that I am a Christ-follower? For me, those are better indicators of the effectiveness of our missions and ministries, and better indicators that the Holy Spirit has, indeed, come by here. Did that make you think? I love you, but I really don’t care if it made you think. It’s about the fruit. It’s about the change.

When I was a Stranger…

Love thy neighbor

When I was a Stranger…

They drove up to Adams and found him lying in a pile of trash in his trailer. He was alive, but too weak to move much. They’d been friends for years. I get the sense that Harold didn’t have a lot of friends, and that the ones he did have, he cherished. Mike and Jean couldn’t leave him like that. The cancer in his lungs was going to take him, but this was no way to go. So, they packed him up, locked up the old trailer, and took him home to their house so that he could die with some dignity among friends.

Harold has nothing of earthly value. In fact, he owes. There’s no estate. There’s just a mess of bills and papers to sort through and figure out, and a ravenous dysfunctional couple of cousins circling Harold like vultures. And Harold is rough. He’s an ex-biker with a lot of really broken stuff in his rearview mirror. There was no upside in the decision to take him in. There was only knowing that doing what’s right is the only blessing in this life. They did it because that is who they are. They could not NOT do this. They aren’t “walk away” people. They don’t worry about what will happen if they take him in. That just doesn’t cross their minds. They worry deeply about what will happen if they DON’T take him in.

I’ve gotten to know Jean and Mike first as volunteers at the food pantry. They came with a group of bikers who chose to volunteer, and they have been coming back ever since. Since then I have gotten to know them as a part of our faith community, and now through motorcycles. Our words between each other have not been many, but those words have been encouragement for each other. In many circumstances I would say that I did not really know them because we haven’t spent long hours talking together. But I do know them. I know them by the love they have shown over and over and over again to people who can give them nothing in return. They shun credit. They deflect it to others. They have given themselves away to feeding the hungry, and to giving warm clothing and hot coffee to people who would otherwise freeze to death living on the street. And now they have taken in a man no one else even really knew existed so that he could die with dignity and grace, after giving him years of their friendship when no one else did.

A long time ago, a man that we now know as Matthew felt compelled to write about his experience of faith and that of his community. His writing can be found in a part of the Bible called the New Testament. He relates a vision of Jesus foretelling the last judgment that he presents as taking place when we all stand before the Lord one day. In that passage, we find Matthew portraying Jesus saying these words:

‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

When we dropped Harold off at hospice today, he knew and we knew that that would be his last car ride in this life. He didn’t say much on the way. He just looked at the green that was finally emerging after a long winter. And he was looking beyond it, too, at something that he was beginning to see that none of us still living can yet see. I thought to myself, “Take it all in, Harold. Drink it deep.” We got him in and settled into what will most likely be his death bed in a few days.

After a long period of silence…not uncomfortable silence, but appropriate and almost holy silence, Harold spoke. He said, “I’m working through the fear.” Nothing profound. Just his truth. It struck me that at our end, truth is enough. After another period of silence, Harold said, “It’s okay. You can go.” I said, “I’ll come back tomorrow. If you’ve already left, I’ll see you on the other side. Save me place. I’ll be along.” He smiled as though he understood.

As I walked down the long hall with bright sunlight pouring in windows from one side of the building and cutting colored slashes across the floor ahead of me, I thought, “Today, I know what church is.” See, none of these people that I’ve mentioned here have a fish on their car. None of them hold membership in an institutional church that counts members to report them to their denominational higher-ups. They’re bikers and sinners, just everyday people. They don’t know the Creeds, and they don’t have the Jesus T-shirts. But they are living both ends of what Matthew was talking about, neither one realizing which end of it they are on. Where a hungry person is given something to eat, Jesus is alive there. He is actually there. And where a stranger like Harold is taken in and given shelter by people like Jean and Mike, Jesus is alive there. Where two or three people are gathered together in the way that Jesus would have gathered together, he is among them. And where people are gathered and Jesus actually is, that is church. I was in church today…the real church. And I walked away strangely healed.

