Monthly Archives: March 2012

Missional Community Holes

Obviously I’ve written a lot about missional communities lately, but it must be recognized that missional communities have holes. They don’t solve every problem in the church despite reflecting the nature of Christian community described in the scriptures.

The brilliant Todd Engstrom talks about seeing the church as both a collection of missional communities and as a missional community collectively. It’s an absolutely essential way to recognize how to supplement missional communities in order for the gospel of Jesus to thrive throughout a church.

Here are 4 of the major holes for Missional Communities that I see. I do not pretend this is comprehensive as I surely have blind spots and you don’t want to read a 3 page blog despite my typical long-winded nature.

What Missional Communities are Unable to Accomplish by Themselves

Theological Training

Missional Communities are not intended to be a Bible Study. Bible studies are useful, but too often end on knowledge rather than a community on mission. Missional communities don’t abandon the scriptures, they must be word-centered (Bible-focused) in their approach to encouraging and challenging one another and extending the scriptures to those who are seeking to understand Christ for the first time.

But they are unable to provide the depth of scriptural theology that can often empower people to love fellow Christians appropriately, become contributors instead of consumers, and have a life that matches their beliefs.

There is a need then to supplement missional communities with theological training and bible studies. The important thing to consider is how these training environments and bible studies propel the gospel communities on mission rather than operate in contrast to them. Similar to a Sunday worship gathering, these environments must include inspiration toward missional community and application as a community to truly supplement and propel the gospel through a community on mission.

Christian Counseling

Missional Communities are not intended to be a support group. They provide and promote aligning with the gospel in our everyday lives, they remind us of the goodness of God over the allure of tempting vices, and they help us see where the scriptures address various sins in our lives.

But they are unable to provide the depth of counseling that can often be needed for marriages, pre-marital counseling, grief counseling, deep-rooted issues from the past and even in some cases counseling through addictions.

This doesn’t mean that every church should have a counseling center (though it would be cool to be based in a church and not outside the church), but it will mean that churches must do their due diligence to partner with Christian counselors who understand the mission of the church. For many churches, this has given rise to redemption groups.

Discipleship

While this is definitely the intent of missional communities, transitioning a church to missional communities will not automatically solve the need for discipleship. Discipleship must be modeled and eventually will take place inside of a missional community.

So this as a hole is a little deceiving as they eventually will be the places where discipleship happens most regularly. But discipleship is a church culture issue and not merely a community issue. Community is one aspect of discipleship, but discipleship must occur from the top down as Jesus models for us for it to truly take root in an entire community.

Transitioning or starting with a missional community approach will not insure discipleship, discipleship happens with thoughtful intent with the aim toward cultivating disciple-making disciples.

Family Equipping

While I completely advocate for families to welcome young marrieds and singles to take part in and own the discipleship of their children in a missional community, it must be stated that equipping parents as the primary disciple makers is essential.

Missional communities assist and relieve the parents-only burden as the only Christian influencers of their children, but the church has a responsibility to cast a vision and equip families from pregnancy to graduation and beyond. Parenting brings out the deep-rooted fears, concerns, and desire for comfort that often plagues every individual and impedes the ability for a community to be on mission.

A family equipping model looks to empower parents to disciple their children while providing age-appropriate peer community to also be on mission within their schools and extending the grace of the gospel to their classmates and friends.

What Missional Communities Can Accomplish

Now before we begin to outsource all of these holes, we must acknowledge that gospel communities on mission can do more than we think in all of these areas. This is because of the nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The gospel transforms our entire lives, giving us new thoughts, desires and a new understanding of the scriptures. We become empowered with the Holy Spirit of God dwelling inside of us to grasp the truth of the scriptures, apply to our lives and once applied to our lives, we begin to grasp how the gospel and the Bible can shape the lives of an entire community.

This enables us to provide more depth in our application of the bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ to our lives. This enables us to counsel people and exhort people away from the destructive patterns of sin in our lives. This enables us to become the disciple-makers that Jesus models and sends us to be. This enables us to be gospel-centered parents and families through the wisdom of the Word of God and the community.

We can too often sell short the work of God in our lives by not acknowledging the gospel as the power of God. If it’s powerful enough to bring people from death to life, it is powerful enough to grow us deep in knowledge, zeal, and life application. It is powerful enough to let us hear and empathize with the sins of others and instead of recoiling back, enabling us to enter into the challenge of helping them overcome their sin.

This is why I love the gospel so much. To enjoy the gospel with an entire community is to ignite a desire deep within Christians to embody Christ through our entire lives. When the gospel shapes a community, there is no greater expression of love.

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How my boys teach me what incarnational means

These are my teachers. They’re pretty cute and pretty cool. They’ve taught me about the love of God, my desire for control, to love others without conditions, my lack of patience and lately, they’ve taught me what incarnational means.

The idea of being a missional community relies heavily on understanding and modeling the incarnation of Jesus. The incarnation is Jesus coming down from heaven and being embodied in the flesh as a man. To be incarnational is to embody Jesus to your neighbor, your co-worker or your neighborhood through His love, mercy, and truth. Great concept, but often hard to practically live out or even explain.

