Tag Archives: Church

How to Make Attending the Verge Conference a Waste of Time

There are many conferences, but Verge is the only conference that I think is worth attending. That’s a bold statement, but I’ve yet to find another conference that focuses on loving God, shaping a community by the gospel and moving entire churches on mission together.

Verge is not perfect, it has its holes and lacks certain aspects of church ministry that are important, but few conferences seek to impart great theology AND great practices. Most conferences focus only on one or the other.

Conferences are miniature versions of seminary packed into 3 days. It is amazing, yet incredibly challenging to drink from a firehouse for a few days then try and implement anything you learned. You leave inspired, tired, feeling like you need to change everything, but with no idea how to do it.

Attending Verge or any conference becomes a waste of time when you do the following. If you’re not attending Verge, you can watch the Free Webcast.

Critique and Bash Everything Your Church is Doing Now

At Verge, you will hear from all the “experts” who have 12 minutes to share their best stories and material. The temptation is to focus on all that your church is doing wrong and how the church leadership just doesn’t get it. You move away from loving your church to critiquing your church and you no longer are a blessing because your heart is far from love.

What you miss is the struggle behind the story and 12 minute message. There were failures, setbacks, disappointments, and frustrations with beautiful results.

Be open to learning and dreaming about what your church could become for God’s glory, allow for conviction, but hesitate when you find yourself angry and disappointed. Check your heart, pray for your church, and see how you can humbly love and serve your church.

Copy and Paste the Methods You Hear

You will hear the best practices and think there’s one method for missional communities that you can copy and paste their methods to achieve the same stories!! If you do this, you’re missing the beautiful diversity of the gospel of Jesus Christ, missional communities, and even Verge.

There are 4 gospels and Paul wrote letters to different context with different challenges. Focus on the truths of the gospel guiding the mission and the principles, but don’t be lazy in your thinking.

Set aside time throughout the day at Verge, at the end of the day and a whole day when you get back just to process what you are learning, assess what is transferable, and question whether what you’ve heard applies to you and your church.

Worship the Mission and not the Messiah

It can also be tempting to worship the mission over Jesus the Messiah. We’re hungry to see people explore Jesus and the gospel and to be a part of community that loves and serves their neighbors.

This hunger can unfortunately drive us to be more obsessed with missional living than with love for Jesus. What mission is there if we lose our love for Jesus?

Enjoy Verge, learn from it, but enjoy and worship Jesus most. Mission is a terrible God, but Jesus is a beautiful Lord.

What if I want to Implement this and Don’t Know How?

There are so many mechanisms to learn how to implement what you will learn at Verge. Verge must be the beginning of the learning and exploring process.

There are seminars, workshops, collectives, and coaching that will be the best way for you to implement it. Missional communities sound amazing until you start doing it and find it challenging along with facing objections from your church community.

Only these ongoing learning environments or coaching will allow you to apply the gospel of Jesus Christ along the way while you transition your church or plant through missional communities.

I’m looking forward to Verge and learning from others on missional communities, but mostly looking forward to worshipping our missional Jesus.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Groups, Missional Communities, Small Groups, Verge

Keeping Missional Communities Missional and Transformational

This is part of a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

Missional Communities can become too focused on themselves, but they can also become too focused on others. When mission becomes paramount, the community lacks and when community becomes paramount, mission lacks, but in either case the entire Community Group suffers.

The only way to keep missional communities both missional and transformation is to keep Jesus and His gospel central to the life of the community. A community aiming to know, enjoy, and live the life of Christ will aim for both.

Life Transformation Groups have been an assist to Community Groups on both fronts. Transforming lives and freeing the community to have more space, time, and environments for mission. Similar to the entire missional community, they are only effective as they center on enjoying and living like Jesus.

3 Ways to Form Life Transformation Groups

It is one thing to want life transformation groups and another to form them in a healthy way.

Gender Specific Before Going Smaller

One way I’ve seen Community Groups cultivate a value for LTGs within their community is to gather with gender only regularly. We’ve seen this happen collectively within a congregation getting the men or women together in a larger group and providing time to gather in smaller LTG size groups for processing of the larger time.

We’ve also seen this happen within the community group and it serves to increase the value and move the community at slower and sometimes easier pace into the life transformation groups.

Identify Leaders and Break People into LTGs

Another way is more systematic and while some people recoil at institutional style systematic approaches, this has been a successful way to form LTGs in communities that understood the idea and were ready for it. The leaders identify natural relationships along with leaders or potential leaders who could take ownership of cultivating the LTGs environment.

These then gather and commit to pursuing deeper study of scripture, confession, and prayer.

Form One then Multiply LTGs

The third approach that I have seen is for the leaders to form one LTG, experience it and cultivate it in a healthy way. Then as new people arrive or the LTG is ready, they multiply to create more LTGs for the community.

This approach obviously takes longer, but many leaders prefer this as a way to make sure healthy life transformation groups exist by modeling it first.

Process Isn’t As Important as People

The process too often becomes the focus, but the best leaders focus on the people and pursue this is the most healthy way for their community. There’s no need to rush beyond people’s understanding or push people beyond their comfort to accomplish this, it must be about the flourishing of people over any process.

Can Life Transformation Groups be used for mission?

Yes, they can. Next week I hope to speak more to the missional aspect of the missional community approach and Life Transformation Groups are one more environment for mission.

