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Just Some Dude From The Neighborhood

This is part of an ongoing reflection and unpacking of our “Bret Sent Me” social experiment. If you’re new to the conversation, check out the original post here.


Almost as soon as I had the idea to get a bunch of folks to tip their baristas, another thought occurred…”Can I really expect to influence enough IMG_2592people in this area to even make a difference? I’ll end up looking like an idiot…again.”

Isn’t that exactly the kind of thought we’re faced with whenever we want to have an impact? How many transformative projects never even started because people were afraid of their own insignificance? 

As a coach I help people address fears that are holding them back needlessly. In my Missional Imagination course, we focus a great deal of time and energy on developing a theology of risk and adventure. I’ve been a church planter for nearly 5 years for crying out loud! Even with all of that, this response of fear and insecurity was my first reaction.

I thought about all the commercials where famous people say, “Tell ‘em I sent you.” Powerful people, influential people, wealthy people. These are the ones who say that – people who’s names carry weight. (Unless the store is offering referral gifts…then we all do it.)

I’m not famous. I’m not wealthy. In the grand scheme of things I’m not really that influential even in my own town.

My friends know me. My family knows me. A good number (but not even most) of my neighbors know me. I have a modest presence on the web, but its a relatively small presence in the midst of a relatively small “niche market.”

But in the context of Burleson, TX, who am I? Just some dude from the neighborhood.

And maybe there is more significance in that than we give credit.

That was next piece of this experiment – the piece that has been most exciting to me throughout the past week. Part of the reason it grabbed me was the realization that after all I’ve seen, with everything I spend my time doing, it was still a message I needed to hear! And I don’t think it’s just me.

This is a lesson we must continually relearn for ourselves because we live in a society that pushes us toward mediocre lives of risk management. Over time we can begin to drift back toward obsession with the myth of comfort and security. We can allow insecurities and the fear of being confronted with our insignificance to slowly box us into self-imposed exile. Deep in our bones we can forget – even with the words on our lips – that we are made in the image of a creative, risk-taking, adventurous, incarnational God. The God who took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. The God who walked in relative obscurity for several decades of human life and who called a few “dudes from the neighborhood” to participate in something far more significant than they would have ever imagined. A God who recognized the kingdom-defining significance of being a neighbor.

I often say that my church planting strategy when we moved here in 2008 was this: “Go to Denny’s. A lot.” It seemed to me that the most important thing I could do was to become a part of this community – for real, not as a gimmick or hook. So I became a regular at a few coffee shops, got to know employees and other regulars,  got to know the parents of my kids’ school friends, and just looked for ways to be involved around town.

Over time I began to realize, Burleson isn’t just where I reside, it’s my home. I am a part of this community. (Which didn’t really hit me until I got free ice at the gas station because they knew me).

I may be just some dude from the community…but we shouldn’t lose sight of how important and valuable that is. It’s so easy to think that because we don’t have positions of influence that we don’t have any influence, and that – at best – is short-sighted. In reality, this is exactly the context through which we are invited to join in God’s mission of reconciliation. When God chose to become human in the person of Jesus, it was a radical consecration (or perhaps reminder of the consecration) of the seemingly mundane experience of being human.

Telling the baristas that “Bret sent me” didn’t  mean anything to them initially. They didn’t recognize my name…until they did. This wasn’t about them figuring out who I am. The “Bret sent me” part was really just a strange – and thus memorable – group identifier. This was about a group of people rallying around a simple cause they perhaps only barely understood…and the impact that had on strangers. It was a simple (and yet, to me, very profound) reminder of what can be accomplished when we call one another to specific action.

In one week, with nothing more than a few blog posts, social media updates, and friends spreading the word, the phrase “Bret sent me” went from eliciting blank looks and polite, “Okay…tell him thanks,” to, “Everybody is saying that! Who is this guy?”

This experiment worked. It worked on something as “insignificant” as getting free coffee at a new store and leaving a tip. It worked with an unknown person’s name. There’s no reason to suspect that you, regardless of how influential you think you are or are not, cannot have the same or greater impact regarding whatever issue arises in your own neighborhood.

What’s the “tip your barista” opportunity in your neighborhood? Disconnected neighbors? A chance to encourage struggling single parents? Starting a community project, like a garden, book exchange, collaborative yard work / home improvement / spring cleaning?

Or what about more systemic issues like poverty? Injustice? Crime? Hatred? Loneliness? Lack of education?

Is there anything you can do about these things? I mean, seriously, in the face of these challenges and possibilities, who are you?