Luckily I have some good (and cute) teachers. This last weekend my wife went on our church’s women’s retreat and spoke beautifully on wisdom. This meant a dad weekend with me and our 3 kids.

We all remember those times when mom left and dad took care of us (prayed we wouldn’t die). You never really left the house unless it was to get fast food and you did everything mom wouldn’t let you do just as long as everything was put somewhat back together before mom got home.

I decided to do one twist on this idea and take my kids to Madison Square Park’s playground and then Shake Shack. A great idea by all accounts, except a NYC public playground in a city center park is asking for 50 “did my kid just disappear” heart stopping moments with so many people there. But we went, we survived and we enjoyed Shake Shack.

While at the playground, my boys kept begging me to come play their game. I initially resisted because it’s their game, I’m an adult (or try to be). Adults on NYC playgrounds sit on benches, dads focus on their phone, and make sure their kids don’t get lost or hurt other kids. Don’t these kids know we are too busy with email, twitter & keeping up with March Madness?!?

Nevertheless they kept asking me to join them, so I did. I climbed onto the playground and participated in their game in the part of superhero or villain depending on the moment. I was having a lot of fun and laughing with them and I looked up to see what was going on around the rest of the playground and that’s when it hit me.

I saw parents on park benches resting, talking on their phones or typing out emails and texts. Nothing wrong with what they were doing but I was experiencing something better.   My sons had invited me off the sidelines and into the game. It struck me that this must be what incarnational really means.

It’s a step out of what is comfortable to join in someone else’s life, to be a participant in their life, enjoy getting to know them and laughing a lot, but sometimes crying with them. In doing so, it’s naturally displaying how Jesus lived in this world. Agreeing to meals, stepping away from the religious sidelines, and into the game of someone else’s life. Loving someone else over your plan or your own needs because that is what Christ has done for you.

Jesus rejoiced with those who were rejoicing and mourned with those who mourned and everything in between. God’s people get to experience this kind of love from God to extend this kind of love in placing value on others rather than just themselves. It’s simply loving others as people, letting them into your life as they let you into theirs.

In being invited to play on the playground and accepting, I learned that putting aside my preferences, my comfort, and a little of my reputation was worth it for the joy of experiencing life with my boys. Incarnational sounds challenging in concept to fully embody Jesus to others, but in the end it’s a joy for you just as it is for others.

Like I said, they are great teachers.

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Missional Community Success: Gospel, Not Mission

I have heard many people say, “What you celebrate, you also cultivate.” It’s absolutely true, which makes storytelling and defining success a huge deal whether it is in a business environment, a classroom, at home, or in the church.

For missional communities, the idea of a group of Christians being a gospel-centered community on mission, it is most definitely true. But this forces us to question what we are celebrating. Is success in a missional community only multiplying that community into two or three communities? Is success only celebrating baptisms? Is it a service project?

What you celebrate, you will also cultivate.

If the above list is what you are celebrating, you will likely see more of it, but if they are the only things you celebrate, what are you creating in the process? What aspects of a gospel-centered community on mission suffer when these are the only measures of success?

I’ve been really impacted lately going back to look at how Christ developed His disciples to eventually lead a movement that would change the world. One of the most impacting passages on this for me lately has been Luke 10:17-20. This follows the disciples being sent in pairs with some brief instructions. They go out in pairs, meet with the leaders of the community and based on receptivity stay or leave. They come back to Jesus and have this exchange.

“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And Jesus said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20

Celebrate & Cultivate Gospel as Success

That last sentence is impactful. They came back with joy and were celebrating their mission success and Jesus does celebrate with them, but then redirects their rejoicing to the reality that they know God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He tells them not to celebrate their mission success, but celebrate their salvation in the gospel.

There is no doubt that Jesus desired to see the things they accomplished in mission, but the mission was not the end in itself. When we only celebrate mission as success, we set ourselves up for failure. There is only so much control we have over the “success” of investing in a cause or sharing our faith with others. What happens when the success dries up and that which you celebrated has disappeared? For some, they will be fine, but I’ve seen many times where it completely wrecks people.

There’s pressure to maintain great mission to be seen as a successful Christian, there’s the potential for burnout because the focus has shifted from loving God to doing for God, and we begin to depend on ourselves and our effort rather than trusting and depending on God. Christians are called to faithfulness to God to bear fruit, not just a focus on mission.

Power of God & Purpose of Mission

This is why Jesus celebrates with them, but then immediately points to what they should be celebrating. He places their focus upward on God and the gospel because it is the power of God and the ultimate purpose of the mission.

The gospel is the power of God that motivates mission. So celebrating and loving the gospel is the only way to sustain mission. By the gospel we know, experience, and rest in the love of God that is rooted not in our efforts, but the work of Christ in His life, death and resurrection. We are reminded that it is ultimately God who gave us the gospel, gifted to us a great salvation providing and empowering us to accomplish His mission through His message. It also places us back on the right purpose for our mission.