Three Little Things that make a Giant Difference in Mission


Three Little Things that make a Giant Difference in Mission

Here it is folks, we don’t do “Outreach”. One truth: “Outreach” done the traditional way will wreck your church. If your pews are funding your outreach, you don’t have enough money, and you will drain your budget. If your pews are staffing your efforts to do “good” in the world, you will burn your people out and have little or no fruit to show for it. Getting your congregation outside the walls is important…crucial, in fact…but it’s also not enough. Missional is not what we do. It is a way of life.

There are a lot of things that I don’t know anything about. In fact, you’d be shocked at what I don’t know. Just ask any of my teachers who have suffered through having me in their classes.  I am definitely not the sharpest crayon in the box. But there are a few things that we have invested years in and now know a few things about. Our community was a dying traditional church with empty pews and no money 15 years ago. I don’t know when the last time a disciple was made at that time. We started living missionally with a few people and literally a few dollars. Over the years, some things worked, some things didn’t. Some mustard seeds grew into bushes, and others had to be pruned. But we now have Kingdom contact with over 18,000 people a year. We are regularly seeing third and fourth generation disciples being made. Those are measurables. We have planted four communities in other cities that are thriving and doing effective mission work. Those are measurables. We also see people get clean and sober. We see souls that can only be described as “lost” be found and filled with light. We see the homeless make their way off the street. We see miracles. Those are not measurable, but we see those things all the time. So, we have learned a few things about small church transformation and missional church impact over the years.

As I listen to the woes of small church pastors trying to get their churches turned around, my heart goes out to them. I know personally the slings and arrows that they take, and the terrible price that they and their families pay. And as I listen, I hear echoes of some of the mistakes we made early on that nearly killed us, and took us away from the gospel. I think we can get at those things by highlighting three little things that can make a giant difference in living missionally.

1. The most important transformation in the people we’re trying to reach is the movement from being the object to being the subject of God’s mission.

What does that mean? It means that we do not ever try to staff our missions solely with people from our pews. We invite the world to not only be served, but to serve alongside of us. And we invite the first few to invite their friends to serve, and them to invite their friends to serve. All of our missions are staffed by people who were either once served there, or are currently being served there. Being a part of the mission of God is transformative. Our role is to help those that serve to see what they are doing through a gospel lens. And our role is also to invite them into our lives. If you are not understanding this key principle, you are not understanding what it means to live missionally. If we are doing good in order to stay out of hell, then we have missed the point of grace altogether. Yes, go and do good as a community because doing good flows out of the joy that comes from the grace we’ve received. But the greatest goodness you can do is to relinquish control of the good you’re doing, and to invite others who have never been reached to participate in God’s mission with you as equals. If you are only staffing what you do with your own people, you will burnout your people and quit the mission. I have seen it happen more times than I can tell you.

2. Missions that are solely funded from your pews are not sustainable. Sustainability comes from diversified income streams.
The needs outside of our church walls are huge. And if you’re like our community was, we didn’t have the kind of money that it takes to have a real impact on those needs. For years, folks had just wrung their hands and said, “What difference can a little church like us make? Forget it.” I went to my denomination a few times early on, because that was what they taught me to do in seminary…that was the mental model they had for everything.  The first thing I learned was that the denomination didn’t have any money to give either.  The second thing I learned was that it was extremely hard to get the denomination to give the money they did have unless we were expert in knowing the political and bureaucratic ins and outs of the system.  And lastly, I learned that the denomination has its own agenda and if we didn’t wear the right t-shirts and front the right agenda, funding would not be available. Again, the temptation was to throw up our hands and say, “I tried. I quit.”

