Friday, August 14, 2015

Catalytic Prophetic Entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur is not easy.

There are times when I want to rush out the door as the sun comes up and change the world. Then there are other times when it feels like I want to put up the shutters, lock the door, turn on the TV and forget there is a world out there. The collision of our soul and mind at times create sheer pandemonium within us.

Being a prophetic entrepreneur is even more soul stirring.

In 1984 I visited the UK for the first time. I met a man called Colin Henderson. In our brief corridor conversation, I asked him what he did and he replied "prophetic administrator". This was a phrase I had never heard nor a role I had ever seen practiced.

In my years of serving with the NCMI guys, I found myself stepping into the space often. Seeking to serve Dudley and the movement, I found great pleasure in taking a God idea and architecturally shaping it into form and content - when we found that we were planting churches with guys who were theologically light, we started the International Theological Correspondence Course. When we realized that communication was sorely needed as the ministry grew, we started Letstalk magazine. When we saw that some planters were going out to plant with insufficient training, we started the Church Planters Training course.

We lean into the future, seeking to be those who are seeing it, preparing for it, becoming it. (To quote Dudley).

Being a catalytic prophetic entrepreneur is a road less travelled.

This poorly understood role is essential to keep a movement in its tippey toes, moving forward. Over the last three decades I have seen movements come and go. It has been tragic to see movements drift from their apostolic prophetic moorings to becoming wonderful pastoral gatherings. And some great moves of God have become denominations, primarily now focussed on defending their past.

Living every day with the vulnerable, uncertainty of unchartered waters is both exciting, fun, exhilarating and also scary, challenging and confusing. In the smallest of ways it is both Abrahamic and Moses-like. It is going not knowing. It is looking each day to see what the cloud will do or what the pillar of fire will point to.

It is holding in tension the note of doing the basics well, as well as, leaning into the winds of change. It is not an easy road to travel on for we see through the mists dimly. At times it can make us seem confused, uncertain and changing.

When I look over our years of the Invisible Church, the Glenridge plant, helping launch NCMI, helping pioneer this story in many nations and then replanting Southlands Church in LA, Genesis and the rest, each of these has been the road less travelled. Not the normal, predictable, repetitive or routine, simply seeking to do the old better.

This is not a journey for everyone, I do get that - not by calling or by personality. This is not better than or worse than what others do. It is just different. It is God authored and God empowered. I am grateful God has used us in this journey. We have made way too many mistakes, but as we get older, I guess we are far better at dealing with this roller coaster ride. Sola gratia

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Malibu - our annual gathering for USA planters

Malibu 2015
Engaging Mission
A Conversation for Churches around an Incarnational Life 
Tuesday 6 October 2015
10:00 Mission: A Military Metaphor    Chris Wienand (Mercytown)
          Worship: The Soul of Mission    Daena Dooley (Redemption, Costa Mesa)
11:30 Church on Mission - A Theology   John Mark Comer (A Jesus Church, Portland)
2:00  Breakouts:
Developing a Missional Leadership Culture    Chris Wienand (Mercytown)
Children on Mission    Marci Yu  (Southlands Church, Brea )
3:30  Soccer and Softball (All souls)
6:30  Mission: Reaching those far from God   Tony Rainbow (Victory, Adelaide Oz)
Wednesday 7 October 2015
9:30  Mission: Making Wholistic Disciples   Andy Rogers (Restored, San Diego) 
        Keeping the Community Moving Forward    Phil Wood (Redemption, Costa Mesa)
11:30 Church on Mission - Practice   John Mark Comer 
(We will talk around their approach to missional communities and membership)
2:00 Breakouts:
Marriage - The Foundation for Mission    Meryl Wienand (Mercytown)
Thrift Stores - A new Frontier for Immigrant Mission   George King (Thrift2gift)
6:30 Mission: What America Needs   Matt Larson (Anthem, LA)
As we desire to be a crew joined together relationally, we have planned to give Thursday to having fun on the beach at Malibu from 9:00 till 2:00 (children most welcome). Surfboards, SUP, volleyballs will be provided. you bring the fun

“Church Planting Cohort Day” Hosted by Anthem Church, Led by  Matt Larson & Andy Rogers, from 10:00 until 4:00. Accommodation is provided if needed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Church Planting #5 Partnership

The Tour de France finished on Sunday.

My love for the race started when we were vacationing in Mauritius many years ago. Not being much of a cyclist myself, I had no affection for the race. However being in this little cabin with one grainy TV in French, M and I tried to decipher what was going on with the different colored journeys, tactics and the sheer French countryside beauty.

This 2015 race will probably go down as one for the ages. What caught my attention was the intent of the riders who were lying in second, third, fourth, fifth place to isolate the leader, Chris Froome, from his Sky team. The tactic was "isolation" in order to defeat. It was fascinating and captivating, but they were not able to split the team. Sky held together and Froome won.

The church planting parallel was obvious to me. We were never created to be alone. From the garden, through the Abrahamic call to faith, we have been called to a glorious "togetherness". At the first level it is in marriage, then the family as a planting team, then a core group and then lastly with apostles.

I am not sure we can do this "church planting thing"without all these "togethernesses". The mistake the planter makes is to think that some of these "togethernesses" are optional. But they are not. If Froome got split from the Sky team he simply would not have won.

Paul writes of the partnership the plant needs with apostles "because of our partnership in the gospel" Phil 1:5 and then again "... church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving..." Phil 4:15. Lest we think it is simply one man's perspectives, John also writes "I John your brother and partner in the tribulation" Rev 1:9. There is a simplicity to this, that is so empowering. It is relational, it is ongoing, it is personal, it is intimate. The church plant needs the foundation of the apostle (as we saw last time). But there are other times when the plant needs the personal touch - especially in times of tribulation (like trouble with a leader, divisiveness with a congregant, poor doctrine leaking into the community, bombastic leadership styles, moral failure...)

Unfortunately, the church is fond of surrogates. We let scripture slide for personal and cultural preferences, hence the high degree of plant implosion.

