Monthly Archives: April 2011

Why we Cancel Church on Easter (Part 2)

It was a beautiful day in downtown Austin. It’s amazing to be a part of a church and an Easter service where literally everyone who came… came to serve others. Here’s a glimpse at what the day looked like. Take the time to watch to the end so you can see the still shots (my favorite part).

It was an incredible moment to remember together that the one who was resurrected is also the one who resurrects. He resurrects lives, He resurrects marriages, and He resurrects hope. As a pastor, I gain incredible joy watching people get out of their skin to do something for someone in need. It’s almost as if you can see them changing right before your eyes. Today lives were changed. Hope was resurrected. And I believe Jesus was Glorified. As Christ followers we must believe and do our best to live the words of Jesus:

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ – Matthew 25:35-40


Why we Cancel Church on Easter

It’s Easter this week and we canceled church. Well, not really. We canceled our Sunday morning gatherings and moved them downtown and outside to where we first met as a church. A few years ago a handful of people decided to “do” church differently that Sunday by grilling up hot cheeseburgers for some of the homeless who lived nearby. It wasn’t meant to fly in the face of traditional worship. It wasn’t meant to replace the idea of evangelism, disciple-making, exaltation, or proclamation… but it did come with the hope of focusing on the “incarnation”. We really didn’t know what we were doing, we just knew we were supposed to serve.

Easter Sunday 2010

This coming weekend is Easter Sunday. It marks the three year anniversary of Austin New Church. It’s normal for us to break from our regular scheduled Sunday gatherings to serve around the city… and no one time seems more significant than when we do it on our church’s anniversary: Easter Sunday.

It’s hard to explain really.

And it’s obviously not for everyone. But we love it. We’ve had a ton of visitors join us every time we’ve done this. We’ve had people return to the church. And we’ve had people come to faith on Easter. It’s been three years now of navigating the tension between communion and mission. We’re learning along the way. And each time we “stretch” ourselves and our traditions, we learn a little bit more. (Click HERE to Join Us)

Last year my wife wrote about our “Easter” experience downtown. It’s an incredible reminder of why we go back. I thought I’d share. It’s worth the read:

It’s Easter.

So between ages 0-32, I celebrated Easter the fun way: with bunnies, baskets, and expensive clothes. I mean, what better way to say “Jesus reigns” than dressing my preschooler in a $45 dress to show her off in the church lobby? (You’re welcome, Jesus. Be blessed.)

Now certainly if you asked me what my Easter priorities were, I’d become rather grave and pensive and say something about the resurrection. For crying out loud, I’m a Christian. But truthfully, between the outfit shopping, the Easter baskets, the egg ______ (dying, stuffing, hiding, hunting), the pictures, the lunch menu, and the gift buying, Jesus was nearly dead last in the running. I started thinking about Him right about the time the band started at church, and I thought about him a whole hour. Until the end of the service when I got distracted with lunch details.

That’s just true.

But for the last three years, Jesus has messed with me. Frankly, he’s managed to hijack all my usual holiday endeavors. I’ve always celebrated holidays with a Cultural Major and a Spiritual Minor, no matter what I said I cared about. Take Christmas, for example. I used to spend as much money as I wanted on crap no one needed and work myself into in a December frenzy and oh well. La de da. Now I can’t quit thinking about the poor and the sad and the disgusting consumerism cycle I’ve perpetuated and the heinous neglect of Jesus and the appalling nature of it all.

Then we got to Easter, or as God called it in the Bible, Passover. “Easter” is just a jaunty little name picked up from the Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess of spring, ‘Eostre’, who, as legend has it, saved a frozen bird from the harsh winter by turning it into a magical rabbit who could lay eggs. Hence: ‘Easter’, bunnies, and eggs. (Look it up.) Why are elements of a pagan religion associated with the highest holy day of the Christian faith, you ask? Oh bother. Can’t we all just carry on and dye our “Eostre” eggs in peace?

Anyhow, Jesus started asking me why I spent all my time and money and emotional energy on these worthless, even sacrilegious distractions. “You’ve been had, Jen” is kind of how he put it. I was lulled to spiritual sleep by the siren song of baskets and bunnies, patent leather shoes and chocolate.