Just like with inviting people to participate on the subject side of the mission with their hands, we have learned that the mission must also be funded from the mission field itself. There are people who have never been reached who have financial resources that they truly want to invest in doing something good. These folks often have financial resources, but do not have a lot of time. Giving to support a compelling vision of goodness might be just the thing that they have been looking for. Swap some PR for some funding. We get financial partnership from all kinds of secular sources. Biker groups, bars, local businesses, Boy and Girl Scouts, local sports programs, caring individuals, and civic organizations all help to fund what we do. And those who give end up being changed by their giving. Your pews don’t have enough money. But the harvest itself has more resources than I could ever have imagined.  All you need to do is to have a compelling vision, and the boldness to go and ask.
3.) It’s not about “What” you do. It IS about what you are participating in.
I know this is a little hard to grasp. But our food pantries are not about food. Well, they are about food, but they are also about something much bigger than the food we are able to provide. Sometimes our perfectionist and task-oriented tendencies end up alienating and subjugating the very people that we set out to reach. If we aren’t careful, we end up condescending, and condescension does not heal the world. It robs it of its dignity. Our missions are not about food or clothing or efficient processes. They are about the present Kingdom of God. In God’s Kingdom, there is always enough if we share. In God’s Kingdom, the least are greatest. In God’s Kingdom, people are treasured. It’s never about the right food or the right way to give food out. It’s always about right relationship. So, WHAT we do builds a bridge to relationship with the people that we serve and serve with. But WHAT we do is a means to an ends. The ends is participation in God’s Kingdom and being intentional about doing that. Served and serving, we are all equals and of equal value in that Kingdom.

Food, water, clothing, housing, visitation, justice…all of these are characteristics of what Jesus meant when he prayed, “…on earth, as it is in heaven”. This mission is pointing out the places where God’s reign is breaking into the world, participating in that Kingdom, and inviting others to participate in it with us.

Sometimes we have to see one in order to do one. I don’t want to come off as arrogant. If I have, I heartily apologize. We are all learners here. But I know that in my own case, I needed to get a mental model for missional church in order to envision how to live missionally here. If you’re struggling to get a mental model for what this might look like, please consider coming and spending a week with us in mission. What ends up happening in your community most likely will not look exactly like what happens here. It will take some Spirit-guided adaptation and innovation. But the principles are transferable between urban, suburban, and rural mission fields. We learned in a rural setting, and now apply what we learned to both urban and suburban mission fields. We will learn from you as well as you learning from us. And we end up encouraging each other in the process. If you’re interested, you can contact us by replying to this post, or visiting us at http://www.growingintochrist.org.

Using Statistical Data: Does it Really Bear Fruit? (Long one, sorry)

demographic map

Using Statistical Data: Does it Really Bear Fruit? (Long one, sorry)

 Introduction and Discussion of Biases and Core Values

In discussing the use of demographic statistics, I think it is important to first lay out some biases and core values that influence our use of that kind of data in our faith community.  We have a good deal of collective experience with the gathering and use of demographic and other broad statistics. As a pastor in a missional community for almost fifteen years, I have a good deal of personal experience with them.  So, it may benefit our understanding of what I will write about this to understand the reasons that I advocate for certain methodologies and advise against others.

Of first importance to our community is that Jesus be the head of the church, and that we are conscious of all the ways that the throne of our community can be usurped by well-meaning people.  We are believers in the leading of the Holy Spirit, and at the heart of all that we do, is that we seek the leading of the Holy Spirit.  We believe in spiritual gifting, and we believe that those gifts need to be used in order to stay in movement with the Holy Spirit.  We believe in dreams and visions, and we believe that as the Spirit led communities through those avenues in the past, so it leads us now today. As such, our processes and methodologies tend to lean into the mystery of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

We further believe that the mission is primarily about relationships between people.  When I say this, I mean “actual” relationships, person-to-person contact between individuals and the building of relationships through that contact.  We believe that we are always both the object and the subject of the mission as experienced through those person-to-person relationships.  If our mission involves the giving and receiving of groceries, those groceries are handed out person-to-person on a human level one bag at a time to one person at a time.  As such, our methodologies reflect this belief, and we view methodologies that involve averages and miens and broad generalizations as not only not helpful to the mission, but as even a distraction from what we are about.

And of last, but not insignificant note, I have come to believe that in the transformational church environment, churches are not “mobilized” in the collective.  I do not believe that groups are moved at the group level.  I have years of painful experience and disillusioning that ground this belief.  I do need to say, however, that I work in a specific transformational environment that may not be indicative of the majority of communities that are struggling with transformation to missional living.  I have contact with many other communities, and that contact has influenced my belief in how transformation and movement happens.  But even that level of experience must still be understood as anecdotal.

