Friday, October 29, 2010

Beyond 150 - Albums

I love the early mornings. The quiet as the city awakens, initially sounds like the gentle waves lapping the sea shore, then gradually intensifies to the roar of the LA reality. The city stirs from her blanketed rest to the demanding challenges of another raging day in paradise.

I do love each church as you wrestle your way through the dynamics of breaking ceilings. Being fully persuaded that ceilings are there to be broken, our prayers do seek to empower you in all wisdom, courage and boldness to take on these challenges. There is such pressure to conform to the image of those in our communities. They are often nice enough folks who are seeking to be pleasant Christians. However, they are driven by the delights of their own conveniences and comforts more than the priorities of the kingdom. Rick Warren did some research and found the combat zone where two sets of expectations meet. If I remember it correctly, some 90% of pastors believe that the church exists for reasons beyond itself- for the reason of the gospel. Whereas some 89% of the congregants believe that the church is there to "meet me and my families needs". Oh dear, we are on a path of conflict.

There are many ways to address this major conversation but may I add two questions into the mix:

1. What kind of believers do we want to produce?

If the church is to be a family, then we need to ask this key question. In the same way, we sit and discuss intentionally what kind of children we want to raise, this then fashions what our parenting will look like. The church planter and replanter, is often stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is such pressure to keep the few folks that we have gathered that we are not clear about the kind of believer we want to see emerge from the seed bed of our community. Survival and the lobby of the few, pretty soon becomes the loudest voice that demands our attention. This is exasperated when you are in a church model where annual assessments by very unspiritual secular mindset folks, drives the pastor to desperation. This is so ungodly and so destructive.

We must be bold and courageous if we want to breakthrough this 150 ceiling. We cannot be fashioned by the 'smallness theology of the few' . We cannot be intimidated by these voices lest they manipulate us with the threat of leaving. Rather we must take the scriptures and clearly teach with faith and patience what kind of believers we are going to see emerge from this community. Here are a few ideas of these kind of believers that we can put into our photo albums.
Folks who...
  • Love Jesus before all else - in mind, heart, strength, relationships,
  • Believe in the scriptures as the highest measure for life's decisions,
  • Are continuously getting soaked in grace, faith and love,
  • Give themselves to passionate pursuance of prayer, praise and piety,
  • Love the brotherhood, doing everything to sustain divine unity of the Spirit,
  • Make community gatherings a priority with faithful discipline,
  • Dwell with expectation for miracles, signs and wonders,
  • Are generous-in time, abilities, finances believing in a massive God whom you simply cannot out give,
  • See themselves as 'missionaries in their shadowlands' taking the gospel wherever they go,
  • Enjoy marriage and family but never as idols, only as gifts...
  • Have a heart to see this gospel go to all nations, desiring to be part of that big story,
  • Lastly, let me let it all hang out. I suspect the world is desperate for this kind of believer who is real, radical, relevant and relational. Who delights in Jesus and is totally committed to instant obedience when Jesus speaks. Who honors the scriptures and will not manipulate it to satisfy their own selfish needs, who believes that the weekly gathering of believers is of the highest priority and not an optional extra, who wants to see folks come to Jesus with repentance and a transformed life and sees it as a privilege to share in this, who believe you cannot out-give God - who give beyond their 10% with faith and joy, who walk with love, humility and sacrifice desiring the best for others before ourselves, who praise passionately, pray relentlessly, and who by service and story are a Jesus presence in their world, lastly who want to see everyone have the opportunity to hear the gospel, and then the end will come... [now I feel a lot better]
Well the list can go on. However, we need to settle this question, then pour our lives out to bring this to fruition.

2. What kind of leaders do we want to produce? We will look at this next time...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Beyond 150 - Covert Operations

Buzz words. We all have them. We all like them. In the 27 years that I have been a leader in the Jesus journey, they have come and gone. I am sure they are not bad. They are simply God's way to capture our attention with truths that He is restoring to the church. The success of these words are not if we know them and can speak them. Rather, can we mine them for their theological content, embrace them for their missiological value, then apply them with due ecclesiological wisdom?

So here they are:

Incarnational, Missional Communities.

Lets explore themItalic somewhat for their true value. I suspect many of the pastors who fit into the "I want to be hip, read the latest books, go to the coolest conferences, be connected to the grooviest speakers", are trying to make sense of these words. They are vulnerable to try the latest programs in order to be current and see how all of this can help them grow in numbers and influence. I sat with a "missional communities pastor" of a mega church recently. When he had given us his missional speech I asked him what his theological matrix was for this conversation. He sat and looked at me with big eyes somewhat bewildered, then acknowledged that they had not really processed that.


