Category Archives: smu

So…What’s Up?

I’ve been a bit frantic lately. I offer that as a confession in need of repentance, not a badge of honor. I’ve known for a while that October would be an insane month, though I’m not sure I realized just how much it would bleed into September. For the past couple days I’ve been wanting to write a blog post but my creative juices are all either dried up or otherwise spoken for. So, since someone just asked me where I’ve been lately, I thought I’d share.

What I’m working on:

  • Writing the final chapters (rough draft) of my doctoral project – I have about 80 pages to turn in by October 17.
  • Finishing the final touches on the website/online learning portal for The Academy.
  • Getting ready to go to Alaska October 10-17.
  • Preparing for the Orientation to Online Learning course I’ll be teaching as part of The Academy’s Spiritual Life Retreats October 10-11 (Alaska) and October 27-29 (Texas).
  • Making sure everything is ready for The Missional Imagination course I’ll be teaching starting October 31.
  • Trying not to neglect my family or The Gathering.

What I’m reading:

  • Lots…including Randy Harris’ Soul Work: Confessions of a Part-Time Monk. Written by the only man in the world who can wear only one color and still not match. 

What I’m trying not to spend too much time thinking about:

  • Lots…including anxiety producing stuff like finances and sustainability as well as excitement producing stuff like a book idea which has finally taken root.

What I’d like to write about here when I get a minute:

  • Some thoughts about why the missional orientation is so hard…and why we shouldn’t necessarily beat ourselves up about that.
  • The timing of moving conversations from grace into holiness – (hint: we tend to either move the other direction or just get stuck in one or the other)

 What I really have to complain about:

  • Absolutely nothing.
What I’m thankful for:
  • The most patient and supportive wife I could never have imagined.
  • Three boys who remind me daily of the value of playing together.
  • Family members that go out of their way to encourage me and pull me back from the brink of foolish busyness.
  • Friends who continue to check in on me even though I’m horrible about remembering to do the same.
  • A professor who honors me with friendship and collegiality, though I’m increasingly certain I deserve neither.
  • The profound blessing of being able to read, write and study…even if I do finally have a case of senioritis.
  • A growing appreciation for the God who is constantly at work in, around and utterly beyond me.
  • Regular opportunities to trust in God’s provision…and witness the faithfulness of the One in Whom I Trust.
  • Continual opportunities to learn humility…usually through humiliation (which means I still have a long way to go.)
That’s what I’m up to. How about you?