Just some dude/dudette from the neighborhood… Which means something after all.

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Want to Be More Innovative? Try Coaching Someone Else.

I have been involved with ministry and professional coaching for over five years now. I have a coach, I coach people and I serve as a coach trainer. I think it’s fair to say that I believe in its value. And yet, while the industry is growing rapidly, there are still tons of people who ask me “what sport?” when I tell them about my coaching work.

Coaching is the process of helping others solidify vision, establish goals, identify obstacles and move forward. I’ve coached people to write books, change careers, plant churches, start new businesses, develop organizational and time management strategies, lose weight, resolve systemic conflict issues in their organization, and relocate overseas as missionaries.

In case you’re wondering, no, I haven’t done all these things myself. So how is it that I’m qualified to help someone else? Because the role of the coach is not one of expert, mentor or advice giver. For the most part, coaching is a non-directive practice – which means that the client sets the agenda and owns the process. My role is to listen deeply, ask probing questions that deepen awareness, consider all the options, move conversations toward action plans, evaluate effectiveness…and repeat as needed.

This doesn’t mean that the answers to all questions are already present in the client’s mind. Often my role includes helping them figure out where they need to go to find information they are lacking…and then I help make sure they actually do that. This tool is particularly well suited for the missional-incarnational impulse which acknowledges that each of us are called to follow God in our specific context. And the truth of the matter is, while I can help you dig deeper, you are always going to be more qualified than me to discern what is going on in your context. You are the “boots on the ground.” You’re the one who is there every day. As a coach, my task is to help you be fully present and more effective.

Being coached has helped me tremendously. Having someone to help consider blindspots, ask me the tough questions that I’d rather avoid, consider alternative viewpoints…these are all very powerful. It’s even more powerful when you add to that a consistent reminder to move toward implementation, but also to periodically stop and evaluate what is and isn’t working – and celebrate accomplishments.

What I find interesting though, is how often coaching someone else provides break-throughs in my own work. By focusing all my attention on the other person, trying to get out of my own head and enter their story for a brief period, my perspective is stretched. After a coaching call I often find myself rapidly typing out realizations and insights from the conversation that have implications for my context. Angles I’d never considered, solutions that had avoided me.

I find my own creativity stoked, imagination unleashed and ideas generating at a pace beyond any hope of implementing them all.

As I think about this serendipitous by-product, I cannot help but think that every minister, every business leader, every entrepreneur, church planter, or community developer, every person who needs to be (or wants to be) more creative, innovative and effective should not only have a coach, but set some time aside to coach others.

Almost every single person I’ve worked with as a coach mentor has commented that the training has made them better listeners and more effective in all areas of life. Group projects at work, household plans with their spouse, helping friends through difficult times or big decisions…all of these are areas in which coaching principles can be incredibly beneficial.

So what about you? Could you benefit from greater creativity and innovation? Would being a better listener and conversationalist improve your work and home life? Would you like to be more equipped to help when the friend calls and says, “I don’t know what I’m going to do!” Then there’s the added benefit of an opportunity for extra income….

If you’d like more information about coaching fill out the form below, contact me on facebook or just leave a comment on this post.

Wanna Hang Out?

There isn’t anything else going on April 5-6, I checked.

So break open the piggy-bank, dig under the couch cushions and come see me in Fort Worth. Wes Magruder and  I will help you figure out once and for all what missional and monastic have to do with each other. We’ll also be talking about the Missional Wisdom Foundation’s experiences with forming missional communities. I’m quite positive other people will say good things too…but mostly, you don’t want to miss Wes and me. 🙂

Find out more about TransFORM at their website.

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Birthday Cake Communion and a 7 Year Old Liturgist

red velvet communionA few weeks ago it was a red velvet cake, today it was a giant chocolate chip cookie. When The Gathering, um…gathers… for worship, there is ALWAYS food involved. If someone is having a birthday, there’s cake; maybe left over, or it might be made especially for the occasion.

And so recently we stumbled across what is rapidly becoming one of my new favorite traditions. Seeing the red velvet birthday cake near where we were preparing the communion elements, someone jokingly asked, “Are we having birthday cake for communion?”

I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “Yes. Yes we are.”

To help our children understand the meaning of the Eucharist, we have a slightly modified way of describing the bread and cup. We talk about the bread as Jesus’ body that GIVES life – as food does. And we talk about the cup as Jesus’ blood that SAVES life – just like it does in the hospital. Communion is our practice of proclaiming to one another, and recommitting to the One who gives us life and saves our life.

