My Verge Conference Thoughts and Highlights

#Verge14 ended almost a week ago and as I reflect on the few days of binge-tweeting and listening to speakers at a conference they are honestly a blur. It was too much information to digest in the moment, the evening, or in the process time. I guess that’s why they have a digital access pass.

In the midst of the blur, a few things stand out in my mind as highlights.

The Stage was Set Well

The opening session once again set the stage for the Verge conference, which has become known as the place to learn practices for missional communities, but the main thread for the entire conference was about the worship and love for Jesus Christ. The practicals mean nothing without this and opening night created the perfect framework for the conference.

Halim Suh, who is not a conference circuit speaker, but a faithful teaching and preaching pastor at The Austin Stone Community Church, displayed that his gifts are needed for the entire body of Christ. He called out the downside of the missional dialogue, the side where mission becomes greater than Jesus.

“With Jesus mission becomes worship, without Him it becomes slavery.”

His invitation was to go sit at the feet of Jesus before running to activity for Jesus. It was a perfect beginning to what would become an overwhelming amount of speakers and information.

Of the next few days, a few events and speakers stood out.

Anything John Perkins is Always a Highlight

John M. Perkins is an incredible man of God. He’s 83 and has more passion for Jesus and people than just about anyone I know. His work in the civil rights movement, in planting churches that love and transform communities, and being an advocate/creator of many social justice initiatives is inspiring. He is a living legend.

Verge had a session on Incarnational Justice that included Holly Burkhalter from International Justice Mission  on ending sex-trafficking and a video on a Palestinian Christian loving his enemies followed by a panel on Racial Injustice and White Privilege. That alone is a conference in and of itself, but at Verge, it’s one session.

The entire panel was brilliant, included an analogy using Monopoly to highlight White Privilege (at a very white conference), and immense gospel-centered wisdom on facing the lingering effects of racial injustice throughout many centuries with honesty and humility. The panel was 20 minutes, but could have been 3 hours and some will say it didn’t do enough to provide clarity and next steps on the issue. But what conference gives a main session to addressing racial injustice and white privilege at all?

This was just 1 step in the right direction for this conversation that must continue. Duce Branch, The Ambassador, said wisely “This isn’t a conversation just for a conference, but for our dinner tables, in our homes, and in our communities.”

But the highlight was John Perkins saying at the beginning of the panel,

“I come in grateful with 53 years of expectations around this conversation of racial injustice. I am honored to be a part of it.”

Wow. Decades of expectation, of hope for even the conversation, let alone any resolution. That’s powerful, as is his passion that I thought surely was going to bring him off his seat. It was amazing.

Helen Lee, John Onwuchekwa, Hugh Halter, and Kevin Peck

I didn’t count, but I think there were 100 or so messages, spoken words, or videos. It was insane, but again a few rose to the top.

Kevin Peck, Lead Pastor of The Austin Stone, spoke on leadership development and the value of systems as a means for people to flourish. The need in this area is so significant. The church is in a declining situation because of our inability to make disciples and develop an intentional approach to multiplying leaders. If we hope to embody Jesus Christ at all, we must be willing to empower others to be greater than ourselves.

John Onwuchekwa, Teaching Pastor at Blueprint Church, had the topic of prayer, which can cause major guilt or frustration, but his approach was brilliant. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more thoughtful, careful, truthful, and empowering approach to speaking on prayer. It was incredible and one more example that God is doing great things in and through Blueprint Church in Atlanta.

Hugh Halter, “accidental” planter of Adullam Church and leader of the Missio Project, spoke on evangelism. Hugh is the prophet/evangelist that makes the conservative evangelical establishment nervous and uneasy. He finds himself amongst people who are far from God and shares the Good News of Jesus Christ in a way that causes people to be attracted to it. He shared about a tattoo artist who voiced that he felt like he was a part of their family and saw Hugh as a father figure in his life through Hugh’s love and care for him. The point was a call us to live incarnationally, which means to follow Jesus’ example of putting on flesh and living amongst people in a way that displays and attracts people to God. It’s challenging and inspiring to remember that we can never be missionless pastors or Christians.

Helen Lee, author of The Missional Mom, stood out for a few reasons. Helen spoke of the reality that moms and kids have a greater opportunity and connection to mission than anyone else, but we’ve allowed our culture and created churches that communicate that their mission is solely the kids and not God’s mission to make disciples. This does a disservice to God’s intent for motherhood and children, let alone moms and kids.

Is there such a thing as too much good content?

If a conference could commit gluttony on too many good speakers, worship and spoken words, then Verge was in sin. I’ve never been inundated with that much information that was both amazing and hard to process all at the same time. There were multiple times where it felt like we all needed about 10 minutes to sit with Jesus, beg Him to forgive us for our wrongs and invite Him to change us.

I may need to start Verge Processing Support Groups. (VPSGs anyone?!?)