For now though, an obsession with mission must be checked by a longing to see lives transformed and create a healthy community that models the family aspect of God’s people. If you don’t have a healthy community, your mission has nothing to invite them into.

Pursue Jesus most and look for the best ways to see who He is, love Him, and live for Him with your life.

1 Comment

Filed under Community Groups, Missional Communities, Small Groups

Why Missional Communities Suffer Without Life Transformation Groups

This is part of a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

Missional Communities are the people of God living out the life of Jesus Christ together. This involves seeking God in prayer and devotion, loving and meeting one another’s needs, and extending the grace and mercy of the gospel of Jesus Christ to others.

But missional communities aren’t a silver bullet for making disciples. They are the essential piece of a larger puzzle. If they do not have Life Transformation Groups they will falter and fail to maintain the healthy church family that is needed for a healthy mission for God.

What We Learned

You can learn much from failing and falling short. Our Community Groups jumped on the vision of extending the gospel of Jesus Christ to one another and others. As they did, the holes in the missional communities became more and more prevalent. (I wrote about those here).

The beauty of the body of Christ is the diversity of gifts that come out in times and areas of need. In our community, we had gifted teachers and those who are more prophetic recognize how our Community Groups lacked a space for deep bible study and a context for confession and accountability.

We learned from their leadership about the value and need for Life Transformation Groups and even the need for further equipping outside of the context of missional communities altogether.

Over the last few years we have seen Life Transformation Groups (LTGs – because if it’s truly Christian it needs an acronym) begin and assist communities thrive in ways they haven’t before. A brief definition of LTGs can be found at the bottom of this post.

5 Reasons Why You Need It

1) Best Place for Deeper Study and Questions

When people read the Bible for the first time, they have difficult questions and very personal questions. A smaller community of 2-4 provides a better context than 12-25 to allow people to ask these questions. Most of the time these questions will never be asked and it’s these questions alongside the scriptural answers that provide an understanding that transforms people’s lives.

If people don’t grasp the Bible, they won’t understand our God the Bible speaks about and lack of understanding is the greatest cause of not loving God and looking like Jesus.

2)   Confession is Necessary for Christ-like Living

When I imagine confession, I picture a booth where I hide away and don’t even see the person who hears my confession. This has no power to free people from bad patterns and sin that plagues them. It also has no power to develop deep and trusting relationships that we need to change and be like Jesus.

The scriptures invite us to confess in order to be freed from lies we believe, freed from pretending to be righteous, and freed from the bad patterns that we have become dependent on. We need to confess and a smaller group of 2-4 people of the same gender like an LTG creates the space for this to happen naturally.

3)   Change through Tough Questions in Accountability

We’ve all made New Year resolutions or resolved to change a part of our lives. If we are left alone to accomplish these, they likely fail. Lasting change that we all seek in different areas of our lives is way easier and more effective when we have people who join us in the journey.

LTGs create the regular space where questions about our desire to change and our effectiveness can be asked. The good LTGs don’t focus only on the change though and that’s what is tricky about accountability. They focus on the vision for the change, Jesus Christ, and becoming like Him by pursuing and enjoying Him.

If they focus only on the change, again, they likely fail.

4)   Regular Prayer

Prayer in community deserves its own series of posts, but here I want to mention how amazing it is to pray with people who you trust and have grown to know you intimately. Who else can pray for you so specifically that it feels as though you are interceding for yourself.

The scriptures are filled with the belief that prayer causes more change in the lives of others than even our corrective words. What joy to see change through prayer.

5)   Community Rhythms

The last thing I’ll mention is that I’ve seen this push people into a rhythm of life of community as opposed to event-based mindset toward the church community. You begin to experience Community Groups as more than a once a week reality and cultivate the relationships that allow for community to happen throughout the week and month, not merely on Sundays and Tuesday nights.

So How Do You Start?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Tomorrow I’ll share how your first Life Transformation Group will probably suck and then they will get better. In addition, I’ll describe how we’ve seen them get started and be sustained in healthy ways. Friday, I’ll highlight 3 ways I’ve seen Missional Communities thrive as a result of Life Transformation Groups.

For now, you have to recognize that Missional Communities will suffer and eventually die without an environment where people are transformed and challenged consistently to be like Jesus. Life Transformation Groups provide the space and environment for most effectively pursuing this life.

This is one of the easiest ways to move the missional community from a mere social gathering to a transformative life.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Groups, Missional Communities, Small Groups

Changing the Language for Missional Communities

This is the first in a series of posts on what a missional community is – check out the others and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions.

All too often when I speak with missional community leaders or churches exploring missional communities, I hear about all that missional community is not. The language surrounding missional community has been reactionary to traditional attractional church methods for so long that it has become unhelpful. This was intended to be a way of distinguishing missional communities from the popular understanding of small groups in the broader church.

It has distinguished them from small groups, but for all the wrong reasons and in many ways has caused more confusion. The typical language states that missional communities are NOT a bible study, a support group, a social activist group, weekly meeting, or small group. So basically it’s a small group unicorn. Lately, the language is changing and that’s a good thing, but it leaves many of the questions from past definitions unanswered.

So…what is it?

When you explore it more deeply, you discover that missional community is simply inviting the people of God to live the life of Christ together.

