Category Archives: discipleship

The Wayne’s Worldification of Christianity

In his book, Practicing the Way of Jesus, (also on kindle) Mark Scandrette recounts a very powerful conversation. A small group of friends had chosen to engage in a short-term experiment. The idea of the experiment was to live simply, making more space for devotion to God and service to others. One of the aspects involved simplifying their wardrobe – boxing up all their clothes except for two outfits.

After describing the experiment to another friend, that person was highly skeptical. He says that, having grown up in an incredibly legalistic faith community, he had hoped that “we” were moving into an age of more grace and freedom. And this experiment sounded a lot like that legalism.

Scandrette’s response was fantastic.

“A rule is oppressive when we impose it on others or judge them by it, but there is great freedom when we choose limits which add value to our lives.”

Now to be sure, the danger of being human is that we (or those who come after us) are tempted to take the helpful experiments of today and make them into the universal codes of tomorrow. My friend Nate used to say, “Disciples will be to an extreme what their teachers were in moderation.”

However, I also believe that using the slippery slope argument is typically nothing more than laziness built on the fearful anticipation of future laziness.

There is great wisdom in Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4 to think upon those things that are true, noble, excellent and praiseworthy. This isn’t just about keeping our thoughts pure and untainted. Dwell on the excellent, noble things because the mind is a powerful tool. I’m not talking about “The Secret” here, I’m talking about human obsession and self-fulfilling prophecies.

For instance, in many “men’s purity” ministries, there seems to be an incredibly unhealthy obsession with our own sin and temptation. In the process we go from dehumanizing women as sexual objects to dehumanizing women as instruments of temptation. Men are encouraged to look away, attempting not to see this woman in order to avoid lust. This is seriously messed up.

What if we instead focused on that which is excellent and praiseworthy? If we struggle with seeing women as sexual objects, the solution isn’t to simply change the image to another object – the solution is to actually see the person. See the image of Christ. See the child of God. Because they are not the problem, we are and our continued obsession on sin just feeds our own brokenness.

As a blogger and purveyor of blogs, facebook posts, twitter feeds, etc., I hear a lot about Christianity’s “image problem.” We talk about the way that Christians are perceived by the media, by those who are not Christian, by those who feel (happily or indignantly) like outsiders. We talk about the “Shoot Christians Say,” to playfully deconstruct our constant use of insider language. But, I wonder if Christianity has a much more fundamental image problem: how we see ourselves.

There is a difference between acknowledging our imperfection and narcissistically obsessing about our depravity. Constantly commenting on our unworthiness sounds like false humility or compliment fishing. I don’t think that is what’s going on as often as it may seem. It’s an image problem. We don’t see ourselves very well and that makes it difficult to see God clearly…and vice versa.

A well known pastor recently said, “All theology is cat theology or dog theology. Let’s say two pets have an amazing, kind, generous owner. The cat thinks: “I must be an amazing and valuable cat.” The dog thinks: “I have an amazing and valuable master.”

There are about 37 things wrong with this brief quote. First, it makes me agree with a cat…and that should never happen.

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Second, it equates our relationship to God to a person’s relationship with a pet – also problematic. I’m not just being an overly literal metaphor reader here; the relationship dynamics that this brings to mind are off base. But that isn’t the real problem.

The biggest flaw is that it buys into the assumption that there is something wrong with rejoicing in our value and worth as image bearers and children of God. I’ve said this before, but if I found out my kids were telling people that I loved them even though there is nothing lovable about them it would break my heart. My children are amazing. I love their quirky personalities. I love how different they are from one another. I love Conner’s analytical thinking and tender heart; Micah’s artistic eye and stubborn individuality; Josiah’s constant passion for everything and quickness to show affection. My kids are amazing and I hope they know that.

Does God enjoy us less than I enjoy my own children? That seems odd.

The tendency to constantly belittle the human condition seems pious…but it only seems that way. In a sense, the running commentary of total depravity makes light of suffering, brokenness and sin. “Of course we do awful things, we’re awful…whatcha gonna do?”

We have become Wayne and Garth…and that’s only funny in brief doses.

Its very convenient, really. We have a built-in excuse for never growing, never taking responsibility for our actions and feeling spiritual throughout it all.

This denies Jesus’ claim and Paul’s exhortation that we are being made new – new creation, new life, new people.

Why do we not see more of this transformation? Perhaps its because we’re so busy giving ourselves negative reinforcement that we are unable to see anything else. We’ve trained ourselves not to see. We tell ourselves we’re worms and wretches, then gorge ourselves on self-centered consumerism like a half-gallon of Blue Bell after a break-up.

Or we become disillusioned with the whole thing and reject all discipline, structure and guidance…even that which would be life giving.

I’ve found that living with a Rule of Life – particularly in community with others (including the one I live with my boys) – is freeing and rejuvenating. I’m able to explore the possibilities of my own discipleship in the Way of Jesus because I’m not constantly trying to figure out where to start. I can embrace limits to my “freedom” which add value to my life by clearing away the clutter, because I trust that that which I will see more clearly is worth seeing. Like the grueling summit climb to a mountain top, I know that momentary discomfort will be rewarded with a view you can’t get from the valley.

But this won’t work if my heart and mind are filled with pseudo-pious self-loathing. I am an image bearer of God, a beloved child of the King, one who is worth much because I was fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that I am valuable because my Father has repeatedly told me so.

And this does not make me a cat, damn it.

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A Missional Post on Missional Scripture Composed on my Missional Laptop.

Missional.

For many, the word has become like a Katy Perry song: love it or hate it, you can’t go 10 minutes without hearing it…and catching yourself singing along unconsciously. Others may think that the word is owned by Apple, because it shows up in front of absolutely everything the same way their lower-case “i” does.

Speaking of which, yes, there is an iMissional.org.

Missional Coffee

And as often as I use the word, I admit, even I get tired of hearing about missional toasters, missional coffee, missional songbooks, missional underwear (wait, no, that one could be interesting). There’s even a Missional Study Bible. Perhaps I’m just bitter because I wasn’t asked to contribute anything, and in fairness, it looks pretty cool, but I believe we already have a missional Bible – the Bible.

That’s what I want to address in this series of blog posts. It wasn’t actually inspired by the publication of the Mission of God Bible – that’s just a happy coincidence – instead it has come about for several reasons. First of all, I believe that those of us who are committed to (or even just considering) missional and incarnational approaches to faith should wrestle with the deeper theological realities that accompany this orientation. They’re there, they have been ignored too often and for too long – and they transcend, “this just works better.”

I’ve written here, and lots of other places, that missional is first a theological, rather than pragmatic or strategic, issue. Theology is the practice of thinking, contemplating and talking about God. So when I say this is a theological issue, my claim is that saying something about missional is actually saying something about God – not just the strategies, practices or attitudes of Christians.