I believe that in the movement from maintenance to missional, and in the missional environment, vision for action comes to an individual. We believe that God is already at work in the mission field, that Christ can be seen there ahead of our participation.  We believe that God’s activity is usually seen by one or two or three who bring news of it back to the community to be discerned in a group of committed followers.  We believe that dreams and visions are also discerned in a group of committed believers who will almost always represent a minority within an untransformed church community and culture.

More often than not, that group of people called to help discern will consist of people both from inside a community and from outside of it.  I believe that the person receiving the vision will ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit in who to ask to help them to discern the vision, even going so far as to ask the Holy Spirit to call that group out and identify them to the person who has received a vision for mission.  That gathered group will become a catalyst for change in the community, and that change will most likely be initiated by an affinity to the fruit that the mission bears.  Some people will see the fruit being borne, will understand it as evidence of the anointing of the Spirit and fruit of the Kingdom, and will be attracted to participation in it.  Others will be provoked by it, and will resist it vehemently.  The Holy Spirit both convicts and provokes.  Some will accept it and some will resist it.  And some will simply leave the community because of the changes that begin to take place as a result of the missional movement.

I have come to believe that that winnowing process is both necessary and essential to real spiritual transformation.  Trying to get everyone on board before initiating action in the mission simply stunts that process, and therefore, hinders the mission and the spiritual growth of the community. Communities are not mobilized.  Individuals are called, gifted, and sent.  Mobilization happens over time as a strategic consensus of the community is gained.  I have never seen it gained in any real or productive way before significant action is taken.  It is the fruit of the action initiated that catalyzes movement in the larger community and creates consensus around it. Waiting for everyone to get on board simply does not happen.

Further, I have a bias against counting things.  Jesus does not do anything with numbers in his mission and actions in Scripture.  It is true that he sends his people out two by two.  Those numbers matter to us.  It is also true that Jesus does a little bit of mathematics when he says that we should be willing to forgive people seventy times seven times.  He tells his disciples to divide a hungry crowd of five thousand into groups of fifty.  Those exact numbers do not matter to us. The Bible narrative, however, does matter to us, and aside from a few specific and mostly symbolic instances, Jesus was not a statistician.  We are trying to live in Scripture now.  We do not do this perfectly.  But we are trying to see the mission through a Gospel hermeneutic.  As such, we are trying to utilize the methods that Jesus is reported in Scripture to have used to further the mission of the Kingdom.  I actually have a Bachelor’s degree in sociology, and have been trained in the use of statistics.  However, while social sciences can help to inform and enhance what we do, we are not seeking to ground what we do in the methodologies of the social sciences.  We are seeking to ground our methods in the methods of Jesus and his disciples as reported in Scripture to the very best of our ability to do so.

Statistics are complicated and can be misleading.  They are nuanced and require a great deal of training and skill to gather and use properly.  As I mentioned, I have a four year undergraduate degree that involves skills in how to gather and use them.  A problem that arises for us and creates a bias for me personally as a missional pastor is that complex things that require a great deal of training in order to implement and utilize do not multiply rapidly or readily.  Multiplication is a core value.  If it cannot be multiplied by minimal effort, or if it does not multiply because the Holy Spirit brings it life to do so on its own, then it is not something that we advocate for.  If something is heavy in required and acquired skills, then it might look fantastic on a three-fold color-glossy church brochure, but it is not likely to be helpful to us in rapidly multiplying the mission.  Everything that we do has to be at least as simple as what is reflected in Jesus’ methods that are reported in Scripture.  We have a strong bias away from complexity.  We have a strong bias away from esoteric language.  And we have a strong bias away from professionalization. Anything that sets up hurdles of certification or significant education in order to get engaged “right now” in the mission field is not present in our reading of Scripture and is dangerous to mission initiation.  As you will see, we bring those skills into the mission later.  We simply do not place those skills into the equation before the mission is initiated.