Mission doesn’t end on serving your community or extending the love of Christ to your neighbor, the end is that Christ is exalted and worshipped as He should be. The final result should be that what is most valuable (Jesus) becoming most valued.

Seeing a merciful God that has chosen to punish Christ on the cross instead of us, exchanging His righteousness with our sin and rejoicing in God because of it is the aim for the Christian on mission. The purpose that all might see Jesus as the resurrected King and a good King at that.

Widening the Lens of Success

We must widen our definition of success in gospel communities on mission. We have our favorite stories that we share, but why not share and celebrate the messy side of community? A community that is messy is usually the result of the gospel sinking in deep into the lives of the people in the community. They believe there is hope for change, a way out from their hurt, their anger, their addictions, and they’ve been told they won’t be defined by them anymore because of Christ. Is there any more comfortable environment to share these things than a community centered on the gospel?

But the lack of celebrating the messiness makes leaders feel like they are failing if there are sins, errors of judgments, addictions, etc. when it’s the very reason we have the gospel! This is success in the gospel and not failure in mission.

Widening the lens of success means that you get to rejoice often. You get to rejoice with the community when people seek to live near the community  and how they seek God together and find an apartment. We celebrate when we see the gospel setting people free from addictions, or fear of man. We celebrate when conversations no longer center on ourselves and our thoughts, but on Jesus and His scriptures. We get to celebrate so many things that express the love of God being extended to other through the community.

We still rejoice in the mission, but it’s always in light of the gospel and not on its own. Mission gets put in its rightful place, a byproduct of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not our grounds for celebration.

In celebrating the gospel, Jesus becomes our foundation for hope, joy, approval, and freedom. He never gets replaced by the work of our hands. He deserves the reward of His suffering, a people praising His name, not just their work for Him.

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Discipleship Myth: You should always have a Paul

I remember being taught about discipleship in the church during college. I was told “You should always have a Paul in your life, you should always have a Timothy, and you should always have peers alongside of you.”

The intent was good. It was building on Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

The idea sounds great. You always have someone investing in you, you are always investing in someone else and the process repeats. But what happens when there’s not a Paul in your life? Do you wait for one to come around or do you keep investing in the Timothys of the world while you wait?

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this in regards to creating a discipleship culture in a community of Christ-followers. If it’s the mission of the church to develop disciples of Christ, it’s essential we understand the nature of discipleship.

Timothy Didn’t Always Have Paul

Timothy was discipled by Paul and then commissioned to develop elders and create a discipleship culture. But Paul wasn’t always in close proximity to Timothy.

Timothy had letters from Paul, he didn’t even have Skype-Coaching Paul. He was invested in for a time, but then it was his turn. That can be scary so Paul’s letters are incredibly encouraging to him to live out his calling with confidence in God’s work in him through the gospel.

Timothy had Paul as a loving consultant reminding him of his calling and guiding him toward right action, but he wasn’t present consistently investing in Timothy on a weekly basis going through Grudem’s Systematic Theology and asking about his sin. There were surely men that challenged him, held him accountable, but he did not always have a Paul present.

The Need to Be Discipled

This does not neglect the reality that we need to be discipled and discipling. We need more men and women who are pursuing Christ and investing their doctrine and their lives into other men and women.

But our discipleship begins at conversion in being discipled through the scriptures. If we make it our aim to be intimate in knowledge with the God of the bible, we are already being discipled by God. The example of Paul’s own discipleship from Barnabas or Apollos discipleship from Priscilla and Aquila was of men giving themselves to the knowledge of and mission of God. Then they were invited into relationships to gain a more accurate representation of Christ to the world.

This type of discipleship is Jesus’ method of discipleship. Reaching the many by spending time with the few and letting the few replicate the process. We have the great opportunity of recapturing Jesus’ vision for ministry through discipleship instead of programs. It will take longer to implement starting with a few, but it will always get better results than mass discipleship.

The Danger of Always Wanting Paul

But we must always be careful to guard ourselves from demanding a Paul in our lives. There will be a time when discipleship happens if we pursue the Lord, but after we have had that period of discipleship under a Paul-type figure, there is danger in looking for the next Paul in our lives.

This danger will lead you to bitterness toward those you place expectations on to be the Paul in your life. This type of self-righteousness declares that people don’t understand their responsibility to invest in people (me) and is always looking for someone else to teach them how to live.

All of us must eventually become big kids and stop being little kids waiting for the big brother to show us the way. This is what God has been impressing upon me. There comes a time when you’ve been invested in and sent, when it’s your turn to be the big kid, figure out some of your life challenges on your own and stop demanding that there be a Paul to show you the way.

We have to step away from discipleship myths that sound wise, but are foolish in application. We must look to Christ as our primary discipler through the work of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures, then trust that God has brought a community of Christ followers to teach us, whether young in their faith or seasoned.

We don’t move on from being learners, but eventually we must step into the discipler role. Jesus promises to always be with His disciples, but that doesn’t stop Him from sending them to be His disciplers of all peoples.

Let’s become a community of Christ followers who understand a disciple is also a disciple-maker.