"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full grace and truth." John 1:14. At its most essential basis, being incarnational means that we 'embed our selves in the community / city'. Jesus left the safety and sanctity of His holy abode with His heavenly Father, and robed Himself with our humanity. "And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him" Luke 2:40. These are the 'hard yard' times. Believing that the Father "determines the times set before them and the exact places where they should live" Acts 17:26 we engage our world with the courage, beauty, love, service, kindness, grace, that Jesus had in those years. It is an honor to be chosen by the Father to work where we work, to live where we live, to serve where we serve so we empower our message with lives that match this great gospel. We intentionally enter the shadowlands of our world to bring the beauty, wonder, mystery of our gospel to a world who despair of life. An examination of the life of Christ will bring this story to us readily - meals with tax collectors and prostitutes, fishermen and women alone at the well. It is a glorious honor to walk alongside the limping and love the fragile, to influence the politicians and give a voice for the disenfranchised.

However, it is not sufficient to be there for them. The gospel does not afford us the luxury of only being "nice people". That does not drag the doubter to heaven. It is fun and it does have a high feel good factor, but it does not 'get the job done'.


"For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost." Luke 19:10. We cannot afford to mix these two essential Jesus ingredients up. Nor can we choose which we are to be. To be one Biblically, is to be the other also. Being missional is basically to be a 'missionary in our world.' Actually to say it more biblically, is to see ourselves as gospel bearers in our world. We are the ambassadors of the King, heralds of this great truth - each one of us strategically placed to speak this glorious gospel in our world.

"Those who were scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip [deacon, businessman according to church history] went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there." Acts 8:4 - 5. May I suggest, we cannot talk about being missional if the preaching of the Gospel does not take place - being incarnational is to serve our world. Being missional means that we know our core calling is to tell the Jesus story wherever we go, to bring folks to a conviction of sin, repentance and a new creation journey of faith.

"Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus,[incarnational] called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God [missional]" Rom 1:1 This wondrous tension is seen in the understanding of Paul's journey. As a tent maker business man, he was both incarnational as well as missional. He embedded himself in new cities around the marketplace. However, it was not only to live a Jesus life among the Gentiles. It was also matched by a serious sense of divine intentionality, to preach the Christ salvation on every occasion even if it was in direct conflict with the idols and worldview of the day. I suspect many a believer has been intimidated into silence for fear of losing street cred. Actually they may hate us but the non-believer does not want us to be spineless nice people who offer a pleasant life without a clear voice of challenge.


"By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love another." John 13:35. We will consider this conversation more in a future blog. However, may I suggest, we can become such lovers of ourselves and of each other that we do not engage in the joy of telling our salvation story to others. Acts 2 is a chapter one can read and study over and over. From this convo, what is most glaring is that everything points to the gospel - from the speaking in tongues, which was really a gospel proclaiming moment for everyone to hear it in their own language. From Peter standing up with the 11 to tell the redemptive narrative. From the new community, who are so convincing in their faith oneness, that people were added to their "number daily".

I am persuaded if we are truly incarnational missional communities, the gospel will be central and salvations will follow continuously. "Every believer is a missionary in their shadowlands" is a battle cry we all need to heed. It is not a program we can import, nor is it a vocabulary that we can all learn. It is a revelation we all need to embrace. Programs come and go, vocabulary changes as do the tides, but true bible revelation will transform us fully. The net result will be that our 150 somethings will be captivated by the notion of "I live for the benefit of others, by serving them with my love and gifts; I share with them the wonder of my Jesus and the weight of my own story; then I draw them into the joy of our Jesus loving community". That is what the scripture has in mind.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Letters from a Father - Self Doubt 10 / 25

I do remember the day so well. It had been a very busy time for me. The church was gaining serious traction. The hours were longer, the issues more pressing and the travel more extensive.

I arrived home with an excitement as you were going to sing in your first stage event. You were 6 years old, gorgeous with a most engaging voice. The beauty of your voice clear to all. However it was also intoxicating with the perfume of you naivette. At 6 years old, your blonde hair and big brown eyes, matched with this humble beauty, made you the affection of many an adult and the interest of many a little boy.

Your little eyes were awash with tears as I walked through the door. M heard me arrive home and immediately came over. After the greeting kiss the story came out. You did not want to sing that evening. The school concert in which you were to headline, was a moment too big for you. In your young childlike description, you spoke with such tenderness of the rumblings in your tummy as fear began to grip your young soul.

"I can't Dad" you said. "My tummy is all funny and my hands are all sweaty. Please call my teacher and tell her I can't do this". Both Mom and daughter looked at me with eager eyes. I'm sure they 'knew' I would understand such trauma and would immediately agree that this moment was far too traumatic for a 6 year old.