When I take an aerial view of the typical American Easter, on one side I see Jesus on the cross, humiliated and mutilated, bearing the failures of every man and woman past and present, rescuing humanity once and for all through an astonishing miracle of divine redemption, splitting history in two and transforming the human experience for eternity. On the other side, I see us celebrating this monumental heroism with chocolate bunnies and boiled eggs, with Jesus as an afterthought. It just doesn’t make sense. (Insert some of you tossing this book in the garbage. Don’t mess with my Easter fun, you hippie chick.)

So since ANC constantly tries to sabotage itself by giving away too much money and cancelling church all the time to serve the city (“How will people tithe that week?!” asked a horrified pastor), we decided to rethink The Traditional Easter Service That Brings In More People Than Any Other Day Of The Year. It is our two-year anniversary as a church, and certainly we could stand more foot traffic, but I’m not sure the ultimate Passover is best celebrated by a high-attendance Sunday of people who won’t be back until Christmas Eve.

Easter Sunday 2010

We literally asked ourselves: What would Jesus do? Would he drop a bunch of cash on fancy clothes? Buy out the chocolate and plastic egg supply at his local store? Find the biggest church in town and spend twenty minutes in the lobby telling everyone how pretty they look? (These questions are rhetorical, dearest reader.)

Who in Austin might genuinely want to celebrate the resurrected Jesus and the astonishing hope he made possible, but might not feel comfortable in a church surrounded by beautiful people dressed to the nines? Who needs the beauty of the gospel spoken into their brokenness, but might not be welcomed into the gathering of the saints in the sanctuaries? It came rather quickly to us:

The homeless.

If Jesus literally came to proclaim freedom for the captives and good news to the poor, then Passover uniquely belongs to the bottom dwellers. So we cancelled service and took church downtown to the corner of 7th and Neches, where our homeless community is concentrated. We grilled 1300 burgers and ate with each other. Our band set up shop and we worshiped, then in a powerful moment of solidarity as the church, we all took communion together. It was a beautiful mess of dancing, tears, singing, and sharing. It wasn’t an “us” and “them” moment; it was just the church, remembering the Passover Lamb and celebrating our liberation together.

Easter Sunday 2010

Now, if we get one request over and over when we serve our homeless brothers and sisters, it’s this: “Do you have a bag?” (Could also be: Can I have that bag? Can I take that trash bag? Do you have a bag I can put this bag in?) So this was the perfect moment to give away seven out of my nine purses, which I might add, were almost all nice and roomy, just like the ladies want.
A few ANCers organized a clothes and shoes station from things they’d gathered. Others opened up their trunks full of hygiene supplies and such. Another group brought a bunch of reusable water bottles. I saw a different couple handing out bus passes. I stood smugly by, watching my friends give away their little things, knowing I was about to be Mrs. Popular and waiting for my moment. When the timing was right, when the ladies had a perfect view for maximum impact, I said:

“Hey girls! Anyone want one of…these?”

Cranberry red leather.
Green with gold buckles.
Chocolate brown bohemian bag.
Turquoise with short handles.
Burnt orange across-the-shoulder.
Shiny black backpack bag.

And one little purse I debated on bringing. It was a tiny little thing, hot pink crocodile by Gianni Bini. It was functionally useless but fashionably magnificent. Our street girls want the biggest bags possible, since they carry everything they own, everywhere they go. If I brought down wheelbarrows to pass out, they couldn’t be happier. So my little pink vanity purse was a wildcard, but at the very last second with a conspiratorial nudge from the Spirit, I threw it in.
Not surprisingly, it was the last purse left. What self-respecting homeless woman picks a hot pink purse that would barely carry her bus pass? She’s no fool; glamour handbags are only for women who have eight others and a house to stash them all in. So I was standing there with my one silly little purse left, when it’s rightful owner, the one for whom I daresay that purse was stitched together for in the first place made a beeline for me.

She had on her Easter finest, tights included even though it was nearly ninety degrees outside. Flouncy dress with – what else? – hot pink flower print. Hair done up in a bunch of sections with matching beads on the ends, floppy pink hat on standby. Leather dress shoes that had certainly seen better days but were polished to a sheen. Dainty little necklace on a ribbon and rings on four fingers to boot.