These surrogates include, joining an organization, denomination or a planting network, working with sister church models or simply being on our own. Whatever the alternative, if it is not in the text, we are ignoring a huge cornerstone of the partnerships we need to get that plant of ours powering.

Who is the apostle you are journeying with?
When and how do they engage the community personally, intimately, affectionately?
What the dirt starts flying, who will get on the plane and come and walk you through the pain of your tribulation?

Jesus loves his bride. He has thought of every eventuality. We are simply foolish to think we can improve on his design.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Church Planting Mistakes #4 Evangelism

I was sitting shooting the breeze with a church planter recently. We were sharing stories, when he told me of THAT Sunday when they gathered and there him, his wife, and his children were the sole worshippers. That was that. We laughed together and he added: "You haven't planted until you have had THAT Sunday". The laughter that ensued veiled the deep memory that can break the church planter.

Church planting is the great divine vehicle to establish new gospel frontiers, seeing men, women, boys and girls hear the gospel of grace as many times as possible.

However, the pressure to 'succeed' is overwhelming. The internal pressure that does attach itself to the planter, is way too much. To measure one's self worth and value to the number of people who gather in a room on a Sunday is a very dangerous and fickle traveling companion.

There is pressure from the sending church. The questions that are asked tend to add to this weight - "how many people were there Sunday?", "have you got a cool venue?", "do you have a good worship team?", "and children's ministry?"...

These are not good questions in those early years.

These plants are firstly there to make His name great, by seeing many come into a living faith in Christ. This evangelistic priority should drive the planter. The pressure to 'grow' often leads to the gathering of those who have left other churches with a limp. Now, of course we love the local church and we want to see every believer find a spiritual home. Even with David, those who joined him were disillusioned, discontented, in debit. We do want to give all a second chance.

However, there also needs to be significant wisdom and discernment. Too many church planters have been dashed by the arrival of a newbie, who says that this is the "best church ever". Soon their own disgruntlement become evident and they leave loudly, destructively and painfully. Often the desperate planter will try anything to grow - including marketing strategies. Please don't be seduced by the short sighted surrogate growth.

Establishing a community is first and best built, on those who come to redemption in this house. These sons and daughters tend to buy into the story and sacrifice for the journey. We always remind ourselves: "And God added to their number those who were being saved" Acts 2:47.

Dear planter as Paul said to Timothy: "For this time, do the work of the evangelist" 2 Tim 4:5. Ask God for that mantle. Secondly there is a grace gift called "evangelist" Eph 4:11 who can come into your church to stir your folks to develop an evangelistic culture {Alpha has proven to be a huge tool for developing a culture of evangelism - thanks Nicky Gumble and all at HTB}

Church planting is not defined by how many people we get into a room. It is seeing many come into an exquisite faith story with the giver of grace, the dispenser of redemption. Jesus is his name. That is what we do.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Church Planting Mistakes #3 Foundations

I love the book of Ephesians. It is this exquisite letter written by a planter Paul, writing back to the church he helped plant in Acts 19. He is writing back with affection, intimacy, and fatherly passion.

In one of the weighty moments he writes: "apostles and prophets lay foundations" Eph2:20

What does that mean? How does that work? Who can I get?

The statistics point to many churches folding within the first year, then more in the next three years and certainly by five years, there is evidence that most church plants have folded. What are these mistakes and why are they repeated?

One of the prevalent reasons is the absence of solid a/p foundations. Foundations are needed for every  building / temple to stand firm, strong, solid and essential for healthy church. In God's architected design, he crafted a skill set within the apostles and prophets to ensure that the correct foundations are laid. There are some foundational pieces that pastors, teachers, evangelists and the priesthood simply cannot lay. That is not my crazy idea. That is what the text teaches and what I have seen and experienced over almost 40 years of doing church planting.

It is pretty clear that the "apostle and prophet foundations" are grace gifts as seen in Ephesians 4. They are not the Old and New Testament. Jesus called the old "the law and the prophets" and the new was not even written. We need  these gifts coming and digging the trenches alongside us, on the ground, understanding our story - not professionals watching and commenting from a distance.

At the risk of being simplistic let me suggest the foundations are made up of four cornerstones:

1.   Theology - a strong Christocentric matrix, rich in Trinitarian application, kingdom advancing and all bible instruction;

2.   Missiology - a clear sense of what God calls the church to be and do generically and specifically. Each church have a deep desire to see men and women, boys and girls come to a living and rich faith in Christ as well as embrace the specific mandate the Father has given them;

3.   Ecclesiology - help process what is truly biblically prescriptive, prophetically essential and culturally necessary;

4.   Leadership - as seen in Acts 20, there is a clear textual yardstick for who qualify for leadership, what their roles are and how they are to lead. Why too many mistakes are made with leadership matters, is that the business model is used way more than the biblical approach.

Buildings collapse because they have inappropriately weak foundations. Lets get this one right to stop the implosions that are causing so much pain.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Church Planting Mistake #2 Mission

Paul Johnson gives a great description for the mobilization of young Europeans to discover the lands beyond. He wrote "As Christopher Columbus said, men crossed the Atlantic primarily in search of gold. But they were also idealists. These adventurous young men thought they could transform the world for the better. Europe was too small for them - for their energies, their ambitions and their visions... the mixture of religious zeal, personal ambition and the lust for adventure which inspired generations of Crusaders was the prototype for the enterprise of the Americas" [A History of the American People pg3]

We are created to be adventurers. When God spoke life into our DNA to "increase, multiply, fill the earth, subdue" there was an accompanying spirit of adventure loaded into us.

Making sure our mission is clear, is essential. When we listen carefully to most young planters, they speak of how they are going to run a gathering - what kind of venue they have rented, who the musos are, who will run kids ministry...

But is that church planting? Each church plant needs to embrace the generic and the specific - the generic what all churches have as a base mission. The specific - what the Father specifically wants our plant to become / to do.