Bible Study Plus

It’s an enhanced version of bible study where we let the scriptures be discussed, dialogued and understood so they cut to our hearts, call us to obedience, remind us of repentance, and change the way we live our everyday. It moves the target of bible study from knowledge about God, to love for, awe of, and obedience to God.

When the target moves, everyone can benefit from the scriptures from non-Christian to mature Christian because it’s a work on the soul toward seeing, savoring, and becoming like Jesus Christ.

Support Group Plus

Saying a missional community is not a support group is a complete misnomer. The reality is you need more support on the mission of God and no one can do it better than your church community when they become a family.

We’ve watched people take off work to spend time with us, watch our kids, and give of themselves to support one another in far greater degrees than we ever did in a bible study or small group that wasn’t pursuing mission as the end. But again it moves beyond support and consoling to bringing health for the sake of the mission of God. It has a greater aim than care, but sees the essential value of care for healthy and sustainable mission.

Social Activist Plus

The gospel of Jesus Christ affects the spiritual and the physical. Receiving mercy from God and seeing His justice in Christ propels activism for the good of a city and society.

A missional community is on the front lines of the immediate everyday needs and when they partner with other missional communities, they can be the best at addressing the systemic needs of a neighborhood or city. Since it is more than social activism it provides the actual and deepest solution (spiritual) to the needs of those around us by extending the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ.

A Weekly Life

When I read about and look at small group ministry, I’ve only seen a missional community approach encourage the body of Christ at large to see Christianity and “church” as an everyday reality in all spheres of life. This is the result of missional communities being more than a meeting, but really a new rhythm and way of life propelled and reconstructed by the gospel of Jesus Christ over comfort, security, approval, or success.

The missional community aims to walk the life of Christ and that encompasses all of life. The invitation is to bring every aspect of your life under His gracious, freeing reign and find the place of greatest joy when you do.

Small Group Plus

A missional community rarely stays a small group as well. The aim is for more people to experience God’s love through God’s people, so the invitations are many to those far or near to God. The missional community grows by invitation and welcoming others, it grows in depth by the love and knowledge of God, and then it multiplies to recreate the same community for others to experience.

But it’s rare that the original mission community would only send and say goodbye to their friends, it usually becomes a partnership; a missional community partnership for prayer, for social events, and for God’s mission in a specific area. The impact on a neighborhood or city seeing and experiencing God through His people only becomes greater in a multiplying missional partnership.

“That’s Not Possible, It’s Too Much to Ask!”

This is usually the response I hear and it’s accurate to an extent. In one sense it raises the bar for the church and Christianity, but it also forces us to ask why the bar was set where it is now?

On our own and with our own effort, it is not possible and only feels daunting. It’s only possible when we cultivate a missional community out of the joy and hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God describes this gospel as His power. This power transforms us, frees us to let go of old patterns and ways of life to embrace new ways of life in following Jesus. This isn’t easy, but anything of worth is never easy to attain, but it is worth it.

The joy found in walking the life of Jesus with a community is worth it.

3 Comments

Filed under Community Groups, Gospel Enjoyment, Missional Communities, Small Groups

Life Comes Before Blogging

It’s been 6 months since I’ve blogged and most of that has been the result of life happening. It’s been a really busy season and I’ve missed blogging, but I am also thankful to have a 6 month break from it.

Blogging didn’t used to be a thing. Not for me, not for anyone, but it has become a somewhat healthy and sometimes unhealthy outlet for people’s thoughts and opinions. If you’re not careful and blogging becomes your thing, writing a blog can be similar to Instagram, presenting a snap shot as reality when life doesn’t match it. It’s not always the case, but it’s a perpetual temptation. In truth, most of our life is lived by presenting images and snap shots as the whole. Whether at work, at church or elsewhere we can present a picture that doesn’t match the reality of our hearts and real lives. Not everyone gets the grainy Instagram video version, but I do think life would be better if they did.

As life has gotten busy for me and I’ve had many things to process in the midst of it, blogging has taken a back seat. The interesting thing is that my January blogs were all about being present with my marriage, my kids, and my role as a pastor and friend at our church. As excess time became more limited and energy was spent to be present elsewhere, I had to drop something and that was blogging. If I had continued blogging, I would have been expressing incomplete, unprocessed, and unrealistic ideas and thoughts because life needed to happen and change me in the process.

I may not blog as consistently as I would like going forward, but here’s an update of all that has gone on this year as I attempt to re-enter the blogging world.

Transitions, Transitions, Transitions

In June, our church’s founding pastor, JR Vassar, announced his resignation and his move for all the right reasons. He loves his family and ministry and wants both of them to flourish. It’s a great reminder to put first things first.

That means we are and have been in a season of transition as a church. The beauty of it is that we are not changing directions as a church, but drilling deeper in the vision God has been cultivating for many years. We are moving even further into being a network of neighborhood congregations worshipping Jesus, engaging in gospel-centered communities on mission to love our neighbors and extend God’s grace to them, and plant new congregations on the back of these communities to meet the needs of our city.

In a few weeks we will launch Apostles Brooklyn as the fruit of God multiplying communities and providing local leaders to communicate truth and model the love of Christ to others. I’m excited about the future of Apostles Church, praying that continues to grow us a community that loves Jesus and loves others well.