She was six years old. Her name was NeNe.

Never in the history of accessories has a purse better matched its owner. She slipped that hot pink number over her arm and didn’t put it down the rest of the night, not even to eat. Her mom took one look at me and no words were necessary; mothers speak a silent language. I took her picture and fussed over her beauty and breathed a silent thank you to Jesus for the nudge.

"NeNe with her new purse"

I serve a Savior who finds a way to get pink purses to homeless six-year-old girls.

Jesus is a redeemer, a restorer in every way. His day on the cross might have looked like a colossal failure, but it was his finest moment. He ushered in a kingdom where the least will be the greatest and the last will be first, where the poor will be comforted and the meek will inherit the earth. Jesus brought together the homeless with the privileged and said, “You’re all poor, and you’re all beautiful.” The cross leveled the playing field, and no earthly distinction is valid anymore. There is a new “us” – a ruined people rescued by the Passover Lamb who adopted us into his family and transformed us into saints. It is the most epic miracle in history.

This is why we celebrate. May we never become so enamored by the substitutions of this world that we forget.

“It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” ~John 13:1


Disputable Matters: Serving the Least

The past two weeks at ANC we’ve been wrestling with “disputable matters” as discuss in Romans 14. It’s interesting how easily we take this text and make it about the issue itself instead of the impact of the issue on our unity and concern for others. Paul was clear to remind us that there’s certainly a bigger picture:

“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…” – Romans 14:17

He writes this just moments after reminding us what it looks like to apply all he wrote in the first 11 chapters. Essentially he’s spends the next couple chapters teaching how we should respond to the Gospel personally and collectively, both in our own context and in our culture (To listen click HERE).

It blows me away that “serving the least” has become a disputable matter in the church. We’ve taken something so important to the life and ministry of Jesus and made it an optional expression of the church. It was a major emphasis that many have made minor.

*In Luke 18, Jesus was asked by the rich young ruler what he should do to inherit the Kingdom. His response? Give to the poor. We know the law, yet this is probably the most obvious mark of a disciple we miss.

You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Luke 18

I assure you, this wasn’t about the Benjamin’s. Jesus didn’t need this man’s money to help the poor. This man needed to help the poor. There is so much wrapped in what happens when we do. We are confronted at the very soul of our existence. This wasn’t the first time Jesus encouraged this discipline for making disciples, and it wasn’t his last time either.

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13-14

In a moment, Zacchaeus discerned what Jesus required of him:

“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount. Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” Luke 19:8-9

Paul labeled Tabitha a disciple. The marks of her discipleship:

“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha, who was always doing good and helping the poor.”- Acts 9:36

The Angel who came to Cornelius, the first gentile convert reported in scripture, claimed that the very reason He was there is because God not only heard his prayers, but remembered his service to the poor:

“Cornelius answered: “Four days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor.” – Acts 10:30-31

The Apostles, pioneers of the New Testament church, knew that if they did anything of value, that they should continue to serve the poor:

“James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. – Galatians 2:9-10

Darrell Guder wrote in his book, “Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, that “Believing is not just a matter of knowing. Believing is also a matter of doing. Believing is trusting that Jesus’ way of living is the right way, and trusting it enough that one is willing to live that way – and die that way.” The only thing to dispute is whether or not we’re willing to do so.

*Excerpt from, “Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture”


Human Trafficking: Taking Action

I was thinking today about how excited I am to be a part of a church who has a heart for the underdog. I’m so thankful to partner with those who feel indignation when they see injustice. And I’m proud that we’re willing to move beyond education and awareness to making personal and collective sacrifices to do something about it.

Austin New Church has two major objectives in our near future regarding the prevention of Human Trafficking as it merges with our continued advocacy for the orphan: (1) Opening an Austin area safe house for aged out orphan girls and (2) working with our partners at Help End Local Poverty (H.E.L.P.) in Haiti to build homes there to do the same.

While contemplating our next moves I ran across this BLOG post from Chris Marlow, Founder of H.E.L.P., and I was reminded how important these tasks are. He writes:

My heart is truly broken.

I’ve just read multiple articles on human trafficking in Haiti. Some kids are being sold for $1.20.