These are such large conversations so forgive my brevity - each church exists as a catalytic, strategic piece to "disciple all nations". That is a hugely exciting, expansive sense of mission. It is NOT to run a great gathering, OR to develop some cool programs, OR get a cool building OR to accumulate the floating mass who will make me look good in the short term. It is NOT to simply be a fellowship forum, spot to debate philosophies or trends OR a platform for social justice OR a political voice.

At its base, we want to see the gospel preached to bring every man, woman and child come into a living and vital relationship with Christ. We want to see them discipled then embrace the advancing of the kingdom. Every plant lives to be an example of the "kingdom come, your will be done"

But then, every church plant needs  to have a clear sense of personal mission beyond that generic obedience. Just as the Lord spoke to the Ephesians church to change or they will have their lamp stand removed, so it is that every plant has a very specific and unique assignment. Here are some modern metaphors that may help.

We exist because, God has called us to be a:
1.   Lighthouse to serve and empower the other churches in the area with a large light
2.   Harbor to be a safe haven for ships to come to port to heal up, but then they get back to the high seas where they belong,
3.   Hospital to be a community of healing - body and soul, so catalyze them back into their Jesus story,
4.   Bootcamp to get the new recruits in and to ready them for their divine assignments,
5.   Family to raise and release folks to multiply new communities, just like our children leave home to start new families - something desired and celebrated...

Lacking to define our mission clearly, is to call folks to a misty mission - one that will lead to frustration, miscommunication and often splits. In business terms, we are called to answer the 5 whys... Why are we planting a church?... Why?... Why?... Why?... Why? That should get us closer to clarity, which will lead to ownership and in turn lead to sacrifice.

Church Planting Mistakes #1 Motive

I love church planters and church planting.

The stats of lasting church plants are mixed, varied and not always encouraging. That smell and taste of new "church planting trenches," is my delight, yet we have to reflect with sober faith, on how we can do this great gospel assignment far better.

So, it is a good exercise to ponder on the mistakes that do lead to stumbling or even failure.

It would seem to be true, that one of the big reasons for stumbling is motive - why guys go out to plant. Here are a few really poor reasons.

1.  "It is the cool thing to do right now" - as with other societal groupings, the church is not devoid of trends and peer pressures. As much as the hipster styles as replicating themselves across the western globe, so too church planting can be the new adventure that seems tantalizing and exciting. Not a good reason.

2.   "I want my own story" - in the late 1800's in England, the older son tended to get the family business and estate. The young brothers went to the military or ministry to carve out a good socially reputable career. Simply wanting to craft your own story is not a good reason. When the bullets start flying, we certainly need more than ambition to stand strong.

3.   "We can't see eye to eye, so lets plant out with you" - this "splant" appears to be a face saving way to detract from the brewing conflict that cannot be resolved, so planting seems an honorable alternative. Oh dear. This is a recipe for more pain and anger than resolution at home base.

4.   "We plant churches" - whilst I would love this culture to permeate through more churches, it does not erase the notion that one only goes to plant because the Father has clearly spoken. It is not "the thing to do," nor is it "multiplying a brand" with all the support that that brings, nor is it "the next step in a career in ministry". That rank corporate influence has done the church more harm than good.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it does facilitate a conversation for potential planters that can be helpful

Monday, July 20, 2015

Praying perfect peace

Love this early Monday morning.

This was a big weekend. At many levels, one has to remain in His presence, even when the hustle and bustle of life demands more than you feel you can give. Or, when the enemy sneaks in like a flood and we have just had some big LA rains), the battle still belongs to the Lord.

"You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock"
Is 26:3 - 4

This is an exquisitely intimate and affectionate text.

There is so much that demands our minds focus and priority. But the prophet knew something. He knew that we all long for peace. We all deeply desire that inner rest no matter what turbulence around us, seeks to overwhelm us. That anchor is only found in one place. That courage is found only in one person - Jesus our rabbi redeemer.

Trust in him as the uncertainty of political fragility, economic volatility, relational mediocrity, squeezes in on us. Our trust, daily, verbally, mentally, emotionally is simply placed in that one man, the God - man Jesus, our everlasting Rock. He is the giver of peace, perfect peace.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Next Generation

I had the huge privilege of being back in Portland this last weekend.

Now, I don't know if I take good weather, or if good weather follows me, but Portland was exquisite. The warm summer weather, seemed to make the city come alive. The Sunday afternoon was abuzz with people. In downtown, every cafe, restaurant and eatery was filled with very happy people spilling onto the sidewalk. Alex, Kate and I ate a most outstanding pasta restaurant, who make the pasta onsite. Simply delicious.

But my true privilege was staying with John Mark and Tammy Comer, their 3 amazing children and ministering in this impressive "A Jesus Church - Bridgetown".

I am always nervous to flatter - as that corrupts. However, we do need to celebrate what and where the favor of God rests. At any moment of our 2000 year journey, God uses both the old war horses but is also readying the next generation of leaders in the wings. Some will try to grab the headlines early - and there is always a price tag for that (remember the prodigal son's initial mistake was simply wanting to take his inheritance early...) Others will endeavor to step out of the lonely, places and spaces before the Father has fully readied them ( like Elijah we have to be OK with the loneliness that is God authored. Ravens will feed us and the brook will nourish us as God forges us in the isolated places - we can't bypass that moment in our story.)

However, we will err greatly if we are not watching to see who God is nourishing at the brook... what their message is, as it will most definitely challenge us... how God is teaching them and developing their journey.

There are about 20 or so essential emerging ministries in the nation right now. They are humble, and highly intentional grace gifts. They are staying out of the limelight and will not be seduced into celebrity status.  They are deep thinkers with a passionate love for the text. They are hungry for more of the Holy Spirit and are forging some strategic architectural pieces for an unfolding ecclesiology.

They will catalyze the church in this nation over the next 25 years. We ignore them at our loss. We criticize them at our foolishness. We embrace them as the future demands it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Persevering Prayer

The call to prayer is clear and loud.

Of course that always remains essential for the church, but this time it is not normal. There is a deeper more sublime and urgent call coming from heaven.

I gave this talk at Mercy Town Church last Sunday.

Hopefully you will listen, enjoy and be empowered by it:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Prayer II - Abide

"Abide" is such a fabulous old fashioned word.