Missional Engagement Methodology and the Use of Demographic Data

Something that we have learned over and over again along the way in gaining first a missional foothold in our community, and then gaining a deeper penetration into it is that strategic planning is counter-productive.  When I use the term “counter-productive”, I mean that engaging in something that fits this label actually reduces our ability to produce fruit for the Kingdom.  It is counter to production. Strategic planning and assessment: 1) takes place in the wrong place; 2) operates off of unstated assumptions; 3) uses up the precious resources of time and talent; and, 4) there is no evidence to show that this kind of planning and assessment actually produces engagement with the mission field. What we have found is that the only thing that produces engagement with the mission field is engagement with the mission field. As tautological as that may sound, it is the truth as we have experienced it.  We are not confounded by paradoxes.  They are the environment that we live in.

I have notebook upon notebook of demographic information that I compiled over about two years’ time and approximately two hundred hours of effort.  Since compiling that data and doing an in-depth asset-based assessment of our “church”, I have never once opened those notebooks or used that data.  The statistics that those efforts produced, at least in my case, are dead information.  The problems that I ran into in my research and in implementing efforts with that information are myriad.   Most of the research available is at least a year old and often older by the time it is published.  It is broad and it provides no actual thread connected to the mission field that we can pull on and use to develop the situation in the field. Statistics are also tremendously misleading.  I have never met the “average” person.  I have never broken bread with the median demographic.  And all of the strategic planning and asset-based assessment of my “church” did nothing to move anyone out of the pews and into the mission field. In short, I used two hundred hours to do something that has proven to be irrelevant when I know now that I could have used those two hundred hours gathering what we call “tacit information”[1] while at the very same time engaging with my mission field.

For us, speed and agility are of paramount importance.  Mission opportunities arise in a moment and pass us by in a moment.  “Tacit Information” is information that is steeped in context, relevance, and timeliness.  It is information that is alive.  It is today’s information and can be used today.  It isn’t found in demographic spread sheets.  It can be bought on the street for the price of a meal, a candy bar, or a cup of coffee.  We look for what we call a “person on the ground”.  A person on the ground is native to the context and has both credibility and connections within a given population and geography.  That person can give us all the information that we need to know in order to gain missional penetration into the community. We turn the person on the ground from object to subject of the mission immediately, and we ride on their connections and rely on their ability to find the right information extremely quickly so that we can put it to use quickly.

If I am trying to find a foothold in the urban environment, then I pray for God to put a homeless person in our path who can lead us into the Kingdom of God in that environment.  When I find that person, I take them out for a meal and talk to them for an hour or so.  In one hour, I will know the ethnicity, gender break-down, and geographic location of that population.  I will know what services are currently being offered to that population, where those service locations are, and whether or not they are effective.  I will also know what needs still exist, and I will know how to deliver those needs to that population. Of equal importance, I will have a vision of adjacent mission fields to the homeless into which we will begin to reach and grow.  I will have spent one hour instead of two hundred hours, and I will have spent about ten dollars.  I will have already engaged in the mission from the point of contact with our person on the ground, and I will have already gained geographic orientation to the area in real-time by simply walking around looking for the person on the ground that God has prepared for us to meet and engage with.  The Holy Spirit goes before us and paves the way into the Kingdom through the participation and leadership of the very people that we are trying to reach.

We have come to understand that initial missional engagement is a “Lewis and Clark” effort.  We believe in utilizing spiritual gifts of individuals who feel called to use them, rather than trying to mobilize an entire church that is mostly untransformed.  The mission creates the transformation, not the other way around.  As such, we look for people who have what Alan Hirsh refers to as the “pioneering gifts” of the apostle, prophet, and evangelist[2].  When we identify these gifts, be they in the church or outside of it, we empower them and send them to do what they are shaped and anointed by God to do.  Trying to turn a shepherd into a pioneer doesn’t work.  So we find pioneers who have experienced a sense of calling, and we put them to work doing what they do.  Like Lewis and Clark, these folks do not know what is around the next bend, but they are compelled to venture around it because that is simply the way they are shaped. We do not have to teach them anything complicated because their spiritual gifting shapes them to function well beyond what any training could give them.