What the … Okay, that’s kind of how I feel. ANGRY.

I love the kids of Haiti. I love Haiti. I truly believe that most Haitians are amazing people who are trying to do good, live, serve each other and survive.

I also believe that kids cannot be vulnerable. This is why we rescue orphans! They can’t be on their own, they need a community to watch over them, love them, protect them and ensure that they are safe.

Next week, HELP will lead a team of abolitionists from Austin New Church, The River Conference, Soma Austin and NewSong Church.( FYI: These churches and organizations are AMAZING and on mission.) Our goal is to pray, listen, learn and determine how we can fight trafficking in Haiti and care for orphans.

After reading article after article, after article, my heart is broken and my motivation is high.

In Isaiah, God gets upset at his people, because his people worship without serving the poor and the oppressed. God calls them to SEEK justice and CORRECT oppression! God calls His people to action. God calls His people to respond. God calls His people to Go.

To read the entire POST click HERE or to find out more on the efforts of H.E.L.P. click HERE.


Missional Community: Seven Questions

Over the past several weeks, our friends at EXPONENTIAL have been engaging a conversation regarding the top 7 QUESTIONS asked by church leaders about missional community. Since I’ve recently done some writing on the topic in my upcoming book, “Barefoot Church“, and since Austin New Church is a missional church focused on missional/incarnational community, I couldn’t help but take the time to think through the questions myself. I hope this is helpful:

(1) What is a missional community?

I think guys like Alan Hirsch, Hugh Halter, Matt Carter, and Mike Breen have already done a great job of defining missional community. So I won’t attempt to do any better. Instead I hope to add a perspective: From a “functional” standpoint a missional community can be described as a group of people who gather for the sake of mission with the hope of fostering deep relationships that shape culture. They don’t do so as a hobby or with the motive to create community just for the sake of connecting. They do so because they understand the theological implications and requirements that accompany the life of a disciple centered on the Gospel. True missional community responds to context and culture in determining its form. Just as church is not biblical church without community, community is not biblical community without mission. While traditional community groups and small groups often exist for the believer, missional community exists equally for the believing and unbelieving. It provides a place for anyone to explore faith while being a part of something they might consider “good news”, possibly even before they fully understand the “Good News”.

 

(2)  How is a missional community different than a Bible study and small group?

This is a question of both function and form. Small groups and Bible studies function as connecting point often focusing on the relational and spiritual needs of those already within a church body. Missional Community functions as a sending point with a commitment to focusing on those outside the group. Both groups create forms to serve the function of their group.

There are at least four new perspectives that accompany a community focused on mission:

1. Missional Community comes with a new PURPOSE: A people who recognize their “priesthood” and calling to “go”, who understand that church does not exist to meet their needs, and who are willing to address the issues of Individualism, Consumerism, and Materialism within modern Christianity.

2. Missional Community comes with a new POSTURE: The church does not have a good reputation among our onlookers. Yet scripture says repetitively that when we are good news, we will gain favor among men. When others see our good deeds, they will assign glory to God. That’s the hope of a truly missional community, to change the posture of the church to those on the outside.

3. Missional Community comes with a new PRIORITY: In our current western context – while it’s a shrinking demographic – people will still show up for the first time on Sunday. However, when we place a priority on creating a place where people can come and belong even before they believe, we gain a new front door for church. A place that may offer safety, security, and authentic relationships without perceived “agenda” of typical church. Many times church leaders feel the pressure to make Sunday gatherings sensitive to our “neighbors”, often resulting in a seemingly schizophrenic experience without clarity on it’s purpose. Prioritizing community for mission offers a place for “loving our neighbor” (incarnation) and frees the gathering for the priority of  “loving our God” (exaltation).

4. Missional Community comes with a new PERMISSION: Church structure and strategy has become pretty complex. Just he idea of “simple church” is refreshing to most church leaders. Our current structures keep our people so busy that they rarely have time to live on mission. By transitioning our traditional small groups to missional community, we are not only placing priority, we are giving permission. And by doing so, often we’re utilizing forms that already exist, instead of creating something new. Ultimately we’re giving our people permission and the margin to live on mission. We’re saying, yes, this counts. Yes, spending intentional time with a neighbor is a part of discipleship. Yes, we’d rather you spend time in your front yard than on our church campus.

