Monthly Archives: December 2011

15 Lessons in 15 Months in NYC: 5-1

The end of the year is always a time to reflect over what went on and what you’ve learned from the past year. For me, this is an opportunity to reflect over the last 15 months of being in New York. These are lessons we have learned personally and from watching and interacting with others in the city. I posted lessons 15-11 on Monday and lessons 10-6 on Wednesday, and here are lessons 5-1.

5. To be “For the City” you must be “For Your Neighborhood”
The good news is that most churches have recaptured an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ that leads to a huge concern for and move to act on behalf of the poor and marginalized. As a result there are many churches that are seeking the physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare of their city. They are being “For the City” by advocating for the human flourishing of every person in the city.

This is the vision of a church truly being Jesus to their city, but practically this must be worked out in neighborhoods. In Manhattan, it seems that every 10 blocks is telling its own story, presenting a message of its worldview that is different from the surrounding area. It’s no different in the suburbs as subdivisions present a fairly consistent message about what is important.

Each neighborhood has beauty to it and each neighborhood has brokenness. To seek the human flourishing of a city, you must start next door or down the block. Begin by answering the questions “What do I love about my neighborhood?” and “What is the one thing I would like to see improved that would heal the brokenness of my neighborhood?”

Our city is 8.5 million people with the matching problems. Until “the city” becomes smaller and more tangible through our neighborhood, the task of seeking human flourishing is too daunting, but a community of people working together on the issues of their neighbors can see beautiful change.

4. To be “For Your Neighborhood” you must enjoy your neighborhood
The unfortunate side of recapturing a gospel vision to care for the poor is the ability of the human heart to make a good cause a duty to perform. A duty attitude prevents you from investing in your neighborhood the same way you would if you enjoyed it.

We only live for and give ourselves fully to things that we enjoy. So what do you enjoy about your neighborhood? What do you enjoy about your neighbors? If you spend all of your time commuting to another part of town, why don’t you move there?

I’ve seen this attitude change our way of life and the way of life of others in our community. In New York, you can live your whole life within a 10 block radius, it is built to be a walkable and enjoyable community, but if you only see the brokenness and never look for the beauty to enjoy, you will despise your neighborhood and never care for it in a way that could improve it.

3. Community is part of the mission
I am a huge advocate for missional communities, the idea of a community of Christ followers extending the message and mercy of Christ together. Unfortunately, the pendulum seems to have shifted to only beating the drum of mission at the neglect of community. It has become more about “being missional” than being a community…on mission.

Building a healthy community is just as much a part of the mission as reaching and caring for new people. Sacrificing community for the sake of mission will lead to burnout, bitterness, hurt and sin that goes unaddressed and never gets healed.

The communities I’ve seen that flourish on mission usually flourish as a family caring for one another. The habit of loving others becomes so ingrained in the community it naturally overflows to those outside of the community.

You don’t JUST aim for community or JUST aim for mission, you aim for the gospel of Jesus Christ, which invites people into a loving family and sends that family on mission to care for others and invites others into that family.

2. Community takes 6-9 months to establish, another 3-6 is a lot of fun & then it gets messy

We left a lot of great friends and family when we moved. Initially, we were wondering who might replace them, but you don’t replace old friends, you make new ones. It’s “not the same” as it was and it shouldn’t be. There’s no need to replace, there’s need to establish new relationships.

It takes a while, usually 6-9 months, then you have fun for a while, but then it gets messy. It seems like we have been taught that messiness should never happen in friendships, but you handle the messiness (the somewhat annoying habits, the differences of opinions, the correction conversations) and work through the messiness, the relationships are better on the other end.

Community takes time, sometimes it’s awkward, messy, and not always fun, but eventually becomes a joy to those who pursue it and commit to it.

1. Despite all the challenges it’s worth it

The last 15 months have been amazing, but they have also been incredibly challenging, and at times painful. We left behind friends, family, and what seemed like the American dream with a house on a cul-de-sac, but it’s been worth it. It can be challenging to be a family in the city, there are plenty of shocking looks and comments about having such a huge family, but it’s worth it.

We are incredibly thankful that we have been able to grow as a family while being a part of a church that cares for one another like a family, but also seeks to care for the neighborhoods of this city as is they are our family as well.

