Archive for Subject and Object: Sermons and Interactions

Three Little Things that make a Giant Difference in Mission

Butterfly-Transformation

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.

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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.

Beyond the Search for Samsung: Is Today Your Day to Matter?

Invitation to mission

Beyond the Search for Samsung: Is Today Your Day to Matter?

I know that Beyonce, Romain Dauriac, and Samsung are the most searched for words on Google right now.  But I don’t think that most people searching for those things are looking for them to fulfill a deep need in their life. At least, I hope not.  I’m not even sure that people even use Google, or Bing, or Yahoo to search for meaning and significance…but it might make some sense to at least give them a shot at it.   More and more I am engaged in conversations with people who tell me that, more than anything, they want their lives to matter.  They want their lives to have real and lasting value. More and more people tell me that they aren’t just seeking a career that will make them rich or popular or famous.  In fact, for most of them, those things have become a turnoff.  I’m not sure where meaning and significance end up on the list of most searched for terms on Google or Bing, and I don’t think it really matters. I think people are finally coming to the tragic end of the value of putting themselves first.  I don’t think they have come to that end through ignorance or guesswork.  I think they come to that end because they’ve gotten pretty far down that dark road and have found their lives getting smaller and smaller, and shallower and shallower.

I don’t think that we were shaped from birth to think of ourselves first.  We are conditioned by our consumer culture to think that way.  We are so immersed in and bombarded by advertisements and messages that subtly sell us the values of the purveyor/consumer culture.  We are overwhelmed with those messages, and those messages have been cynically cloaked in words that our hearts are shaped to connect to.  But the words merely cover up an empty well.   Even more than simply the value of “self”, I think we are sold over and over again the idea that “things” and “status” produce meaning.  A recent Mercedes Benz magazine ad for their new model CLA says, “Set your soul free.” And their tag line is, “The best or nothing.” No, seriously. That’s what it actually says. We once were even told by the very President of the United States that the most important thing that we could do as citizens of this country was to go out and buy things, as if that was our role in the great cosmos. That’s what’s being put out there for our consumer culture to consume. No wonder so many people are so spiritually hungry. It’s like eating sawdust. It’ll fill you up for a minute, but it sure won’t feed you. How many times do people have to be exposed to this before they start to subconsciously think it? Go ahead and drive one if you can. They really are great cars. But, by way of extrapolation, if someone can’t afford the best, does that mean that they are nothing? Wow. Jesus taught that the truth will set you free. Mercedes seems to think a little differently.

My thought for today comes from some simple wisdom my father shared with me years ago.  He said, “Son, if God’s going to do something new in your situation, you have to let God do something new in you.”  If our lives are feeling flat and we just can’t seem to make sense of the cycle of earn and spend and owe, then maybe we can make a little change that will allow God to make a big change in our situation.  If we are tired of trying to be “important” and “in charge”, and we’re just done with trying to please everybody, then maybe we can change one small thing that God can use to connect us to much bigger things that really will give our lives meaning and value.  Maybe society is wrong about what it means to be important.  And maybe that President was wrong about our role in the cosmos. And maybe Mercedes-Benz is just cynical about everything and doesn’t really even believe what they’re asking you to believe. We want our lives to matter.  We don’t want our lives to just be wasted on things that don’t matter and don’t last beyond the warranty.  One little change that we can make is to set aside some time get involved in something where what’s at stake is more important than us.  God’s not asking you to sell everything you own today and come follow him.  God is just asking you to take one step into the Kingdom with God, and see where God leads you.  So, maybe today is your day to get involved.

If you’re in the Milwaukee area, check us out at http://www.growingintochrist.org., or on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/max.ramsey.  Come and visit one of our mission sites one time, or come and live and serve with us for a week.  Maybe we can find something of value together.  If not here, then somewhere there is a place and a need for who you are and what you do. Peace.