Therefore, it makes a great deal of sense to look more carefully at the relationship between missional theology and scripture. Is the Bible a missional text? What does that mean? What does it look like? This question is not just about putting missional in front of yet another aspect of Christianity. Frankly, I hope that we will someday reach a point where it is (as it should be) redundant to even use the word missional in relation to our faith.

Unfortunately, given that our society tends to devour words and ideas voraciously until they become bitter in our collective mouth, there is a good chance it will fall out of use long before it becomes unnecessary.

In one sense, I’m already seeing the trend begin. Mike Breen’s post, Why the Missional Movement Will Fail is one example. In fairness, what I take Breen to be saying in his post is that we cannot focus on “doing” mission if we are not first pursuing discipleship – without discipleship our missional efforts will be empty, short-lived, and will ultimately fail, cut-off as they are from the source of our calling.

Perhaps our thoughts on this depend on what we mean by, and how we’re using, the word missional. Stated very briefly, missional means that the whole community of faith, not just a few special standouts, is called to live on mission with God. The concept is meaningless without discipleship – just as discipleship can easily become individualistic and theoretical without a missional orientation. Missional isn’t a doing focus – it is essentially about who we are; who we are called to be and formed into being by the one we want to be with and be like. We can’t really claim to BE these people if we fail to DO what such people are called to do…but the doing is a result of being, not the other way around.

We live this way, on mission with God, because we are the people of God. In this way our actions are in response to our calling and thus originate, not in our own awesomeness, but in the Divine Awesomitude.

Missional is more than a call to personal piety, activism, social justice, evangelism or discipleship – it encompasses all these aspects in a holistic call to the Way of Jesus, empowered by the Spirit in the midst of God’s mission of reconciliation…together, as the Body of Christ. Each disciple of Jesus, each person who bears the name “Christian,” is included in this call – not just those who attended seminary, have tons of free time to volunteer, enjoy teaching Sunday School, or set aside time in the summer for a mission trip to Mexico.

Sadly, as we consider the state of the Church in North America, missional is not yet a redundancy.

So what about the Bible? Is it right to refer to it as a missional text? Are we saying that every passage is a “missional passage?” What does that mean?

When I refer to the Bible as a missional text I’m claiming that:

– The metanarrative (overall story) of Scripture is about a missional God who creates as an act of love and hospitality. The brokenness and separation experienced in creation are not God’s doing – they are precisely that which God is undoing. As those created in God’s image, God is (and has been all along) inviting humanity to collaborate as junior co-creators in this mission of reconciliation. Make no mistake, it is God’s mission – but we are called to participation.

– The purpose of Scripture is to equip God’s people as those being called and sent together. This Story, like all truly great stories, aims to change those who hear it. But our transformation goes beyond personal piety or eternal destination…we are being pulled into the Story that transforms everything.

– Basically, I’m saying that God is actually up to something in this world; we – all of us – are called to play an active role in that something, and the Bible is the story of that something.

In this series of posts we’ll address: (these titles will become links once the posts are live)

What Difference Does it Make?

Streams of Missional Thought, pt 1

Streams of Missional Thought, pt 2

Really? Scripture is Missional? Have You Actually Read It?

Still…Judah and Tamar?? What the What?!?

I hope that this series will be helpful for ongoing conversations – and that you’ll be willing to engage some of that here on this page.

The Missional Monks Book

A while back I started writing a series of posts titled “The Bare Minimum.” While the series did not start this way, as I have unpacked these ideas (mostly offline) the contributions of the new monastics have surfaced as valuable answer to the discipleship conundrum presented by our part-time schedule in faith.

Obviously, I haven’t posted any of the follow-up posts that I’d suggested were in the works. There are a few reasons for this.

First, we’re entering a very busy season for the Missional Wisdom Foundation – new cohorts forming, current cohorts engaging in one-on-one coaching for their practicums (I’m doing a LOT of coaching these days). In a sense, I haven’t had time to write about the impact of missional monasticism because I’ve been consumed in the cultivation of missional monasticism.

But the main reason I haven’t posted anything else on this in a while is pretty simple…it is being worked into the manuscript for a Missional Monks book!

This year the Sentralized Conference is partnering with Forge and IVP to host The Great Forge Write-Off. People who have never published a book are invited to submit proposals that will be reviewed by a panel of authors and narrowed down to six selections – which will be pitched to the folks from IVP at this year’s Sentralized Conference in Kansas City.

So between work trips, coaching calls, course planning, retreat/immersion leading, schedule coordinating, and summertime Wellsbrother mad-houseness, I’ve been working on my first book.

Here are a couple excerpts from my application/proposal to The Great Forge Write-Off:

In The Forgotten Ways, Hirsch says that “if mission is our sending, then incarnational is how we go.” Missional Monks is about how we go together.

Within the missional conversation, some have begun questioning whether the missional impulse adequately emphasizes intentional discipleship.

Perhaps the problem isn’t a low emphasis on discipleship, but a struggle to find ways to translate that emphasis into actually, consistently pursuing discipleship together in our hyper-mobile culture. We talk about missional as an orientation, as a way of life. But is it?

Have we gotten good at talking about being missional, even started getting to know our neighbors again, but failed to address the rhythms of life that continually pull our focus away from living in the moment?

If engaging in the mission of God is going to be rooted in deep discipleship; if it is going to be more (though not less) than social activism, we must find ways to fully and finally let go of our part-time and individualistic approach. This message has been put forth, but often the question remains… “How?”

This is where the new (and old) monastics can help us – even in the suburbs. This book draws largely from our experiences in the Missional Wisdom Foundation, from my own struggles and successes in missional-monastic church planting, and the stories of friends who have sought to cultivate this kind of life in their own context.

Contribution to be made by this Book

The information in this book is not “new.” It is ancient – and has been wrongly set-aside in our culture. By bringing the missional and monastic streams together in this way, the book provides a glimpse into a major aspect of why our attempts at discipleship often flounder.

This book is the fruit of both academic study and actual practice. I’ve read and been shaped significantly by a wide range of missional and monastic scholars and practitioners. I have reflected academically on their work. Yet, I’ve been blessed to work in the trenches as a church planter and a minister in established churches. My thinking has been challenged and refined through my work with multiple missional-monastic communities through the Missional Wisdom Foundation (MWF) – both residential communities and worshipping communities. And I’ve seen these principles fleshed out in many different ways as teacher, equipper and coach with those in established church contexts through the MWF’s Academy for Missional Wisdom.

It seems that often in missional literature we simply avoid the problem of time. We say that we must focus on daily-lived faith, but we dance around how to actually accomplish that with others.

On the other hand much of the work of the new monastics fails to connect with those who aren’t planning to relocate to urban centers, and aren’t willing to move into a large house with several other people.