It has been busy though during the transition, as I’ve taken on more responsibilities. I’ve preached more consistently than ever and I’ve actually enjoyed it more than ever before as well. I’ve had the privilege to be more involved with the talented members of our staff and working to grow together as a healthy team. But the best part of these last 6 months job-wise has been interacting with the amazing people of Apostles Church more. I’m amazed at God’s gift to our church in the people and community that He has brought and formed here. They are a huge gift.

I started a Coaching Business

What is coaching? Coaching is coming alongside people and leaders as they navigate through decisions, plans, and vision for their life and work. The aim is to empower people through coaching to achieve their goals and their growth.

It is something I’ve been doing informally for a while, but have recently made it more formal for a few reasons. I want to see God’s people and Jesus’ church flourish wherever it is and by God’s grace I have been able to help pastors, leaders, and Christians explore how that will look in their context. I love being a resource to our church and other churches to empower the spread of God’s love and mercy through Jesus.

This also provides an opportunity to bless my family and church by earning some additional income outside the church. Our church takes care of us well, but I also don’t want to be a burden on them in an expensive city as my family grows up here.

My Wife and Kids are Awesome

Speaking of my family, I have awesome kids and an amazing wife. The last 6 months has been amazing to watch them grow up even more into their own unique personalities. Calvin tested into the Gifted & Talented Program (way to go Cal!) in the NYC public schools and will start Kindergarten this fall at Eli’s school while Eli starts 2nd grade. They are too old! Mya continues to be too cute and is growing into a beautiful and outgoing little girl. She has yet to meet a stranger.

Our summer has been amazing. We fell in love with upstate New York this July with two small vacations and took the train down to South Carolina to enjoy time with extended family. The city during the summer is a dream as well and we’ve almost enjoyed everything on our summer bucket list from the beach to the various water playgrounds, the public library and the parks. It’s been incredibly refreshing.

Life will always come before blogging for me, but I do enjoy this being an outlet of my processed thoughts on life, the church, missional communities, and family. We’ll see if I can find adequate time for it.

2 Comments

Filed under Church Life, Life, Missional Communities

2013 Resolutions: The Fourth of Four

Recently I read the book Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp. He openly discusses the culture of the church that typically views the pastor as having it all together all the time and how this pressure can be challenging on pastors. While God has called qualified people to be pastors, they are still people, flawed and in need of a Savior. Their character, convictions, and competencies are those of a leader, but no leader is perfect and expectations must change.

My last resolution is to be a faithful shepherd, pastor of my church, but also to be a fellow brother in Christ with my church. The fourth of four resolutions is simply to be a friend and to be a friend in need. 4a & 4b if you will.

To be a friend & a friend in need

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful thing, powerful to save anyone from a life bent away from God’s desires, transform anyone, and empower all who embrace it by faith to meet the needs of others. Throughout the scriptures, God speaks about blessing people with Himself in order that they would be a blessing for others.

Part of this reality is that I am have been given certain gifts and a certain role in the body of Christ, for me it is to be a pastor. This involves studying the word of God, praying, counseling people in the scriptures, dialoguing about Jesus and His gospel with anyone regardless of their beliefs or background, and cultivating communities that do the same. If you were to boil it down to one idea, it’s to be a true friend to anyone I meet, to love them with the love of Christ that they might know about a relationship with God.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ is also powerful enough for me to confront my weakness. This brings freedom to acknowledge that there are times when I am a friend in need and that God has provided people in my life, from all background or beliefs and especially in the church that share my beliefs to help me when I am in need.

The perception that the pastor has it all together all the time is an impossible expectation because no one does, except for Jesus. We are all in progress, constantly learning and growing, and the gospel of Jesus Christ brings freedom to walk in this reality. This allows me to sit down with a friend and be honest. I can let people know that there are times when I’m tired, times when I’m not as happy as I wish I was or had been last week and that I need their help to change. That there are times when I’m not fired up about reading the scriptures or talking about the Lord, but I don’t want to feel this way and many times it is the help of other people in our community, using their stories and their gifts that God provides a path toward change.

Use My Gifts and Benefit from the Gifts of Others

This also provides me perspective on how I’m gifted and to celebrate how others have been gifted. It takes the pressure off to always have the solution, to be able to say I don’t know, and to honor how God has uniquely gifted other people. God’s design was to gift all of God’s people to serve all of God’s creation.

When all gifts are celebrated, honored, and embraced by the church, the church truly begins to embody Jesus Christ who possesses and exercises all of the gifts perfectly. The church would like everyone they interact with to experience Jesus through them, but it’s only possible when individuals are introduced and invited to experience the entire community of Christ followers.

I hope this year involves helping people identify how they have been uniquely designed and gifted by God to serve others, to equip them and empower them to do so and to see those gifts be used to love others well.

These are my resolutions and I hope that I can look back at the end of the year having been fully present to enjoy my marriage, love my kids, and serve the city we live in by empowering and serving my church. Here’s to 2013.

1 Comment

Filed under Church Life, Life, Resolutions

Soccernomics & Church: Lack of Innovation

(This is post 5 in a series of blog posts on how a book on soccer, Soccernomics, can teach us much about the American church.)

From hiring practices to game strategy, soccer clubs love to do what has always been done which leads to unprofitable and unsuccessful soccer. The church is also notorious for lacking innovation in methods and this lack of innovation would be foolish in a culture that is changing the way they interact, plan their lives and engage with the wider society.