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Kony 2012, Sex-Trafficking, & the Christian Response to Justice Issues

I’m not sure there’s a more amazing piece of storytelling than the Kony 2012 video. It’s worth the 30 minutes as long as you are prepared to cry, be angry, and get fired up.

KONY 2012 from INVISIBLE CHILDREN on Vimeo.

As I’ve spoken with a few people about the Kony video and how Christians should respond, I’m struck by a few thoughts.

There is so much brokenness in the world, how can you ever identify where to get involved? It seems that various winds of doctrine have been joined by various winds of mercy & justice initiatives. Paul obviously has negative connotations for the winds of doctrines and it is rare, though not unheard of, to have heretical justice initiatives. Nevertheless, being tossed about by doctrines or justice opportunities can make us completely ineffective if we do not assess ourselves before jumping in.

Every day we are confronted with a terrible issue in our world, whether it be sex-trafficking locally and globally, the Invisible Children, the global orphan crisis, racial inequality, and global poverty. Every time we see a new issue we could jump at the need to get involved but constantly be shifting our focus.

Living in New York City with 8.5 million people, it is easy to both see and be overwhelmed by the need. How should we respond? How should we approach involvement? Are we supposed to be involved in every justice issue? How does the church or the individual Christian approach these initiatives?

The Gospel Motivates and Empowers us to Mercy & Justice

Imagine pockets of people giving themselves to seeing brokenness restored, injustice ended, and local/global issues resolved. This is not our creation of the church, this is Jesus’ vision and mission for the church. We are inspired by these issues because we were created to embody our God’s character toward these issues. When we engage the brokenness of the world we are reminded of God the Father who sent Jesus, publicly declaring His passion in action to initiate the end of brokenness, suffering, and ills caused by the selfish desires that live inside of us. (Ed Stetzer has some good scriptural evidence for us)

Christian faith gives us a view towards the Kingdom of God where Jesus is King and eliminates all tears, pain, and injustice. There is no greater motivation or means of empowerment.

It also means we have responsibility. None of us can stand on the sideline and avoid issues of justice and needs for mercy. We must engage and we must do so led by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Don’t just “Like” everything, settle on and Do something

Now that Facebook is integrated into everything in the world, I am guily of hitting the “Like” button and settling into armchair advocate of a cause. Causes aren’t changed simply by web-interaction. It helps with exposing people to ideas, making an idea viral, but personal involvement and engagement of the issue is what rallies people to a cause. So choose a cause and focus on it.

Get Informed Beyond a Moving Video

Joe Boyd had a great article about a Christian response moving beyond emotive acceptance to informed action. Storytelling is powerful, so we must be careful to not enter an issue naively assuming we know the simple solution to an often complex reality.

Invest Deep more than Wide

Real change happens over a generation. The moving video of Kony 2012 was a decade just in the making and could be a decade in accomplishment.

A sustaining impact comes from commitment to the idea which requires that we move our excitement and emotions to lifestyle-changing action.

The diversity of the body of Christ allows for us to find peace in addressing deeply a few issues rather than addressing broadly every issue on a surface level. We need to encourage people to develop discernment in line with their gifts, talent, and passions to mobilize more people for more issues.

These types of movements make me excited about heaven where we will get to celebrate Jesus’ destruction of injustice. I can’t wait.

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My Verge Breakout Notes

I had the privilege of participating in the For The City Pre-Conference at the Verge Conference. I led a breakout session titled “How to get the people who care about you to care about your mission.” Below is an overview of my notes. I hope they are helpful, but I publish them to invite dialogue, pushback, and additions to my ideas. If you want the full version of the notes you can email me.

The idea was to assist people who are passionate about a certain mission to be able to articulate and spread their passion.

Where are we going?

  1. You need more people than yourself to accomplish the dream
  2. Community accomplishes mission
  3. Shepherd them into the mission

Biblical Basis for a Community-Driven Mission

Main principles:

Jesus Himself gathers a community to His mission and when He sends, He always sends a community on mission, not a lone ranger.

-       Matthew 10, Luke 10:1-12

-       Matthew 28:18-20 – Great Commission

-       Acts 2 – Community, Acts 4 community, Acts 13 – community

-       St. Patrick – Evangelizing Ireland through a movement of communities

The goal is to meet people where they are and guide them toward a greater mission.

To get people to care about and partner with your mission you must move them from prayer to ownership of the mission. I would encourage you follow the following path.

Prayer –> Understanding –> Educate –> Vision –> Engagement –> Ownership

Prayer – Matthew 9:35-39

Jesus had a clear goal and His first word toward His disciples was…PRAY

Matt. 9:36 – The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few, therefore…pray earnestly!

If passion for mission is lacking, prayer is lacking. Prayer is God’s means of aligning our hearts to His, of us declaring our dependence on Him, and requesting an action greater than we can create ourselves. We don’t ask of God because we aren’t typically doing anything beyond our own means.

We want to exhaust all of our options first and then go to God for help. Jesus shows us the opposite. We see someone faithful to being with God, asking Him for people.