That being said, I am finding it increasingly common to encounter people who have read the work of Elaine Heath, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, John Perkins, and others. The question – whether asked longingly or dismissively – seems to be, “Is it even possible for this to translate into our context?”

Missional Monks bridges the gap. It will address the issue of time and community, but with a constant eye toward what that means for everyday disciples with jobs, families, and responsibilities that may seem – at first glance – incompatible with monastic rhythms.

By drawing from the stories of real people attempting to live these principles in community with others, this book provides examples of how missional-monastic rhythms are possible in our culture. This book will not attempt to convince people to organize in a particular way, leave to plant churches or relocate to a specific type of location. It will inspire imagination as to how a disciplined imagination in community can be lived out wherever we are.

At the end of this month I’ll be flying out to Kansas City where hopefully I’ll be among those selected to pitch my book idea to IVP…and then hopefully will be one that they’ll decide to publish (they might not select any of the proposals…or may take all six).

So, if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, please let the folks at Sentralized (Facebook page / twitter account) and InterVarsity Press (Facebook page / twitter account) know that you’d like to see Missional Monks: The Wisdom of a Disciplined Imagination in Community become a published work.

What Does That Even Mean?

So…I don’t know if you’ve heard, but all over the country students and teachers are returning to their regularly scheduled programming. Among other things, at our house that means no more staying up until 9pm watching a movie, or sleeping in to ridiculous hours like 7:00 or 7:30am.

Apparently, this is also our cue to once again light up the Facebook with “like and share if you’re against the war on religion in our schools.”

There are certainly places in this world where there is a war on religion. I have a friend from Nepal that was hunted down and nearly killed because of his Christian beliefs. There are people who gathered for worship Sunday knowing full well that if the government found out they could be arrested or worse…yet they gathered all the same. We have some other friends who have just left to serve as missionaries overseas. They received training on what kinds of things not to say on the phone when they called home, because someone will be listening and there will be repercussions.

Christianity may be losing SOME of its privileged and protected status in our culture, but a) that isn’t the same as war and b) that may not be such a bad thing.

I’m concerned with our tendency to make a big fuss over things like the removal of Christian prayers from the morning assembly in schools – and somehow equating that with the removal of prayer from school.

One of the Facebook guilt trips shows a picture of a little girl, apparently praying to the American flag with the slogan “Like and Share if you support prayer in schools.” And of course, the poster adds the obligatory, “not all of my friends are brave enough to post this…”

What does that even mean?

I’m just old enough to have grown up in world where we still had these prayers over the PA system – in class, before football games, at some large school assemblies – and I gotta tell you…if that’s what we’ve lost, we haven’t lost much.

Do you remember those prayers? At our schools they were perfunctory, white-washed, civil religion speeches with an “Amen” at the end. From conversations with others, I think I probably had the better experience since ours weren’t typically xenophobic judgmental tirades against the godless infidels (you know, democrats and foreigners).

Even in places where these public prayers were amazingly rich, deeply meaningful expressions of worship…did they represent the full life of prayer for our Christian students? I surely hope not. If they didn’t, then would their removal constitute a removal of prayer from the school? A teacher friend recently reminded me of the saying, “as long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in schools.”

This issue of naming everything as a “war on religion” is ridiculous and we need to stop it.

As I hinted earlier, it belittles the fact that today there are people engaged in an actual life-and-death struggle because of their faith.

It also makes us look incredibly insecure, combative and fearful – none of which are characteristics of Jesus’ disciples. In fact, regarding the prayer issue, Jesus told people to get out of the spotlight and into their closets to pray anyway.

But the dangers here go beyond how others perceive us. We are being shaped by our rhetoric…or actually, we’re being misshaped. We are communicating to our children – and to one another – that our prayer life is controlled by our access to public platforms. We’re basing our religious freedom on the right to force non-Christians to listen to us pray… and expecting secular institutions to lead us in these prayers.

We’ve turned prayer – and our faith – into reality television.

What if, instead of focusing all of our attention on battling the Supreme Court – or school board – about the placement of a plaque listing the 10 Commandments, we turned that energy toward not coveting our neighbor’s stuff?

What if instead of lobbying for legislation, we focused on sitting down with the outcast and showed them a little compassion in the midst of an otherwise crappy day?

What if our teens and children made it their goal each day that, as long as they are present, nobody eats alone, plays alone or gets bullied without someone to stand up for them?

What if we encouraged them to look for the dark places in their school and to work together (with one another, and with God) to be light?

What if they didn’t need special recognition of prayer time and instead saw each moment as sacred and worthy of being lifted up to God?

You know what? Forget “what if” – this is who we must be. Now. Today.

And it isn’t some idealistic pipe dream. I know some kids that are living this way, and I’ve seen the impact it can have. If you tried to tell these kids that “they” have taken prayer out of the schools these kids would look at you like you’ve lost your mind.

Nobody has removed God from our schools, our nation or anything else. God doesn’t need permission to love God’s creation. God is in the schools, the abandoned places and the market places. And the people of God should have eyes to see. We are called to see the darkness and to see the ways that God is dispelling the darkness.

So long as the people of God are fully present, there can be no removal of prayer, no lack of mercy, no shortage of compassion, no extinguishing of light, no destruction of hope.

Because we are more than conquerors – we are something much greater than combatants – we are the Body of Christ in this place. We are ambassadors of a kingdom where the captives are set free, the naked are clothed, the hungry are fed, the oppressed are lifted up and the forgotten are called out by name.

If these things are not taking place, there’s no need to accuse the government, the secularists, the atheists or anyone else…we need to ask, “Why are the people of God not fully present?

We don’t need to throw a temper tantrum and pass new legislation. We need to see the good we ought to do and do it.

If we want to engage in a war, then let it be the war within – the war against apathy, indifference, and fear.

No more hiding behind our religiosity and sense of entitlement. It is time to live as a signpost of the kingdom that is already among us.

God is already in this place… Are we?

Affirmation of Discernment, continued.

This post is continued from yesterday. I hope you hugged a preacher…

The decision to potentially pursue a ministry position with an established congregation would most likely mean moving out of the area – possibly out of Texas, yet again. We didn’t like the idea of moving away, but if the job didn’t come through with MWF, I didn’t really see what options were left. I’ve learned that you can do just about anything for a season – if it is important enough. But we all have limited energy and resources…and mine were tapped.

In late February we received the news that the MWF’s paperwork would not be finalized in time for the March grant deadline. It could be another year or more before the position would be possible (in fact, it is now May and the paperwork is still pending). It was time to initiate plan B.

Damn.

Putting together a resume was not half as difficult as getting my heart and mind to a place where A) any church would be interested in hiring me and B) I would be faithfully entering a new situation without bitterness and reservation.