Lack of innovation in soccer

Soccernomics highlights the glacial pace at which most soccer clubs embrace new ideas and innovation. Often the ideas do not come from within a soccer club, but from an outside observer. One example was the Taylor Report in 1990, which simply evaluated the benefit that teams would receive from investing in their stadiums. The outside report led many soccer clubs to consider this for the first time resulting in growth in crowds and popularity. It’s as if soccer clubs discovered the world was filled with consumers for the first time. The authors also highlight the often foolish, yet ingrained way “things have always been done” in soccer clubs.

The hiring practices for a new manager for soccer clubs is often based on perception of his star power. This aim leads to managerial hiring that is often quick, lacking a thorough interview process, not assessing qualifications, but looking for immediate availability and making a media splash. Then when he fails, the cycle repeats because it was not the process that failed, but the specific manager.

The soccer clubs are often so concerned with the immediate fan reaction that they make foolish decisions about players, thinking a big signing will generate fan interest immediately rather building for a long haul and we’ve already addressed the suspicion of outside ideas about soccer strategy.l

Lack of innovation in the church

The way it’s always been done is not only cherished in soccer clubs, but in the local church. It is often unquestioned and off limits for being challenged in most churches.

One thing is certain for churches, theology does not change. We are a modern expression of an ancient faith articulated extremely clearly and well in the scriptures. Culture would like much of it to change, but changing God’s words are impossible since they originate from the unchanging, eternal God. We embrace the fullness of God in Jesus letting His truths shape our life, ministry practices, and the mission to meet the needs of others with the message and mercy of Christ.

Theology doesn’t change, but methodology must be evaluated and this is where the glacial pace of embracing change is so easily seen. I’m no stranger to this myself, as I once hated the idea of changing of a method of small groups to missional communities. Sunday services, Mass, and gathering mid-week at the local church only are not enough. This has become clear from declining numbers that churches aren’t the most welcoming places for people who are far from God. If the mission of the church is to help people who are far from God grow near to God, why are we waiting for those far away to stumble into a church?

Away From Programs & On toward Mission

There are too many churches that are filled with programs. There’s a pre-school ministry on Sunday morning, another one (Awanas) on Monday night and a Mother’s Day Out program during the week so your child can overdose on church meanwhile the rest of the world takes their kids to the local playground. There’s a men’s ministry, women’s ministry, singles ministry, marrieds, retirees, pre-retirees, and the list goes on. For every affinity, the church has adopted the Field of Dreams “If we create a niche ministry, they will come.”

The church is meant to be a community on mission and over-programming a church leads to death of the mission for outsiders at the embrace of a mission for insiders. In churches that are under-programmed it can be difficult for people to feel involved because this mentality of over-activity at the church has become so ingrained over the last few decades.

The Widening Gap Between Cultural & Church Norms

I am not advocating for any kind of aim toward cultural relevance, I’m asking that we as the church evaluate whether we place unnecessary burdens and barriers towards encountering our culture to provide a complex dialogue about faith and life. Are the activities of the church normal to our society or have the methods become so abnormal that they are uncomfortable to those outside the church? Think about the ways churches gather as small groups or form for mission.

These small groups often meet in a local home, gathering in a circle to discuss the bible and the challenges of life. Where does the rest of the world gather? Local restaurants, pubs, playgrounds, school yards, PTA, and sports clubs to discuss how their worldview is shaping their experience of life. They might not describe it as their worldview, but their frustrations at home, work, or in relationships are because of their aims in life (i.e. worldview).

Looking at the life of Christ, it is easy to see one who is confident in God, freed to enter into every arena of life, risking reputation, to demonstrate the goodness, strength, and love of God to those far from God. Those who claim to represent Him are called to do the same. Our methods of church are not the silver bullet to seeing people come near to God, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God to see people be reconciled to relationship with God. But our methods can have a way of distracting from the gospel, of bottling the gospel, and hindering it from being demonstrated and declared.

Preaching to the Choir or those who aren’t there?

As this gets demonstrated in soccer clubs at matches where the team with foolish practices doesn’t do well on the pitch, Sundays demonstrate the culture of the church. Music, sermons, and whether a people are welcome demonstrate if we are preaching to the choir or preaching to those who aren’t there.

Are we simply gathering to comfort and enjoy our fellow Christians or are we hoping to bring a friend, neighbor, or co-worker? If we did would they hear preaching that is aimed at the long-time Christian or aimed to exalt Christ for Christian & non-Christian alike? Our Sunday gatherings should be a reflection of our community life outside Sundays. If neither reflect a desire to connect with the people of our culture to engage in a complex dialogue the way Christ did, our methods are failing our gospel.

Since the gospel of Jesus Christ never changes, we should be ready, willing, and quick to evaluate and embrace new ideas in methodology rather than write them off because they don’t fit into what we are used to. The mission of God was made to enter into any environment with grace, love, and power. Innovations in pursuing this mission without compromising the truths of the gospel are a gift from God rather than a diversion from Him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Life, Soccernomics

Soccernomics & Church: The Wisdom of Crowds

(This is post 4 in a series of blog posts on how a book on soccer, Soccernomics, can teach us much about the American church.)

Decisions can often be made in a vacuum in business, professional sports clubs, and churches. They lack information from a variety of sources that allows them to make appropriate decisions.