And the purpose of a birthday cake is to celebrate a life given and kept safe through another year. So today it was time to celebrate Rachel’s birthday. I lifted the giant chocolate chip cookie, breaking it in front of the community and proclaiming the familiar words, “On the night that Jesus was betrayed…”

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Then the birthday girl, in celebration of the gift of life, shared the gift of life with others. She broke off bite sized chunks, handing them to each person in turn saying, “This is Jesus body which gives life.” After everyone else was served, I got to break off a piece for Rachel – and her cake, celebrating God’s gift of life to her became Jesus’ body….celebrating God’s gift of life to her.

The symbolism was incredible.

So I asked Conner (9) and Micah (7) what they thought about our practice of birthday cake communion.

Conner: “The cake is, well, for one thing, its yummy. And two it celebrates people’s life and you know, this is Jesus’ body that gives life. Its important for us to do this together because Jesus loves us and we love Jesus.

Me: So why do you think we involve everybody in communion and not just the adults?

Conner: Its better to have all of us take communion instead of just the grown ups because everyone should be able to share Jesus with each other. Jesus loves kids too, not just adults that have been baptized, so we should all celebrate Jesus together.

Me: Micah, what do you think?

Micah: Its really good, especially when there’s cake… Its important to let kids take communion too because it helps us keep it in our minds when someone asks us why people take communion…we’ll just know the answer right away. The juice is the blood of Jesus and the bread is the body of Jesus. Jesus’ blood saves life and Jesus’ body gives life. That’s why we do it. 

The decision to incorporate our children fully into the life of the community has meant that our worship gatherings are hectic…sometimes stressfully so. Conner and Micah are two of the liturgists and worship leaders in our community. We typically use the Common Prayer liturgy in our gatherings and its often Micah or Conner who lead that time. They find people to read the scriptures, they lead us in the Lord’s prayer, they lead the responsive readings…and often they’ll lead a song or two (and so will several other people…including their little brother and the other 4-5 year olds).

The impact has been phenomenal. An intergenerational community that is truly an intergenerational COMMUNITY. My role, as “the minister,” has shifted to be one voice among many. I will often capitalize on teaching moments as they arise – for instance when we’re reading a passage from the Old Testament, I’ll follow up with some comments about the cultural setting or that particular story’s role in the larger narrative. And the others are quick to interject their own reflections on the readings or a prayer. Our times of prayer become an opportunity to lament, rejoice and wonder together. Each of us are able to share stories of God at work and frustrations for the areas in which God seems painfully absent. And it is absolutely normal for a child to respond with uncanny wisdom to a presented problem, or ask a probing question in response to a shared story.

We take time to pause and help the kids understand that the colon in the scripture reference separates the chapter from the verses; the dash tells us to read from one part through to the next and a semi-colon tells us to jump to the next passage. And these simple teaching moments have often provided unintended insight for adults as well.

And as Micah said, all this keeps our faith in our minds so that whenever someone asks, we’re ready to answer right away…even if we’re 7 years old.

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Missional Imagination

Missional-Imagination

I truly enjoy my work with the Missional Wisdom Foundation. As the Director of Operations many of my tasks focus on the logistics and details of our various ministries and efforts. As our organization grows, the IT aspects of my job have also become increasingly complex. The crazy part is that I’m not a detail person by nature, nor do I have any formal training in IT. I’m out of my comfort zone and “expertise” fairly often. While this isn’t always pleasant, it has been incredibly beneficial. I’ve been forced to stretch and grow aspects of myself that would be very easy to leave dormant. Like physical exercise and balanced diet, I believe these challenges are slowly reshaping me into a healthier person.

They’ve also helped me appreciate even more the aspects of my work that do come more naturally. I love teaching. A lot. I love the process of coaching and walking alongside folks as they explore their own calling, decide to take risks and then step out onto the edge.

Of all my tasks, teaching the first course in the Academy – The Missional Imagination – is probably the most exciting. Participants in The Academy are excited about the possibility of something new and more authentic – but many are also unsure, confused, intimidated or even a little terrified by the thought. I have the honor of helping them begin to see more clearly.

As we spend time over the first six weeks exploring the need for and the practice of a missional imagination my prayer is that we begin to envision the ways we can go by staying, because, as Wilson-Hartgrove claims, “If real life with God can happen anywhere at all, it can happen here among the people whose troubles are already evident to us.”1

A missional orientation elicits a tangible response from disciples of Jesus. This is not an ivory tower philosophy, it is recognition of a call to be answered with our intellect, our emotions and most certainly our actions. However, it cannot be stressed enough that missional is not simply an adjective to be placed alongside a program, model or pragmatic list of activities.