Wells Family Church Planting Update – November 2010

that little guy is new cousin Griffin…
thanks to Joey being sick, I don’t have a picture of the wellsbrothers with NEWEST cousin Kallie yet
We want to thank you for sharing this journey with us over the last few years – it has never been easy and doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction any time soon, but your friendship, encouragement and prayers have played an enormous role in keeping us moving forward.
Since my last update in August we’ve been getting into the groove of the new school year. Conner is doing great in 1st grade. He continues to amaze us with his brilliant little mind and unbelievably sweet heart. Recently we had a conference with his teacher who shared that he is not only one of the brightest kids she’s ever taught, he also displays a rare and much appreciated combination of leadership and compassion. She told us that Conner often reads books to the class when she needs to step out for a moment, he is one of the first to help other students. What brought me the most pride was when she noted that while he is quick to share what he knows with others, he never appears condescending or prideful…just sincerely happy to help someone else. Awesome.
Joey and Micah are both doing well in preschool and I think that Rachel has really enjoyed teaching there – if for no other reason than she gets glimpses into their day. However, as you can imagine, Rachel has been a tremendous blessing to the kids in her class and their parents…even if she won’t admit it! The schedule has been a pretty big adjustment – especially with me still making occasional trips to OKC – but I think its definitely been worth the added hassle.
Speaking of OKC…that beast just refuses to be slain! I’ve pretty much finished everything, but little frustrations have kept me going back up for a couple days most weeks. This little experiment didn’t turn out as we’d hoped, but there were some good things that came out of it. In the midst of our conversations with different churches regarding their roofs, we met a minister at a Lutheran church who turned out to be quite interested in the concept of missional church planting.
Teresa has become a good friend. I had the opportunity to spend one Saturday with a group of folks from her church talking about living a missional life: what that means and what it might look like even in a very structured church context.
As you might have heard, I’ve been preparing to start my major doctoral project (the DMin version of a dissertation) which officially begins in February, following my FINAL class! The project (called “Communitas” – a word referring to community that is developed through a shared struggle, ordeal or mission) is developing a process for missional leadership training and spiritual formation. I’ve decided to focus not so much on seminary students or people preparing to plant churches (though this process would still be appropriate for them) but rather on groups of “normal” church folks. Our pilot program is doubling as a leadership development process within Christ Journey.
I’m already in conversation with several groups about participating in Communitas once I’ve completed the “beta” phase and made revisions. My hope and prayer is that this, in conjunction with teaching in the Academy for Missional Wisdom at SMU, will provide an opportunity to equip others to engage in whole life faith and missional leadership in the midst of their community…without having to leave the own congregation to do so. Along with that, we are praying that this will provide long term financial sustainability for our ministry in this area, without me having to work so many hours in other job settings.
We’re currently launching a web platform at that will serve as the “classroom” for instruction – which will depend heavily on processing together through dialog and then immediately implementing what we’re learning into our neighborhoods or other local contexts. Hopefully, the website will also serve as a place for ongoing dialog about whole-life faith and discipleship, some guest articles and devotionals and also as a central location to host the “Missional Monks Podcast” that Chris and I have been doing since this summer (you can also find the podcasts by searching missional monks on iTunes.)
These podcasts consist primarily of interviews with thinkers, church planters and authors from all over North America – folks who are engaged in some amazing ministries. The conversations have been very helpful for us – and the comments we’ve received from all over the country suggest that they’ve been so for others as well.
As you can see, we have been very busy lately! There are several new families who have become integral parts of the Christ Journey community and we continue to find opportunities to serve and connect with new friends in the Burleson area.
As I prepare for 2011, I’m realizing that it is going to be very difficult to dedicate the necessary time and energy to Communitas and Christ Journey while also working 50 hours a week in roofing. I am arranging some conversations with churches and groups of ministers and leaders to discuss supporting us for one year as we get Communitas off the ground – and also consider having a group of folks go through the Communitas program when it is ready to go in 2012. We have a pretty great plan for how to effectively take an entire congregation – even a large one – through this process without folks simply becoming anonymous spectators.
If you have been supporting us financially, Rachel and I want to once again thank you. It has meant so much to us that God has used a group of friends – many who are in tight financial situations themselves – to keep the door open for us to share the life of Christ with those who previously only thought of church in negative terms. There are people today who have come to or come back to faith in God because you chose to partner in the gospel with us.
If you think your church or another group might be willing to help us financially as we launch Communitas and continue planting the gospel in this area, please pass this along or help me get in contact with them. Likewise, if you know of a group that may be interested in hearing more about how Communitas can help them more fully live into the gospel in their neighborhoods and community, I’d love to talk with them.
Again, you can check out and join the (active, but still under construction) web platform for Missional Monks and the Communitas Experience at
Grace and Peace,
Bret, Rachel and the Wellsbrothers.