All Dads know those moments when a cry to heaven is load, desperate and urgent. I heard my mouth say: "Baby, this is not about tonight. This is about your life. If Dad says 'Sure. that is not a problem. I can see this is too tough for you. I will call the teacher and pull you from the production'. However that will not empower you for life. It would mean that every time life's challenge traumatizes you I would have taught you to run. When life gets to tough - run. When things come your way that you don't like - run. No my baby. This is not about a song on a stage but a decision that will fashion all others for the rest of your life. Tonight you will sing. That is Dad's gift to you."

She sang beautifully. In her little outfit with long blonde hair neatly curled - you held your little head high. A few fear tears did slip down your cheeks. But you sang. You sang beautifully.

In August I watched you lead worship in Perth. Now a grown woman, mum of two and an extraordinary pastor's wife. I still see that little face, with that beautiful voice and that gentle tear but now I know why. You have never run from potential trauma or challenge. I guess it started on a stage 18 years ago. I am so proud of you.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Road trip reading-Texas Oct 2011

I have been reading 4 books this road trip:

Fred Sanders: The Deep things of God - How the Trinity changes everything
I am enjoying Sander's approach - rich in content yet readable in its narrative.

Bruce Ware: Father, Son & Holy Spirit
Very helpful for those who are newer to the Trinity story.

Ed Stetzer: Viral Churches
I enjoyed the book although I do wonder if they do not reach conclusions with some ministries to early and too definitively

Alister McGrath: Doubting
I do enjoy this author. He is educated, yet engages the reader with earthy reality - delighted we can wrestle our way through doubts without feeling we are somewhat B grade Jesus lovers

Friday, October 22, 2010

Beyond 150 - The Unit

There is something very combative about this spiritual journey. The text is laden with war stories that inspire, stir and deploy many a believer to various spiritual combat zones. Church planting is war! The planter and his crew are an intensely trained operations team being sent into the enemy's camp to redeem a world held hostage by demonic darkness. The church planter enters the shadowlands of society knowing that all his training for war is for such a time as this.

Much is written about exegeting culture, being contextually aware and relevant. Whilst these are true and valid conversations, the church planter must first remind himself that he has been called to war. Victory cannot be negotiated around being cool, hip and current. That may gather a crowd but will not truly, fully and weightedly defeat a highly intentioned foe. These pieces of the puzzle are essential and we will explore them later. However we must prepare for war.

The prophet Joel proclaims: "The Lord has spoken. 'Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare for war! Rouse the warriors! Let the fighting men draw near and attack. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say: "I am strong"'... Bring down your warriors, O Lord.'

May I suggest that the planter, seeking to push through the limits of 150, needs to engage in the theology of God the Commander in Chief and we His army. Satan fought to gain dominion in the garden by taking man's authority from him. This defeat brought about a journey of combative redemption culminating at the cross and empty tomb. The wonder and genius of this ransom paid, paved the way for us to gain the victory that Christ made available to us. However, as with the closing months of World War 2, we are fighting pockets of resistance to prepare the way for the Lord's return.

When we planted Glenridge Church in the 80's, we found ourselves focussed to get the church rooted in the city. However, we were also fighting for our country as South Africa was slowly imploding with the apartheid years drawing to a most needed close. But Satan wanted chaos and blood shed. We prayed. We fasted. Every year. Often. Regularly. From daily fasting to many three day fasts, to a 10 day water only fast to a 3 week fast [of soup and fruit juice] meeting every night, to cry out to God for our breakthrough, we prayed and prayed and prayed. I am absolutely convinced it would not have been possible without a culture of prayer and fasting.

May I suggest strongly, planters must accept that going through this most challenging of ceilings, is an act of war. He and his community must be mobilized to fight the enemy and destroy the dominion of darkness. Glenridge grew from about 40 of us who started, to 120 where we got stuck. We had to fight our way through. We then grew to 500 which felt so good but seemed so incomplete. Prayer and fasting pushed us through this ceiling toward the 1000 mark when M and I handed over. Real, true authentic growth with a sense of compelling community fashioned by a raw fighting gutsiness, is part of the church planting story.

The ceiling is secondly shattered by the destroying the mindsets that fight this most necessary evolution. The scripture says that: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 11:3 - 6. The very knowledge of God mobilizes us, that we are to "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth..." Gen 1:28. With many other texts, they tell us, that this is the Father's divine intention. When we have reasons that counter this clarion call, we are using arguments and pretensions that need to be broken and repented of, as they are fighting and resisting the very purposes of God.