Though it carries a significant call to active faith, missional is an orientation (who we are) rather than a program (what we do). The cultivation of a missional approach to faith does not originate in a study of best practices of business, vibrant churches or high-profile individuals. It is not a church growth strategy developed through market analysis. First and foremost missional is a theological issue rooted in our encounter with the one true God of the universe; modeled in the text of scripture, witnessed in the life of the early church and evident throughout our history.

This Missional Imagination course is concerned with the role of missionally oriented imagination regarding the themes of God, scripture, discipleship, worship and community. Imagination is used by advertisers, movie and television producers, motivational speakers, politicians, personal trainers, psychologists and even infomercial gurus. Imagination cultivates us as the germination ground for the seeds of revolution, reform, embodiment of particular ideals or commitment to a particular brand, product or cause.

Imagination is what we experience when a story takes root in our mind. As tendrils of the narrative spread, new regions of brain activity are ignited. Once our imagination is fully engaged, we not only hear the story but we see the story; we can smell it, taste it, touch it…experience it. There are those who believe that the imagination is just for keeping children occupied. They are sorely mistaken. Imagination is an essential aspect of development during childhood. Imagination helps young people explore their world, discover their place in the story, develop the confidence to face monsters and pursue dreams.

Imagination is significantly more than entertainment for children and its significance does not dissipate in the transition to adulthood.

No organized sporting contest, no battle for liberation, no educational reform, no campaign for office, no quest for a corner office, no cry for release from captivity, no response to that cry, no charitable organization or humanitarian cause has ever been conceived or realized without the assistance of the imagination. It is our window into the world that could be. In the case of the missional imagination, its our window into the world that should be, can be and will be through the power of God.

Missional imagination is the ability to see a day in the future when you and your elderly (and to this point barren) wife have become the ancestors of a people that outnumber the sands on the beach and the stars in the sky. It equips us to envision a valley of dry bones being knitted together by God, with life breathed into places formerly inhabited only by death.

A missional imagination inspires conviction and courage in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. This is why in Isaiah 61:3b-4 the prophet, despite contemporary evidence to the contrary, could say:

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

a planting of the Lord

for the display of his spendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins

and restore the places long devastated;

they will renew the ruined cities

that have been devastated for generations.

The missional imagination can take a simple mustard seed, or perhaps a handful of seeds, a coin, a sheep, a lump of bread dough or a lamp on its stand, and transform them into a vision of an entirely new reality.

And this is our goal.

…Yes, I enjoy my work with the Missional Wisdom Foundation.

1 Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture (Brewster MA: Paraclete Press, 2010), 24.

Every Monday Matters

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As we begin this new year, many of us are making resolutions. And here, on January 7, my guess is that many of us have already broken those resolutions. There are any number of reasons why we’ve already given up – lack of discipline, lack of motivation, abundance of distractions and temptations. However, there is a simple component which, when missing, makes room for all these other roadblocks…and, when present, levels the field tremendously.

So very often, for whatever reason, we make our resolutions in isolation rather than in community. We may tell others what we “want” to do and hope that the accountability will keep us on track. But the kicker is, we don’t really expect to do well…and the prospect of having to tell others we didn’t follow through simply isn’t that much of a motivator.

There’s a reason “strength in numbers” is a saying we all know. Whether we’re talking new year’s resolutions, a Rule of Life, or walking through the woods at night, stuff just works out better when there is someone(s) else along for the journey.

The accountability structure, where we tell others what we’re going to do so that they can later check-up on our progress, tries to distill the benefit of community for use in our hyper-individual society…without having to actually do things together. It is better than nothing, but pales in comparison to actual shared experience. Accountability is often based on fear – fear of looking like a failure, fear of breaking faith, fear of mutually agreed upon consequences. And that can be effective. To a certain degree.

But the actual shared experience is different. It isn’t about avoiding, it is about embracing. Avoiding fear and consequences becomes embracing hope and adventure.

To be sure, in situations where shared experience isn’t possible, we’re certainly better off having others who can at least encourage us in word, if not deed. In coaching, my primary task is to help the client determine their goals, form a plan with concrete action steps, and then evaluate the effectiveness after the fact. It isn’t my job to make people feel guilty when they don’t follow through. It IS my job to help them understand why they didn’t and address the barriers. Often what we determine is that, for whatever reason, they just aren’t going to complete this task on their own. “Should” and “ought” are pointless when combined with “but don’t.” In that case there are a couple logical responses.