I really believed that just making a decision to move forward would bring a semblance of peace. Isn’t that how it usually works? Even if it isn’t the outcome we’d hoped for, just the removal of wondering is typically a relief.

It wasn’t… at all.

The truth is, I felt fairly confident that if we accepted a position, I would throw myself into the life of that community…but it still seemed wrong somehow. This was when I started doubting just about everything in a significant way. How could I feel so strongly about what it was God had called me to and yet not be able to do that? It was as if Paul had received the vision about the man from Macedonia calling them to come help only to find that someone had extended the Great Wall of China right across their path.

An answer that seemed increasingly reasonable was that God hadn’t called me to anything, I was just making it all up in my clearly “nuts” head.

The day I sent out my first batch of resumes I had an experience which brought me more sadness about leaving Burleson and caused me to question everything all over again. Then a couple days later, I had another one (you can read about that here).

So I talked it over with Rachel and we decided to do something that neither of us wanted to do again – a path we’d even rejected in choosing to put together resumes. We decided to continue pursuing conversations with any of the churches that contacted us from the first round of resumes, but to hold off on sending any more until we tried one final round of fundraising.

Fundraising…ugh.

From conversations with MWF I felt confident that within two years I could have a full-time position which would allow to continue in our church planting work here in Burleson and also work to equip others to start new faith communities, as well as lead established ones in missional renewal. If I could just hang on for a couple more years.

At this point the “are you nuts” questions started bubbling up again.

Nuts or not, I put together a packet of fundraising materials. I posted them in pdf form here on this website, and started contacting churches in hopes of setting up a meeting to discuss our request.

I didn’t get any takers. That wasn’t really surprising – I’ve done fundraising before and I know how long it takes to get any traction with churches and missions committees. I wasn’t discouraged by the lack of folks jumping at the chance to support us…though I was starting to get a little antsy at the lack of any response at all – not even a “we’ll get back to you.”

I forwarded my material to lots of people, including several who I knew would be good at offering a careful evaluation and suggestions for how to improve.

One of those people was Larry Duggins, the executive director of the MWF. We were working together on a website project anyway so he asked if I’d like to stay a little longer in order to talk about my fundraising material.

In the two days before our meeting two separate churches (neither of which in or near North Texas) contacted me saying I’d made it past the initial “resume culling” and was invited to pursue further conversations about their ministry opening. Both asked me to fill out a questionnaire to help the search team get to know my theology and philosophy of ministry. Honestly, just trying to fill them out was difficult.

There was a (mostly) unconscious part of me that was rebelling and wanted to subtly undermine my chances of further interviews – easy enough to do. There was a more conscious part that just wanted to curl up in a ball. But I knew that if this was the door that God opened then I’d better get my head and heart into it – both seemed like good churches and if I wasn’t going to commit then, well…they deserved better than me and I needed to stop pretending like I care about following where God leads.

So I committed. I responded carefully and honestly (without being so in-your-face that they’d run in fear).

The day after both had been sent, I met with Larry. I was looking forward to some helpful insights on the fundraising process. Instead he said, “We looked over your stuff. We’d like to offer to pick up the amount you’re seeking to raise and have you start working full-time for MWF effective immediately.”

I think I was accepting the job before I’d even registered that it had been offered.

I’d like to say that my calm acceptance and conversation was simply an example of my awesome professionalism. But really, I was simply blindsided and in shock…in a good way for once.

I didn’t start shaking until the drive home.

Back to the discernment issue. If we hadn’t carefully and prayerfully made plans – and then stuck to those plans – there’s little chance that we would have been in place long enough for this to all play out. Sure, most of the plans we made didn’t pan out the way we anticipated. It was frustrating and exhausting.

In retrospect I can see how most of what we attempted over the last three years either taught us something significant about this approach to missional life and church planting (you should hear some of my stories of 2 am conversations with fellow security guards) or they kept us going until the next temporary phase came along.

In the moment it didn’t make sense that my prayers and processes of discernment lead to the perceived response of “I’ve called you to this, do it faithfully.” How? How could we keep going when the doors to support kept slamming shut? And yet, we never missed a payment.

That part really didn’t make sense. According to our budget and financial records, we should have run out of money MONTHS ago. But at the end of each month everything worked out. Every month.

I don’t think that our plans give God something to laugh about. Our plans, if they are developed through prayer and discernment, keep us moving forward when we can’t see where the road is headed. Our plans are one part of why we were still here to see God’s miraculous provision come to pass. Without prayerful planning – and sticking to our commitments even when conventional wisdom said to cut our losses – we most likely would have given up and moved on to something else entirely. Had that happened, I am confident that God would have still found ways to use our lives for his Kingdom, but we would have missed out on that which I believe God has been carefully and thoroughly preparing us. By sticking it out, we are more convinced than ever that we are doing precisely what God has called us to do.

And I wonder about those two interviews. The timing was very interesting. Was this a situation like Abraham on the mountain with Isaac where I was being given a chance to see for myself just how much I trusted God’s leadership? I don’t know if it was or not…but that’s precisely how it has impacted me.

I’ve been trying to write this post for a couple weeks…but I’ve been speechless.

Obviously, it was a short-lived affliction.

For the past 17 days I could feel the implications, lessons and reflections rolling around in my head, but they wouldn’t surface. Dan Bouchelle wrote a post recently on the danger of journaling and writing for us wordy types. I think he is absolutely correct. I needed to be silent before God in thanksgiving and praise before trying to share this story.

My role has expanded considerably within the MWF and I’m already tackling some new challenges – not the least of which being the very enjoyable task of getting to know the students and leaders who participate, serve and lead in the Epworth Houses and New Day communities. One of the aspects of my job which I anticipate bringing me great joy is coming alongside to support and encourage these folks. Their holistic approach to life, faith and ministry is inspirational and, let’s face it, somewhat nuts.

I can appreciate that.

Affirmation of Discernment

A lot has happened since I started working on my Bare Minimum series of posts. I haven’t forgotten about that, I’ll come back to it very soon. However, after a couple weeks of vacillating between dazed and frantically busy, I need to post some thoughts about a huge development in our lives.

I’m needing help processing a particular feeling. I’ve heard of it before, I’ve even known people who claim to have dealt with it, but the very concept has always been absolutely foreign to my life experience. So, I’ll need some coaching from those more accustomed to this (for me) uncharted experience of being rendered “speechless.” Who’d have thought such a thing was even possible?

Of the spiritual disciplines I’ve sought to cultivate in my life, perhaps none has been more transformative (particularly to the way I make decisions) than the practice of spiritual discernment. Sure, I grew up in a tradition and in a family that valued praying about matters, big and small, to ensure that we were submitting to the will of God in our lives. And sometimes, not always, this got translated into a low view of planning and thinking ahead. After all, “our planning just gives God something to laugh about.”