Pioneers functioning together make contact with the mission field and develop the situation that they find that God has prepared for them to engage with.  They develop the situation that unfolds before them rather then going in with preconceived notions distilled from misleading statistics and dead information.  Non-transformed communities do not mobilize.  Individuals gifted to be mobile mobilize.  Once engaged, apostles develop widening networks in the mission field itself, and evangelists grow the mission right there in the mission field. Prophets keep them on track and identify the places where God’s Kingdom is at work on the ground that they are now deeply engaged with.

As the mission develops, apostles draw in resources to support and grow the mission.  But the resources needed are rarely known before engagement with the mission field.  They don’t know what they need until they are engaged, and once engaged they are extremely adept at correctly identifying what is needed and in developing and utilizing networks from which to draw those resources.  Once ground is gained and redeemed for the Kingdom, what Alan Hirsh refers to as “settler” gifts[3] become relevant and necessary in order to hold and further develop and transform what the pioneers discovered and engaged with.  This is the point at which statistical analysis and compilation become important.  Firstly, compiling data allows for settlers to identify whether or not the mission is meeting its goals.  Data correctly compiled can provide “dashboard indicators” that allow shepherds to make adjustments to increase effectiveness in that specific mission.  Those dashboard indicators can also inform teachers about what needs to be taught.  Shepherds and teachers are the settlers who take the ground gained by pioneers and make the Kingdom of God more and more apparent in it.

The SWOT and Asset-Based Analysis are processes that are attractive to and effective for the settlement gifts.  Frankly, that kind of activity would bore the pioneers and would be of little use to them.  They are not shaped for it, and due to their gifting and temperament, would find being required to do them discouraging.  Pioneers chomp at the bit for engagement and situation development.  They thrive in chaos, and naturally innovate.  Pioneers simply should be rapidly identified and released into the mission field.  The settlers can use the SWOT and Asset-Based Analysis as a tool for making what the pioneers hand off to them better. Further, in conjunction with good spiritual analysis and gift assessment, the SWOT profile can help apostles and shepherds to identify the pioneering gifts as assets, thus speeding up the multiplication of mission timetable.  What has happened in the institutional church is that, for too long, apostles have been seen as threatening and have been chased off or bored into leaving, prophets have been silenced, and evangelists have been utilized solely for church-growth purposes.

A second point of relevance for compiling statistics is that once the mission begins to develop, it is important to quickly identify income streams from outside the “Mothership”[4] so that the mission becomes self-sustaining as quickly as possible.  Many of those income streams will be grants.  In order to effectively get grants, statistics will need to be provided in order to match up the mission with compatible funding sources, and to provide those funding sources with evidence of effectiveness.  But the statistics gathered for this come from within the mission itself.  These statistics are “after- the-fact” data specific to the mission.  Even though the data might be voluminous, it is still tacit information steeped in context.  If a funding source requires effective engagement with a target population of interest to them, we need to be able to show statistical evidence that we are engaging effectively with that demographic.  Missions need to identify who they are serving and how big the need is within their target population.  They need to do this from several perspectives depending on the requirements of available funding sources.  They need to be nimble in how they group and classify statistics so that the information is attractive to their funding sources.  In that way, the information must stay alive.  It must remain tacit. And it must come from within the mission.

Once a mission is developed to even a nominal degree such that it is regularly engaged with a relatively stable population, it is easy to gather statistics.  Developing a simple form for people to fill out provides both tacit information and documentation of services. Surveys and interviews can be conducted and affidavits of impact can be acquired because the people granting them to you are people you know.  They are your community.  You will have developed a relationship of partnership and trust with them. And more often then not, they will be willing to help the mission in any way they can because they will have gained a sense of ownership in it.  We now have data that I can sculpt specifically to a given funding source.  I have templates that I can adjust depending on the format of the grant we are applying for.  Here is where the statistics matter.  Grant sources have criteria for giving those grants and they have expectations for effectiveness.  While I am not convinced that statistics actually have anything to do with the advance of the Kingdom of God, they certainly are helpful is acquiring funding from worldly sources.