 

(3) How do I transition my church from Bible study programs to missional communities?

That depends on your starting point. The short answer is to know who you’re leading and lead them the way they need to be led, not the way you want to lead. For most of us with existing structures, that will mean it to be a slow process. Educate your people and start with pilot groups. Ask them to just “try” it and ask for feedback. Learn from them. Stop doing what didn’t work. And reproduce what did. Don’t expect everyone to be where you are after one conversation. Many of us as leaders, eat, sleep, and breath this stuff. We’ve been praying, suffering, struggling for years on what God wants us to do. Don’t expect your people to be there overnight. Some will. But not all will.

With that in mind, one of the greatest things a church leader can do is to foster a culture of change. If we’re going to respond to the Gospel in our context and continuously shifting culture, and lead our church to do the same, we have to realize that change is a big part of it.

1. Make it a Priority: In order to create a culture of mission, we have to communicate and structure mission as a priority, not an add-on or optional event. We can do this in a number of ways:

  • Platform: The most underutilized platform is Sunday morning. We need to use it not only to preach our sermons, but to also cast vision regularly. The mistake we sometimes make is waiting until we have it all figured out before we share. Bringing your congregation in on the journey, possibly even starting with a confession of neglect, can be one of the most powerful ways to lead. This is a great time to proactively address anticipated objections, concerns, or misunderstandings. If we are not willing to utilize our Sunday mornings to regularly communicate serving, it’s simply not our priority.
  • Prayer: We need prayer without change. How much more do we need it while leading others through change?
  • Scripture: We would never make a point during a sermon without building a scriptural foundation, yet we tend to expect people to be willing to live on mission just because they should. Share not only from your heart, but also from your Bible. Scripture has plenty to say. We can have confidence that the Word will not return void.
  • Leaders: The best leaders don’t have to search for something significant to do; they are being asked by everyone to join their effort. One of the most effective things we can do is to schedule a lunch or a coffee with a key leader, share our heart with them, and ask them to be a part of it. Don’t expect them to fully understand what you’re doing or why, but ask them to be a part of exploring and evaluating the process. Starting pilot groups or “test” ministries are some of the best ways to find early adopters.

2. Protect Margin: We simply cannot ask people to keep adding things to their ministry life. If we do, mission will be the first to go. We have to simplify our forms and find ways to create margin in our current structures. Celebrate addition through subtraction. It’s worth the effort to give your people (or yourself) the time to do what you’re asking them to do well. Some of the greatest ways to protect margin are to:

  • Evaluate: Cut events and projects that don’t serve the mission.
  • Consolidate: Identify your most effective existing forms and find ways to utilize them as a funnel for involvement.
  • Reshape: Consider adding purposes that can free up other days of the week. This will increase buy in for each group and increase involvement exponentially.

3. Find a Common Language: Often the turning point for creating a structure to support a new vision comes when we land on a common language to communicate that vision. Finding a common language requires you to do the necessary groundwork of landing on a structure that supports the vision. (Examples: “Love your Neighbor. Serve your City.” or “Exposing, Experiencing, Engaging Need).

 

(4)  How do I transition my small group to a missional community?

While much of the answer to this question is addressed in the prior question’s answer, you must first start by asking the questions: (1) Why does this small group exist? (2) What biblical purpose are we not meeting? (3) If not here, then where? (4) Are we at least willing to try?

From there we must consider our structure and form. How we do what we do and why we do what we do. Is there a better meeting format? Would or non-Christian friends feel like they could “belong” at this gathering? Why or why not? What changes need to be made?

Ask the questions. Answer them honestly. Collectively propose some possible solutions. Don’t be afraid to fail, keep trying. Part of authentic community is navigating tension, disagreement, failure, as much as it is experiencing success. The journey will end up being as important as our hope to arrive.

 

(5) How do I train missional leaders?