Prayer continues throughout the process, but it must be a foundation. What do I need to be praying for? Who do I need to be praying for?

From there, we move from prayer to understanding.

Understand The Other Person or Community

If you are ever going to get people to the point where they care about your mission, you must first discover where they are at in regards to your mission. This comes from asking questions and listening with a filter.

-       Listening for what they value

  • What do they say? What do they do?
  • What are they most passionate about?

-       Ask good open-ended questions

  • Have you ever thought about…?

-       Are they receptive and interested in your idea?

Their values display their worldview and meeting people where they are means understanding and connecting the mission to their worldview.

Educating

Know the Issue.

Knowledge Communicates Competency & provides confidence worth following.

Read Multiple Approaches

Tim Keller’s thoughts on preaching

“When you listen and read one thinker, you become a clone… two thinkers, you become confused… ten thinkers, you’ll begin developing your own voice… two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise and develop your voice.”

Whatever your issue, you must become the pseudo-expert. In our age of information, we have no excuse for pursuing knowledge and gaining information on all sides of the issue.

Informing on the Issue

-       How much do they know?

-       What do they need to know? How easy can you tell it and they repeat it?

-       What stories can you tell them?

Visioning

From there, Jesus had a Clear, Repeatable Vision & Values.

Jesus’ vision: “Go & Make Disciples”

Jesus’ values: “Love God. Love one another. Love your neighbor.”

Our vision and values are based on the aims of our mission. The ultimate goals of the challenges we face. Vision is the mission statement and values summarize the direction our actions must take.

Ways to Assess: How repeatable is your vision?

Harvard Business Review Quote:

“Companies with Great Repeatable Models℠ translate their strategy into a few simple values and prescriptions that people throughout the organization can understand and use to shape actions and decisions.”

Engaging

Let the Values Guide Engagement & Ownership

Engagement is how they start to serve in your mission.

This happens by letting your practice flow out of your values. This is how values become repeatable. They connect with how people learn and retain (head, heart, hands).

Develop a Pathway for Engagement

Exposure à Investment à Commitment

Exposure – 1 time serving

Investment – Consistent Serving

Commitment – Main Service Outlet

Owning

Empower People to Own The Mission

You know you have accomplished this when the people that are a part of your mission are the ones guiding people through this same process. That’s the aim, to transfer the passion for your mission to the people who join you.

Most people stop at engagement, but we must move to ownership for this process to become transferable.

Conclusion

A Mission is Sustained by the Gospel

Lastly, I want to make a comment about sustainability for you and your community on the mission. We must be careful to not focus so much on the mission we neglect the proper motivation and ultimate purpose, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel leads us to make cherishing Jesus the ultimate mark of success rather than mission success (Luke 10:17-20) and then to care for those who are a part of the mission as well as our own souls.

Dialogue, Pushback, And Additions

What do you think? How have you been able to get people to care about your mission? I welcome additional thoughts, disagreements or additions to help me and other continue to learn in this process.

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3 things that set #Verge12 apart

I attended the Verge Conference last week which was more of an experience than a conference. It was the best conference I’ve ever been to and I’m still processing the abundance of God-centered teaching that came our way. As I’ve thought about the conference and compared it to others that I’ve attended, I just keep asking myself, what sets the Verge Conference apart from the rest? What makes Verge so much better than Passion, Exponential, or The Elephant Room?

I’ve landed on 3 things because I didn’t want to write a book about a conference.

1. Kingdom-Focused

There was a whole day of breakout sessions for Missional Communities, for mercy & justice, and for global missions. In the middle there were 2 full days of main sessions structured like TED talks.

There was a ton of information, but it never felt disconnected because of one main stream of thought toward the Kingdom of God and the reign of Christ breaking into our lives, our churches, and the world.

Jesus was lifted high from start to finish and ministry strategy or methods or celebrity pastorism ever took precedence over knowing and obeying God. I never felt like someone was shamelessly plugging himself or herself or that it was an emotional experience lacking practical steps to obedience.

The idea that Jesus came to end brokenness, sickness, and disconnection through His death and resurrection to become the gracious and reigning king and now empowers people to extend His kingdom (not our own) was the consistent and primary theme of Verge 2012

2. Kingdom Effectiveness over Dogmatic Debate

If you were to do a theological survey of the speakers, undoubtedly you would find that they differ, but the God-centeredness of each of their time trumped their theological differences.

This may have rubbed some people the wrong way, but the condensed structure of the talks placed the priority on equipping people for kingdom-effectiveness over defending their theology.

This wasn’t an Elephant Room type controversy where there were obvious Trinity & gospel of Jesus Christ differences; these differences lie in secondary issues while all affirm and lift high God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The primary aim of every talk was not to push a specific strategy or way, but to inspire people to participating in bring the gracious reign of Christ into the world.

3. Equipping All for Kingdom Ministry

Lastly, this wasn’t just a pastor’s conference. It was structure to allow people to take a day off work and be equipped through breakouts in their primary ministry area. It wasn’t focused on building a mega-church or the pastor’s heart. The aim of Verge was to equip all the saints, every Christian, for the work of extending the message and mercy of Jesus Christ.