The Traveling Companion: final episode

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

After two great weeks, my time in class is over (until my FINAL class in January!), so this will be my final installment of “the traveling companion.” Processing through these ideas with other leaders has been enriching. It has been particularly helpful to listen in on the comments between folks in more established contexts as they have begun to wrestle with how to help their congregation cultivate a missional identity. I often think through these concepts from the perspective of a someone forming new communities and planting new churches. However, the reality is that even when dealing with people with no background in church attendance there is still baggage to address and an intimidating process of change to undergo. The concerns and struggles that my friends and colleagues expressed has been extremely helpful as I think about our context…which is different, but perhaps not so different.
Today we engaged in an exercise meant to help us think through the emotional response a congregation has when deep level change is being considered. We were split into teams and blindfolded and then given a tent to set up. If you’ve ever had to set up a tent in the dark, which I have on several occasions (mostly due to my own poor planning and goofing off), you know that it is not always an easy task.
I’ve set up many tents in my life and have a good idea of the different types that are out there. I knew, as soon as we were told what we’d be doing that I had the information and experience to get this job done – maybe even blindfolded. There was a moment, when I first pulled the tent out of the bag (blindfolded) that I was nervous about being able to identify all the pieces and get them lined up correctly. I can imagine this response in a congregation that has been being prepared to shift toward a missional identity.
There is usually a period of instruction, through classes, book studies and a sermon series that takes place before any actual changes are suggested. In addition, churches may also conduct experiments and pilot programs to begin introducing people to the actual practice and to determine contextual nuances that must be considered.
However, as changes begin to be implemented on a larger scale, anxiety is common. There is that moment when you realize that, even with prior knowledge and preparation, we can’t always see how everything is playing out or even know our final destination as we begin.
After that initial fear subsided in our little tent-making activity, a new anxiety began to threaten to settle in. My teammates knew that I’ve done a lot of camping and were expecting (in my mind anyway) for me to give them clear direction and an accurate information. What if the thing I thought was the tent’s footprint (a piece of material shaped like the bottom of the tent to protect it from rocks and whatnot) was actually something else? What if we got halfway “finished” and we discovered that I’d been steering us wrong? How foolish would I look if Dr. Heath, who was observing the teams could see that the thing I was confidently describing was something entirely different?
From a leadership perspective, I know this feeling all to well. Whether we want it to be so or not, often people look to leaders to have a clear understanding of the change they’re undertaking – especially if that leader has spent time cultivating in their own life what they’re attempting to do with others. But the reality is, when we start congregational change (or a new endeavor with any group), we’re all blindfolded to one degree or another. We are all experiencing many of the same limitations, regardless of prior learning or preparation.
Thankfully something my friend Dwight Robarts taught me several years ago was ringing in my head. “If you are going to be an effective leader, you need to strive to be a non-anxious presence.” Each of us on the team played important roles in laying the tent out and lining everything up appropriately. My job wasn’t to do all the work, it was to help the other teammates succeed in their respective tasks and not do anything to add to the anxiety of the situation. Over time our tent came together and, though it took a little longer, ended up pretty much the way it would have if we’d started without blindfolds.
We don’t have to eliminate all the obstacles to our progress. If we will work together as a team, showing grace and patience with each other along the way, we can sort through our shortcomings in process.
The reality was that we weren’t setting up camp for the night, it wasn’t about to rain…it didn’t really matter that the tent came together perfectly in quick fashion. The value and purpose for our class was found in the actual process of setting up the tent together.
Alan Hirsch refers to this as communitas – the process of journey through a shared struggle – and it is quite powerful. Perhaps, as leaders we need to remember this truth above many others. It isn’t JUST our transition into a more missionally minded people that is important, the process itself – though sometimes painful and terrifying – can be a formative and transformative experience.
I pray that God will grant me the wisdom to resist the temptation to let the end result become more important to me than the experience of shared life with my community along the way.
Thank you Elaine, Develous, Sandy, Marci, Bev, John and Todd for being my community of co-teachers and co-learners these past two weeks. May God continue to richly bless you all.

The Traveling Companion: episode 8

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

How is it with your soul?
This question represents the entire curriculum for an experience in early Methodism referred to as “class meetings.” A small group of folks would gather regularly and each in turn would respond to this question. In our contemporary culture obsessed with information and “stuff” we may be tempted to respond that such a gathering would be a total waste of valuable time. If we’re going to get people together shouldn’t we try to get more accomplished? After all, people are busy, you know.
And such a response would be a huge mistake.
My friend and ministry coach, Anthony Parker, asks me questions like this regularly in our coaching sessions. To be totally honest, I have mixed responses to the question. At times I just don’t want to get into it. Maybe I’m a little embarrassed about how it is with my soul. Perhaps the emotions are too raw and I’m not sure how well I can manage talking about it. Sometimes I know that opening that can of worms will take up all of our time and there are other things I (wrongly) feel are more pressing.
But to continue with my confession, even when I choose not to give full honest disclosure on how it is with my soul, I know that I’m short-changing myself. There are a lot of things that I don’t know, but I have learned this much: it takes courage to stand up to my ego and address my brokenness, and when I lack that courage, every aspect of my life suffers.
I would not be surprised to learn that most people aren’t as damaged or neurotic as I am, but I would be shocked if it came out that we don’t all need to take the care of our souls more seriously. I am convinced that a regular time to gather in the name of Jesus to honestly assess how it is with our souls and deeply listen to how it is with others’; to engage in a time of confession, testimony and prayer within community would be more beneficial than many of the intricately designed and information heavy curriculums and programs we often implement.