[1] We have used concepts from many contexts, not just traditional ecclesial sources.  The term “tacit information” is used in the military intelligence community and was first used in a publication (to my knowledge anyway) by Pete Blaber, in his book The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander (New York: Penguin Books, 2010).

[2] We draw heavily on Alan Hirsh’s work on spiritual gifts as he relates them in Hirsh, Alan. The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Mothership” is a term we coined to talk about a resourcing community whose primary function is to birth new missions, teams, and communities; to nurture them; and to send them out.

Don’t Follow the Breadcrumbs. Follow the Rabbi.

Don’t Follow the Breadcrumbs. Follow the Rabbi.

I was

Wrong. I thought

It was about leaving

Breadcrumbs…like Hansel and Gretel…but

Following those breadcrumbs will only lead you

To the witch.

The grackles have eaten the damn things anyway.

The Way

Forward can only be

Found in imagining

With Jesus…


Begging, pleading with Jesus

For a Way



With Jesus…

The real one, the Living One…

The Way


There is

No other way


Holy, If Only for a Moment


Holy, If Only for a Moment

Our food pantries use a term, “Ladders of Peace”.  Some folks struggle with what it means. Like anything that is truly human and truly real, it resists simple definitions. It is who we are in our pantry communities. It is best understood in experiencing it.  Like so many things that are bigger than we are, we are sometimes unable to talk about the ways that they have touched us and changed us, because we just don’t have the words to fully convey the experience.  All I can say is that you understand it when you see it come to life…when you see it in the flesh.

After we close our pantries, we gather our volunteers for a time of reflection.  You have to understand that for us, these aren’t merely food pantries that distribute food.  These, to us, are churches of Christ. They are sacred places where the “least of these” can be found.  And where the least of these can be found, so can the Lord. They are bushes where the birds of the air come to find shelter.  In our reflection time, we ask people to tell us about their experience, how it changed them or made them think differently about something.  Sometimes, the answers are simple: “I had a good time.”  But sometimes the answers are profound.

He is from Myanmar, though I think he might say that he is from Burma.  He is from a persecuted people group there, the Chin.  He has spent a good part of his life as an IDP, and then as a refugee in a camp outside his country.  He immigrated to the U.S. fairly recently.  If I had to guess, I would guess that he is in his early twenties.  His English is broken, but we can communicate. He brings a group of about twenty other Chin young adults and teenagers once a month to serve with us. He has a light in him that is infectious.  He has a joy that is overflowing out of him.  He has every right to be an angry and bitter young man, and he is not.  I don’t know why.  What I do know is that I count him among my friends, and I am grateful.

As he began to speak that day (it was his turn), I struggled at first to understand what he was saying.  I think he was a little nervous.  But after the first few sentences, I understood what he was saying.  He said that since coming to the U.S., he has been treated badly because he looks different, and because his English isn’t good.  He said that people look down on him, like he is less than them.  He told us about the struggles that he’s had in finding a job because of prejudice.  The “American Dream” has been elusive for him.  He told us these things while all the while smiling.  It struck me that his smile was transcendent, from a place not of this world. And then he said something that was both simple and profound.  It pierced me.  He said, “In my life, everywhere I go here I am looked down on.  But not here.  Here is different.  Here, I am an equal.” He smiled.  He sat down.  Tears began to well up in my eyes. The room was silent…holy, if only for a moment.  The Kingdom of God had drawn very near to us, and we had the incredible opportunity to participate with him in it.

Why This Smear of Ash?

Ash smear

Why This Smear of Ash?

Ashes to ashes.  From the dust do we come and to the dust shall we all return.  No matter how far along the road we get, Ash Wednesday reminds us that we all have a common starting point on this earth, and a common ending point.  These bodies are made from the dust of the earth, and one day these bodies will be returned to their lender.  It still freaks me out a little bit to be reminded that house dust is mostly dried skin, our flesh carried off by the wind only to find a new home in the television vents and strewn across the coffee tables and dresser tops.  It is a healthy reminder of just how insignificant we are…and how fleeting and fragile this life is.  The paradox of insignificance…the crazy incongruity of being nothing and yet being treasure.  In and of ourselves, we are dust and ash.  Yet, connected to something inexplicably bigger, we are also breath and all that goes with it.

