Category Archives: intentional people
As we prepare to once again launch a fundraising effort for church planting, I decided to repost this article I wrote on the cusp of our move to Burleson nearly three years ago. The details are different this time around, we’re hoping to relocate to the other side of town, not to another state. We have 3 years experience in the ministry of planting churches and specifically working with people in this area. We’ve now been married over 10 years and for the first time ever have lived in the same house for over 2.5 years. We’re hoping our next move will be the last for many years to come. As I reread this post, I was struck by how much things have changed and how much they have stayed the same. The economy got worse, then it seemed to get a little better…nationwide, organizations are giving less to charitable causes and non-profits while individuals seem to be giving more. Our prayer as we begin this process is that the Holy Spirit will guide us to connect with both churches and individuals willing to partner with us in the ministry of planting churches and equipping congregations to live missionally in their neighborhoods.
Bad Ideas and Ones That Just Seem That Way. Oct 3, 2008
So as you may or may not know, Rachel and I have been married nearly 8 years and we are about to (hopefully) complete our 8th move together. Over the years we have become pretty proficient packers and movers, with a thoroughly tested and carefully revised system. Rachel has always been in charge of packing (I handle the garage, my closet and anything she tells me to do…). I’ve been in charge of moving day and take pride in the fact that when folks show up to help us load the trucks there are pretty much only two types of items in our home: boxes and furniture. When we moved from Mesquite to Dallas the total time from when the first box was picked up until we were all sitting in the new house eating lunch was 2.5 hours (that’s including the 15-20 minute drive to our new house).
But times they are a changin’. If you read Rachel’s blog you know that she normally has nearly half the house packed before we send the kids to grandparents’ house for crunch time. The jump from 2 to 3 kids has shifted the balance of power and we simply did not have nearly as much done. Wednesday when I took the boys to my mom, Rachel was sick – which meant that the whole day she had to herself to get stuff done without me or the boys in her way was…well, it wasn’t good. Then yesterday I spent the day battling off the ick as well.
However, last night as we prepared for bed, we felt that all-in-all we were in decent shape. Joey had been incredibly cooperative, we actually had several boxes packed, the garage was close to ready…and we still had all day today, Saturday, most of the day Sunday and Monday before the big day Tuesday.
But that wasn’t good enough for me.
While carrying some stuff out to the truck I accidentally walked into the side of an open drawer. That was not a good idea. Three hours later we were back home with seven stinking stitches. But you know, we still got a lot done today.
The doctor, after conceding that I wasn’t going to stay off my feet, requested that I at least spend an hour of so with my leg propped up so that the bleeding would stop (which it didn’t do the entire time they were stitching me up…it was kinda cool). During my long lunch break I watched CNN. There was plenty of talk about the bailout plan – which at that point was being deliberated in the House of Representatives. There was also plenty of talk about the overall state of the economy and the future for jobs and financial security for American citizens.
This isn’t a bombshell; things have been looking a bit dreary for quite some time now. And to be totally honest there have been a few people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that we’re raising money to plant churches. “Now?” they often ask. A few have even come right out and said that they think this is a bad idea. Is the decision to step out on faith and plant new churches right now an idea comparable to kicking an open drawer while packing?
The short answer, I believe, is “no”.
It is true that finances are tight and we are asking people, in the midst this situation, to partner with us financially. It is true that many people are unsure about their job security. It is true that for many people the hope, optimism and general sense of well-being found in this country’s prosperity have been shaken. But that is all the more reason for us to be doing precisely what we’re doing.
Chris Chappotin, my new coworker, just read a book called Death By Suburb. I’m currently reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope. Both of these books, in one way or another, discuss the danger of putting our hope and faith in something less than God. I wonder how many people have been uninterested in God because a prosperous society has been providing them with liberal doses of pain killers – never truly addressing the problems in their life but effectively masking the symptoms in the short run. But (at the risk of overusing the metaphor) perhaps the prescription has run out for many of us.
I believe that today there are many people who have lost or are afraid they may lose their security net and I believe that those people are going to be more receptive than ever to hearing the good news of God who has come near; a God who has come to repair the broken systems of this world which lead to insecurity, fear and oppression; a God who has called us to work with him to reconcile, heal and restore his good creation.
I believe that people are going to be receptive, but there’s more to it than just that. I also believe that right now we NEED hope. Part of why folks are receptive is that the good news which we proclaim is something which we legitimately crave. The truth is that the Kingdom of God is breaking into this world, even in the midst of financial crisis. This kingdom has implications (as Surprised By Hope emphasizes) for life after death, life after life after death and even life BEFORE death!