There are some words that get lost in the folds of time. Their original punch seems forgotten in the modern vernacular. "Abide" is such a powerful bible word that is worthy of rediscovery. Its call is deeper than at first read. Jesus uses it eleven times in this text, so it is a big word in this teaching. (John 15)

John's gospel is loaded with the "I am's". He has an amazing ability to take us on a journey of the depth of his Jesus. He seems to highlight and draw attention to aspects of Jesus that the other authors are less focussed on.

John seems to have been the "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 21:20). This remarkable intimacy is further reflected when, at the last supper, John was "leaning against Jesus" (John 13:25). Surely then, this is the disciple we want to learn from. John's clear special place with Jesus, draws us close to hear about "abiding".

"Abide" is translated "Remain with me" (NIV), "Stay with me" (Aramaic Bible in Plain English), "Live in me" (God's Word), "Continue in me" (Weymouth New Testament).

I suspect prayer starts here. Before we get into the world of wonder and complexity of the various prayer forms, we are to engage in the simplicity of being "attached to the vine". Finding myself grafted in Jesus as the vine, is not simply a one off affair. Yes in salvation, being born again, happens once at the point of repentance and redemption. However, keeping my life flourishing in the vine, is a daily space of drinking and drawing from Jesus our source of God life.

Daily we can hear his voice. Daily we delight to sing his praise. Daily we can reflect on his scriptures. Daily we are privileged to remind ourselves of his promises. Daily we can enjoy the Father's presence of comfort, assurance, correction and affirmation. Daily the Holy Spirit can teach us, revealing the transformative truths of the text in our lives.

This is not a demand or a law, but a glorious privilege to spend time with the only true God, the All Mighty, Omnipotent God who is personal, intimate and who speaks to us! This is an honor we simply cannot ignore.

We all develop a unique devotional journey. Here is mine, if it helps:

For some 40 years now,
I wake up before the family,
Get my Espresso and Banana (I know, such a sentimental traditionalist)
Open my Journal and Write
(Record what he has done, what I have done - good or bad, what I need him to speak into)
Read 3 chapters  - 1 x The Law, The Prophets, The New Testament
I document the big verses / phrases that the Holy Spirit highlights - I am expecting the Father to speak to me - personal, family, pastoral, leadership, surprises, prophetically, correction, global gospel focus,
Then I pray... firstly for my family, then my community, followed by my global brotherhood and the church plants I have the privilege of working with, and the areas where I am weak and need him,
Then I praise... I do fall short on this one sometimes - busyness, distraction can keep my personal worship a little light, but I love worship. It refreshes me, restores and washes my soul and strengthens my spirit - making much of him and so much less of me.

I hope this helps.
"Abiding could really mean being totally devoted to him!"

Friday, June 12, 2015

Raising the tide of Prayer I

I have loved the last few months.

God is so incredibly kind. He is ever teaching us, transforming us into his likeness and into his deeds, so we can partner with Him in these gospel adventures.

Prayer. A simple word that most of us limp with. It is a word that creates in us a reminder of what we don't do enough of or well enough. Yet it is a beautiful word. It speaks of a God who is not a distant deity, disengaged from our world, challenges and celebrations. It speaks of a redemption story that allows us to be reconciled to a loving, caring God who is intimate, who speaks and who is passionate about our life's journey.

A small group of us prayed together on Wednesday night. We framed our time of prayer around the Lord's Prayer - no, not the one He uses to teach us to pray. Rather, the one He actually prays. (John 17)

Here are our pointers:

1.   Glorify! Amazing how the text always points to Jesus. It is humbling to start our prayer like this. It will then follow with "not my will but yours be done". It is worship that captives us. It is adulation that declares His wonder and majesty. It is reverence that reminds us just how holy and all powerful he truly is.

2.  Know you! The early church revealed remarkable community. As they found their God life, it was loaded with meals, fun, laughter, discipleship, teaching and prayer. Yet, the load punchline was "and the Lord added to their number daily, those who are being saved". A truly healthy church is a church that 'increases' through men and women, boys and girls coming into a revelation of a living Jesus faith. So, we prayed passionately for unsaved family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, coaches of children's activities... Oh Jesus that 'they may know you, the only true God'

3.  I have kept them! Jesus is very passionate in crying out to the Father for those that He has loved, taught and discipled. 'Keep them from the evil one' was His cry. In our community, there has been such an assault against marriages. The enemy has snuck in and tried to bully the marriages into destruction. We are pounding the throne of grace for the sake of our marriages. Some have stood strong. Some have teetered on the brink of defeat. Others have not made it. But we will not give up for these marriages. Jesus was and is praying for them. And so will we.

4.  They may all be one! Disunity, divisiveness and the community's demise is always on the radar of the enemy's devices. Over her history, our community has had two splits. The enemy got it right. We cannot be 'unaware of the devil's devices'. If a strategy has worked before, he will try it again. Jesus models this beautifully. He does not become a 'ghost buster' looking for demons around every corner. Rather, he prays, petitions and pleads for unity. We know, this brings such a smile to the Lord's face that he cannot help himself but 'commands a blessing'. Make us one oh Lord!

5.  I have sent them into the world! Mission, oh what a sweet word. What a privilege that we are now to sent into the world to complete the great Jesus assignment - 'greater works than these will he do'. Jesus did not isolate us into monastic communities, closeted away from the world. Rather He catapults us to the frontline of new gospel frontiers to bring a broken world His extraordinary grace. Each believer on assignment, with the joy of being an ambassador of the most High in our world.

These are prayers worth praying...

Friday, February 6, 2015

Mercy Town Morning

The new adventure has begun.

Last Sunday I had the privilege of contributing for the first time as part of the Mercy Town community. So I have to be honest and say, it was a rather vulnerable morning. We were in a new hall, with new layout, and for some of the folks it was vulnerable having a new member of the team who was going to provide some leadership, adding to what has been laid in to the foundation of the community for the last few years.

I saw eyes looking at me - some delighted for the new adventure; some intrigued by what the future may look like; and I think some were close to fearful - 'to what extend is our world about to change?'