The Traveling Companion: episode 7

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

I knew exactly what he was going to ask me. It was bedtime and I was home, so the question was inevitable. The boy with the huge blue eyes and big gap where his two front teeth should be reached up and grabbed my face with both hands. “Daddy…magic TV?”
For the past year or so Conner, Micah and I have been on a journey with two young boys named Steve and Crazy. Steve is very tall and Crazy is very, well…crazy. They live in a special house. In this house there are lots of rooms and in each room there are lots of tv’s. There are big tv’s and small tv’s. Black-and-white tv’s, color tv’s and rainbow tv’s. There are rectangle tv’s and round tv’s. There are flat tv’s and fat tv’s. There are tv’s that hang on the wall and tv’s that sit on a table. But there is one tv more special than all the others. In fact, you could say that its a magic tv. You can’t find this tv if you’re looking for it…and actually, you can only find this tv if you aren’t looking for anything at all. But, whenever you watch this tv you find yourself inside the story. (Micah named this unchanging part of the story, “the commercial.” Conner loves it and Micah always wants to skip it and get to the good part.)
Each night Steve and Crazy watch a show – sometimes its a cartoon that Conner and Micah enjoy, like Phineas and Ferb, the Backyardigans or even the Smurfs (yep, our boys know about the Smurfs). Sometimes its a show about dinosaurs, ninja’s, jungles, outer space or a combination of several. And each time Steve and Crazy must help the characters in the show finish the episode. Sometimes things go wrong, sometimes things are just plain silly. We never know what’s going to happen (seriously, I make it up as I go).
Crazy never says anything that makes sense – he is crazy after all. Micah usually has some random statement that he wants Crazy to say…and since it doesn’t make any sense its usually pretty easy to fit it in!
These stories can be exhausting…how many different plot lines can a guy come up with after all? But I keep telling them because Conner and Micah truly love Steve and Crazy. Sometimes I get Conner to tell the story and I’m always amazed at how he already understands that a story has a beginning followed by some sort of crisis with twists that don’t get resolved until the end. Micah hasn’t been willing to tell any stories yet, but he has completely outlined several plots for me…
It had been a while since I read it last, so last night I looked back over Roxburgh’s book The Missional Leader in preparation for our class discussions today. I’d forgotten just how good of a book it is – if you are a church leader considering ways to encourage your church to take seriously the call to actively live as the missionary people of God in your community, I highly recommend this book.
One of the passages I’d previously highlighted grabbed my attention. In it the author is describing the value and purpose of narrative in forming community.

A narrative has several characteristics. It comprises a story that is moving somewhere; it gives a social group a story that tells where it is going and what the group will look like when it arrives. There is purpose and quest within the narrative calling a group in a specific direction and toward a particular goal…Because narrative creates and sustains social community, it’s the glue, the atmosphere of all social life. The key to innovating missional community is formation of a people within a specific memory and narrative. – The Missional Leader, 70-71.

I love that first bit – it comprises a story that is moving somewhere. I remember as a grad student at ACU and while preaching in New Orleans I was a part of several discussions about “narrative preaching.” There are a number of folks who have a low view of the idea because they see it as “watered down.” I was convinced then and remain so that this is primarily due to 1) bad examples of the narrative style and 2) misperceptions of the purpose and function.

For those that don’t know distinctions between preaching styles, the traditional approach that many of us grew up hearing was expository preaching – the preacher takes a text of Scripture and “expounds” or teaches through it. Intro, 3 points, a poem and an invitation was typically the week-in-week-out format, at least in our Church of Christ circles.
Changing anything, even the format for your sermon delivery, usually results in a spike in the corporate blood pressure of a congregation. So when some preachers began telling stories with no acronyms or “that leads me to my next point” many people began to fear that the Bible was no longer being preached. And sometimes they were right.
Narrative preaching or proper use of narrative in general, is not meant to be merely the telling of entertaining or warm fuzzy stories. That isn’t to say narratives aren’t entertaining – in fact good storytelling is at the heart of most things that are truly entertaining.
However, a good narrative sermon tells a story that is moving (and moving us) somewhere. It connects with something lodged deep within us and by drawing it out, draws us into the story in such a way that we suddenly look around and realize we are no longer in the same place we began. Many of the great truths in scripture are revealed through powerful narrative and we, as the people of the Story are invited to find our place in that Story with each fresh retelling or rereading.
And this Story we find ourselves in is a grand epic that is greater than any of the stories that our culture attempts to lure us into.
Stories, even silly stories like the Magic TV, shape us and teach us about reality. They help us form our identity and make sense of things which at first glance seem like chaos.
When it comes to inspiring a community to begin moving together toward some goal beyond passive consumerism, story isn’t the whole answer, but it plays an important role. If we want to call people to something bigger than themselves, we will do well to become better storytellers.
Often Steve and Crazy do things in a way that would seem strange to many people. They model for Conner and Micah a radical new way of living. This weekend I witnessed something in my boys and I wonder if it is directly attributable to the stories of a guy that is tall and a guy that is, well…crazy.
The boys and I went and played putt-putt for the first time. When we were finished we went into the nickel arcade (50 cents for half an hour of fun? I can do that!) Several of the games gave tickets – the kind you can trade in for cheap junk when you’re done. We didn’t really have enough to get anything so I suggested that maybe there were other boys and girls there who could use them more than us. I didn’t really expect the response. Micah, my 4 year old, immediately began tearing off groups of 6 or 7 tickets and asking other kids if they would like them. “I want to make sure everyone gets some, Dad.” Conner gave some to a couple guys and took the time to explain that yes, he wanted the tickets, but we didn’t have that many and this way they could get an even cooler prize.
My kids are awesome. I think this story makes Jesus smile…and its a story that is definitely moving me somewhere.