There has never been a more appropriate time in our lifetime to be engaged in God’s mission; planting churches right now is a GOOD idea.
Those we are asking to partner with us are being faced with a big commitment of faith – trust me, I understand that very well. However, I am more convinced than ever that this is precisely the kind of risk we are being called to take in the name of Jesus. We have raised nearly 50% of our goal (for the first year anyway), we are moving Wednesday and we are convinced that God is opening these doors. We are also convinced that the hurdles which keep popping up this week are examples of spiritual warfare. I believe that the forces of darkness at work in this world should be nervous – not because of us, but because of the powerfully advancing Kingdom in which our citizenship resides.
We are talking with a few churches right now about coming on board as a supporting church for our family and the ministry of planting churches in the Burleson / south Fort Worth area. Several of these churches are considering one time or special gifts – which we of course appreciate greatly. Our church here at Tammany Oaks has agreed to partner with us for one year. We need other congregations to partner with us regularly over the next three years or so. Make no mistake, we’re still looking for individuals to join us. But perhaps your congregation or one you know of would be interested in supporting (or partially supporting) a domestic missionary family. Perhaps your church family also believes that it is time for the community of God to advance into the darkness in order to reflect light into every dark corner. If so would you help us get connected with your church? Would you be the voice calling your leadership to partner with us?
I have now officially shed blood for this ministry, and the 7 stitches (a good, holy number by the way) are symbolic of my commitment…not my inability to watch where I’m walking, as you may have thought. I pray that very soon we will have raised our full support (because apparently I really need to get medical insurance!!). In the meantime we are continuing to pray for the individuals and congregations that God is preparing to bring into our lives as partners, as well as the individuals and families that we are going to be blessed to be in relationship with through the ministry of planting new churches.
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 email@example.com, or send me a message on Facebook or Twitter.
Prayer: Fruitfulness in Our Own Lives
Lord of the Harvest, we know that it is from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. We pray that you will continue to cultivate the soil of our hearts so that our lives will produce much fruit for you. We desire to be the change we hope to see in this world; we long to live as citizens of the kingdom that is at hand and which we anticipate arriving in fullness. Only the Almighty God can bring about this kind of change in our hearts. When we’ve tried to produce this harvest ourselves, our efforts have been exhausting and fruitless. We turn to you, O Lord of the Harvest, as the one who brings growth. We call on you, the Faithful One, to do what you’ve promised. And we pray with confidence, knowing that you desire this more than we do.
Today is the final day of our 7 weeks. I am so grateful that you’ve participated in this process with us. As I look at all that has happened since Easter Sunday, I am once again amazed by our God. As usual, things have not progressed as I anticipated…and as usual, I rejoice that God is at work beyond what I’m able to see in the moment. 7 weeks ago, I expected this Sunday to be the launch of fundraising for Intentional People and had no idea what sort of timeline we’d be working with regarding a new church plant…
Well, we’ve made a lot of progress with Intentional People, but we’re moving the official fundraising launch forward to September, when we’ll be participating in a Missional Church Conference in St. Louis. Yet, our new church plant, The Gathering, has already begun! The Christ Journey community encouraged us to move forward and three families decided to join us.
Since then, Brandy, a friend I met at Denny’s nearly 3 years ago (who was quite uninterested in “church” at the time), has also joined us. Several months ago she moved to Fort Worth and with her work schedule hasn’t been able to be part of our worship gatherings. However, Ron and Shandy Stogsdill (participants in The Gathering) were able to offer her a job with better hours and she told me yesterday, “Just so you know, I’m in.”
Rachel Elder, another member of our community, invited her friend Paula to join us for a swimming party for the kids a couple weeks ago… This past weekend Paula made the comment, “I’ve never enjoyed being part of a church service like I did today.” She was one of the first to sign up to bring food for our meal this Sunday… Thank you for your prayers, I believe God is hearing them.
Prayer: Fruit for the Poor and Oppressed
Lord of the Harvest, if our service in your name isn’t good news for the poor in our community, then it isn’t good news. You are the God who declares freedom for the captives, deliverance for the oppressed and hope for the hopeless. Almighty God, we pray that you will take our meager offerings and multiply them so that no one among us will go without. We pray for the faith to give generously and sacrificially and we pray that you will direct us to the places and people who most need to feast on the fruit that you have provided. Lord of the Harvest, we pray for you to send out workers into your fields; we long to be counted among those workers and we eagerly anticipate the new co-workers in your kingdom that are even now being prepared to serve alongside you with us.