The first is the goal isn’t really that important. Perhaps in this case, what they “should” do is stop stressing about it and move on. Of course, we often resist this option. But here’s the deal – if we aren’t going to complete this task, the consequences will be the same whether it remains on our “to do” list or not. So we have to ask, how important is this task? Is the stress of an incomplete task greater than the actual consequence of not completing?

Many times the stuff we’re stressing over isn’t that important. Letting it go can open the door to more effectiveness in other areas – and often we’ll find ourselves circling back to this issue down the road.

But when the goal is important, and we realize we are not going to get it done on our own, then it makes sense to find someone to work with us. Maybe its asking a spouse, sibling, coworker, neighbor or group of friends to join us. Or it could mean hiring an assistant, consultant or contractor.

I didn’t make any individual resolutions this year. I’m not very good with them and I decided to pass on the personal guilt trip this time around the sun. However, Rachel came across this book, Every Monday Matters. The book is part of a growing movement of people choosing to reclaim the least desirable day of the week as a time for shared experience and positive change. Check out the introductory video below.

So yesterday The Gathering decided that we would take up this challenge together as families. We won’t all do the activities together as a large group – the basic unit of “we” in this shared experience is the household. However, we’ll discuss our activities as a community, encourage one another and from time-to-time orchestrate larger joint efforts.

I encourage you and your family to join us. You can order a print copy of the book HERE or download the Kindle version HERE. Check out the EMM facebook page and website for updates.

If you’d like to join The Gathering in participating and discussing, just use the “contact us” form in the right hand column and put Every Monday Matters in the comments section. We’ll send out reminders each Monday and provide opportunities to dialog about experiences and team up for group activities. We’d love to have you join us.

Creating a Missional Culture

The culture of a church can either pull people down to their base instincts, or lift people up to their sacred potential. We create culture, and culture re-creates us. – JR Woodward


creating-a-missional-cultureI can’t help but be impressed by the time and energy that must have been required to write Creating a Missional Culture. JR Woodward can be a goof-ball in conversation and his writing style is often light-hearted, but his content is serious, focused and substantive. My biggest complaint is the difficulty of boiling down a review to blog post length…thanks a lot JR.

In the first part of the book, Woodward addresses several different aspects which converge to create what we call “culture.” He discusses the impacts of language, artifacts, narratives, rituals, institutions, and ethics across various manifestations and specific examples.

I remember in one of my grad classes when a professor said, “What is culture? Everything. Every freaking thing is culture.”

Well…Woodward pretty much covers “every freaking thing” individually in this first section. Again, from a content standpoint, the book is packed full. However, and I confess I’m not always the best judge of this particular trait, he does seem to balance some of the heavy lifting with easy (or, at least, easier) to grasp explanations and illustrations.

It would have been very easy to conclude this section of the book after describing the various aspects and implications of culture. Instead he makes an exceedingly helpful move and includes a chapter on specific environments which should be cultivated with these cultural factors in mind. Then he concludes with a case for polycentric leadership – neither centralized nor decentralized, but rather where “leaders interrelate and incarnate the various purposes of Christ in such a way that the entire body is activated to service and matures in love” (60).

This polycentric approach relies on the currently popular “5 fold pattern” of Ephesians 4 – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Personally, though this language is quite prevalent in much of the missional literature, I remain unconvinced that this was ever intended to be a comprehensive or prescriptive list of the necessary leadership styles in the church. However, I don’t see much reason to resist it either. It’s hard to think of many broad leadership categories which are needed and not covered here.

There are those who push back against the 5-fold structure. They challenge the biblical merit of the term leadership altogether, and call instead for “disciple-makers,” but their arguments seem less than compelling. When couched in these broad generic terms it becomes a game of semantics.

I’ll challenge the strong claim that Ephesians 4 is meant to provide the rubric for leadership. However, what the passage does say explicitly, is that these giftings are made available by God in order to equip the saints for works of ministry. Yes, that is disciple making. It is also leadership, and you have to do some crazy acrobatics or employ very thin and skewed definitions to pretend otherwise. I love Claiborne and Perkins’ statement in Follow Me to Freedom, that the response to bad leadership isn’t no leadership, it’s good leadership.