The Traveling Companion: episode 6

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…
Today was a good day…
I went on a field trip.
Its been a while, and in some ways it was reminiscent of my days of youth ministry (which are mostly positive memories!) All but one person in our class piled into a suburban to head out on a tour of some tremendous missional community development endeavors around Dallas. The remaining classmate followed behind in her car…well she tried to follow anyway. We didn’t exactly follow a logical path all the time, but that’s how journeys are, right?
Though I was terrified for everyone’s safety (yes, dear reader, even yours) at several points riding down I-35 with the Reverend James (just kidding…but seriously), it was good to have those brief moments of connection that inevitably accompany a road-trip – even a brief one.
Parts of the field trip made me a little sad – specifically I began missing the relational connections that we were forming with the community lunches we shared with Harvest House. But then I began thinking about the great things that are happening in Shenandoah – great things that we were blessed to play an early role in, but which have now taken off and flourished as a locally led and driven phenomenon.
I enjoyed seeing places like the Romero House and Christ Foundry – sacred places that I have heard about in stories but wanted to see with my own eyes. I have great hope and anticipation for the development of greater collaboration between our two movements.
But the really exciting part of the day for me were the conversations with new friends who are beginning to passionately explore ways in which the missional life can infect their own established church contexts (sorry Marci, I know you don’t like the virus language, but I find it incredibly appropriate!)
I listened as leaders began to adapt and even start over in their project proposal to incorporate the kingdom focused values we’ve been discussing. I hope and pray that under their leadership these bands of Christ’s disciples will witness radical transformation in their lives and in their neighborhoods and communities. I pray that God will bring them into contact with the spiritually confused sojourners that have been longing for someone walk alongside them in their search for meaning and significance. I beg our Father to throw open the floodgates of the kingdom and allow a fresh experience of vitality to sweep through the streets of their hometowns.
And I pray the same for ours.
Perhaps this is the most significant development in my own spiritual formation to date. I found myself just as excited – and in some ways, even more so – about what God may be planning to do in these other communities as I am for what I know is happening and will happen in our own.
Today I quote with hope and joy the lines from psalm 70, which have often been my cry of despair…O Lord come quickly to help us!

The Traveling Companion: episode 4

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

I really like my boys’ names. I know, I better, right? But really, I do. Each of their names are significant and meaningful. All of our boys carry the Wells family name, which of course I was proud to pass on to them, but that isn’t the extent of it.

Conner is Rachel’s mother’s maiden name. With the recent passing of MeeMaw and PeePaw – people who were not only formative in the lives of Rachel and her family, but also in my own life and that of our boys – I am so proud that my oldest son will carry their mark in a special way for the rest of his life. His middle name, Allan, is my middle name as well. Its strange, I didn’t like that name as a kid, but now I feel much differently about it.

Micah was a great prophet and I have always loved the passage in Micah 6:8

“ He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

This was made all the more important to us when we learned that it was PeePaw’s favorite verse as well. Micah’s middle name, Eason, is my mother’s maiden name. I think its pretty cool that our boys have imbedded in their identity a reminder that all families are examples of God’s reconciling work of uniting people who were previously strangers.

Josiah was a good king…I hope that our little assassin will also use his powers for good! In Israel’s history there are very kings that come across well in Scripture and Josiah was one of them. I hope that my son, a child of the king, will follow in the footsteps of his namesake (except for the ill-advised battle against the Egyptian army…). His middle name, Christopher, is also my little brother’s middle name – a name which I had the honor of choosing for Adam too. (Actually I think it was more my stubborn insistence and a mother’s relenting, but that’s another story!)

Naming has always carried great significance – both relationally and often prophetically. Today in class we watched a movie – The Secret Life of Bees – and there is a powerful scene where a community bestows a new name on a young lady who has experienced a long and difficult journey toward healing and redemption. The naming not only signifies new life and a new chapter in her story, but it also communicates her acceptance into the community…into the family.