All the Wrong Things

jesusonthecross01

All the Wrong Things…

Mark 9:31″…for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.”
It seems to me that the gravity of this faith is in our willingness to give ourselves away to serve a Kingdom greater than any of us. We have somehow managed to boil this faith down to a matter of personal salvation and decision-making status in our communities. How did that happen? Yes, it’s about our salvation, but it’s also about our ability to give ourselves away. As I heard a Biblical scholar once say, “Jesus is talking about climbing the cross for the sake of others…and his disciples are arguing over organizational charts”. As true as it was then, how often do we find ourselves caught up in all the wrong things now? How many con gregations split over who gets credit and who gets to call the shots? How many people walk away from their communities of faith because they have been sold the lie that their withering criticism and “gifts” for evaluating the labors of others are some kind of spiritual gift? How many do they chase away from faith before they walk away? Before we get really upset, let’s not forget that many have been taught that that way of practice is what it means to “serve the Lord”…and they have been taught it all their lives…just like the disciples in our passage were.

A statistic worth looking very hard at (though I can’t immediately cite its source) is that of children who are raised in homes that self-identify as “Christian” homes, 90% make a decision for Christ. When studied at age 35, only 22% of those people who made that decision have marks of Christ-following. There’s something wrong with our algorithm for disciple-making, and I think it’s at least partly wrapped up in what’s going on in that passage. And there’s something wrong in our lenses, or hermeneutic, for “church”. People are discipled en-mass in classrooms with curriculum, instead of being disciples by coming alongside Christ-followers one-to-one in daily living. They get an hour on Sundays…maybe. But they don’t get hands-on connected to the Kingdom. We fill them up with words like “leader” and think that “corporate leadership” is a foundational Biblical principle. But “leadership” is only used once in the New Testament is a positive way…it’s actually used neutrally as a spiritual gift found in some and referring to roles in the church that are married to responsibilities, not status. Jesus, himself, only uses the word “church” 2-3 times in Scripture. In one clear usage of the word, he says, “I will build my church”. “Disciples”, on the other hand, is used at least 280 times. Jesus tells us to, “Go, and make disciples…”. The difficult thing is getting people to follow the leadership of Jesus Christ…the leading of the Holy Spirit. We are supposed to be making disciples of Christ and releasing them into the harvest. We have to be willing to disciple them to make disciples and then to let them go…to release folks. If God doesn’t bring the life to the things we, and subsequently they, plant out there…and there should be a lot of little things being planted…then we have to be willing to let them die…and keep planting.

We get so bogged down in the survival of our congregations that we forget that it isn’t about the survival of our congregations. That’s Christ’s business. We spend so much time on the right organizational chart…who’s going to be at the top…and we fail to connect that to what’s going in our passage from Mark 9.  And we fail to see how much that grieves Jesus’ heart…God’s heart. It isn’t about organizational charts, or who’s going to be the greatest. It’s about the urgency of the mission that Christ has called us into. It isn’t about leadership.  It’s about people learning to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Leadership linked to responsibilities is a by-product of obedience. What’s called for is selflessness and servanthood.  As Neil Cole points out, if we truly disciple only two people per year, and teach them to disciple two people per year, then do the math…there’s a long runway, but in twenty years, one million people will be reached with the Good News of the Kingdom of God. That’s the mustard seed thing. How many people are reached through our Sunday school classes?

So…I am wondering, who is sitting around our supper tables, and who are we walking beside each day? Who are we drawing into relationship with Christ on a daily or nearly daily basis? It’s crazy to think that we can do that with a hundred people. It’s crazy to think we can do that with even fifty people. But we can do that with two people per year every year…and teach them to do the same. How much commercial curriculum teaches that way? If you know of some that does, let me know. In the meantime, the Bible is a pretty good source for teaching, especially when coupled with engagement with the mission.

But…what do you all think? What’s your sense of where the wheels have come off and where we have managed to get so far away from the Gospel?

The Principle of Movement – Part II

The Principle of Movement – Part II

As I wrote in the most recent post below, in our journey here, we have for the most part stopped counting things.  Our denomination still sends us a report form that asks the incredibly irrelevant questions of numbers in worship, Sunday School, and dollars given to the denomination for them to waste on asking questions like these.  But we have mostly stopped counting things.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t notice things and it doesn’t mean that numbers are completely irrelevant.