I think you first have to identify what kind of leaders you need and what will they do. We recruit and train three types of leader for every missional community. The reason we do so is to involve as many people we can in leadership and to divide responsibilities so each are done well. These are the positions we’ve found to be helpful:

1. Facilitators: Responsible for teaching and spiritual direction.

2. Hosts: Responsible for communication, location, snacks, and childcare.

3. Restore Leaders: Responsible for making sure the group engages need (neighbor & city).

For our first round, we trained each leader type together but separately for two months (facilitators with facilitators, hosts with hosts, restore leaders with restore leaders). We networked them. And encouraged them to call each other to see what they are finding to work even before they’ll call a pastor. We taught missional theology as it relates to incarnational community, context, culture, and purpose as it relates to the bigger picture of church. We give clarity on their roles. Help them understand what the “other” leaders are doing in each of their groups. Explain how the structure supports their role. Then release them into ministry. We typically try to stay in contact with each leader once a month but are available at any time.

We require new leaders to have been actively involved in an existing missional community for a period of time. In this group they are essentially apprenticed. They’ve typically seen leaders at work and can easily adopt a similar model. During the transition and launch period of a new group there is weekly involvement between staff and key leaders. This goes on for about 8 weeks then they are released to lead.

(6) What do missional communities do?

Mother Teresa taught that there are three kinds of need in every community: (1) Spiritual Need (2) Relational/Emotional Need and (3) Physical Need. These are key distinctions with implications every missional community must consider.

With this in mind, we’ve found that one of the best ways for a community to be missional is to first recognize need in their community – and as missionaries to that community – create a plan to address those needs.

1. EXPOSING THE NEED: We know about spiritual need. It’s everywhere. But often a skeptic of faith and/or church cannot see through their physical or emotional need to their spiritual need. In the same way, often a believer sees only spiritual need in their community, failing to see the obvious physical and emotional need. An invite to dinner, helping a neighbor with a project, or lending an ear without a lecture can lead to authentic relationship, offering hope to a person in need of hope. A missional community that takes the time to evaluate need will find it’s mission defined by need that actually exists, not by what they think their community needs.

2. EXPERIENCING THE NEED: Engaging need relationally and as a part of community takes time. We can easily find ourselves over committed in an area that we’re not equipped, called, don’t understand, or don’t have the bandwidth to meet. After gaining a greater understanding of real need in a community, it might be best to plan some intentional activities to simply “taste and see” what each need feels like. That might be through volunteering to HELP instead of offering to LEAD an event in the neighborhood. Don’t over-promise prior to getting your feet wet. The key is being around people, being present, and being willing. Earning trust as an individual as well as a community is often a prerequisite to engaging spiritual need. (If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? – James 2:16)

3. ENGAGING THE NEED: Once a missional community gains an informed position on how they can become good news to their “neighbor”, they can move forward creating a strategy to engage those needs together.  That must include creating a structure for mission. Often groups make the error of meeting every week for traditional small group activities (bible study, prayer, etc…) and add any intentional missional efforts on top of an already busy schedule. A community truly committed to mission needs to consider a structure that “gives away” as much time as they keep (“Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:39). With this in mind, we’ve adopted a model we call “Love Your Neighbor. Serve Your City.” Every other week we gather for fellowship, prayer, and bible study. Then every other week we do something intentional either as individuals or collectively to “Love our Neighbors” (often engaging a emotional or relational need) and then every other week we do something intentional to “Serve our City” (often meeting a physical need). Essentially we are committing two gatherings a month to “mission” and two gatherings a month to “community”. This can create a strong framework to ensure mission in any context.

Q: Who are the churches doing this and what struggles and successes have they experienced?

Mission is messy. Always has been. I think the churches handling missional community the best are the ones who realize the organic nature of mission and allow it to exist in it’s various forms (in fact, they encourage it). Just as we can’t force community, we can’t control mission. We can create a framework and structure, but from there we have to be willing to release our people into their mission field. This is foreign territory for many of us.

I think Adullam in Denver (Hugh Halter and Matt Smay) is doing a great job with missional community. And locally here in Austin, Austin Stone Community Church (Matt Carter) is doing great on the mega level and churches like Austin City Life (Jonathan Dodson) and Soma Austin (Jacob VanHorn) are doing well on the church plant / organic level. Many of the churches doing this really well aren’t in the spotlight. I find myself encouraged and challenged each time I hear about some of the new efforts


It’s Lonely at the Top (or is it?)