The authors of Soccernomics highlight the French soccer club Olympique Lyon, a club that in 1987 was unknown and unloved even by local residents, but now consistently finds itself competing in the Champions League as one of the sixteen best teams in Europe. The rise of this soccer club is largely attributed to their management over their coaching and Soccernomics highlights their use of the wisdom of crowds in decision-making when choosing their players, which is large part of the success of a soccer club.

“Lyon’s method for choosing players is so obvious and smart that it’s surprising that all clubs don’t use it. The theory of the “wisdom of crowds” says that if you aggregate many different opinions from a diverse group of people, you are more likely to arrive at the best opinion than if you just listen to one specialist…If you ask a diverse set of gamblers to bet on, say the outcome of a presidential election, the average of their bets is likely to be right. (Gambling markets have proved excellent predictors of all sorts of outcomes.) The wisdom of crowds fails when the components of the crowd are not diverse enough. This is often the case in American sports. But in European soccer, opinions tend to come from many different countries, and that helps ensure diversity…

At most clubs the manager is treated as a sort of divinely inspired monarch who gets to decide everything until he is sacked. Then the next manager clears out his predecessor’s signings at a discount.” Soccernomics p. 68-69

Lyon’s stability of leadership and method of incorporating a number of voices when selecting a player provides a consistent strategy that leads to success regardless of the manager.

The wisdom of crowds involves incorporating team leadership and cultivating a collective vision. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth the challenging process for guiding people toward a common mission.

Could the American church benefit from using the wisdom of crowds?

The church tends to lack this mentality and can often operate like an English soccer club, where one or two individuals are the divinely inspired voice to make each and every decision. The result for the church is often copying the latest trends, adopting someone else’s methods, and doing little in the way of applying biblical principles to the local community of God.

The Bible speaks to a different way that actually precedes the theory of the wisdom of crowds and speaks to the value of seeking counsel and plurality of leadership. Proverbs 15:22 says “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed.” Proverbs 20:18 “Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war.”

In the New Testament, the church in Acts, the instructions of the authors of the Epistles, and the method of Jesus was a plurality of leadership. It was 12 apostles that Jesus sent out, it was different gifts that Paul pointed to in Ephesus as the equippers of the saints of the church, and elders were always to be appointed to lead in the church. The wisdom of crowds appears to be God’s idea and design.

While the American church agrees with this, it has adopted the CEO model of the business world pointing to the idea of ‘first among equals’ in leadership which tends to place final authority in the hands of one. 9Marks, an organization focused on building healthy churches, has some good thoughts on this here.

While there is inevitably a first among equals that has to make the final decision, does that authority come from the teachings of scripture or from the position? While there can be a specialist on a church staff in community, preaching, mercy & justice, counseling, and even vision, that does not negate the wisdom from other members of that staff and church. The specialist actually improves their ability to lead by listening to other voices, diminishing their pride in their own ideas to let the wisdom of crowds shape a better path going forward.

Sounds like a great idea, but how would this practically function in a church, a small group, or other ministry?

Develop a Collective Vision: Come with a Plan & Open Hands

I can speak to how I’m seeking to incorporate this into my leadership and in leading a small group. I’m a internal processor who likes to think through every aspect of a plan, develop a strategy and assume it’s bulletproof, but as I’ve come to find out (shockingly) my ideas are not always comprehensive, complete or perfect.

So as we enter into a new season of Community Groups, I’ve chosen to solicit feedback and create environments to utilize the wisdom of crowds. I still have a plan, a rather thorough one, but I come with open hands to listen to how the plan may shape out in a particular area or to see what holes I may be blind to.  This is kind of a first draft of a vision if you will. Effort is put into it, but I’m not holding it so tight that it cannot evolve to the ideas and wisdom of other invested members and leaders.

On our church staff, I’ve become known as someone that develops lengthy documents on ideas because I want the document to be the beginning of a brainstorming process. From there it’s been a hard, but good process to let my ideas be shaped, critiqued, and molded by the wisdom of others.

For our community groups, I’ve set up a community group roundtable dinners with different sets of leaders to allow them to ask questions, solicit feedback on what they hear when the vision is set before them, what areas are unclear and how they see this vision being accomplished in their local community. These are often refreshing times for me to listen to what is going on in each community, hear their questions and challenges to incorporate these ideas in shaping the final direction of the vision.

In our community groups, I encourage our leaders to think through how to incorporate our core values of Gospel Enjoyment, Intentional Community, & Prayerful Mission practically in their local neighborhood. After they think through this, I encourage them to discuss these ideas with their community, invite their feedback and form a collective vision and understanding going forward. This collective vision process creates ownership and momentum towards the entire community being on board to implement their vision and not the dictated vision from above.

Do we believe God has gifted every believer or is that just rhetoric?

For the American church, and likely the global church, we have to confront whether we truly believe what the scriptures say about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The New Testament clearly states that every person who has placed their faith in Christ and seeks to live their life following His ways is empowered by God the Holy Spirit with gifts that are used to build up the body of Christ. Every church leader cognitively believes this, but not every church leader practically believes this.

The professionalization of the ministry and mission of God tends to lead to a separation between church staff and church attenders. The staff has been given by God to spend their energy listening to God and forming a plan, but incorporating and empowering the members of the local church to shape, finalize and join the mission of God to love, care for, and speak into their neighborhood with the gospel.