And as I wrote in the post below, the overarching project of discipleship for us to make disciples who makes disciples, and to have as many of those disciples as possible be sent out to initiate Kingdom activity in the tribes and nations that they came out of.  We have come to understand that are certain changes – “movements” – that happen in people enough times that we have become very interested in making sure that we are intentional in inspiring, nurturing, and facilitating those missions and activities where these movements regularly take place.  We DO NOT force these to happen.  We simply look for them and encourage them, and celebrate them when they occur. We mark them. We have come to understand that even though these movements will appear linear when we try to describe them, they really are more quantum than they are linear.  Folks jump around in them like wells in the desert.  We call that jumping around, “Simple Missional Church” (SMC).

There are five movements that we look for and celebrate:

  • Subject and Object of Mission
  • Mission to Friendship
  • Friendship to Discipleship
  • Discipleship to Leadership
  • Leadership to Apostleship

In the previous post, we talked about the first two of these movements.  In this post I will try to explain the Movement from Friendship to Discipleship.  Over the next several blog posts we look at the last two movements.

Remember, we do not count things for the sake of numbers.  We look for these movements because they are indicative of spiritual growth.  Remember also that we call this Simple Mission Church, so we keep things simple.  Very simple.  Complex things don’t multiply easily.  Simple things do.

The Movement from Friendship to Discipleship: Many of the people who become involved in the mission will begin to re-orient the priorities of their lives to those of the mission.  The mission will become of central importance, not just something they do sometimes.  They will come to understand both its gravity and its urgency.  And they will make friends with others who participate with them and share those priorities.  Those friendships will be lived out in mission together.  And many of those people will have their eyes opened to the fact that what they are participating in is something transcendent…something more than simply philanthropy.  They will get it.  And they will look to go deeper.  Some of their behaviors will changes to include behaviors that will draw them into closer and closer relationship with Jesus.  They will begin to pattern their lives after Jesus’ life even though some of them will not be very articulate about exactly what it is that is changing in them.

We look for six movements in behavior…six shifts or patterns.  And when we see them, we are very intentional about nurturing them.  We don’t sit people down in a classroom with little desks and dry erase boards, and teach them three hours worth of denominational history and the meaning of the sacraments.  We come along side them and participate in these behaviors with them.  These six are not exhaustive marks of being a disciple.  But they are behaviors that bear tremendous spiritual fruit or growth in people.  If people do these things, it will change them.  They are:

  1. Get in the Word alone AND in a group.
  2. Pray with all your heart
  3. Confess to one another
  4. Forgive others and yourself
  5. Form accountable friendships – hedges of protection
  6. Have an inlet AND an outlet for growth (be mentored and mentor, take in love and give it out, etc)

Our experience in the mission is that we can’t force these things to happen or teach them in classroom and have them come as a result in any meaningful way.  These behaviors emerge almost out of ethno-methodology or a culture of praxis that exists among the other disciples of Christ that they participate in mission with.  In other words, we do them in the midst of people who do not yet do them.  People see the results. We look for the movement.  We nurture the changes when we see them.

At some point, some those who engage in these practices will want to be nurtured and held accountable in a deeper, more public way.  They are serious about the change.  They don’t want to go back to old ways and they know that they are susceptible to going back just like everyone else is.  They see that others who are serious about staying on the course have gone through the ordinance of public baptism among their accountability circle – those with whom they do mission and with whom they live and love and worship.  Something changes when you tell people what you believe and how you want to live.  And something huge changes when you tell a community that you want them to hold you accountable to the life you say you want to go deeper into.  For us, these behaviors indicate that a person has entered into a pattern of life whose aim is to know Jesus more deeply and to more deeply pattern our values, priorities and actions on those of Jesus.  This is the criteria for baptism – you have claimed Christ and you know he is alive, and you have re-oriented your life to grow into deeper relationship and obedience.  But most importantly, you are ready to be held accountable by the community.  To us, that is discipleship.  So we look for it.  And we nurture it when we see it emerging.