Look at the number of times in Scripture that God gives someone a new name – Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, Saul to Paul just to name some of the big ones. In each case this is about more than just a new driver’s license. Rachel took my name when we were married, signifying that no longer did we represent two separate clans, but were now one family. This name she accepted as her own was one that was offered to me when my own Dad adopted me into his family. None of these situations were insignificant.

The giving or changing of a name is a change of life. It is new life. And that is part of what makes community so powerful. Even if we don’t legally change someone’s name, a commitment to devoted community bestows new identity. When we choose to throw in our lot with a people something significant occurs. In our society it is all too common to devalue this incredibly sacred decision. Abba Antony said, “Wherever you find yourself, do not easily leave there.” I believe that it is time for us to reclaim the value of stability and choosing to remain connected to a community, to embrace and live into our name.

As a society we are lonely and scurry around busily searching for meaning and significance. If we will slow down and invest in the people around us we may find that God has been waiting to use those broken and flawed people to teach us precisely what we’ve been searching for.

The Traveling Companion: episode 3

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

My oldest son talked my wife into letting him get a mohawk…and then he looked mohawks up on wikipedia and learned that they’re named after an American Indian tribe, are typically associated with warriors and apparently a really old cave man body was discovered at some point with the same haircut. That’s what my son does when he gets excited about something, he learns everything he can about it. But it doesn’t stop there – he internalizes and personalizes what he learns. He didn’t just learn about mohawks, he got his mother to cut his hair that way.
I wish that more of us were like my son. He doesn’t fall into the trap of paralysis by analysis. He’s just as obsessive as I am (which brings me no small measure of pride) and will literally sit for hours on end reading things like an encyclopedia, fact book or his beloved world atlas. But then he devises games using the books and wants everyone to play with him; he shares what he learns with everyone else and creates different ways to put his newfound information into practice. (he even has a “learn something every day” blog – you should check out his post on mohawks).
Today we spent a good deal of time discussing different ways to introduce missional ecclesiology to a church, as well as potential contexts for connecting with non-Christians in missional ways. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own experiences with folks in both Mandeville and Burleson, as well as different churches and groups that have asked me to talk about this stuff with them.
Perhaps this is part of the whole “faith like a child” thing that Jesus talked about. We often talk about childlike faith in terms of innocence or simplicity. But maybe it is that wide-eyed desire to learn and grow and immediately apply what we discover. But just as with the question of salt loosing its saltiness, I wonder how do we regain our youthful excitement about and expectation for growth when its faded?
I’ve seen God break through these barriers in people’s lives – including my own – I know for a fact that it can happen. It can happen in stubborn 20-somethings and it can happen in stubborn 60-somethings. I’m learning to embrace the mystery of how the Spirit breaks down these walls and I’m becoming more and more comfortable in my own helplessness. I am not an expert here to fix a congregation’s problems or fix a spiritually confused sojourner. I am, as a wise friend says, simply one hungry beggar sharing bread with others.

The Traveling Companion: episode 2

I just started my next to last class for my D.Min at Perkins – Spiritual Leadership in Missional Churches. One of our assignments is to keep a journal during the 2 weeks of class. I decided to blog mine…

It is so easy to forget how often Jesus withdrew to a solitary place. It is hard to remember that much of his time was spent walking from one town to the next, in conversation with a handful of friends or sitting at a table conversing with extremely interesting people. We remember the miracles. We remember the loaves and fishes. We remember the Sermon on the Mount. But we forget the wedding. We forget the nap in a boat. We forget the disappearing act that happened just before the walking on water. We remember the sweat-drops of blood but forget the garden.
It is so easy to forget how often Jesus gave away ministry. We forget the disciples being sent out, we forget the woman running to tell her friends, “Come see the man who told me everything I’ve ever done!” We forget that Jesus said, “It will be better for you if I go.” We forget that he said, “You will do greater things.” We forget that he said “Go and make disciples.”
It is so easy to forget that Jesus changed people’s lives because he was in their lives. He was typically around the hurting and broken people when he healed them. He could say he loved the poor, because he knew the poor. He could say he loved the sick because he touched their arms. He could say he loved the weak, oppressed and overlooked because that’s precisely the world he was born into. Its so easy to forget that sitting around talking about the poor or the kingdom or the gospel doesn’t mean that we’re inherently involved in those things. But Jesus was. Its easy to forget that we weren’t called to start a religion in his honor, but to live as he lived.
Its easy to forget that without me, the sun stays in orbit, the birds sing and the rain falls. Its easy to forget that I’m not God. Its easy to forget that those who frustrate us by saying, “I’ll be poured out for others, just not too much,” are still loved by God. Its easy to forget that the pastor who forgets to say, “I’ll be poured out for others, just not too much” is already loved by God. We don’t have to become a self-inflicted martyr to impress our Creator.
Its so easy to forget. And that is precisely why we must remember.
We must remember that Jesus announced, “Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand!” We must remember because there are people on our block, just down the street or in the next office who have no idea that Jesus is even now creating and unleashing a new kingdom for them to experience joy and fulfillment beyond measure.
We must remember because Jesus taught us to pray, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We must remember, because it wouldn’t be an appropriate prayer if Jesus didn’t already know it could happen at some level.
We must remember because we cannot hope to lead and participate in a missional expression of faith – that is as a church joining our missionary God in the ministry of reconciliation – if we can’t remember that God is God and we are not.
Its so easy to forget and that is why we must remember.