Jesus died on a cross and promised His followers a joyful life, but also that it would involve sacrifices and those would at times be painful. Saying goodbye and missing friends and family has been painful, but there has been a greater understanding of the Christian faith and a greater opportunity to share our faith because of the sacrifices we have felt God has called us to.

There are many more lessons that I have learned and surely many more that I will learn. I hope you have enjoyed my processing of the last year plus and would encourage you to do the same.

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15 Lessons in 15 Months in NYC: 10-6

The end of the year is always a time to reflect over what went on and what you’ve learned from the past year. For me, this is an opportunity to reflect over the last 15 months of being inNew York. These are lessons we have learned personally and from watching and interacting with others in the city. I’ve broken them up into 3 posts because I have a tendency to write too much, on Monday I posted 15-11, today is 10-6, and Friday 5-1. I’d love to hear the lessons you have learned over the past year.

10. Once a pastor, always a pastor
Pastoral ministry is a calling that never stops. Once you take the title of pastor, everywhere you go, you are a pastor. It isn’t reserved for Sundays or office hours, it is a title that comes with expectations. At times this has been difficult for me because I like to “turn off” and have down time, which I had as a Civil Engineer. No one asked me to design a road that would solve their personal traffic problems outside of the office.

This has been good for me, refining me so that I don’t stop pastoring when I come home, and it has challenged me to always be looking to share Christ with my life. It is something I have to remember though, that when we have people in our home from our church or even outside the church, I’m representing the church and Jesus for better or worse.

Honestly, I think most Christians treat their faith as if it has an on and off switch instead of it being constant. The expectations can be, at times, overwhelming and I’m learning to delegate to our deacons and leaders as much as possible and take a refreshing day off, but I’m thankful for this calling. It’s made me a better friend, husband, and father.

9. It takes a city & a smaller community to raise a kid
Kids are a joy to a city with more dogs than children. Even if the stats don’t verify that, it certainly feels that way. It has been amazing to see the demeanor of entire subway change because of our kids. In fact, people go out of their way to help our family get around the city. There is so much to offer our children here, from museums, to zoos, from sports teams to the arts, they are exposed to so much culture and we love it. It’s also been remarkable to see our kids adjust to the space given to them.

It feels as though the city is helping raise our kids, but we also know they need a smaller community that cares for them. Our church has been that community, they are helping raise our kids whether they know it or not. When I try to teach Eli something, I’m not surprised when he tells me he learned that from a teacher in our kid’s ministry or one of his babysitters.

For us, babysitters are part of the family, not people that serve a function. We know our children are better behaved and have more joy when they have a number of people (single, married, male, female) in their lives who love Jesus and love them.

8. Everyone needs community

This is true of everyone, anyone who says differently, either with their words or their lifestyle, is lying and likely lonely. The city has a way of pressing that into you even more. In a city of 8.5 million, it can be a lonely place without people who you can care for and who care for you.

But the reality is that it’s not a city thing, the loss of community results in greater consumerism, discontentment, depression, and loneliness. We have all been made to desire to be known and know others. We thrive in that environment. But it’s never easy and requires sacrifice to have any decent community. From sacrificing with your parenting methods, your schedule, your workload, or your finances, community is worth the cost.

So whether that is paying more to live closer to those you love, letting your kids skip their naptime and risking meltdowns, or choosing to have a little less “me-time”, you won’t miss those things when they result in community.

7. It’s better to be in the city during natural disasters than outside the city
We’ve been in the city during a blizzard and outside the city during an earthquake and a hurricane. For some reason, the city seems to thrive on natural disasters, everyone seems to join forces and be concerned for one another.

But if you are trying to get back into the city, forget about it. We were on vacation for Hurricane Irene while our kids were being babysat in the city. We moved our flights up in hopes to avoid the hurricane, but every airport in theNew York Cityarea went on full shutdown. We had to fly into Washington-Dulles (as the hurricane was hitting), wait out the night with some family members and drive up the next day.

I think this is something I love about the city. It bans together through trial, seeking to persevere together and I believe that is inspiring.

6. This city will make or break your faith

In the bible belt, Christianity at least appears normal. There are plenty of full churches on Sunday and claiming to be a Christian can be an advantage at work or in gathering friendships. There are many who claim to be Christian for its benefits package, but never truly live like they know Jesus.