The wisdom of crowds is not merely a sociological idea, it’s the design and gift of God as He gives the church a community to establish their collective vision for extending the good news of Christ to their city. When the church moves beyond rhetoric and begins listening to the empowered believers in their church, it will benefit greatly. It does not negate the value of church staff, but rather enhances their leadership.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church Life, Soccernomics

The Life Cycle of a Missional Community

At the beginning of each new season of Community Groups at Apostles Church, we gather together as leaders to re-focus on the gospel and our core values while also highlighting important points of emphasis for the season. Back in January we gathered for 3 hours, had amazing conversation, shared a meal and communion with one another to start the year. It was a great beginning.

One of the things we discussed was the life cycle of a gospel-centered community on mission (missional community). Every living thing has a specific life cycle and it’s important to identify this for a Community Group so leaders don’t have false expectations throughout leading their community.

Every community goes through a time of formation, fun, messiness, mission, and multiplying.

Formation

This is the beginning of the community where developing relationships, vision, and a cohesive direction happen. It’s a crucial time, but it also takes longer than most people think.

Many leaders approach a new community thinking it will develop great relationships quickly and when the first few gatherings of the community turn out to be awkward, they’re confused. Communities typically take at least 3-6 months to form quality relationships and begin to care for one another well. There are some communities that form faster and some slower, but it generally takes about this much time.

This is the point where the community lays the foundation, vision, and future direction for the community. For missional communities, it is essential to begin with the understanding of and preparation for extending the gospel on mission and eventually multiplying. Each community must recognize that this will not be the last community they will be in and more than that, begin seeking to extend the community to others from day one.

The community takes this time to get to know one another, to work through the awkwardness, to begin bearing one another’s burdens, learning how to care for one another and extend the message and mercy of Christ together as a community.

Fun

After the community forms, there is usually a time period where things are pretty smooth and enjoyable. Relationships have been developed, depth of gospel conversations is happening, and the community is beginning to extend the gospel. This usually happens for a few months.

It is easy during this time for the leader to feel like the community is successful, but the community is about to face a new challenge that can feel like failure.

Messiness

As a community is established on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it will eventually face a season of messiness. This time of messiness happens when people begin to feel comfortable sharing the junk in their lives. Sins, past hurts, brokenness, and ongoing struggles begin to be confessed. Most leaders assume failure because hard things are being revealed and it’s not “picture perfect”, but messiness is actually the best sign of gospel health. Confused yet?

Messiness reveals that the community is actually founded on the gospel of Christ and not just merely liking one another. The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that we are sinful, but we don’t have to make up for our sinfulness, mistakes, errors, and brokenness because Jesus did that for us through His perfect life, forgiving death on the cross, and life-giving resurrection from the dead. As the community continues to encouraged people to believe this for every area of their life, the people in the community begin to realize that freedom from the burdens of sin and brokenness is actually possible.

An opportunity to be rid of guilt and shame through confession and belief in the power of the gospel gives great comfort to people and lets them begin to share where their lives don’t match up with Christ’s life.

This is messy and this is good. This is how a community becomes empowered by the gospel, by letting the truths of Christ’s redemptive work transform the individuals within the community. Healthy mission follows healthy gospel transformation. If you want to know why your small group or church aren’t on mission, it’s because the gospel of Jesus Christ hasn’t been applied to the community yet. When the gospel is applied, sin is confessed, and people become delighted in Christ over themselves, mission follows naturally.

Mission

As the gospel of Christ is applied to the ordinary life of the community, the ordinary life becomes a place of a great mission. Mission as a community is extending the regular rhythm and life activities of the community to people’s neighbors, co-workers, and family. It’s opening the community to new people to let them experience a community shaped by the gospel.

This happens through meals together, gospel conversations over late nights, nights out together, family outings and every other “normal” activity that both the community and the local neighborhood participate in.

One side of mission that can be neglected by a missional community (to its own peril) is extending the mercy of Jesus Christ through social justice. The phrase social justice makes some people cringe, but Jesus was clear that His disciples would experience His salvation in such a way that they couldn’t help but care for the poor and the marginalized. Something powerful happens to a community that takes ownership of their neighborhood to the point of creative compassion to meet the needs of the neighborhood around them.

Mission is a time where the community continues to grow in their knowledge of God, His gospel, and their love for one another. The results are usually that the community grows in number and then it faces another challenge. Will the community multiply or will it decline?

Multiplying

As a community grows, it approaches a point where it either multiplies, creating another community or it begins to decline as a community. Becoming multiple communities is challenging, but remember in formation that this was planned and discussed. It doesn’t make it any easier though. If the community chooses to delay multiplying, they will see the community decline, the conversations begin to lack the gospel depth they once had and mission becomes harder with a larger community.

Most communities delay multiplication out of fear. They fear losing friends and relationships. Multiplying is never easy, but often results in the exact opposite of these fears. I’ve seen multiple communities where friendships deepened as a result of multiplying. While they no longer spent as much time together, their time together developed a quality in encouragement and care that they had not seen before placing the gospel mission before their relationships.

Following multiplication, the life cycle begins again for both communities. It can be a confusing and challenging time after experiencing great things in the original community, but eventually each community begins to see the same results of the gospel they had seen earlier.

While this is the typical life cycle of a missional community, some communities that are starting in brand new areas where there isn’t a gospel presence from their church community face a more challenging and longer process for developing as a community. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the challenges facing missional communities that are started in new areas and later in the week, I’ll look at the key components of the formation of a new missional community.