This wasn’t always the mentality, but it certainly cropped up – usually when someone was tired of thinking, didn’t know what to do or was frustrated by rapidly changing circumstances and unpredictable developments.

Several years ago, as I began digging more deeply into the classic spiritual disciplines, someone commented on the “lost art of discernment.” The comment was made that “the only planning which is a pointless, human endeavor is that which is pointless, human planning.”

What if, instead, we viewed the process of planning as an act of prayer and discernment. To spend time with God in silence, listening deeply. To listen, meditate on scripture, bring what you feel you’ve heard back to a discerning community and “compare notes.” And then to allow our decisions, plans, etc to grow from this intentional process of listening, rather than praying over what we’ve decided…could be cool right?

Actually, as I already suggested, its been transformational. Ridiculously so. So what do you do when you’ve submitted something to prayer and discernment repeatedly, and in community with others, consistently hearing the same thing…only to have outside factors block the path over and again? What do you do when your heart, your prayers, and your praying community all agree, but other issues seem to be demanding a different conclusion?

Well, I don’t know what you do, but apparently I begin to lose confidence in whether I have ever actually been led by God at all. It isn’t an “all at once” kind of deflation, but a gradual, life-draining, slow-acting toxin which little by little even erodes one’s basic convictions about their relationship with God…I must not be walking too close if my messages are getting this crossed.

For quite some time people have been telling me I’m nuts. They’re right, of course. However I’ve always felt they had reached the correct conclusion on wrong evidence.

When I left a well paying, relatively stable (shocking in its own right, given the history) preaching position in order to pursue church planting, some said the decision was inspirational – others said it was nuts.

When we chose to do so in 2008, on the verge of a national economic melt-down, most people said we were nuts – a few said it was inspirational…but even some of them seemed to wonder if at least the timing was nuts.

When we decided that our efforts in church planting would focus on the slow, non-salary producing connection to cynical de-churched folks and the suburban poor, people rightly asked how we’d pay the bills. My response that God had called us into this and wouldn’t leave us stranded received a nearly unanimous “you’re nuts” even from those who thought it was inspirational.

When I accepted that the bi-vocational approach was necessary some believed I was starting to see the light. But when we realized that my skill set and training don’t exactly translate into many “secular” career opportunities – and certainly few that would allow us to continue church planting, even I began to think I was nuts.

When bi-vocational became multi-vocational (sometimes as many as 6 different part-time and full-time jobs simultaneously) I started thinking that “Nuts” should be printed on my business card.

Throughout this time we continued to pray and discern with others. Perhaps relocating to a new area for church planting would provide other opportunities – both for support and employment. But over and again the closest thing to an answer I felt I was receiving (and having confirmed by others) was “I’ve called you to this, do it faithfully.” It didn’t seem to matter that I was increasingly convinced that I had no idea how to do it.

I tried working in sales for both a roofing company and a security company. It was not good. I prayed with a few people as we put new roofs on their house – that was great. I had some very significant conversations about the Way of Jesus with a couple contractors. But at the end of the day, I wasn’t a good salesman…which sort of defeated the purpose.

I tried taking my experiences and education and translating them into an organization – Missional Monks – which could provide the financial support we needed. I still think that is a good idea, but it became very apparent that I would need one or both of the following to grow Missional Monks into something financially sustainable: time and money. I had neither.

According to our budget and conversations with some of our financial supporters in church planting (without whose partnership we could not have held on this long) we expected that our situation would no longer be sustainable after August/September of 2011.

But then another possibility arose. Last year I helped to launch The Academy for Missional Wisdom – one of three ministries operated by the Missional Wisdom Foundation (MWF). I was able to integrate my work with the Academy with the completion of my D.Min. project and dissertation – which I believe improved my efforts in both.

We began conversations about the possibility of a full-time position with the MWF around the beginning of 2012. Unfortunately, it seemed as though the timing was going to be a little late. We began praying that if this was the path forward that God would not only provide for our needs in the meantime but would also give us the courage to push through.

September came and went and somehow there was still enough money in the bank to pay the bills. Seriously, Rachel is fantastic with budgets and stretching a dollar but she said plainly, “I don’t understand, there shouldn’t be anything left in there.”

In November we learned that there were some IRS bureaucracy log-jams impeding the MWF’s progress toward getting the grants necessary to fund a full-time director. The job was still a possibility, but things were looking shaky on the early 2012 timeline.

Meanwhile, even those who’d been our strongest supporters began asking subtle questions like, “So…what’s plan B?” I insisted that I wasn’t interested in plan B until I had clear evidence that God wanted me to abandon plan A…and I’m pretty sure I heard “you’re nuts” in the subtext of my friends’ replies.

Others asked, “At what point do you decide that all of this is the answer to your prayers for discernment? Maybe the answer just isn’t what you want to hear.”

That one rocked me a bit. For the first time I began wondering if my friends were right in their conclusion of my mental state.

After more prayer we decided that if the paperwork for the MWF didn’t come through in time for the grant deadlines then we would begin pursuing the dreaded plan B…we just had to figure out what that was.

I’ve worked a lot of jobs these past several years and I’ve learned a few things about myself in the process. It’s not just that I’m trained to equip disciples and teach others about God, I’ve been called to do so. I know that because I’ve tried doing a lot of other things, and this is the only stuff that makes sense…and it is what I want to spend all of my working hours devoted to. This isn’t about not wanting “a real job” or only wanting to do what is pleasant – if you think differently, I’d be happy to compare time-sheets and job lists.

A line from the movie Gladiator has always resonated with me, “Sometimes I do what I want to do, the rest of the time I do what I must do.” I will do whatever I must do in order to continue doing what God has called me to do.

But if a sustainable bi-vocational situation wasn’t possible – and working a crazy assortment of random jobs was no longer sufficient, what would I do in order to continue doing what God has called me to do?

We determined that if plan B became necessary then I would once again pursue a position as a minister with an established congregation. We would pray that God would direct us to church that was seeking to equip the congregation for missional life in their community. Perhaps I would even be able to find a situation where we could work to equip and support the planting of new churches and the formation of missional-micro communities from within the congregation.

It shouldn’t be the case, but so often serving in leadership for a church is not very conducive to connecting with people who aren’t Christians. There is so much “stuff” that gets in the way of the very thing you feel called to be doing. I know its fun, and more than a little humorous, to make jokes about preachers getting paid to play golf all week. There are probably a few for whom this is accurate, but I don’t know many personally…and I know a lot of preachers. It is a rewarding job, but it is frustrating, exhausting work that comes with an oversized target as part of the compensation package.