In the city, there’s no point in faking it. It is a disadvantage in a city that sees churches as harmful to renting space in schools, let alone claims an absolute truth of Jesus being God. I’ve seen many people move to the city and for the first time in their lives are faced with questions of what they really believe. Their family is stretched thin, their job sucks the joy of life out of them, and they wonder if Jesus really is who He said He was, The Lord and Savior who died to pay for the sins of the world, offering forgiveness and life through His resurrection.

There’s no better place to wrestle with those questions than in a community that loves Jesus and takes Him seriously. I’ve seen it firm up people’s faith and unfortunately, I’ve seen people abandon their faith for the pleasures of this world.

The city refines you through its challenges. No matter how great you thought you were, the city will humble you, break you down, but then allow you to be built back up. It’s a strange and beautiful thing to live here. We’re so thankful for the opportunity to be a family in the city.

5-1 hopefully coming Friday…

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15 Lessons in 15 months in NYC: 15-11

The end of the year is always a time to reflect over what went on and what you’ve learned from the past year. For me, this is an opportunity to reflect over the last 15 months of being in New York. These are lessons we have learned personally and from watching and interacting with others in the city. I’ve broken them up into 3 posts because I have a tendency to write too much, so today will be 15-11, Wednesday 10-6, and Friday 5-1.

15. You can’t call another city home and love where you live.

Over the past 15 months, New York has become home for us. When we first moved here, we fell into the same trap of so many transplants, that “home” was where we came from and this is where we live. Vacations become “going home” and the city suffers because you become an extended-stay tourist instead of an invested resident.

Every transplant must make the transition to New York as home and until they do, their love for the city and their community will be lacking.

When New York became the place we called home, a place where we established roots, we took ownership for the condition of our city, for the betterment and enjoyment of our neighborhood. Some say home is where the heart is, but God establishes where we live, so we can make it a home for the benefit of others.

14. You don’t REALLY need 2000sf, all the furniture that fits in it or a dishwasher

We moved from a 3-bedroom house in “everything’s bigger here” Texas to a two-bedroom apartment. We sold, gave away, or threw away about 70% of our stuff and we don’t miss it. Extra space becomes a need for furniture too easily with a big house and one day you wake up to find you don’t even use that two car garage because it’s storing all of your excess.

We’ve learned to live more simply, it’s been challenging, but really refreshing. We left a piece of furniture on the moving truck when we first moved and it was a sign of things to come as we find ourselves looking to avoid clutter for the sake of sanity.

Our 3 kids share a room and they love it (for now). There’s always a tendency to long for more, but we’ve learned (are learning) contentment enables joy to flourish in a home, and to be thankful for things we used to take for granted, like a full-size fridge and oven.

13. Evangelism is more education & advocacy than apologetic debate
When most people think of evangelism, pictures of awkward interactions where you try to convince the uninterested through intellectual arguments are often the first thing to come to mind. There’s also the stereotype of the New Yorker uninterested and hostile to Christianity.

In 15 months, I’ve met just a few hostile to Christianity and most curious about Jesus. Any hostility is mostly due to being uninformed of Jesus and mostly angry at “church”. Most of evangelism has become educating and advocating for who Jesus is, what He has done for everyone, and what He calls a people who represent (the church) Him to live for. From my experience, people here have become interested in hearing more, wanting to have these “deeper conversations” instead of avoiding religious conversations.

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and overall purpose are what convince people of and even desire that truth, not my carefully crafted words. I’ve learned to spend more time discussing these things and listening to actual questions about Jesus.

12. The city forces you to parent more

As a parent in the city, there can be many fears, from losing your kids in the crowds, to the dangers of walking along streets packed with more cars than they were designed to hold. One response to these fears is to shrink back, do less, and try to protect your child from all the dangers.

For us, it has forced us to parent more. To train, equip, instruct, and correct more than we did in the suburbs. It can seem non-stop because of the nature of the city, but I’ve had conversations with Eli & Calvin at their age that I wouldn’t normally have until much older. Things like why people are sleeping on the streets, collecting change on the corners, or performing for money in the subways (the last 2 Eli has thought would be good careers…).

The comforts of the suburbs have a way of hiding things that may need to be addressed while the close quarters of an NYC apartment tend to bring out the best and worst right in front of you, providing an opportunity to parent. For me, it’s made me a better, hopefully wiser, and engaged Dad.