This came about through the diversity of the speakers, but also through a unique twist they called the unConference which I had never seen before. A large portion of each day was given to allow anyone to dictate the topic. Anyone could approach the 2 large whiteboards, write down the topic, location and time to process, share, and encourage one another.

This provided learning for every church leader, from volunteer to lead pastor.

I enjoyed attending Verge 2012 after being there in 2010. In 2010 it seemed that a lot of the leaders of this idea were meeting and getting to know one another. Two years later it feels more like a movement that collaborates and celebrates the ideas of all that are involved. I’m looking forward to getting all the Verge content in a few weeks.

This is only a reality where kingdom-focus trumps celebrity pastor, method propagation, and dogmatic debate.

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Gospel Enjoyment through Sabbath Rest

We went on vacation for the last 2 weeks and it was the most refreshing vacation we have ever had. All of us have come back refreshed, rejuvenated, and honestly, with a greater love for Jesus and people than when we departed. There was so much that happened from a great time visiting my parents in Houston to spending a week in Austin and attending the Verge Conference.

While Verge was amazing, it was the connections with people outside the conference that provided us great wisdom and as I reflected on the trip, I felt like God has taught me so much about what vacations and rest are all about. So here’s 10 quick-hits about what I’ve learned about rest. There really 1 major shift and 9 brief thoughts.

1 Major Shift

1. Don’t Work for the Weekend, Weekend for the Work

I’ve always thought of rest as something I do when I’m exhausted, that I need to work hard until I’m exhausted and then I need to rest. While this is true, it’s only half-true.

I don’t plan to unpack the whole theology of Sabbath rest, but when we look at the creation account in scripture, God rests from His work and we are told to do the same. But looking at the order of things, man/woman were made on the 6th day, rested on the 7th and then go to work. We rest from the work that we’ve done, but also for the work that is to come.

This is a big shift in my thinking. Instead of working for the weekend, as if I was ultimately made for rest and work keeps me from it, I’m weekending to maintain the pace of the work. This recognizes that God has made me for work, designed me to know Him and make Him known. The task is great, so I need to rest in God, connecting with Him daily, weekly, on extended vacations to come back more in love with Jesus so that I can actually love people with the message and mercy of Christ.

9 Other Thoughts on Sabbath, mini-sabbaths, and vacationing

2. Rest is different from escape

Rest means meeting with Jesus through various means, escape means serving of self through various means. One is about Jesus, the other about self. Escaping from work breeds escapism from responsibility, but pursuit of God breeds pursuit of things true and good. One gives actual rest, the other provides a momentary break. One satisfies the need for being refreshed, the other creates a bigger need.

3. TV can be a life-suck

Listen, I love TV, Netflix and movies as much as the next guy, but when TV becomes my way of rest, it only sucks more life out of me. We no longer have cable and while I miss Sportscenter, I can find other ways to watch highlights and sporting events. I’ve come to realize how disengaging the mind through TV watching does not provide the rest I’m ultimately looking for and leaves me just as tired.

4. My Morning & Night-time routines need to change

New York can be a very high pace lifestyle where the weeks fly by without you even realizing it. While I can’t maintain the morning and night-time routines of vacation, I can reorient what I do and when I do it to provide greater energy and actually be rested for the days to come.

5. Rest is about energy management

I think this is intuitive, but knowing what gives you energy may not be what you think of as you consider how to pursue rest. This idea has led me to change how I manage my weeks as well when it comes to what drains me and what refreshes me.

6. Daily time in prayer and the Word has everything to do with meeting Jesus and nothing to do with accomplishment

Christians talk about this idea of a quiet time or other cute name that is taking time to read the scriptures and pray to God. There’s about 5,000 different devotional reading plans that you could do. I have grown to love The Daily Office which walks through Psalms, Old Testament Reading, & New Testament reading.

My engineer, achiever mind likes to make this the foundation of my relationship with God as an accomplishment rather than connecting with God. So when/if I do it, God loves/is disappointed with me. But the scriptures and prayer are not about completion or knowledge gaining, they are about knowing and following God. This could happen in 5 minutes or it could happen in 2 ½ hours. Finishing and moving on isn’t the goal, meeting with God for as long as that happens is the goal.

7. Christian community can be a place of immense rest

Community takes boldness in asking open-ended challenging questions though which makes me so thankful for the time I had with me who didn’t want to start with my accomplishments, but start with my attitude and heart. Asking questions about my prayer life, what God is teaching me, how my marriage and family is, communicates a care and concern that makes me feel loved. It’s refreshing and it never gets old.

8. Giving rest to others is restful for you

Giving life to others, truth to others, hope to others is amazing. Jesus spends many Sabbaths healing people and angering the religious leaders of His day by loving people despite their legalistic restrictions. Our vacation involved a give and take in relationships, where we received much wisdom and encouragement from friends, but we were also able to offer great encouragement and hope to others. This just continued to pound home the theme of selflessness in understanding Sabbath rest.