If you’ve never served as a full-time minister or an elder for an established congregation, stop reading this, go find one and give them a hug. I’ll finish the rest of this post tomorrow, after you’ve had a chance to do so…

Seriously, at least send them an email…

Parts 4, 5 and 6…of 3

This picture doesn’t really have anything to do with the post…I just thought it was a great example of Rachel’s budding photography skills. If you really need me to I’m perfectly capable of fabricating a metaphor…an unfocused Josiah in the background, a young praying mantis focused in the foreground…it would be very simple. But just enjoy the picture, jeez.

Last weekend I started writing down some thoughts. I’d been wrestling with the issue of time in discipleship/spiritual formation. Over the years I’ve encountered several books and resources on discipleship which I believe are solid in both theology and theory…but they’ve mostly fallen short in practice. Its hard to get folks to commit to even an hour or two a week – we’re all so very, very busy. And even when we do, the impact and growth we experience still pales in comparison to what we read in the Gospels and Acts.

And it struck me that our discipleship strategies – even the ones modeled specifically around the way of Jesus – differ from what we know of the early Christians in one incredibly significant area: time. Well, that and Jesus not being bodily present.

So my notes soon expanded into a blog post…then into a 2000 word blog post. When I started approaching 3000 words, I decided they’d need to be split into multiple posts or even my 2 faithful readers would abandon their journey in despair.

I scheduled the posts for Monday-Wednesday of this week and let the idea sit (read part 1, part 2, part 3 here). Then the thoughts started coming again (I’m a little schizophrenic that way). Well, posts 4, 5 and 6…of 3 are just about finished. I’m going to let them simmer a bit before finalizing and posting, but needless to say, I believe this is an important discussion.

These posts describe the problem and only vaguely hint at possible solutions. To be honest, I’m not completely ready to rush to solutions because I’m just a little convinced that our hesitance to consider the problem is itself a part of the problem.

So I think I’ll hold off on solutions and save them for my book!

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to post some comments. I could use some help in thinking this through with others.

Courageous Church Conversation with Coffey

I recently stumbled across a series of blog posts by Shaun and Rai King (see the primary post here). In these exchanges the Kings describe (and defend) Shaun’s decision to step down as Lead Pastor of Courageous Church in Atlanta (which they planted in 2009).

I recently posted a link to the article on Facebook and ended up having a significant exchange with my friend Marshall Coffey. Marshall has agreed to let me share that conversation here with a few additional comments. (In order to remain true the original conversation, I have not edited these comments for content or typos.)

Marshall: After two difficult church planting journeys, I know the difficulty of the task. Yet I read immaturity in this couple with an intense focus on self. In our criticisms of church we often become the new religious elite, those who “have it figured out”. After three years they took shortcuts where Jesus mentored people who didn’t get it. As someone has said, “the family of believers already has an accuser.” Let’s not be guilty of joining him in our accusations. Love must drive everything we do, followed by patience.

Bret: Marshal – I don’t know these people so I can’t speak to their immaturity or maturity. They are obviously flawed (as are we all) but what I see here is an attempt to process through these issues and to whatever degree possible, to respond faithfully. However, after having been a part of a church plant that became a victim of its own “success” I also identify with their struggle to discern what it means to remain faithful to their calling.

The place where I see the most evidence of “immaturity” is in Rai’s first post – which she herself comes back and comments on how she spoke out of the raw emotion of the moment. I can only imagine how painful it can be for our wives to watch the pain we go through – particularly in the type of leadership situation that Courageous Church had chosen (we can say whatever we want about whether this was a healthy approach – regardless, its what they had.) However, she also seems to be trying to process through the event without being dishonest.

I see what you’re saying about “taking shortcuts” – but I also identify with their position. There comes a point when the rest of the leadership and the voice of the congregation is calling for a particular direction, focus and style of leadership where we must decide a couple things – Am I simply threatening the good this church IS doing by constantly trying to pull them in a different direction? Can I remain faithful to my calling and go the direction they’re calling for?

Perhaps one part of spiritual elitism is thinking that we know best and should remain at the helm regardless of what the rest of the congregation seems to want. Again, I’m not a big fan of this type of leadership model – but its the one their congregation has.

One reason I think we should all read this is that it highlights a trend that is beginning to emerge across denominations and cultural contexts. It seems that church plants that are seeking to function missionally face this kind of struggle (in one way or another) after about three to five years. We did, [at least three other church plants associated with our network did] – Hugh Halter and Alan Hirsch both comment on similar situations themselves and with countless others they’ve spoken to. As I’ve continued research for my doctoral project, it seems that this story is the norm

The pull of culture toward comfortable and consumer driven forms of “church” doesn’t stop just because we’ve seen early successes in living missionally – in fact, they seem to increase. A statement made to me a couple years ago seems to sum up a lot – “Okay, we’ve done this missional stuff. When do we get to be a real church?” Many times this is a result of the church planters making concessions and compromises to the missional calling along the way, but not always.

The question is how we will deal with this situation when it arises. I think it also highlights the need from the very beginning to not just focus on “missional church” but more specifically, missional discipleship.

Marshall: Bret, all good thoughts. Thank you. I can identify for sure. I stand as one still looking for answers. I see the trend you mentioned. I suppose we should expect it and learn how to push beyond it. Not sure how. What I do know is discipleship is a long and arduous process. We cannot make people “missional”. We can model and equip. We can teach. Ultimately, we’re waiting for the Lord to move in their hearts like he has the church planter’s. 

I try to recognize that many people who come into our churches are already tired, and most of them are experiences many forms of brokenness. Do we sometimes lay an additional burden on them with our talk of discipleship and missional living? I want us to be thoughtful how we present the message of following Jesus in a radical way. Until he is their Master in whom they place their hope, they will not experience freedom in the journey. They will be like those disciples in John 6 that wanted more bread but not the Bread of Life, and simply desert Jesus.

The immaturity I read in this couple is 1) They expected their desire and their words to quickly transform hearts, and after a very short time they stand in judgment on people who came for “not getting it.” 2) They both exhibit an air of superiority based on their grasp of discipleship that’s at a deeper level than others. I recognize it because I was (or still am?) arrogant in a similar way. I see this in many who leave one naiveté regarding church but have not come to grips with where that leaves them. Negativity is detrimental. (I think Rae’s first post is a great example of why we should not vent in a public way.) 3) His first two points where good, but his third was deficient. He’s suffering the Elijah syndrome of thinking there are so few, when God says, “shows what you know.” Who can count the faithful disciples of our Lord, and who judges the criteria of discipleship. I know I cannot. 

I’m convicted in Ephesians of the perspective God has of His Church. When I see Him enthroning His church alongside Jesus (2:6) and empowering them in the resurrection and ascension power of Jesus (1:19-20), I question how I’ve come to have such a low view of His church (in the past at least). I hear in the language of many church planters a low view of church and a high view of discipleship. Perhaps we should question if our culture is informing that as well. We need correctives, but need to be careful in running too far ahead.