Do we count baptisms? Yes. We don’t count them so we can write them on those insidious denominational forms and say, “Hey! Look how cool we are! Look how faithful we are!”  We count them because they indicate that something that is happening on the front end of movement is creating an opportunity for people to seek and find the Kingdom of God.  If we aren’t producing disciples who make disciples, then we are doing something wrong. Do we celebrate baptisms? Oh heck yes!! For us, THAT is what all of this is all about. Does it end there? No.  More later.

The Principle of Movement

The Principle of Movement

In our journey here, we have (for the most part ) stopped counting things.  Our denomination still sends us a report form that asks incredibly irrelevant questions of numbers in worship, Sunday School attendance, and dollars given to the denomination for them to waste on asking questions like these.  But we have mostly stopped counting things.  That, however, doesn’t mean that we don’t notice things or that numbers are completely irrelevant.

The overarching project of discipleship for us is to make disciples who makes disciples, and to have as many of those disciples as possible be sent out to initiate Kingdom activity in the tribes and nations that they came out of.  We have come to understand that there are certain changes – “movements” – that happen in people with enough regularity that we have become very interested in making sure that we are intentional in inspiring, nurturing, and facilitating those missions and activities where these movements regularly take place.  We DO NOT force these to happen.  We simply look for them and encourage them, and celebrate them when they occur. We mark them. We have come to understand that even though these movements will appear linear when we try to describe them, they really are more quantum than they are linear.  Folks jump around in them like wells in the desert.  We call that jumping around, “Simple Missional Church” (SMC).  I know that others have used that term, too…but we use it this way.

There are five movements that we look for and celebrate:

  • Subject and Object of Mission
  • Mission to Friendship
  • Friendship to Discipleship
  • Discipleship to Leadership
  • Leadership to Apostleship

I will try to explain them over the next several blog posts.

The Movement from Object to Subject:  This is the most life-changing, paradigm-shattering movement that a soul in the mission can make.  And the movement happens in both directions.  Everyone who is served is invited intentionally to come back and help us serve in an impactful way.  And everyone who serves is encouraged and invited to be served.  Of those whom we invite, SOME will come back and help us serve.  SOME.  Get used to that term.  That’s about as specific as we can get.

It is just as crucial a movement to become the object of mission as to become the subject of it.  We invite privileged people to come into the mission and help us change lives…to make a difference.  And of those who come with us to do that, SOME will find themselves changed by their encounter with the people they thought they would change.  For SOME, there is a humbling…a leveling…a making straight the way of the Lord.  So the first observable movement is Object to Subject and Subject to Object.  This back and forth movement in the mission is what we call “Participation in the Kingdom”.  This is the most important movement. As such, THIS is where we invite people to join us.  This movement is the place of our initial invitation.  Of those who do mission with us, SOME will be changed by it and will move from Object to Subject and back again.  SOME.

The Movement from Mission to Friendship:  Mission creates a different kind of friendship.  Shared hardship creates different criteria for affinity than simply “I like this person”.  When you come to rely on one another to accomplish something that is bigger and more important than either one of you, it creates a unique kind of bond.  When you operate in a dangerous environment and you rely on another person to have your back, that creates a unique kind of friendship.  The focus is the mission, not the friendship.  You work together to accomplish the mission, and the friendship falls into place in the wake of that activity and effort.  We don’t work on the friendship as the object of our efforts.  “I rely on you” is a really different gig than “I like you and we like the same kind of people together”. Disciples manage their relationships according to the needs of the mission.  They don’t manage the mission according to needs of maintaining their friendships.  These friendships are nurturing, but they are also accountable; accountability is what makes these friendships incredibly resilient.

Of those with whom we do mission, SOME will become our friends.  We will live life together with them.  Not just mission life.  All of life.  We break bread together.  Our kids play together.  We burden one another’s hearts.  And we pray together.  We nurture each other and we hold each other accountable.  SOME will become our friends.

Imaginings. Ponderings. Feedback, Please.