It’s lonely at the top. That’s what they say anyway.

While that’s a reality for the majority of leaders (especially in the church), I’m not so sure it’s supposed to be that way. The greatest joy I have as a leader is the fact that I get to serve with guys that I just love to be around. They’re some of my best friends.  It’s not forced. It’s not always “professional”. And it’s not draining. Unfortunately, I’m in the silent minority. So what do you do if you find yourself leading in isolation?

Michael Hyatt, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Thomas Nelson Publishers, wrote some pretty insightful stuff about this on his BLOG, Intentional Leadership. His suggested starting point: Be the friend you wish you had. That makes complete sense to me. Leaders often forget what it’s like to be normal. Many times creating a “world” around them that serves them and exists for their own agenda. They are around people who “perform” for them so much, they forget how to be a friend themselves.

Here’s what he wrote:

Recently, I read that 70% of pastors don’t have any close personal friends. I have quoted this figure publicly and several pastors have confided to me that it is true for them. They admitted that they don’t have any close personal friends. This made me very sad. I think it is also true of CEOs and other leaders as well.

Why is this true?

I know that for years, I didn’t think I needed any close friends. I assumed that my colleagues at work and the people I went to church with were enough. I finally woke up the fact that I didn’t really have any close personal friends. All of them were either dependent on me in some way or simply acquaintances.

Since that time, I have been much, much more intentional about friendships. In fact, this is one of the “accounts” in my Life Plan. I have several great friends, most of whom live in my neighborhood. We get together on a regular basis and support and encourage one another.

When I mentioned this in a talk I gave recently at Catalyst West, one brave soul asked, “But what if you don’t have any friends? Where do you start?”

My answer? Be to others the friend you wish you had. It’s that simple.

For example, here are the characteristics I look for in a close friend. I want someone who …

  • Shows up for me when I am in a crisis.
  • Listens empathetically without judging.
  • Is willing to pitch in when I am too embarrassed to ask.
  • Affirms me when I doubt myself.
  • Reminds me of who I am, when I forget.
  • Celebrates my wins and mourns my losses.
  • Remembers the things that are important to me.
  • Trusts me with their secrets.

Do you wish you had that kind of friend? Well, God says that you reap what you sow (e.g., see Galatians 6:7).

To view Michael Hyatt’s blog site click HERE.

If you want this kind of friend in your life, then go BE this kind of friend to others. You might be surprised to see what happens.


Adoption: Hurry up and Wait

The process of adoption is hard. You feel things you never knew you could feel. You think things you never thought you could think. There is great sacrifice. And great reward.

Right now Jen and I sit in the helpless moment between court dates and upcoming Embassy appointments. So close yet so far away. One additional document after another is being required, requested, and hopefully soon received.

There is so much hope in Adoption. Both for the children of our world and for us. I’m reminded today how significant this is. It’s easy to question God when things don’t go like we want. But so beautiful to remember that if anyone knows what He’s doing through adoption, it’s our God:

“The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15

“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:23

A friend posted the words from One Republic’s song “Come Home” on Jen’s facebook page. I had never heard the song before… but somehow they are soothing to me. Maybe it’s because they echo what we’re feeling now, and it’s good to hear them said out loud. I thought I’d share:

Hello world
Hope you’re listening
Forgive me if I’m young
For speaking out of turn
There’s someone I’ve been missing
I think that they could be
The better half of me
They’re in the wrong place trying to make it right
But I’m tired of justifying
So i say you’ll..

Come home
Come home
Cause I’ve been waiting for you
For so long
For so long
And right now there’s a war between the vanities
But all i see is you and me
The fight for you is all I’ve ever known
So come home

I get lost in the beauty
Of everything i see
The world ain’t as half as bad
As they paint it to be
If all the sons
If all the daughters
Stopped to take it in
Well hopefully the hate subsides and the love can begin
It might start now.
Well maybe I’m just dreaming out loud
Until then…

Come home
Come home
Cause I’ve been waiting for you
For so long
For so long
And right now there’s a war between the vanities
But all i see is you and me
The fight for you is all I’ve ever known
Ever known
So come home