11. God answers prayers big & small

We’ve seen God answer prayers to sell our house, get Eli into a great school, and provide a new apartment when it seemed hopeless.  We’ve also seen God answer the “small” prayers of friends for Eli and Calvin, keeping our kids healthy, and providing community for our family.

God is interested in the mundane and the monumental and prayer has revealed that to be true because He hears and He answers. Not always exactly how we want it, but it’s always been good.

Moving to New York City has blessed our family life, our marriage, and has taught us more than we know. Prayer has taught us and shown us God’s provision in all these things. It’s been a great 15 months.

Lessons 10-6 coming Wednesday.

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TED talk worth watching: The power of vulnerability

This may be the best TED talk I’ve ever watched. It has huge implications for connecting with people, whether it’s marriage, parenting, or friends. It deals with shame, joy, & explains how vulnerability can free us from numbing ourselves to reality.

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Yes, And vs. No, Because

This past August on vacation I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and I’m not ashamed to say that I loved it. I laughed a lot but was also challenged by the leadership lessons that she expressed and learned through her career and from Lorne Michaels.

I started to read it and think about how these lessons could shape the church and the way Christians approach God. One of the lessons she highlights is from her years of improv and specifically the rules of improv, which we used when I participated in Man Question and it changed the whole dynamic of relational interaction. She says this…

The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with evertthing everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own…To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.

When I look at the alternative of YES, AND, it’s NO, BECAUSE which is really the beginning of an argument if you think about it. If someone presents an idea and it’s immediately met with “No, because…” how deflating is that? While Yes, And invites opportunity and creative thinking, No, Because invites debate and to follow the status quo.

She talks about how this plays out in life.

As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?

But as I read it, I really started to think about the difference between church plants and established churches, which is directly related to start-ups & established companies.

Yes, And vs. No, Because in the Church

A church plant approaches everything with Yes, And. The possibilities are endless, but an established church has a No, Because filter that it runs everything through based on traditions, denominations, or “that’s just the way we do it” mentalities.

Now, I’m not suggesting we take a Yes, And approach with theology, but I am saying we do so with the way we approach “doing church” and how the church carries out the mission of God to love and serve your neighbor as yourself. In that realm, the possibilities are endless unless you have a No, Because culture.

The problem is that a No, Because culture kills any chance of creating an innovative environment for methodology. It sees new missional methodologies as challenging your “right way” instead of being open to adopting a new way of doing things that may enable you and your church to bless your neighborhood and thrive as a community that loves one another.

Cultivating a Yes, And culture where it’s “your responsibility to contribute” provides the opportunity to be open to new ideas and even new people speaking into the way things are done. It invites the voices of everyone to take ownership of the outcome.

Even when the And presents a potential contradiction to the initial idea, you are creating a collaborative environment where everyone is engaged and looking to contribute to the solution rather than maintain the status quo.

This is what happened in Man Question discussing masculinity with straight, gay, and bisexual men. The ideas eventually contradicted themselves, but the Yes, And rules provided the environment where everyone was willing to share their ideas and give credence to listen and process the ideas of others. This led to greater and deeper conversations because of the willingness to let an idea run its course with somewhat competing ideas.

When a church adopts a No, Because mentality with its methods, it is beginning the process of dying as a church. It becomes a nostalgic organization looking to keep things the way they were or maintain the current way, instead of seeing the church community do greater things than they’ve ever done.

A church should never abandon the Yes, And with methods.

Yes, And vs. No, Because with God

These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head since August and I mainly thought of them in terms of church until I went to the Brooklyn Tabernacle Prayer Meeting about a month ago.

As I stood with thousands of others praying to God for healing, for reconciliation of marriages, for children to be set free from drugs, I was so challenged that my prayer life was being hindered by a No, Because mentality with God. Instead of asking God to do great things, I was saying “No, God won’t listen to that because there are more important things.” “No, I can’t pray that because I’m had a rough week with too many mistakes in my life.”

Even my theology presented a No, Because roadblock in prayer, saying “No, God doesn’t seem to do the same thing He did in the book of Acts in the Bible so I shouldn’t ask for those things.”

I began to sense that I was living in the No, Because mentality with God that I disliked seeing in the church.