2 Comments

Filed under Missional Communities

The Gospel, Christian Parenting, & Schooling Options

When I first became a parent I was taken aback by how quickly I wanted to find the right method of parenting and trumpet it as the authoritative way that every parent should do it! It wasn’t just me though, everyone reads and discusses being an attachment parent, if you’re going to Ferber-ize your child and everyone has their own advice they’d like to give you.

It can be a stressful situation that new parents find themselves in because it feels like there should be ONE right way that you HAVE to figure out or you’re going to screw up your kid for life. This is true for any parents, but I especially saw the debate inside of a church setting as even more heated. This is the result of people baptizing their family preferences in the gospel of Christ and seeking to make it an absolute truth that everyone should follow.

This is made worse by the fact that disagreeing on parenting methods is seen as an inappropriate conversation in many circles. People feel judged and offended, but we were blessing to be living inside of a Christian community that didn’t allow it to be an off-limits conversation.

It helped us to distinguish between gospel-centered parenting and preference-exalting parenting. Gospel-centered parenting sees the truths of Jesus Christ’ life, death, and resurrection and the scriptures as the primary focus and principles that shapes all of parenting. This outlines the purpose of a family, how the mission of God is accomplished as a family, and how the family is to interact with one another, the church, and the world. It informs the principles, attitudes, discipline and education for children in parenting.

Preference-exalting parenting agrees with gospel-centered parenting but typically goes beyond that to define the exact methods that must be followed to accomplish all that parenting entails. This happens when homeschooling parents are ostracized as culture-fearing super-protective parents and this also happens when people interpret the scriptures admonition to educate in the Lord to only mean classical Christian education condemning those who choose public school.

As my kids have grown and the schooling conversation has entered our lives, it’s felt like we had our first baby all over again. Questions, our convictions and desires,  along with other people’s convictions and preferences were coming at us. Can you be a Christian parent and send your child to public school? Does being a Christian parent mean homeschooling or private Christian schooling?

It has been a challenging process of asking and exploring these questions theologically, practically, and discussing these ideas with a number of other people and families. It has become clear that many people want to exalt their way of schooling as the perfect way to follow Christ and be a Christian parent, but God does not spell out a perfect method of schooling.

Christian parents are tasked with the responsibility to educate their children in the scriptures, the gospel of Jesus Christ and develop them to be able to maturely encounter a world that increasingly doesn’t believe the same truths.

The education of a child plays into this task tremendously, so parents must explore and examine the best route for their child, their family, and themselves for schooling. There is not just one option for Christian families and the church must be more open and ready to equip families to enjoy the benefits and tackle the challenges of each.

As each Christian family decides how to educate their child, the gospel of Jesus Christ gives them the freedom to have confidence in their choice without condemnation of those who do not choose the same as them. When a church is filled with families who have confidence in their families approach to education, they can be a collection of families who collaborate for the holistic flourishing of the children in the church and in their city.

Not One, but Many Schooling Options for Christian Families

There are predominantly 5 major options for a Christian family when approaching education. Each of them has their challenges in seeking to follow Christ, but the church should encourage, and needs, gospel-centered families in every single option. The mission of the church is to display and declare Jesus to every sphere of life and schooling is one of those spheres.

Currently, here are the 5 options I see:

  1. Private School
  2. Private Christian School
  3. Public School
  4. Homeschooling
  5. Charter School

We spent a year exploring these different options before enrolling Eli in public school here in New York City and it’s been amazing, but it hasn’t been without its challenges.

I’m hoping to discuss the benefits and challenges for gospel-centered parenting that each of these options present another time.

Here’s the major challenge and the most necessary thing for a church community to encourage for families. Families need to be encouraged to have confidence in their schooling choice without condemning others and families need to collaborate for holistic flourishing.

Confidence without Condemnation

There have been times when I have felt condemned and even seen as foolish for sending my child to public school, as if I’m failing them in their spiritual journey by sending them to public school. I also know that others families have felt condemned by me because of our confidence in sending our children to public school.

I’ve seen too many Christian parents that seem almost embarrassed about their schooling choice, whatever it may be, and that needs to change. Families should be confident in the direction and vision they have for their families to be educated and their families to embody Jesus in every environment.

Without confidence, condemnation will be felt and conveyed, but confidence provides the freedom to communicate the motivations for the schooling options. This sets you free from the need to exalt your choice above others and the ability to acknowledge and understand others’ choices.

Collaboration For Every Holistic Flourishing

Since each schooling options provides its unique challenges, I imagine the beauty of collaboration among families. Imagine the homeschooling families sharing their wisdom in teaching their children scriptural truths being shared with families of children who only have a few hours every night and weekends to do so because of school outside the home.

Imagine public, charter, and private school families inviting their homeschooling friends to share in the social and missional benefits they lack from schooling at home.

I see great benefit, encouragement, and empowerment in families with confidence in their schooling choice seeking to collaborate for the benefit of their children. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to be an alternative community in our way of living, but also to be that community in the midst of people who believe differently than we do.

For families, the way we educate our children has implications for our ability to embody the gospel to one another and to the world around us. We have a responsibility to our kids, but also to our neighbor’s kids so we must take that corporate responsibility to seek the holistic flourishing of our families and the families of our city.

7 Comments

Filed under Church Life, Parenting