Again, for weeks now, we’ve prayed for the poor and oppressed in our community. What have you learned from this process? What opportunities have arisen…were you able to respond? In the past month and a half my family has witnessed our son raise over $1000 for people in Japan; we’ve seen a young single mother get a new computer and a new job, a struggling family get a new car, hungry people receive food, thirsty people receive cold water…and each of these gifts came from regular people who would not normally consider themselves wealthy (at least by US standards).
The Global Community as a Harvest Field
Lord of the Harvest, as often as we overlook the harvest field in our own back yard, we are often even more unaware of how you are moving in distant lands. We confess that too often our focus in too narrow, our vision too clouded by our supposed limitations. Open our eyes Father, to ways that we can partner with others who proclaiming the good news of new life “over there,” just as we are doing here. God, we pray that these connections will serve your advancing kingdom and that they will also serve to remind us that you are not a regional God. You are the Lord of the Harvest, at all times and in all places. We worship you as such.
During the last few weeks, we’ve been encouraged to connect with different resources and groups operating around the world. Have you taken the opportunity to communicate with anyone? If so, would you share their story with us? I plan to challenge The Gathering to partner with someone financially, to encourage them regularly and pray for them often – I challenge you to do so as well.
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?
And yet, we could look back to the beginning of the Bible and notice that God’s command to the first people was, “be fruitful and multiply.” I think a case could be made that while that text is speaking about the need for Adam and Eve to have children and populate the earth, it is also a prophetic text speaking forward to the mission of God’s people (don’t be satisfied keeping the blessing of relationship with God to yourselves – invite others into this life with you).
However, if we choose to stick with the claim that we should first pursue faithfulness rather than fruitfulness, we must be careful not to create a false dichotomy. There’s no need to see these two matters in competition with one another. Indeed it is God who brings the growth, and both scripture and experience testify that God is quite interested in bringing about this growth. If we are faithful we should expect to see fruit. We’ll see it in our own lives and the lives of those with whom we come into contact – Jesus said that fruit is the evidence of a healthy organism (whether its a fig tree, a disciple or a community of disciples).
Remember Jesus’ statement in Luke 10 – the harvest is plentiful, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his field.
For the church, fruit and harvest represent BOTH continually maturing lives of discipleship among the faithful AND introducing new people to the life of faith (those whose hearts the Holy Spirit is already at work preparing). If new people are “joining” the church but discipleship isn’t taking root in their (and our) lives, this should be an enormous red flag for the community of faith. However, we should also be concerned when months and years pass while the same group of people sits around looking at each other wondering (or not even thinking about) why nobody else seems drawn the message we’re proclaiming.
This week our prayers focus on the harvest and bearing fruit. I am convinced that if we are committed to living out the matters we’ve spent the last 6 weeks praying; if we live with gratitude, wisdom, faithfulness, courage, intent on discipleship, seeking partners, focused on God’s mission, then God WILL bring about fruit and growth in our lives and in our community. If we turn our attention to these matters in the church, in our local community, in the global community, among the poor as well as in our own lives, the Holy Spirit WILL bring us into contact with people who are searching for God even if they aren’t aware of it yet.
Certainly it is possible to put the cart before the horse in regards to “growth.” That is part of the reason we saved the theme of harvest and fruit for last in this season of prayer. However, in both our church planting work and in the ministry of Intentional People, we are engaged in serving others because of the work of Christ – the work of remaking creation and inviting all people to take their place around the table with Jesus.
Lord of the Harvest, we praise you for your concern and compassion for all people. We rejoice that you have done all these things so that people everywhere may seek you and find you, though you are not far from any one of us. Lord, we give you thanks for the ways in which you have brought about growth in our lives and in our communities. God, we pray that we will continue to live fruitful, productive lives as your disciples; that our love for one another, for you and for our neighbors will be evident to all. We desire these things, O Lord, because we have seen them first in you. You are the God of steadfast love, you are the Holy One who has not stayed far off, you are the Lord of the Harvest. Father, we pray that you will continue to work in us and conform us more fully into your image. You are the only one who is worthy of emulation and you are the only one who brings about new life.
We began this season of prayer by focusing on gratitude and joy for what God has been doing, and we begin this final week with gratitude for the fruit and harvest that God has already brought. So…where have you already seen evidence of God bringing about growth in your life? For what do you need to express gratitude to God as we begin this week?
22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
What does it mean to be satisfied with enough? Are there areas in your life where you need to learn to be content in God’s enough? Are there ways in which your abundance could be simplified to share with those who go without? These questions can be a mere intellectual activity…or they can lead to real, meaningful action. The choice is ours.