9. Engaging fully in the moment is where you find rest

My brain likes to wander to the things undone or the things I want to be done rather than being fully engaged in putting together a puzzle with my sons. There are other times when I go into a phone coma, drawn to the potential amazing thoughts being tweeted.

I’ve come to notice that when I stop wandering in my mind and fully engage in the current conversation or the current activity, even as small as my sons’ puzzles, I find myself more relaxed and enjoying life.

But the only way I can be fully engaged is by being intentional with the work for the week and the plan for rest on the weekend.

10. We all find rest differently

My wife loves to be around people. It is the most refreshing and reviving thing for her. That means it is my privilege and my way of living with her in an understanding way to cultivate that for her to find rest. And when we can’t find a crowd, I get the honor of filling that role.

But I find rest in deep relationships. I’m refreshed by connecting in deep conversations or prayer with people. I leave those times more in love with Jesus and with a greater desire to be like Christ for others.

We all find rest differently, but the overriding point is that we all need rest.

For me, as a Christian, my love for Jesus and people will only be maintained when I set aside daily mini-sabbaths, weekly Sabbath, and pursue a vacation that will provide rest.

My whole family has come back enjoying the gospel of Jesus Christ more which in turn has enabled us to love others and extend His message and mercy. It feels great.

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Verge Day 3: Main Take-Homes

Verge Day 3 was convicting, challenging and continued the stream of inspiring everyone. I don’t have time to recap the whole day, but as I’ve thought about it there are some major game changing take-homes from Day 3.

Everyone has been inspired to embrace the gospel and it’s missional implications, but day 3 laid out the necessary components.

Overall the main take-home was a healthy community + healthy dependence on God + healthy discipleship = healthy gospel mission.

Healthy Community
Dhati Lewis did an amazing job of challenging everyone to evaluate the health of those we call and send on mission.

One of the more beautiful & balanced statements he made was this:

“A lot of us spend time trying to be unleashed without first getting healthy but others of us try to get healthy primarily without having a concern about getting unleashed.”

It’s a great picture of pursuing mission without neglecting community & cultivating community to be on mission. A great message in the midst of the methodology conversation.

Healthy Dependence on God
The two speakers who stood out from the rest were Jeremy Story & Dave Gibbons. Knowing Jeremy from NYC, I expected his message, but loved how he spoke with such conviction on the transformative power of prayer on the mission of God. Amazing content and convicting message from him.

Dave Gibbons stirred things up by sharing his own story in experiencing dependence on the Holy Spirit. Discussing his initial lack of openness to the Holy Spirit & gifts of healing but how God used his own children and ministry partners to challenge him to be open to be used by God with spiritual gifts the American church has neglected because of their abuse in the charismatic circle.

I left both of these with confirmation in the essential nature of dependence on God for His mission to flourish in a community.

Healthy Discipleship
Neil Cole laid the foundations of discipleship with 2 Timothy 2:2 “what you have been taught, entrust to faithful men who will teach others also.

Rodrick Gilbert & George Patterson brilliantly taught that to be Christian is to be a disciple maker, developing & teaching people to model the life and ministry of Jesus.

George Patterson is easily the most enjoyable speaker. He always does something out of the ordinary that slams the truth home and makes it memorable. He planted people in the audience who tried to prevent a Christian from becoming a disciple maker. It was engaging and memorable.

Kevin Peck, who has taught me more than I even realize, taught on Christ’s plan for discipling the world. In contrast to us spending most of our time on the many to reach the few, Christ spent his time with the few to reach the many. There was no plan B. This seemed like a big epiphany for the crowd.

Healthy Gospel Mission
All of this results in the mission all of us were inspired to pursue. The mission of replicating the love, message & mercy of Christ in other people.

It was a refreshing and challenging day.

Today and tomorrow are travel days for our family back to NYC. I’m looking forward to continuing to process all that happened at Verge.

I’m very thankful to the Austin Stone and the many speakers for their time and energy to make this such a great conference.

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Verge Day 2 Recap

Wow, there is so much to process through after day 2. With all of these amazing speakers, it made me thankful for going to the Verge Pre-Conference and especially the For The City Pre-Conference.

Day 2 started with Stew setting the tone and fixing our purpose on the right thing, knowing, delighting in, and loving Jesus and His gospel above the ministry strategies and methods we would be hearing.

Following worship, Stew warned us that we would be drinking from a firehose, but challenged us to think through the lens of 2 major questions. He said these questions are prevalent wherever there is a major movement of disciple-making disciples.

The 2 questions: What is God telling you? What are you going to do about it?

The Format

For those of you who have never been to Verge or did not watch it on the simulcast, the format is different from many of the conferences I have been to because the main sessions are tied to a major idea and then 3-6 presenters are given the opportunity to teach, equip, and inspire us on these main ideas over the course of an hour.

This format requires that you process this information in some way and preferably with another person so it was really great for Stew to frame the content through the lens of these questions and then call us back to these questions following each session.

The danger of conferences is never processing what God is telling you and challenging YOU to do in your context because if you do not do this, you jump at adopting ideas and practices without yourself ever being changed in the process. If you are not changed you will never lead change in other people.