You always leave Verge amazed at what they were able to put on, processing and wondering what to do with the information you just received. I’m thankful for Verge and look forward to #Verge15.

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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.

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What Makes a Great Community Group Leader?

How do you measure success for a Community Group? Is it a checklist of missional activities? A number of people? How many times the community has multiplied? Is it identifying a group of people to care for and serve? If you checked with a number of different approaches, you’d get a few variations of these answers as you talked about success and great Community Group leadership.

If you ask your small group, missional community, or Community Group leaders, what would they say makes a great leader in your church?

It’s Not What You Think

As I’ve asked this question, I’ve heard about great things that Community Group leaders can do to guide, lead on mission, serve, care for, share leadership, and teach their Community Group, but those are the outcomes for great Community Group leaders.

It’s true that Community Group leaders have the responsibility to provide vision and leadership for their community. They have to remind the community regularly what the vision and mission are and how they are seeking to accomplish it.

It’s true that Community Group leaders must serve their community, modeling the servant life of Jesus Christ. They often pursue people more than others to get to know them and help meet their needs.

It’s also true that Community Group leaders care for people in their community that are having a hard time, are hurting, or need spiritual guidance. They often counsel people with God’s word and the gospel of Jesus Christ to give them strength, encouragement, hope, and peace throughout life’s circumstances.

It’s also true that Community Group leaders seek to share leadership and empower others. They often find ways to identify the gifts of those in the community and empower them to serve one another and their neighbors.

It’s true that Community Group leaders often teach the community how the gospel of Jesus Christ applies to their life. They dialogue, question, and explore the scriptures with their community seeking to live out all that they learn.

It’s true that Community Group leaders are the lead missionaries, calling their community to pray, to love their neighbors, and serve their neighborhoods.

Great Things Flow From Great Community Group Leaders

There has never been a great Community Group without great community leadership. These great things flow from great Community Group leaders, but what makes the Community Leader great is not their activity.

What makes a great Community Group leader is their heart for Jesus and their enjoyment of the gospel. Out of the heart the mouth speaks and the life is lived. We live for what we love in every sphere of life and Community Group leaders can do a lot of this activity, but they cannot sustain it without a growing love for Jesus.

It’s interesting that most leaders begin Community Group leadership in a place of great joy and love for Jesus, but maintaining this amidst the highs and lows of leading people is the challenge.

Great Community Group leaders cultivate their heart for Jesus more than they extend themselves in the many activities of the community. There’s great freedom in this reality.

Community Group leaders want to be faithful and lead well, but they are invited to let that be an overflow. There is freedom from proving yourself through activity and making Jesus the greatest aim.

What should a leader do to become great?

Start by being faithful to God and what He has placed in front of you. Pursue God regularly, delight to pray to Him, and be around Him in silence, study, or even community cultivates the heart for Jesus that is essential to great leadership in Community Groups.

When the heart is not there, fight for it like the Psalmists begging God for a restoration of joy and strength from relationship with Him. Love for Christ leads to a life for Christ.

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3 Errors to Avoid with Missional 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.

In case you were wondering, I was indeed trying to see how many Christian buzz words can fit in one title with this post.

As we talk about how Life Transformation Groups can be used for mission, it’s important to once again question how we view mission. As we talk about mission, we are mostly speaking of helping the entire individual conform to the life of Jesus Christ spiritually, physically, socially, and psychologically. Mission doesn’t just happen in one setting or in one meeting but throughout all of life.

When we grasp that, we see every arena as an opportunity to know God more and extend the gospel of Jesus Christ to others. This includes the joy from hanging out (Christianese translation: fellowship) with one another, enjoying a meal (Christianese: breaking bread), and sharing about your faith impacting your life (Christianese: outreach).

Most people think of Life Transformation Groups as a holiness endeavor for Christians, but seeing it as part of the Christian and non-Christian’s process of being more like Jesus expands our views and aims. We are ultimately creating space for anyone to explore God, see how He affects our lives, and actively pursue this change.

Jesus’ Life Transformation Group

When I look at Jesus’ disciples who followed Him for 3 years, Jesus was constantly on mission to them and with them. He was over-explaining his sermons, reminding them again of things they had forgotten, and inviting people who didn’t truly believe in Him to be near Him. He enjoyed time with them, laughed with them, mourned with them, spoke hard truths in very challenging ways, prayed with them, and taught them truth.

I want Jesus to lead my Life Transformation Group (and Community Group and church, ok, all of life). He’s the perfect leader.

His life is an example for us, but also the very thing that gives us and empowers our salvation. We can trust God like He did and be concerned with others knowing God even as we try to get to know God more ourselves.

We have to get this mentality before we ever try to be missional in Life Transformation Groups.

3 Errors to Avoid & The Way Forward for Missional LTGs

We will commit errors on the mission of God, but there are a few errors we must avoid in Life Transformation Groups for them to be a space where someone exploring Christ will want to be there.