Part 2 of the book takes this chapter on leadership and expounds. Woodward looks at the ways in which the leaders’ missional imaginations can shape culture significantly. He completely reframes the definition of leadership to fall more closely in line with Paul’s exhortation that leaders are present to unleash the potential among the people. It requires humility, listening, releasing control and focusing gifts on empowering others more than accomplishing tasks.

release the APEWe dive even deeper in Part 3 where each of the five leader types are examined as culture creators. Rather than focusing merely on the apostle, prophet and evangelist to the exclusion of the pastors and teachers – as the growing, “Release the APE” movement sometimes risks doing – JR looks at how each temperament / leadership gifting is equipped to influence missional culture in healthy and holistic ways. Of course, he stresses that this will only be effective when the five are working together, rather than operating from paranoid competition.

The final section of the book brings all the previous parts together in order to consider how the missional culture is embodied in a local context. While there is a substantial amount of theory and theology discussed, very little of the book could be honestly dismissed as too theoretical. That is particularly true in Part 4 which is a sort of “applied sciences” division incorporating all previous discussions.

In places throughout, but especially in the closing chapters, the book does seem to be a bit biased towards larger communities – many of his suggestions would be completely unnecessary and impossible in our small house church. However, I often found myself thinking, “How could this principle be applied to our context?” and “What would it look like to set this expectation in our community now, even though there are only a few families serving together?” Given our larger culture’s tendency to cut-and-paste what others are doing, I’m glad a one-to-one correlation wasn’t feasible.

So, who should read this book?

I would definitely recommend it to pastors, elders, church planters, or others in leadership who are wrestling with the cultural roadblocks to living (rather than just studying) missional faith as a community. I think that the casual reader in an institutional, maintenance mode congregation might come away a bit frustrated. Maybe if they can talk some of those in positions of leadership into reading it with them…but even then, I don’t know.

It isn’t really a “casual reading” type of book…but I don’t think anyone is pretending it is. JR tackles some very complicated material head-on and does so in a remarkably accessible way, all things considered.

As I suggested earlier, I wish I had been able to read this book five years ago. I’ll be using portions of it in my next Academy class on “The Missional Imagination”…since I only have six weeks with these students and have to be very selective with the readings, that’s about as high praise as I can offer.


What would the church look like if everyone in the church used their God-given gifts and talents to equip the rest of the church in such a way that the entire church became more like Jesus? And if the whole church looked more like Jesus, how much more would our neighborhoods and cities look more like heaven? – JR Woodward


Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for the free review copy of this book.

A Little Help, Please?

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“We were saying Gig ‘Em long before there was a Johnny Football.”

Some groups are meticulous and thorough in creating a certain culture. For instance, growing up just outside of College Station, TX had such a strong cultural impact on me that, though I no longer live in Aggieland, it’s influence has been passed on to the next generation. Fan or not, just about anyone who follows college athletics can attest to the depth of tradition attached to Texas A&M University. The culture is so ubiquitous that my children disapprove of all burnt orange clothing, are suspicious of any emblem which resembles a longhorn, and refer to their Aunt Tiffany (A&M grad) as “Aggie.”

But there is a lot more to creating culture than just branding. The difficulty is enhanced when the “new” culture is perceived to be replacing/challenging/augmenting another which is already established…even if the old culture is falling / has fallen out of prominence.

When Chris Chappotin and I started the Missional Monks podcast we were just trying to sort through what we called the “what now?” questions in regards to missional church planting. Everywhere we looked there were books, podcasts, articles, conferences and webinars focused on teaching the basics of missional faith and why people should care. But there was so little available for those who had taken the plunge and were looking around – disoriented, alone and slightly terrified. “What do we do now?”

There was so much we didn’t understand (and plenty that still escapes us). How do we balance the value of discipleship and spiritual formation with busy schedules and deeply ingrained cultural expectations regarding information based education? What does it look like to have mission as an organizing principle? It’s one thing to SAY we’re missional…it’s another thing to cultivate a community ethos that actually lives that way.

Why does it seem that so many people, even those who were not raised in a Christian faith tradition, have such deeply ingrained expectations about what church “looks like?”

We would sit for hours at Denny’s – splitting time between talking to the servers and wrestling through these questions. Eventually it occurred to us that a) other people might benefit from listening in and b) there were undoubtedly others having similar discussions…and we needed their wisdom.

One of the fantastic byproducts of the decision to start the podcast was that we “met” lots of new people. Several of these folks – though we’re spread out geographically – have become good friends and vital conversation partners.

That is certainly true of JR Woodward, aka the Dream Awakener. You can check out our conversation with JR on the podcast page or just listen here.

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If you haven’t ever spent time on JR’s website, I recommend doing so…though not until you’ve finished carefully perusing MissionalMonks.com!