Helping the Church Be the Church: Part VI – God’s Economy

If you are new to this series of posts, you can read the intro here. This post is somewhat longer than others as it includes excerpts from the introduction as well as sections on missional monastic church planting and the established church.

Sometimes, when I’m alone with my thoughts, I am afraid they made a poor decision. Nevertheless, it is easy for me to name a long list of wise, godly men and women who have made a considerable investment of time, money and even their own lives in me personally and in my development as a leader. To whatever degree I have learned, matured and grown in leadership, I owe a debt of gratitude to the Spirit of God at work in these teachers, advisers, coaches and friends; a work that continues to this day.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s work in God’s Economy emphasizes the value this type of investment over a carefully and meticulously crafted stock portfolio, retirement account, business venture or McMansion in the ‘burbs.
He believes in a theology of abundance and invites us to approach God with a desire to be blessed with a rich and full life; we ask the Father for our inheritance of great wealth. Meanwhile he sets out to show that in the new (or very old) economy of the Kingdom, wealth and success are defined in much greater terms than society and even many of our fellow Christians realize.
Some of the accepted wisdom passed on in the Church and in seminaries reflects this confusion of economies and reflects Western business principles more so than the radical abundance of God. Preachers and televangelists wearing two thousand dollar suits telling the lonely widow to invest her money in their ministry so that God will give her more money in return are an easy target in this conversation. But perhaps the danger goes deeper and is more subtle than that.
Few people significantly challenge the tenured and well-respected professor at a certain seminary who teaches future ministers that they cannot have true community within the congregation they serve because they are an employee that can be fired at will. I hope and pray that he is wrong, but I think he’s accurately describing the present situation. What disturbs me is not that he is wrong, but that neither he, nor those who hang on his words seem to believe this is a travesty which must be eradicated.
More recently I remember a conversation with a good friend and coach who was reflecting on something said to him by a friend and advisor to us both. He said, with a hint of resignation, that as we grow up we must accept that spending time with good friends is probably redefined as regular phone calls and an occasional get-together for coffee or a meal. The reality is that we are busy and highly mobile. Our close friends will move away and our work keeps us from being able to spend face-to-face time with them regularly. That conversation has haunted me since.
Wilson-Hartgrove highlights a reality that many outside the white, middle class seem to know intuitively; the lifestyle of isolation and upward mobility is not the only choice.
I have several Hispanic friends who are part of a community in Dallas. Some of them are doing well financially, many of them are not. Some of the families have lived here in the States for two or three generations, quite a few grew up in Mexico and came here for a fresh start. Some speak perfect English, most used to push me to dust off my Spanish if I wanted to communicate. All of them know how to party.
It is not about impressive presentation or outdoing the last soiree. I’ve heard that all Hispanics need for a party is grass and Corona. That statement, meant as a joke, actually provides a glimpse into a worldview that is rich in the new economy.
I don’t remember many of their gatherings, formal or informal, that didn’t involve a feast. I don’t remember a single one of those feasts being catered and I don’t remember ever wishing one had been. They taught me to put my grill in the front yard and have extra to share with my neighbors. They taught me that the best way to help newcomers become part of the group was give them a job cooking or helping prepare for the meal. I think its fair to say that the development of my “strategy” for incarnational ministry in our neighborhood is credited as much or more to the Trejos and Vejars as it is to the missional church folks like Darrell Guder, Alan Hirsch, Hugh Halter, etc.
These truths of community contain wisdom for us all, regardless of the outward appearance of the our church structure. These truths are very much part of God’s economy. They require investments in people rather than financial security. They value stability, consistency and loyalty over upward mobility. And, like the parable of the shrewd manager highlighted by Wilson-Hartgrove, they appreciate the “wisdom of the weak” to develop economic friendships which provide security that seems so counter intuitive to many of us.
For Missional Monastic Church Planting:
“What are we inviting people into?” This question has come up from time to time among our leadership. It is easy to fall into the trap of defining ourselves by what we have rejected. We may have spent time processing through and deciding that wasn’t our motivation on the front end, but it still tries to creep in when we aren’t looking. We are convicted that the Kingdom of God is not driven by programs and passive consumerism, but merely avoiding those things is not a sufficient calling.