Main Session 1: For The City

Rudy Carrasco, Bob Lupton, John Sowers, & Dr. John Perkins

Main session 1 was truly amazing. Rudy Carrasco led off by challenging us to affirm that business is an outstanding Christian calling that we must honor and encourage in our congregations. If we only affirm business for the money it can provide, we completely miss the opportunity for people to use their business to create jobs and opportunities for our city. The greatest way we could enable people to be for the city is to affirm that their skills, talents, and ethic in their work can create jobs and equip people to create new companies and enterprises in poor areas of your city.

Having listened to Bob Lupton & Dr. Perkins yesterday, I loved hearing Rudy cast the vision for unleashing the workforce in your church from feeling guilty for being successful in the “secular” world and affirming the absolutely necessary skills and talents they have for restoring the brokenness of neighborhood.

Lupton and Dr. Perkins are always a highlight. Knowing how much they love one another and have been so influential in each other’s lives over the last 30+ years made it all the more special to see them share the stage at different times in the morning.

It is always amazing to listen to Dr. Perkins. Justin Lopez of the For The City Network did an amazing job of interviewing Perkins by not pushing any agenda and letting Dr. Perkins expound on all that God has taught him. One of the more interesting parts was his conversation about parachurches and churches. He discussed a need to repent for creating a parachurch rather than affirming and building up a church. It was beautiful to watch an 82-year old man affirm that God continues to teach us and work on us for our whole lives.

Main Session 2: Incarnational Mission

Mike Breen, Leonce Crump, Hugh Halter, Dave Ferguson, Alan Hirsch, Jon Tyson, Todd Engstrom, Jen Hatmaker & Jeff Vanderstelt

Yes, those were all of the speakers. Drinking from a firehose doesn’t begin to describe it. I’ll try best to summarize the highlights.

Alan Hirsch led us off by defining Incarnational Mission. Again, Alan is way smarter than me and seems even smarter than that with his accent, but setting the focus on following Christ and embodying Christ (incarnational) made it impossible to seek to adopt a ministry strategy and led us to focus on following Christ.

Dave Ferguson shared his personal story of how God has been changing him, a mega-church pastor, into someone who seeks to love his neighborhood. The transformation came as a result of focusing on being a blessing to his neighborhood rather than trying to convert it.

Hugh Halter placed our focus on 1 John 2:6 “whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way that Christ did” and then contrasted a religion focused life with how Christ confronted his culture on their abuse of the scriptures, the Sabbath, and discipleship. It is definitely interesting how we need to be challenged in our approach to all 3 in our current day in the church just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day.

Jon Tyson was the highlight for me. He discussed how faulty our typical ways of sustaining mission are and then laid out the only way to sustain mission. “Love is the only thing that can sustain incarnational mission.” His reasons were that love leads us to identify with people rather than our brand, project, or mission and identifying with people leads us to agony for their needs. Only in agonizing in their need will we follow Christ’s love for the world and extend Christ’s love to the world. Passion for God, compassion for people.

Todd Engstrom of the Austin Stone did a great job of challenging us with a very practical training tool they use to equip their leaders. It contrasted the church’s typical approach to community with how the rest of the world approaches community. This contrast forces you to ask what is going to change about how we seek to develop community with the rest of the world. Very helpful and you could see a lot of light bulbs go off in the room.

Admittedly, I missed Mike Breen and Jeff Vanderstelt, both guys I respect and love their content, but I wanted to see my former co-workers since I was in downtown Austin again. It was great to connect with them and share with them what God is doing in our lives in New York.

Jen Hatmaker put our focus on the scripture “Follow me as I follow Christ” and then asked us “If people are following you are they becoming more like Christ? Or are they spending their week writing a sermon or participating in bible study?” The challenge was a great one. Am I using my time too much for ministry work without developing people and challenging them toward the way Christ lived.

Unconference and Main Session 3: For the Gospel

This was followed by 4 hours for what they call Unconference. This was the more organic portion of the conference where you could dictate the topic and the location and discuss with others at the conference what you were processing.

It provides a great opportunity to get even more practical with those who are processing some of the same issues. A very different idea for a conference that I continue to think is the best.

I also skipped the night sessions for a family dinner. From what I heard, Jeff Vanderstelt challenged us all through the Story of the Prodigal Son to focus on the gospel implications that drive us to worship God more. Matt Carter reminded us that activity is worthless without knowing and loving Jesus. This was followed by an amazing time of worship.

My day ended with grabbing drinks with guys who do my job way better than I do my job. Thankful to Todd Engstrom to organizing these men and getting us together. It was refreshing, I learned a lot and felt more equipped to serve Apostles Church when I return. It was a great time.

Conferences as Seminaries?

One of the more interesting thoughts was shared over twitter by Jon Tyson with an observation that conferences have become the new seminaries.

I completely agree with him and think this is a great opportunity. There’s more collaboration, there’s more practical handles and tools for people to begin to actually accomplish the ideas and it’s more refreshing.

On to day 3…

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