Please here me say, I’m not condemning them. They are learning from their mistakes just as I did, the hard way. They are passionate but dangerous. Perhaps they need to stick with non-profit and show their discipleship there. Church has always and will always have a tension of arriving and not-yet-arriving. We need the Ephesians perspective, calling people to become what God has already made them.

Bret: I’m totally with you on the low-church vs high-discipleship issue. I am constantly getting myself in trouble with the more “organic” folks over that very issue.

I think the title of his third point is a bit of hyperbole (whether intended that way or not) – but I agree with his following paragraphs. Your point about the slow process of discipleship is well made. A question we must ask though is whether our patience serves to slowly lead folks out of consumer mindsets or provides a safe place to continue in the perpetually.

I’m against putting “additional burdens” on people – particularly the non-essential baggage that institutional forms of church have accumulated. I’m not so sure that missional life and discipleship can be added to that list though. These form the backbone of our calling itself. Jesus is the one who said “come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” But he also said, “take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” – And then there’s that “take up your cross daily and follow me” thing. Jesus “lost” a lot of disciples this way too. We shouldn’t try to run people off – but we have to be honest about what the call to Christ entails.

I’m all about inviting people to share life with us even before they’re ready to embrace the way of Jesus – I do it all the time. But I’m very much against communicating to people that its okay to accept Jesus as Savior and leave the Lord part until later…because later rarely gets here.

There is danger of elitism here…but it is a danger we all face constantly. My theory is that we’re all a little elitist – the rancher who talks down about city-folk, the uneducated who mock those in school, the Southerner who belittles the yankee – and vice versa for all these – …the list goes on and on.

Perhaps he was wrong to step down – perhaps not. I’m not sure from the little information we have. Maybe the problem is that these types of reflections will always be read with judgmental tone assumed when they’re published so close to the time of the event (I know this from personal experience).

One of the big questions I’m hearing from you (which I share) is whether the proper response to folks “not getting it” is to leave. My suspicion is that there isn’t an easy answer. I can identify with his statement that he can’t continue on the path of church as a “big buildings. huge crowds. few disciples.” Should he have stayed and helped them move towards a more healthy expression? Perhaps.

I don’t present these posts as an endorsement of all their content – in a different conversation, I’d have some pretty strong critiques. However, I do think there is much to reflect on and learn here. I’m not sure whether it was a good idea to put everything “out in public” like this or not – I can see both sides. However, I do know that what they’re saying is something that many are thinking – and feel isolated in their thoughts – so, in a sense, it also serves to confront the Elijah complex that many of us have.

thanks for the dialog!!! Its been helpful for me.

Marshall: My point about “additional burdens” concerns how we frame, or perhaps how they hear, our missional language. It can sound like more busyness rather than a way of life that is freeing and joyful, yet always calling us to the cross, His and ours.

I’ve also shifted my thinking away from the one’s who don’t seem to get it, allowing them to sort of stay present in their apathy, and instead pour energy and time into those beginning to open eyes. The former I can do nothing about. The latter is an exciting medium of art where the Master artist is busy doing his creative thing.

Bret: The busyness thing is certainly an important issue here – I’m currently writing a blog post for Helen Lee with the working title, “Missional Isn’t About Putting God First” – one of my primary points is that our life with God cannot be defined by stuff we add to or take away from our schedule – it actually entails a rearranging of how we view and engage everything. So the calling is actually much more than adding something to your already full schedule – its viewing the whole schedule (and more) as the context for God’s movement. – So, I’m with you here.

Your reply about pouring energy into those beginning to open their eyes is good – I’m in agreement. But what happens when the majority of the congregation seems to exist in the previous camp and expect you to focus your energies on the things they want? And not to be argumentative or critical (just trying to get at this from every angle), but how do you make these judgements (open eyes versus closed) without falling prey to the same elitism that you see in the original post?

Marshall: I don’t see it as a judgment thing, but a recognition. It may be how Paul chose a Timothy. As we spiritually discern our people, we can see those who are asking and seeking to go deeper. In a sense, I cannot help but notice, and I’d like to think it is a derivative of the Holy Spirit. I’m not suggesting everyone else gets kicked to the curb because we have very limited understanding of where they are in their lives, or at what point they may seek to go deeper. So its not, “We’ve got it and you don’t,” but a natural gravitation toward those God has positioned for His glory. The hot ones may be a key to opening the perspectives of the are not as far along. If a congregation is stifling the Spirit, perhaps that is a recognition to move on to more fruitful branches. When we moved into our current context, an established congregation, we came looking for 5-10% that seemed to be getting it or wanting “it”, knowing God has a history of using a few insignificant folks like myself to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine. I cannot see everything or much at all about our future here, but a granule of sand a day will eventually fill a bucket. Insert the Holy Spirit who may empower in His time, and you get the shore.

—-

I realize this is already a long post, but I’d like to offer a few final comments. This issue gets at the heart of our struggle to cultivate missional communities. We are trying to embrace people in the midst of their brokenness AND call them to embrace risk and adventure on mission with God. I believe both are not only possible, they are necessary…but they are certainly difficult.

Marshall makes some great points – particularly in reference to the patience required in discipleship. A six month process leading to large-scale change is pretty quick…which is one of the major drawbacks of an event and program driven church regardless of size. Its also a reason to consider whether a top-down program change will ever be effective – that’s my not-so subtle plug for Communitas, an approach that focuses on encountering the change you hope to see rather than mandating it 😉

However, change is difficult in any context.

The question of when to move on as a leader is quite difficult. On the one hand I very much appreciate Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s statement in The Wisdom of Stability: “If life with God can happen anywhere, it can happen here.” And yet, on the other hand, when a community of people, including leadership, insist on moving in a direction that you are convinced (and have had others affirm) is not the direction God is calling you…what is the proper response?

I recently struggled with a similar question for about a year. My initial impulse was to just leave and do something else out of frustration and exhaustion. But as I spent time in prayer it seemed that the Spirit was telling me to stay put and submit to the community for a season. Over time my heart changed. My desire to start something new remained, but for a whole new reason. I began to view the situation as an opportunity for new growth – not leaving something else behind.

I began to see that there were leaders in place who had a clear vision for where they felt God was leading them – specifically toward more one-on-one connection in discipleship outside of “church” participation. At the same time, I felt increasingly drawn toward reclaiming practices of spiritual formation, worship, etc that would seek to form a missional discipleship culture within the church community (as expressed in both the gathered and scattered church). So, why not use this as an opportunity to “plant out” and spread our influence to other parts of the community?