It is likely that today you will see a dark smear of ash on the foreheads of some of our neighbors, a reminder of what we are without that something that gives us breath…that something that gives us hope in the reality of the dust from which we are made and to which we shall return.  Why has the God of Love chosen to form us from the earth and to number our days? Why must what begins here also end here among broken hearts and broken things?

Today, I do not have an answer.  But as I look at the black smear of ashes on the foreheads of so many people seeking answers to so many unanswerable questions and solace for so many still-open wounds, I am compelled to think on these things.  What are we really if we are truly more than the sum total of our carbon matter and firing synapses?  Do we really belong merely to the earth from whence we come, or is there more that we come from than dust and water? And what about the breath?  What about the love? How do we explain the love and the hurt and the joy?  Where do those come from, and what do we owe their author for visiting them upon us? I have never seen a tree weep at the loss of another tree.  Outside of poetry, I have never heard a wheat field roar with laughter.  And I have never seen a mountain lay down its life for another mountain. Of what are these?  Surely these will not return to the earth because it is not from the earth that they have clawed their way into us.  What ends must end.  There is no changing that.  But sometimes I think that end must be real in order for all that has led up to that end to have real meaning.  Without claiming our beginning AND our end, can we really claim that anything that we choose or experience between those two banal commonalities really matters at all?  Ashes to ashes.  From the dust do we come…or do we? I will dwell on that…today.

Lord, Hear our Prayer.

Lord, Hear our Prayer

on earth as in heaven

In my study and prayer time this morning it came to me how little Jesus had to say about what happens to us after we die. He says a few things, but not a lot of things. And it also struck me how much Jesus had to say about how we live in this life. He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you this day.” His teachings were all about living a life of heaven in this life…heaven’s economy, heaven’s ethics, heaven’s priorities. He prayed, “…on earth as it is in heaven.” His message was about God’s Kingdom at work in the world that we can participate in, and invite others to participate in with us. So…as I eat my “fat Tuesday” pancakes tonight (actually, no carbs for me right now ), I’m going to think on those words, “…on earth as it is in heaven”. Lord, hear our prayer…

The Space Between…A Holy Space

Prison light 2Timothy or Paul

The Space Between…A Holy Space

When the crisis became a reality for him, he took me up on the offer, but I think it was because he had absolutely no other offer. I don’t think he really wanted to live here.  He liked the way I knew him.  He liked that I knew him for the guy he wanted to be.  The face he showed me was the face he strove for.  He didn’t want me to know everything about him.  Not everything about him was what he wanted to be.  I think he needed somebody to know him as he wanted to be known.  I think he really needed somebody to see him that way.  It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t fully real.  I don’t know anyone who can bear having their whole selves revealed in the full light of day. We all have really ugly places that we have to deal with every day, and that we just don’t want others…people other than God…to know. He needed a place to stay, though.  So, I let him stay here.  It’s hard to hide when you live in close proximity.  I helped him solve one set of problems, but I may have lost something precious in the process.

There is this guy that he wants to be.  And the role I played in his life was to know that guy, and to reflect that guy back to him.  He needed to shine somewhere because there are so many places where he doesn’t shine…and he knows that so excruciatingly well.  I was the guy who knew him at his best, who saw him only at the times of his choosing.  I was the guy who saw the person he wanted to be.  That was a “holy” role…that was a holy space.  It was a place of hope for him.  I wish I had understood that.  I hope now that the truth of unconditional love will have taken root in his heart.  I hope that he comes to know that even though I now know the other sides of him, I still am the guy who sees him the way he hopes to be. I hope that the grace of God can overcome my failure to see the holy space that he had created for me in his life. And I hope that that same grace helps him to know that the space between the person he is and the person he hopes to be is becoming shorter with each passing day.

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