Adopting the Yes, And mentality has changed the way I sit in church meetings discussing our Community Groups, how we equip families, how we empower people to be great at their jobs, secure in their singleness, pursuing covenant marriage at the right time.

It’s also changed how I pray, coming to talk with God with an open-mindedness that He may want to do something outside my theological box I like to put God in so I can manage my relationship with Him.

As the end of the year approaches, we all look back at what we want to change and do differently in the coming year. Adopting a Yes, And mentality may be the best thing you do for your life, your job, your ministry, and your relationship with God.


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Why I’m going to Verge and why you should too

Every year there are hundreds of church conferences where pastors and church leaders gather to collaborate and learn from speakers and breakout sessions. They are usually titled after a motivational word (Exponential, Vault, Catalyst, Unleash) tied to a theme for the conference.

I don’t like most church conferences.

So when I initially heard about Verge when I lived in Austin in 2010, I thought “Another Conference? Is this really necessary?” But since it was in my hometown at the time and focused on Missional Communities, a topic I am passionate about and now work to accomplish, I decided to go.

I was blown away.

It was unlike any church conference I had attended. I am used to a church conference that has all the celebrity pastors and feels more like a sales pitch for the pastor’s church/book/website/resources than about Jesus. When most conferences are promoting theology but lack practicals, or promoting practicals for church growth without good theology, Verge combined good theology with best practices. When many conferences pit the megachurch against the house church, Verge brought the two together and everyone else in between to focus on how each can learn from the other.

It started with Matt Carter & Francis Chan calling us to love Jesus more than our mission or method, what followed were speakers from house churches, global church planting movements, mega-church pastors, mid-size church pastors, and authors coming together to promote Jesus and the mission of the church over any method of church. I attended the pre-conference workshops, the main sessions, the breakouts, and I walked away challenged by truth and equipped for ministry. It’s the reason church conferences exist, but they rarely accomplish this goal.

That’s why I was disappointed to hear there was no Verge Conference in 2011, so I attended Exponential (which I will never do again and wish I would have attended RightNow instead), but it’s also why I’m excited for Verge 2012. Every pastor I meet, I recommend Verge to them because it really is, in my opinion, the best church conference and one of the few I will always attend.

Verge 2012 maintains the focus on missional communities, but has expanded it’s scope to address the impact of the gospel in mercy & justice through their For The City track and the impact of taking the gospel to the nations in their For The Nations track. The speakers continue to range from theologians to practitioners, from house church leaders to megachurch pastors, and everyone in between.

The For The City track has Dr. John Perkins who was a part of the civil rights movement and has done monumental work in establishing lasting Christian community development principles that inform the way we approach mercy & justice. It includes Dave Gibbons, Bob Lupton, and many others who have and are working to fight injustice, poverty, and seeking to extend the mercy of Jesus Christ.

The For The Nations track brings back George Patterson, who came off the stage into the audience at Verge in 2010 to make his point during his message and who has also been a part of starting and multiplying churches through Central America. He is joined by David Platt, author of Radical, and Jeremy Story, who is the president of Campus Renewal Ministries. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy here in New York City and am always encouraged by his heart to see God use the prayers of the church to fuel missions.

Verge was established as a Missional Community Conference, a conference focused on helping communities of believers join Jesus in renewing all things with the message and mercy of His gospel. It continues to bring some of the best thinkers and practitioners in missional communities with Hugh Halter, Alan Hirsch, Neil Cole, Jeff Vandersteldt and many others.

When I attended in 2010 I was a part of a college ministry in Austin while working as civil engineer. It influenced my approach to ministry, but also my approach to work and how I cared for my neighbors. I think that may be what is most unique about Verge, its ability to impact anyone who attends a church with the implications of the gospel let alone those who pastor them.

It’s only $129 (until Feb. 20) for 4 days that will encourage and refresh you as much as challenge you.

That’s why I’m attending Verge 2012 and you should too.

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Happy Birthday Mya!

Friday December 2nd, our baby girl Mya turned 1! We celebrated with Magnolia Cupcakes in the West Village with a number of friends from our church! Here’s a look at our cute little girl over the last year!

Having 3 kids in the city can be quite challenging, but incredibly fun. We love the opportunity it provides to explore parts of the city we would have never imagined existed. Seeing the city through our kid’s eyes is so refreshing and enlightening. Mya is our New Yorker so we are excited to see her grow up in the city.

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