Fair warning, JR might give you a case of whiplash. He can go from incredibly goofy to profound more quickly than just about anyone I know. JR has experienced the struggles and pain associated with missional church planting. Rather than cover up these blemishes, he is willing to speak honestly and vulnerably about these matters. And yet his demeanor exudes an incredibly authentic joy. I was excited to finally get the chance to meet him in person this fall at the Sentralized Conference in Kansas City… and as my grandfather would say, he’s good people.

JR’s latest book, Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World, is packed with biblical and cultural insight as well as practical tools for engagement. He looks beyond branding and marketing to consider the myriad of aspects which create, sustain and perpetuate culture. This is exactly the kind of resource we were searching for in our early days of church planting – and it is just as helpful now. His publisher, InterVarsity Press was kind enough to send me a free copy to review…which I will do in my next post.

Stay tuned…

Thin Places by Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley

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I saw the marketing table set up at the Sentralized Conference in Kansas City. I’d never heard of Jon Huckins (which is fine, I’m sure he’d never heard of me either), and I hadn’t heard of this book. But with a title like Thin Places: 6 Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, how could I not be intrigued?

I began digging for my wallet as soon as I read the back cover…”Joining the concepts of monasticism and mission, authors Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley will walk you through the six postures of missional formation: listening, submerging, inviting, contending, imagining, and entrusting.”

Missional Monks unite!!

Yes, I confess that I was hooked by keyword marketing…but I’m not sorry. I encourage you to check out the NieuCommunities website to learn more about these folks and their ongoing task of cultivating missional disciples in monastic community. This book does an excellent job of combining clear reasoning and instruction with well told narratives of a life lived in community with others. It doesn’t cut corners to paint a utopian picture; it doesn’t hold back from the messiness and struggle involved.

The six postures the book describes are more than “keys to missional effectiveness.” They describe an intentionality in rhythm and structure that facilitates community, missional engagement, spiritual formation and growth. An excellent treatise against any who would claim that structure stifles the movement of the Spirit, this book describes how the members of NieuCommunities are more attuned to the moment precisely because of the rhythms and postures they’ve adopted.

The Six Postures

Listening

Living as a community of Jesus’s apprentices who are being formed and seeking to form others, it is imperative for us to enter the path of formation by listening to God through our communities (both intentional and local contexts) and ourselves. As a missional community seeking to engage our local contexts with the good news of Jesus, we choose to view our neighborhoods and our cities as our classrooms. (p 32)

Submerging

When we give ourselves fully to God, we begin to see and experience the dynamic mystery and identity of one who is inviting us into his story. When we give ourselves to each other, we begin to realize that relationships are designed to be much more than talks about the weather or to be used for personal gain. When we submerge into our context, we see that the story we have been told to believe about our neighbors, politics, and economy is far from reality. (p 48)

Inviting

Practicing the postures of listening and then submerging into our context prepares us to engage the third posture – inviting – with softer hearts and more intimate understanding. In the inviting posture, we learn to tell our stories, tell the story of God, and invite those with whom we have come into relationship into both. People are invited into our lives and faith journey by being welcomed into our homes, small groups, community meals, and worship gatherings. (p 66)

Contending

The problem [with issues of injustice in the world] is that they can be so overwhelming that we choose to simply go about our routines and ignore the areas of brokenness and injustice that surround us. However, while simply ignoring those who are in need is tempting and far too culturally acceptable, our role as God’s people is to step into these stories and contend for those who are broken, hurting, and alone. We are to be the manifestation of the good news brought about with the arrival of God’s kingdom. (p 86)

Imagining

The imagining posture is not one of fairy tales and science fiction. There are no glass slippers or alternate realities. The divine imagination allows us to see things as they really are – to engage reality in the way Jesus desired when he announced a new kingdom and a new way of life…In this posture we desire to discern God’s call on our lives, to live into our role as co-creators, and to see in our mind’s eye the kind of transformational faith community God wants us to pursue. (p 115-116)

Entrusting

When we catch a vision of what God has for his people, we can’t help but entrust ourselves to it by stepping forward as sent ones. In this posture, we desire to entrust people to God, celebrate their new or renewed understanding of God’s call on their lives, and lean confidently into the future. Without sending, our transformation is incomplete: it is where everything falls into place, and it moves us from speaking about it to living it out. (p 132-133)

Some things stand out as one progresses through the list of postures. Firstly, “posture” is a very appropriate term. A book written from other contexts might refer to values, practices, characteristics, keys, etc.

The reason posture is so powerful is that it simultaneously conveys both reflection and action. An intentional posture allows for both giving and receiving while simultaneously conveying a sense of readiness and anticipation. And it also reminds us that our structures and practices serve our calling and mission – not the other way around.