The answer to all those questions is simply "We do not know? God rarely does things our way". It is such a privilege to join in such a wonderful God story with an established, raw, naked, honest sense of community.

Maybe one of the most obvious questions I asked myself the week before was: "Who was God going to send us?"

That was not very difficult to answer. The community was already full of "dones" & "nones".

"Dones" are those who are "done with church". whatever their experience may be, they love Jesus but have often been deeply disillusioned by the excessive professionalistic, corporate nature of the church. Added to this they may have had some relational experiences that have damaged their weary souls. David Kinnaman calls them the "Nomads and Exiles". But the Spirit of God has drawn many of them them back to this authentic community. More of them are coming!

"Nones" are those who have no or little Jesus or church exposure. They are wonderfully real, raw and often aggressively anti. Their language is crusty. Their perceptions are in no way biblical and their questions are deeply truthful, without Christianizing them. Many more of these are on their way to us. Are we OK with that?

That is who we believe will come into our world. Are we ready for more just like us to join the journey? We have been faithful with the little, now the Father will afford us the opportunity to be faithful with the many.

Fun times at the frontline of LA urban evolution.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Some Missional Thoughts

Some of my thoughts on being ‘missional’:
  • The Gospel centrality has to be the hub around which every thing spins – that means:
      • Understanding the full width the 
        • Creation,
        • Rebellion,
        • Redemption,
        • Consummation,
      • Land all our preaching in the gospel – to provide meaning, clarity, liberty,
      • The key to our discipleship,
    • The Priesthood Priority - of all believers must find expression both inside and outside the community,
    • The Family Model – this mindset requires us to see healthy kingdom minded families as the foundation for all missional activities,
    • The Missionary Mindset - Every believer should see themselves as being both incarnational [to serve their community] as well as missional [to save their community]
    • The Zip code Ownership - Missional believers see that God has ‘ordained the time and places where they should live’ – this means that the perfect storm in their lives take place where talents, giftings, relationships, vocation, the gospel and context come together,
    • The Cobbler Connection - Every person’s spiritual journey is valid and essential. The attractional model empowers the superstars to great acts of faith. The missional revelation empowers all believers to do ‘good works God has prepared in advance for us to do’ Eph 2,
    • The Cultural Conversation - Exegeting culture is the second language of this missionary – there is an understanding that I must adjust to impact my world but never at the expense of scripture,
    • The Contextual Evolution - A missional mind is never stagnant. By its very foundation it is adjusting as the people, context and situation requires… the wineskin changes to accommodate the wine,
    • The Poor Partnership - They never forget the poor…it is a matter of continual kingdom focus,
    • The Prayer Passion – It is impossible to enter the world of missional impact without a weighty theology of prayer, matched with a sustained lifestyle of prayer and fasting with appropriate spiritual warfare,
    • The Ant Trail – we need both observer sharpness matched with revelatory edginess to discern where the flow trails of city life is,

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cultural Questions we must answer

As we step into the Mercy Town story tomorrow, [very excited ] I am busy reading much on the question of mission, culture, context and the sacred text.

Here is a summary that Ed Stetzer uses of the questions we have to ask stepping into a new cultural context:

Ed Stetzer quotes Steffen on the list of question that we need to ask when entering a culture:
  • What is the worldview of the target audience?
  • What is the culture’s decision-making pattern?
  • What does it cost a person in this culture to become a Christian?
  • What redemptive analogy is best for this culture?
  • How does the culture view Christianity?
  • What does the culture understand about the basic components of the gospel story?
  • Is this culture based on shame or guilt?
  • How will culture understand Christian rituals?
  • What is the best delivery system for exposing the people of this culture to the gospel?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mercy Town - The Church Plant

It was a most wonderful Sunday ministering to the Bridgetown Church in Portland. John Mark Comer and the crew are doing a truly remarkable job at engaging a very disinterested Pacific North West with the gospel of Jesus. Their ability to live in both the large crowd space as well as the small intimate, missional space, is a testimony of their tenacity to favor neither, over the other.

This Sunday M and I will be prayerfully released from Southlands Church - a community we led for 14 years and have loosely been based out of for the last 4 years. When we were flying over the Atlantic to come and lead her back in 1996, I felt the Lord say to me "It would be very hard to leave... when the time comes". I never knew what that meant until now.  For various reasons reasons it has been one of the most difficult things to do.

Then Sunday night we will be set in to Mercy Town church in the Pasadena area of LA. Choosing our language very wisely, we are joining the MT story, as we are added to the elder / pastoral team bringing our gifts and contributions  - leadership, vision casting, a global gospel story and teaching.

Jesus said: "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up" Matt 15:13.

I would love to blog you through our journey. This is a remarkable community, planted around 4 years ago. They have some huge muscle groups - like doing life together, a love for the sacred text, worship that fills my life, servant hearted, generosity. But they also lack some key ingredients to be a truly healthy New Testament church.

It is a huge privilege to come into this amazing family and to help "set in order that which is lacking" Tit 1:5. What they have is beautiful. We will add to the story without dispensing with what already exists.

Over the next months I will blog around the story. With Glenridge Church we planted back in the  80's, with a small group of friends. With Southlands Church we replanted, taking an existing but broken church on a journey back to health and multiplication. Now we are so privileged to listen, learn and lead as we help build Mercy Town into a growing, multiplying, mature, beautiful community.

She is planted by the Lord. Of that we are certain. Now the next chapter in the adventure begins.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

How should I pray for Me?

I love the year starting off with a bang - and 2015 certainly has.

Pulling down the Christmas decorations is always kinda sad, another moment, rich in family and memories is over - with all that we have as the best of Christmas traditions. Spinning our eyes toward this new year, requires finding our new God-grace rhythm, matched with the big God ideas that we will discover with our communities over the next months.

Of course for us, we are stepping into the Mercy Town story, fully on the 25th of January, so that is like Christmas with a new baby - loads of excitement.