Imagine That!

Imagination supersedes intellect.  A mentor of mine (Dr. Richard Crane) reminded me recently that without imagination, intellect alone leaves us perpetually stuck on cow paths and simply becoming more adept at following them even if they lead to a cliff.  Imagination left on its own is just daydreaming.Imagination without action is…well…nothing.  And imagination is dangerous stuff, too. Scripture tells us in Genesis that even after the flood, humanity’s imagination…left to its own devices and desires…is “evil from its youth”.  But an imagination that is surrendered to God and that leads to action has power…not our power…but the power of the One who inspired the imagination to begin with.  Does imagination require discernment and accountability? You bet.  Hitler imagined a world, too, after all. And he horrifyingly acted to bring that world about. Over simplified? Yes. Messy? Yes. But I am a simple man stuck in a messy existence.  If you have a moment, though, please bear with me.

Imagine a world where God really is in charge.  What are the implications of that? If God is here and God is in charge what is my role?  Three ideas: 1) “God”, 2) “really is”, and 3) “in charge”.

God.  Incomprehensible. Beyond our capacities. All-seeing.  All-knowing. All-powerful.  Not necessarily safe, but certainly good. Not swayed by our rants and whines and foot-stomping. At work with a plan to redeem every lost thing and person. Creator of all things…from nothing.  The final word. Imagine.

Really is.  In reality. Truth of the matter.  Substantial. The ground we stand on. With gravity. Not a figment of our imagining, nor what we decide God is, nor here at our convenience.  God is what really is.  No pretenses. Able to be counted on. Present. Imagine.

In charge. Leading the way.  Answering for outcomes. Calling the shots. God’s plan is THE plan. Casting the vision. Responsible. Having full authority. Liable.  Taking the risks and paying the price. Where the buck stops. Making corrections and removing obstacles.  God commands, everyone and everything follows those commands. Imagine.

Imagine the implications of those three terms for what it means to be involved in God’s mission…or living for God’s Kingdom. When we set out to connect our lives to the Missio Dei…the Mission of God…how do these converging ideas impact our priorities, attitudes, and behaviors? How do they impact our speech? If God is what is…really…and what is is that God is in charge…and God is commanding us to go and to be the body of God’s Son so that God’s Son can inhabit our very being, what does that mean for us?  God…really is…in charge. What does that mean to you? For you? What is our role?

I am looking for feedback.  Please, if you have a moment, let me know what you think…even if what you think is that I don’t think very well.  In truth, that fact has already been well-established. So fire away.

Having Things

Having Things

“Happiness doesn’t come from having things.  It comes from being a part of things.” Chris in the Morning (Northern Exposure)

I live in a world of things.  I live in a culture that values things. Heck, I have a garage full of things.  I have five surfboards for heaven’s sake.  At one time, they were relevant.  Now?  They are just…well…things.  We preserve things and call that wisdom.  We acquire things and call that success.  We deny things to others and call that security.  I live in a world of things.  But there is a world beyond things.  And there is a life beyond things.  And there is a happiness that having things can simply not provide.  There is a way of being that is not happiness exactly, but I don’t have a word for it.  It is deeper than that…richer than that…thicker than that.

Sometimes it feels like…at least in a lot of our “doctrine”… salvation has become a thing we have. Not a material thing…more like a title or a status, but a thing nonetheless.  It is talked about as a possession…something that we possess…we possess salvation. We have it. And it is valued. We are taught by well-meaning people that salvation is to be had…acquired….obtained…and then secured…locked away…protected. We call its acquisition righteousness.  We call its attainment success.  And we protect it as if we could lose it and we call that security.

But what if salvation is not a thing we have.  What if it’s not a possession? What if the Good News is not a status that we can acquire?  What if, instead, salvation is something we can participate in…be a part of?  What if the heaven that is to come is something we can be a part of now? What if heaven is not what’s served on the table, but being a part of what’s around the table?  What if the Kingdom of God is not measured in square feet or antique wood or horsepower or new track shoes? What if it’s just in the chance to run as fast as we can, and give someone a ride, and creating something with our own hands, and simply having shelter from the storm and people to share it with?  Would that change anything?  Would the world be impacted differently if it was at least partly populated by people who lived their lives now as a part of the heaven that is to come? Would your life be different?