The stories of how these postures find expression in the real, actual lives of real, actual people in a real, actual community are really what set this book apart from many others. Stories of risk, adventure, transformation are set in an astoundingly normal – and yet profoundly abnormal – landscape. Look long enough and you’ll see that the extraordinary actually resides just below the surface of the mundane…the same mundane that too often slips by unnoticed outside each of our doors.

NieuCommunities is described as a community of discipleship and disciple training. Far from the inwardly-focused approach often found in churches, people are equipped for ministry in the neighborhood, in order to serve wherever they may go – not to simply for the self-preservation of the local system. Apprentices are given a chance to experience community, cultivate spiritual disicplines and missional engagement, and receive coaching/spiritual direction along the way. Rather than trying to hoard all these gifted people in one place, NieuCommunities celebrates occasions when these apprentices are sent out by the Holy Spirit to listen and submerge into new contexts, contend with new issues, imagine and invite new possibilities and entrust themselves to God’s outcomes.

After reading the book, I sent author Jon Huckins a few questions/reactions. Check out the conversation in my next post.

Have you still not picked up a copy of this book? Seriously? Click the image below and the magic of the interweb will take you to Amazon. A few clicks more and a kindly delivery person will bring it to your house…and there will much rejoicing throughout the land.

 

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Crippled By Our Own Freedom

One of the strengths of the program driven church is that people know exactly what to do and when to do it. Many churches will even provide folks with printed and online catalogs of choices for when, where, and how to get involved. Those ministries are led, whether by volunteers or paid staff, with planning and an expectation of clear communication.

Meetings are scheduled and publicized, events are planned and organized, roles and responsibilities are spelled out. Sometimes there is even training.

Of course, things aren’t always so ideally constructed, but this is the goal.

In fact, I remember attending a conference years ago that described the need for well trained parking lot staff, redundant and highly visible signage and an army of volunteers ready to answer any question and direct people precisely where they should go.

While the majority of my mind and body shiver at both the mindlessness and the amusement park aura this cultivates, I can also recognize why it is effective. Most of us do not like feeling uncertain about our next step.

I’ve seen job descriptions for Involvement Ministers whose primary task on the ministry staff was to formalize structures in order to assimilate all members into a ministry. Certainly there will always be those in a congregation who have an idea and what to put that idea into action. But, as one speaker (and likely countless others) said, “Most people are willing, they’re just waiting for you to ask.”

These dynamics are often among the primary punching bags for those seeking to cultivate more missional approaches to faith.

“We’re not inviting people to an event, we’re inviting them to share life with us.”

But what does that mean? What does it look like? How do we get there from here? There are some stark realities that must be faced. Many of us have jobs, many of us have children, few of us live in the same neighborhood.

We want to experience a more robust, holistic life of faith…but we’re afraid of anything that looks like the cookie-cutter programs. We don’t need all the market-driven hype, flashy consumeristic products, and event based ministries…right?

We start tossing structure, planning, and organization overboard because they smack of institutionalism. And in our overreaction to structure we can create an environment where “sharing life” with one another is haphazard, sporadic and largely ineffective.

Growing up I knew that every evening, barring some strange circumstance, my family was going to sit down at the dinner table to eat. I knew that I was going to do my homework before I could watch TV, play outside, talk to friends…or generally enjoy life. I knew what time I was expected to go to bed. I knew that I would brush my teeth before doing so.

I also knew what kind of language I could get away with using and what would bring swift justice raining down. I knew how I was to speak to adults. I knew what my mother meant when she said, “Remember who you are.”

I knew that my parents would be at my sports games and even most practices. I knew that if I was wrongly accused of something at school, my fiery little mother would raise ten kinds of hell until it was put right…and so I knew that I better not lie about whether or not the accusations were true.

Because I didn’t just remember who I was. I remembered who WE were.

These structures, rhythms and postures didn’t stifle me, they created room in which I could grow in a healthy manner…and they cultivated the spaces in which our family would engage.

In their book, Thin Places: 6 Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley give us more than just a peek into the characteristics of the missional-monastic NieuCommunities. They also model the ways in which intentional rhythms shape organic, authentic, relational, discipleship-oriented community.

Those who would strive to live holistic, missional lives would do well to learn from the wisdom of the monastics – the ancient as well as the contemporary. In my next post I will give a brief overview of Thin Places. I’m also very pleased that author Jon Huckins was willing to engage in some brief dialog concerning some of my reactions – I’ll share his thoughts and my responses as well.

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