Things didn’t all progress quite like I’d hoped or anticipated…they rarely do. But we press on in light of God’s grace. While I know very little about Courageous Church or the Kings, I hope and pray that there will be grace and mercy shown throughout this transition and that both they and the community of Courageous Church will continue to pursue life with God boldly and… well, courageously.

My thanks to Marshall for his willingness to process through this stuff with me…and to you for reading all the way to the end!

A New Day Dawns

In the summer of 2005 my world turned upside down. I was a youth minister at a church in Dallas, only a few months away from finishing grad school at ACU and we’d just found out Rachel was pregnant with Micah (our now 5 year old). Life seemed to be progressing in fairly predictable fashion. My job seemed secure, my family was growing, we lived in a house we planned to buy in a nice but affordable Dallas neighborhood. We had some exciting things happening in the youth ministry. It wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops, there were frustrations and struggles, but all in all, things were good.

Then one Tuesday I was told that the leadership of the church had decided to eliminate my position at the church. In one conversation the rug was pulled out from under us. I began looking for another job. We had grown to love Dallas and had very good friends there…but to find another ministry job would most likely mean moving. For months I searched. Time and time again we found ourselves among the final 2 applicants for a position – several of which were still in the DFW area – and every time someone from the selection committee would call to say they were very sorry but they’d decided on the other guy. In one week I got a call from one church saying they felt like they needed someone a little younger, another saying they wanted someone a little older…and another that just wanted someone else. I felt like I was the momma bear’s porridge AND the daddy bear’s porridge.

After 6 months, and jobs in insurance adjusting, Barnes and Noble bookshelf alphabetizing, bounce house set-upping, disaster relief child caring and even a few random jobs, we were invited to move to the New Orleans area on a one year contract where I’d work as an outreach minister in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The first year and a half were brutal. We were still wounded from our previous job loss…and in hindsight were probably not in the best state-of-mind to relocate to a disaster area. However, our one year contract became nearly three years, the outreach ministry position became the preaching ministry position and Tammany Oaks became our family.

I began spending time at local coffee shops and cafes. I met and developed friendships with people who had little or no desire to ever step foot in a “church building.” It became apparent to me that in order to truly connect with such folks we’d need a very different approach than what we were used to. We began to discern a call to church planting.

So, we told Tammany Oaks what we were thinking and our desire to take up this calling in north Texas – to be sent home as missionaries. I was nervous, I’d been dropped by a church before, how would this one respond? My fears proved to be unfounded in this instance. For six months we remained at Tammany Oaks while we raised support – in the midst of church family that prayed over us and pledged a year of financial support themselves, and friends who are still very dear to us.

Four of us had left Texas in April/May 2006 and five moved back to north Texas in October of 2008 (Josiah was born in Covington, Louisiana, but still secretly on Texas soil as I’d had a bag of that beautiful sandy-loam smuggled into the delivery room…) We began working with Christ Journey, a young church plant in Burleson. I spent time developing spiritual formation and discipleship processes for a house church based ministry, got to know waitresses and strangers in the park, started new house churches and began working on a doctor of ministry in missional church studies at SMU. My school studies were helpful and have led to the development of a training resource for groups – particularly established congregations who wish to begin connecting with people like the ones I’d met in south Louisiana coffee shops…and Burleson coffee shops.

But the real learning took place in the midst of the Christ Journey community and our attempts to cultivate a missional community in the midst of Bible belt culture. I gained insight into the struggles that come with planting churches in an area that author/professor/church planter, David Fitch recently described to me as “extremely comfortable with church.”

I learned about the limitations of and the need for godly leadership in young communities of faith. I learned about the inherent relational risks associated with an approach to faith that calls you to invest in one another beyond merely attending events together. I learned about the difficulty and the necessity of leading as a fellow follower, co-laborer and travel companion and the danger of abdicating that calling.

I learned the importance of serving the poor and connecting with neighbors as central elements of life as a disciple of Jesus – experiencing life as “the scattered church” …and I developed a whole new appreciation for the value of gathering regularly for worship – life as “the gathered church.”

I struggled with the role of preaching and proclamation in a culture that values dialog over monologue…and am learning how to navigate that path.

I learned to recognize the need for structures that benefit organic growth and learned how stunted that growth will be without such structures.

My learning is far from complete. But my family and I, along with a few other families have now been sent out by Christ Journey to continue the ministry of planting churches. The Gathering is already connecting with others and inviting new friends to taste and see that the Lord is good. Just as planting an apple tree means planting apple seeds, planting churches means planting not the finished fruit but rather a seed, which is the good news that Jesus himself planted – The kingdom of God is at hand!

Since we moved to Burleson we have been supported financially by a combination of raised support and part-time (and sometimes full-time) jobs. As we launch out on this new phase of our adventure, we are once again seeking others to partner with us financially. In addition to our ministry with The Gathering, I’m currently working several part-time jobs (4 to be precise, along with completing the final stages of my degree at SMU) and am in the process of starting a non-profit ministry called Intentional People, formed around Communitas, the process I’ve developed through SMU. Rachel currently has 3 jobs of her own (in addition to caring for the infamous Wellsbrothers).

One of our primary goals for fundraising is to be able to raise enough support to let go of a few of these other jobs in order to devote more time to church planting and Intentional People.

We have put together a newsletter which describes The Gathering and Intentional People, and provides information about how others can partner with us. If you, someone you know, your church or another group may be interested in learning more about either of these ministries, please leave a comment, email me at bret@intentionalpeople.org, or send me a message on Facebook or Twitter.

Prayer for Tuesday, June 7

Scripture for Tuesday
Acts 10:9-23

9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
 14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
 17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
 19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three[a] men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
 21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
 22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.


Tuesday Prayer

The Local Community as a Harvest Field
Lord of the Harvest, we thank you that in the midst of your concern for all creation you do not forget to respond to the cries of individuals. God, we confess that the same is not true for us. We allow ourselves to be consumed with our own drama or we become enthralled with stories of more exotic places. Father, if your kingdom can break in anywhere, it can break in here. We believe, forgive our unbelief. Holy God, open our eyes to the people who live across the street or who drop their children at the same school as ours; people who we have seen but not truly seen. Lord of the Harvest, give us eyes to see as you see. We pray that your name will be proclaimed in Burleson; we pray that the hopeless will find reason to rejoice and those in darkness will see your great light.

What does the gospel have to say to your neighborhood? For 6 weeks I’ve been asking you to look around with intentionality. What have you seen? WHO have you seen? What is the next step that you need to take in order to engage more fully as an ambassador of a kingdom that can literally change everything for those who will embrace it? Participants in The Gathering have already invited some “dechurched” friends to share life with us (and have already seen God producing fruit from those actions) – will you pray for us to continue living with this kind of intentionality?


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