We are so used to inviting people to a worship gathering, retreat, youth group activity, revival, Christian concert, marriage seminar or some other event that it can sometimes be difficult to imagine any other kind of invitation. The invitation to a new life; to walk with us in community in the Way of Jesus can sometimes seem a bit ambiguous, particularly to those who have a clearly preconceived notion of “church.” For those looking for ways to describe the calling to whole life discipleship, God’s Economy can be a tremendous help.
We have made a decision not to ask new house churches and incarnational communities to tithe toward corporate building funds, administration costs, overhead, salaries, etc. That decision means that I’m now a seminary trained roofing contractor who offices at local coffee shops and worships with his community wherever the doors are opened. We don’t always know where we’re gathering until Friday or Saturday and some people don’t really like that. We have several kids under the age of six and that often brings up issues for which we don’t have good solutions.
It has been very difficult, but I am convicted that this is precisely how we are called to operate at this time. We are being reminded of our roots as nomadic people, with a God who tabernacles among us. We are free to use our community’s resources to invest in people, to give generously to others. We aren’t compelled to base our decisions on what will boost the bottom line financially. We are no longer under the illusion that ministry requires a line item in the budget.
We are learning, and God’s Economy is going to be a useful resource in this, to reject ecclesiological mindsets that assume scarcity. Our young network of communities will most likely never have stacks of money in the bank. Still, we are learning to expect wealth of a different kind without waiting to leave this rock and this body behind for a mansion in the clouds. We’re learning that if our friends have a car, we have a car. If we have a lawnmower, our friends have a lawnmower. Just like that our resources have multiplied without increasing our clutter.
For Established Churches:
For those within the established church who are wondering whether these young communities have adequate theological grounding and biblical support, God’s Economy can be quite informative. Yet, I also think there are benefits that established churches themselves can reap from this book as well.
A few years ago a church I knew of laid off several ministers for budget reasons even though they had (literally) millions of dollars in the bank. This money was earmarked for missions, not ministry. Besides, good stewardship wisdom suggested that the principle balance remain untouched and only interest be used… after all the money needs to last. Overnight, several people learned precisely what my professor had warned – the minister’s relationship with the congregation is a transactional one, and they found themselves alone without a job, a church or a support network.
I was once informed by a well-meaning minister of a five-hundred member church that they were interested in church planting, but until their weekly contribution averaged twenty-thousand dollars they would be unable to give any money to outside efforts.
When approached with the idea of serving as an anchor church for a missional-monastic church planting movement, a local senior pastor asked, “What is the financial benefit for us?”
I do not believe that any of the congregations just described are evil; I don’t think that the leaders are malicious or their love for God insincere. They are simply functioning within a system that is bound to the rules of the empire. As Wilson-Hartgrove, quoting Dwight D. Eisenhower, reminds us, “you cannot amass great possessions without also having to take up the sword and defend them.” This quote doesn’t merely refer to violence, it affects our process for decision making and world viewing.
That isn’t to say that established churches have to sell their buildings and fire their ministers. It might mean that they draft new criteria for decisions regarding the use of congregational funds. However, I think that this book is extends beyond merely calling congregations to change their budget process.
Image the possibilities for blessing if a church of two hundred people began taking the needs of one another more personally. What about a church of five hundred or two thousand? Can you imagine any single mothers in those congregations still struggling to decide whether to pay the electric bill or buy groceries? Would there be any way that an elderly widower would die alone because he couldn’t get out of his house and didn’t want to burden his children living in another state?
The Kingdom of God will not support such travesties; they are unsustainable in God’s economy. You do not have to move into a large house with several other people to see this kind of community develop. It may take more work if you don’t automatically see each other everyday, but it is far from impossible. Imagine the possibilities!
Imagine what affect it would have on a city if suddenly there were hundreds of people experiencing this kind of life in their midst. I predict that this type of economy and kingdom would roll forward with such force that no gates – be they of hell or a gated community – could stand against it.
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