But preparing our hearts of the new adventure is essential. In fact, knowing how to pray for ourselves is possibly one of the least understood components of many a christian, especially leaders. We may be really good at presenting our petition lists to the Father. We may even be good at personal worship. But how do we pray for ourselves in a way that keeps our soul pure, clean, light, healed?

Using Psalm 51 as the matrix here are a few under-developed thoughts:

Intimacy vs Function
Our time with our Father is and must remain, a "date with Dad". He is neither our valet, always on standby to serve our needs, nor is he the harsh taskmaster, forever demanding more of us. When David cries out "Cast me not away from your presence", he is saying, 'please do not distance yourself from me - that is the thing I fear the most'. We so dearly need to find our identity in being sons and daughters of the most high, and not be defined by our position, title or role. The latter will certainly change, while the former should only deepen.

True North vs Drift
I remember seeing a movie when I was about 12, of a boy who is flying to meet his father when, the light aircraft he is flying in crashed in the Namib desert, killing the pilot. This young boy is left to survive in the desert against all odds. One of the final scenes in the movie, sees the boy, now somewhat delirious, pushing on whilst muttering to himself "My father will find me". As the camera pans out, the audience sees that the boy is pushing on, but his bias actually has him walking in circles.
We must orientate ourselves to "true north" daily. Our time of prayer draws us back to the anchor of our souls, so we are not drawn to walking in circles because of our propensity to build, erroneously around our strengths or because we are being blindsided by our weakness. The Father will speak to us.
David says "Let me hear joy and gladness [vs 8]... restore to me the joy of my salvation [vs12]. May I suggest, when the joy goes, we have probably left the trail of divine destiny.
Brokenness vs Bruising
Simply stated [in all its complexity, we are custodians of our souls, we simply cannot let our souls remain  butchered!.
"Let the bones you have broken, rejoice" [vs 8].
These early morning times require us to i) forgive ourselves for our own sins; ii) forgive others for the sins they have committed against us. This glorious assignment is called 'expiation'. Time and space does  not allow me to explore the wonder of this great grace gift, but we simply cannot move forward without perpetually settling that God breaks us to soar us to greater heights. We get bruised when we sin against ourselves and others sin against us. We cannot live with these bruisings without dealing with them. They will grow, deepen, develop into the cancer of anger, bitterness and resentment. That will eat us away.

Discerning vs Dismissing
We are a people at war. We simply cannot forget that - to use a military slogan "Carelessness costs lives". David should have been at war, but dismissed its relevance when he saw Bathsheba. We have an enemy. He knows both our vulnerable points and our vulnerable moments [he waits for an opportune time]. As Richard Forster wrote of so truthfully in "Money, Sex and Power", we are all vulnerable to at least one of these major collision forces where darkness and light meet in our frail humanity.
These personal prayer times act as thermometers for the condition of our soul and its vulnerability to the enemy's devices. We can discern it and find the great grace of the Father to stand strong in the face of the onslaught.

So, how can we respond to this matrix for personal prayer? Our exquisite soul does yearn for this kind of protection.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Why do I still love Jesus and His Bride?

Yesterday we had loads of fun at Exploration [our monthly gathering of pastors and planters in So Cal, conversating around matters of common import]. Using the TEDtalk model of shorter discussions, we looked at how we can deepen our devotion times with Jesus -

Lisa Proctor did a fabulous job talking very honestly about preparing our soul privately so as to be publicly helpful;
Todd Proctor walked us into his private devotional world esp in worship; 
I stepped in for Ger Jones who was not able to be there, chatting around "How do I pray for me?"
Matt Larson journeyed us through "Meditation and the Sacred Text".

So stepping up to the plate a little late, I asked myself some very honest questions. The first was - "Why do I still love Jesus and His bride after all these years?" I can't say it has always been easy. There was a window of around 8 years that were excruciatingly painful. But in the light of 30 plus years of ministry there has been some very amazing God times of privilege as well.

Here are some of my honest thoughts as I sought to answer that question:

After around 30 years of ministry and around 35 years of walking with Jesus, I would have to say, the reasons I still love the Lord and his church are because:

  1. An incredible wife who has loved Jesus and me more than she has loved her dreams and desires - Meryl has been a most wonderful God-gift to me. Not trying to be disparaging, she has never been a light-weight cheerleader. She bought into the God journey with the same sacrifice and passion as I did.  With her deep love for the bride and her profound prophetic insight she has given herself away without reserve. Matching that with weighty wisdom, she has been a sublime co-laborer in the kingdom. She taught me much about that kind of love.
  2. My kids who have loved the Lord and his bride and seen our journey as theirs - They have been amazing as they have dived into this adventure where "we have no talent for certainty" [thanks Daena for the Jane Austen quote]. All of our major moves of obedience have come out of left field, where the pathway that the Father opened for us, was not one we wanted, imagined or even prayed for. The kids took the steps with us, without combat yet seeking to find their own faith for the vulnerabilities.
  3. My friends who have loved me for who I am, not for the gift I bring, when the ‘friendship’ is purely functional, it will come to an end when the assignments ends - We have all tried to build around and through a relational matrix. Sometimes we have done it well and way too many times, we have done it badly. Some of the most painful lessons we had to learn were those relationships that were really true and valuable but simply for that season of function. When the function changed, so the relationships drifted to the album of yesterday's memories. That was very difficult to understand initially. But then through the mists of heart ache come the true and authentic friendships, that were never created for a one off season only. These men and women who love us for who we are, without position or title. This exquisite love, deep and meaningful, has withstood the deepest and darkest days. I love Jesus and His bride in part, because these friends love me, warts and all. 
  4. My devotional life - when God called me to himself in the early hours of the morning, not in legalism but in love - I have no doubt that Jesus calling me to the early hours with him everyday has been my most sublime empowering moments. This was never a duty or an obligation. I wanted to have my daily 'dad' time! This was not Chris the vision-caster, or the ideator, or the apostolic-catalyst, pastor or teacher. This was the Father / son daily date. It is about Him and me. The conversation is richly documented in my journal, as each day's conversation unfolded. Here I could be honest - fully, completely without the slightest fear that he would dismiss my naked humanity, in despair. Rather, he would love me, correct me, listen to me and leave me with a fresh glimmer of hope and a new well from which to draw.
Thank you for reading this honest reflection. There is no time to let our light of love grow dim. The bride deserves rivers of living water that comes from our life and lips. He is worthy our praise and she is worthy of our love.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Mountain IV - Fight

There is a little story, often forgotten on the broader narrative of the Samson account. Found in Judges 14 it deals with a dual dimension - the works of men and the ways of darkness.