“Watch out! Keep your guard up against all kinds of greed.  A person’s life does not consist of the abundance of one’s possessions.” – Jesus of Nazareth, 1st Century peasant, Son of God.

Available

Available

Available – able to be used, obtained, or relied on

I was told to “bring the youth in” so I went to the youth in my church to start up a youth group.  To a person, they were unavailable.  They had so many other things going on that they simply did not have time for a faith group.  Sports, school, friends, specialty camps, etc.

So I took the church van to a subsidized housing complex and stopped at the basketball hoop where kids were standing around in the heat…with no basketball.  I told them that I had funds, time, and a van if they wanted to get involved in a youth group.  None of those kids went to my church. They were of every ethnicity and race…and of one demographic – poor.  They looked at each only for only a minute and then shrugged almost in unison, and said, “Okay.”  And off it went.  I told them the next time they come they each needed to bring a friend.  That had to be part of the deal.  And I told them that we could do fun stuff, but I got to have 30 minutes of their time at each gathering to talk about faith.  That had to be part of the deal, too. No one batted an eye at any of that.  They had nothing better to do.  No one had ever come out and offered them anything before…except the gangs.   Many among that group became disciples…the real kind.  And that group birthed many other groups.  It became a shelter…a place of peace…for people who had never known peace.  They had all the time in the world. They made time.  They turned down other offers.  They were available. My congregation is now active and highly supportive of every youth mission.

We started a street ministry many years ago, and I went to my congregation to see who was in.  Two people came forward. Both of them were new to the community.  Everyone else was busy.  They just didn’t have time.  I went to other churches in my denomination to help, and no one came forward. So I asked the people I did sports with who had no church affiliation of formal faith background, and several of them said, “Yes, absolutely”.  We went out to the streets and we invited everyone who was served to help us.  We invited the saved and the sinners, the clean and the unbathed. Many of them were so honored to be asked that they jumped at the chance to do something meaningful.  They had never been asked by anyone to do something like that.  We gave them the reins of the mission.  They acted as though they had been invited to a grand feast……a wedding banquet for some very important person…and in fact, they had been.  I prayed a prayer of anointing on them, and off it went.  They invited their friends to come and help. The mission grew. It now has birthed many other missions and ministries – too many to name here.  The people we asked to help us had time.  They made time.  They canceled other things they deemed to be less important.  They were available. My congregation is now filled with people who are available.

Matthew 22:1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

The usually-uninvited were available.  Are we?

Questions…

Questions…

If you’re not yet really in the Jesus conversation, okay.  I’ve been there, too.  If that’s the case, you probably won’t understand what’s going on in this set of questions.  On the other hand, if you’ve at least begun to ask questions like: “Is Jesus real?” or “Is Jesus relevant?” or “Why are people talking about Jesus?”, then these questions might be helpful on your journey.  These are questions that have been very helpful to me in my journey, and to my community in its journey. At first look, they didn’t seem very deep or spiritual to me.  But they became so.  In fact, they completely changed me. Here goes:

  1. What does Jesus want from me? (As opposed to, “What do I want from Jesus?”)
  2. Who does Jesus want me to be? (As opposed to, “Who do I want to be?” or “Who does the world/parents/kids/boss/friends expect me to be?”)
  3. What does Jesus want from my community of faith? (As opposed to, “What do I want from my church?” or “What do I want at my church?”)
  4. When we put the word “Church” on our sign, what did it mean to us when we put it there? Does having that word on our sign make us one? What does “Church” mean to the people we are trying to reach? What do they hope it means? What does the word “Church” mean to Jesus? Does the Bible say anything about what the Church is? (As opposed to assuming everybody answers these questions the same way and is in total agreement on them.)

How do you answer these questions? Of whom did you ask them?  Please, feel free to respond.  Snide comments also accepted 😉

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