1)     Don’t Act Holier Than Thou

The aim is not showing off our morality and confronting others lack. The aim is to acknowledge that we don’t match up to Jesus and that makes Jesus look awesome. Confessing your faults, errors, and sins is essential to making a disciple of Jesus Christ.

The Way Forward: Show that Jesus is Awesome for You.

Share how you struggle, where the Bible confronts your lack of faith and ways you want to change. Show that Jesus is the way forward as the only One who was perfect.

2)     Don’t Give The Answers

The learning is in the struggle. Let someone explore what the scriptures say about God without you giving them all the answers. They must learn to be a disciple of Jesus, not dependent on you.

The Way Forward: Ask Questions, Listen, and Fill in the Blanks

Most people will begin to explore their own beliefs and come to some conclusions. You become the facilitator of their exploration of God. Listen and remember your own journey in exploring faith. As necessary, fill in the blanks with other verses and thoughts. At this point, you’ve affirmed the value of their questions, thoughts, and you now provide them more context to understand.

3)     Don’t Ignore the Tension

At some point in your Life Transformation Group, you will come to a belief for followers of Christ that confronts the beliefs of someone who doesn’t follow Jesus. In the awkwardness, we all want to run and hide, downplay the tension, but you can’t ignore that Jesus confronts people. We also can’t ignore that he confronts the religious and irreligious, not just one or the other.

The Way Forward: Compassionately Align with Jesus

We must side with Jesus and take His positions on what is true, but we must also adopt His posture of compassion and understanding. Jesus engaged the tension humbly, but also confidently aligning with God in popular shared ideas and even in the unpopular. We must do the same.

As I’ve seen people be missional with their Life Transformation Groups, their vulnerability, honesty, and passion for Jesus is what provides the best opportunity for people to know God in Jesus Christ. The gospel of Jesus Christ frees us to acknowledge that we all have flaws, are imperfect, and that our sin caused Jesus’ death. But we also see that Jesus forgives us, invites us by faith to have a relationship with God, and that we are no longer defined by our flaws or sins.

This gospel is our freedom and we have the opportunity to invite everyone to know this freedom.

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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.

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Your First Life Transformation Group Will Probably Suck

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.

Yesterday, I shared how Missional Communities suffer without Life Transformation Groups, but it’s also true the Life Transformation Groups suffer without Missional Communities.

Life Transformation Groups provide the best context for questions about the Bible and personally applying them to your life. Life Transformation Groups are small enough and their nature as gender-specific create a space for vulnerability to admit what you don’t know about God’s Word or admit the parts of God’s Word you don’t actually live.

Community Groups, or Missional Communities, serve as a family forum of sorts dialoguing about a community’s understating and application of the Bible, while LTGs create the space for a more personal dialogue, challenge, and application.

Life Transformation Groups have a self-explained role in their title, seeing people changed. The major question is how. They agree to read and study a portion of scripture together, then come together to discuss not just what they’ve learned, but how God challenged them in reading it. The dialogue usually cuts to the heart of the issue and then moves to what change must happen to follow God and love others well. Lastly, the aim is to pray for each other’s needs and each other’s friends.

While these groups are amazing, your first experience will probably suck.

Your First LTG will Probably Suck

We had agreed to read the gospel of Luke together, but every time we met one of us hadn’t read it. This was new to us and we had a suitcase full of excuses around busyness or life that we could get out of it. But we still tried the confession aspect and honestly that was painful.

Initially it was good to confess things I hadn’t shared with people, freeing even, but when the confession time kept being a repeat of the week before it reminded me of ineffective accountability groups.

We also weren’t connected to a missional community, so we lacked a broader accountability and space to pursue relationships and the life of Christ outside of studying and talking about it. It didn’t last more than a month.

But since then I’ve seen them get better. Here’s how…

Jesus as the Aim

We have shifted the questions from the list of what you did/didn’t do to being all about Jesus and your pursuit of Him. The scriptures continually push us to focus on Jesus and His gospel as the means by which we are transformed. The actions we have done or didn’t do are merely a reflection of our lack of loving Jesus most.

So the questions push us beyond behavior and into joy. Confession and forgiveness is easier when we are reminded of Jesus first.

Smaller Chunks of Scripture Deeper

The original Life Transformation Group encouragement is to study large chunks of scriptures, but there is so much depth in every passage. Slowing down the study and conversation allows us to deal with the impacts of the truth more clearly.

More than LTGs with Mission

Life Transformation Groups connected to Missional Communities create the space for extending the gospel of Jesus Christ to others outside the community. When this happens, it provides a broader community that is after the same aims with the members of the LTG and also moves the LTG to prayer for those they love.

Life Transformation Groups get better as they focus on living the full life of Christ moving beyond bible study and confession into mission with a broader community.

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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.

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