Whenever we embark on a new adventure, climbing a new divine mountain, we cannot expect a free 'hall pass' from the enemy. He is totally committed to our demise, seeking to disqualify us at least, at best to destroy us entirely.

The fresh mountain air and the adrenal pumping through our veins, gets us to throw the backpack on our back and get us marching off loaded with romantic idealism. However the creaking back, rubbed by the pack that was suppose to be our life source, creates in us a sense of wonder "What was I thinking?" - as these thoughts begin to infiltrate our deeper senses.

In this little story we get a peek into the strategy designed to get us to give up the fight:

1.   Entice - we are all vulnerable to money, sex or power. Which one will the enemy use to buckle our knee? Discerning this is a life saver. Dismissing this is a life destroyer;
2.   Intimidate - we have an enemy who wants to overwhelm us with impossibility. But that is the language of faith. He is not impressive. The cross looms over his efforts. It is simply our mandate to remind him of that;
3.   Impoverish -we all suffer from the fear of failure... none as great a fear as financial depravity. Many a great act of obedience has been stifled by the fear of poverty, that is a heart-pounding, throat-closing, palm-sweating fear;
4.   Emotion - we are living in a world increasingly governed by the anchor less foundation of feelings. Drifting from the moorings of the sacred text, the power of community and the conviction of obedience, all that is left is our emotions, and they are cataclysmic as a solid rock;
5.   Sustained pressure - we are vulnerable to persistence. Like the torture of dripping, the ceaseless, endless, continuous whispers, wear us down - sometimes to the point of surrender.

This is not a blog of defeat. Actually, it is a narrative of victory. Samson won! The gracious Father has put us on a new journey loaded with overwhelming odds against us. We have an enemy who wages war on this great kingdom advancing climb. But "if God is for us who can be against us?". This is a fight worth winning.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Mountain III - Forgiveness

This dramatic moment of a fig tree that dies, a temple that is turned upside down, a call to mountaineering as seen in Mark 11, is extraordinary at least.

We have seen so far that God is in the new adventure business. Bigger than Patagonia, more challenging than the Amazon, more captivating than Everest, God in his kindness, perpetually puts us on a journey of challenge - that can only be achieved in partnership with him.

But that is only part one. Jesus also sent the disciples out two by two. Our mountain will only be crested when we do it in community. That notion offends the rampant individualism that holds our western world in hostage. "It is not good for man to be alone" is still a trumpet call that resonates from heaven.

But to our conversation today.

The backpack needed for this new mountain has NO room for extras. As the movie Wild indicates, it is the amateur's mistake to take too much stuff on the trail. The backpack must only carry what is absolutely necessary for the task ahead. All other pieces must be left behind.

That is where forgiveness comes into play. We all end the fig tree season with hurts, pain, disappointments. It may be that we feel let down by those we expected more from. It may be the pain of broken promises, acts of betrayal or unkindness. It may have been intentional hurt or unintentional deeds that led to a broken heart. None of us are exempt from this.

However we will not make it to the top of the new mountain if our backpacks still try to carry these hurts up the hill. We simply will not make it. I know. I have had to empty my backpack of the same senses of betrayal, hurt, broken promises.

Miroslav Volf writes: "To forgive means to accuse wrongdoers, while at the same time freeing them of the charges against them, releasing them from guilt and eventually letting the wrongdoing slip into oblivion. The removal of guilt is a crucial element of forgiveness. If guilt remains, forgiveness hasn't happened...
From Christ, we receive the power and the willingness to forgive. Christ forgives through us and that is why we can forgive...
Just as Christ grieved more over our sin than over the injury our sin caused him, so we grieve for others if Christ lives in us...
To forgive is to give people more than their due, it's to release them from the debt they have incurred and that's bound to mess up the books...
Forgiving the unrepentant is not an optional extra in the Christian way of life; it's the heart of the thing..."

As I have been reading his book "Free of Charge" I have realized how shallow my personal grasp of this revelation truly is. Over the last years I have experienced such deep pain from "enemies", friends, co-laborers, sons... But I have had to face my own dismal grasp of forgiveness. It is shallow, light, easily thrown off course, slow to take root.

Yet I know, this new mountain can only be crested through my ability to find a deeper, truer and more honest space of forgiveness. It is impossible to climb a mountain when you are always looking back. Empty the backpack of all those pains. Throw them out - not in anger, resentment or bitterness. Do it through grace, liberty, freedom, life, even as Christ empowers us through his life of obedience.

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Mountain II - Faith

Faith is not the language of a movement that straddled the globe around the 80's and 90's. It is the most exquisite dance that we are invited to join.

When Jesus points Peter to the mountain he precedes it with "Have faith in God". There are so many ways to look at this little verse. I simply want to draw you into one of these, that has been so helpful to me recently.

In the grand old days of pomp and circumstance, the dapper looking young man would walk across the dance floor to graciously invite a most beautiful young lady to dance with him. As the band beats out a piece of rhythmic music, they elegantly and smoothly move across the floor - head held right, hands in the appropriate posture, feet sliding as if reflecting the romance of walking on water. I am told, a good male dancer, can in those situations, make an ordinary woman dancer appear effortless as he guides her through her paces. She in turn, trusts his tender, nuanced touches, gently one way then the next. [And yes I am an incurable romantic]

God has invited us to join him on a most engaging dance. All to often faith is taught, with so much effort placed on us, on our believing, acting, doing. Yet Jesus does not draw us to that conclusion. His appeal is for the 'bride' to 'trust him'. He has asked her for the dance and now she must slip into his arms and dance this great adventure together.

When the Father places us on a new adventure, he is asking us to trust him. It was his idea. It will fulfill his will. It will be done his way - in his time and with his partnership. That does not place us in the posture of fate. Not at all. We step onto the dance floor and dance with him, gently led on by his intimate touches.

Faith says, " I am weak, but you are strong. I am incapable, but you have chosen me. I am out of my depth, but you will pick me up. I am nervous and overwhelmed, but you will dance me through. I will embarrass you and me, but you will empower me beyond my natural abilities..."

We please him when we engage our faith with his invitation, because we trust him and dance the night away.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Mountain I

On January 25th 2015, M and I will join the Mercy Town team adding vision-casting, leadership, teaching to this amazing group of people.

The call to join them came out of left field, but that is for another time. We planted and led Glenridge Church [in Durban South Africa]for around 13 years. Then replanted Southlands Church [in LA] for around 14 years. God our most wonderful heavenly Father has given us one more 'at bat' - one more great global gospel story.

God loves giving us new mountains to climb. None of us live our dreams. They are generally too light, selfish and small. These new mountains are huge, scary and impossible without God, and those he joins us to. If we can do it without Him and / or others, it is simply too small.

When Jesus curses the fig tree in Mark 11, Peter gently queries him about this most intriguing ecological happening. But Jesus totally ignores him. Instead Jesus goes all geological on him. Jesus says instead: "Have faith in God. Truly I say to you whoever says to this mountain 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will come to pass it will be done for him.'" [vs 22 + 23]

God is on about new gospel assignments. The fig tree represents the last season with much fruitfulness [possibly]. But that season is over. It is now about getting a new mountain assignment from the Father. Close the door on the old and getting going onto the new.

But this God-given mountain is going to be much larger that you imagined. It is going to intimidate you, overwhelm you, scare you, surprise you, even disorientate you.

So Jesus says speak to the mountain - don't let the mountain speak to you. He will say - "you can't climb me! You are too small, insignificant, unqualified, without resources. You will obviously fail!"

We have to speak to this new mountain. We cannot trust our emotions, feelings, even our history. This is about a God - entrusted chapter. It requires faith, a fight, forgiveness. But more of that in the next blog.

What is your new mountain? What does the Lord require of you? How radical is it? How deeply does it deviate from the normal, the old, the known? Where and how does it challenge you? How does the mountain seek to intimidate, scare and silence you? What will it take to climb it? Who is on the journey with you - you will not get to the top by yourself!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Small is the New Big

Seth Godin is an intriguing voice of prophetic observation and commentary for the unfolding story of our society.

In a book called "Small is the new big", he writes:
"Big used to matter...
Big meant power and profit and growth...
...then small happened...
Big computers are silly...
Today little companies often make more money than big companies. Little churches grow faster than worldwide ones...
Small is the new big because small gives you flexibility to change your business model when your competition changes theirs...
A small church has a minister with the time to visit you in the hospital when you are sick...
Small is the new big only when the person running the small thinks big.
Don't wait. Get small. Think big."

There were many wondrous moments in the 90's when we celebrated church growth [many seminars], great voice and influence [or so we thought], huge budgets [large staff was seen as successful] and exquisite buildings [moments of huge financial faith, but also idols and pseudo sacred spaces].

But as the global economy has shifted and folks are simply giving less, it has forced us to re-evaluate the priorities of the 90's. The quest for large churches began to shift as the desire for community began to override the seeming success of a large audience to listen to the celebrity. The many wanted to be empowered again and not simply occupy a Sunday space.

Small is the new big! 

Define the story of your Community
Love healthy Marriages and Families
Build strong intimate Communities 
Create a culture of Discipleship
Empower every believer on their Mission
Multiply these Jesus Communities
Raise up and release many Leaders
Draw on and activate Marketplace Catalysts
Engage the prophetic voices of Gospel centered Entrepreneurs
Cut the Budgets
Maximise Mercy Giving
Watch the ego for large buildings 
Be Mobile and Flexible
Invest in People not stuff
Seek for Generous Social Justice

This is a conversation worth having.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Futurists Message

Welcome to 2015...

I have spent the last months incubating a few key markers that will define "urban forward mission". There is a fresh wind blowing - certainly here on the West Coast of the USA. It has been a privilege to have been parts of several divine visitations over the years, but I so dearly want to be part of at least one more. That is my prayer.

Reading about the arrival of John the Baptist as the first New Testament futurist, his bold, courageous proclamation is simple in its profundity: [Matt 3]

1.  "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" This gospel laden pronouncement is not just a call to salvation [repent] but also announces that there will be a new kingdom that will invade the lives of the hearers, that will empower and enlarge the responders to a uniquely different life and story. This futurist announcement is about to change their narrative.

2.  "Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight." Whenever Jesus visits [either by his incarnation or by his Spirit], he simply does not arrive in a way that we expect - with the voices of the last visitation most often significantly resistant to the new Jesus moment. How will he come this time? Are we desirous of this manager born, donkey riding, fame avoiding messiah ?

3. "Bear fruit in keeping with repentance". This is a simple but very confrontational message. The quest to be culturally correct and contextually relevant has silenced this message. A fragile 'grace' message has erased repentance from her vocabulary whilst the reformed trumpeters have become theological inspectors rather than call folks to transformed, Spirit empowered lives. The futurist calls the church to both.

4. "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire". The futurist points to Jesus - always. The futurist knows that there can be no impact without empowerment. The futurist finds fire. Jeremiah, an Old Covenant futurist said it this way: "there is fire, shut up in my bones, I am weary with holding it in and I cannot" Jer 20:9. 

The way forward will be led by the futurist. This is not an age thing [like we need the young or don't forget the old]. It is always led by those who are more captivated by discovering the future than by protecting the past. The futurist is loaded with love, but will not let sentiment stand in the way of the unknown. So many churches who found their story from the last major visitation, may not transition when he visits this next time. They fear they have too much to lose. But, as the disciples learnt, when we leave our boats immediately we will be on a great, grand, global gospel adventure.

Welcome to 2015 - are you ready?