Unfortunately these times of war, often lead to casualties that really hurt the growing church. The church plant is often built around a very high relational quotient. Declarations are made that these relationships are for life. However, these are both biblical and sentimental. The biblical part the Father with endorse. The sentimental, He will remove. Jesus would not let sentimentality get in the way of His obedience. Even Paul, when Agabus prophesied over him, refused to let sentimentality get in the way. They pleaded with him not to go. He however was "compelled by the Spirit" Acts 20:22.

Ephesians 6:10 - 19 is not to be a neglected text. The leader must be called to war. The people are to be called to war. However, it is a spiritual war. Do not find yourself in a combative engagement with folks in the church. Do not use the pulpit to bludgeon folks who do not want growth and who hijack every growth effort. Go to war — but in the heaven-lies. Be found in prayer dear leader. Be found in the text, on your knees, crying out for God's will to be done. Ask Him to let those who fight growth "repent or be removed," keeping the relationships healthy and current, but they cannot interfere with the call of God. That dear sir, is what we will ultimately be asked to give an account for. The fear of lost relationships is paralyzing for too many planters. Sentiment must surrender to obedience.

"Peter and the other apostles replied: 'We must obey God rather than men!'". Acts 5:29

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Beyond 150 - Friends

From 'Friends' to 'Seinfeld' to 'Cheers' and other delightfully wacky sitcoms, the TV audiences around the world have lived out their desire for community through the TV screen. What has been one of the most consistent cries of the western heart has been the need to belong. If that cannot be achieved in the real world ,it can be attained through the virtual world.

Even churches have experimented with the notion of "belonging before believing". With mixed success, this desire has created a resurgence of the notion of 'house churches' as well as 'missional communities', all of which reflect the wrestles the church is having to fill that relational void that resonates in the modern world and even in the modern church.

Our conversation is around growing beyond the 150 mark in our communities. This is the third in the series of blogs on this subject. We want to both explore the wonder of the church that is this size as well as the ingredients that tend to keep them there. Bearing in mind that many young church planters are moving away from the megachurch model and mindset. There is a major need to negotiate ourselves away from 'smallness is better'. It is not size that determines our effectiveness but obedience to God, His Word and our quest for the authentic and the real.

Some of the ingredients of these smaller communities include the following: [If we are to walk our churches through growth, we must understand the 'sociology of smallness' and how we are to walk our folks beyond this]
  • Everyone knows everyone,
  • Caring is measurable and achievable,
  • Everyone feels like they belong,
  • Role and positions are clear and secure,
  • The pastor and leaders are accessible to all,
  • All activities are attended by all,
  • Communication is informal, face to face and very verbal,
  • Arrangements can be changed at the last minute, as 'everyone will understand',
  • Administrative deficiencies are overlooked because 'that is the way he is',
  • Admin chaos is called 'organic', [but is extremely frustrating to all]
  • A spirit of 'generalists' exists as everyone is involved everywhere-'just fill the gaps' ,
  • Lack of excellence is forgiven as we 'know the person's heart',
  • The cringe factor of poor presentation is more readily understood and accepted,
  • Gatherings are more like casual family dinners than having guests around so we accept shoddy table settings and left overs,
  • There is not a high desire for evangelism for there is not a real drive to grow - it will disrupt the status quo,
  • Friends, family, work associates are not brought along as there is no expectation for salvation and, truth be told, folks are embarrassed,
  • Gatherings are scripted to facilitate the community and not to get folks to Jesus,
  • It is expected that the visitors must 'fit into our world' not we who are to be 'all things to all so by all means possible, some might be saved',
  • It is expected that 'the priesthood must have room to operate' often without the reality check of whether they are truly gifted in that area, - 'just let the gifts flow or you are controlling',
  • The community is held together around relationships that are often highly sentimental and are to be loyally defended at all costs.
This is not a comprehensive list. It is sufficient however for more conversations for those of you who lead these sized churches. To go through this very real barrier to growth, it requires a theology of multiplication, but also a deep and profound soul conversation that requires all to change. Growth brings change. This is the second most profound thing that folks fear, hereby keeping us small, cozy, intimate and introspective.

Next blog we will discuss how to move from 'Friends' to 'The Unit'...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Beyond 150 - Numb8rs

For churches to grow beyond the 150 ceiling, probably the greatest battle that is to be had, is in the hearts and minds of those who are nervous about growth. Be it struggling with the theology around growth, to the woundedness that produces a small minded culture to protect a broken heart, to a vulnerability that comes from the fear that I will get lost in a growing community, when I am already lost in an overwhelming world... and so the reasons grow.

May I suggest we need a deep and irrepressible conviction of the theology of growth. Obviously I am not legitimisng raw naked soulish ambition. However, the overriding story of the scriptures, reflects that the divine intention of the Father reveals a heart of enormous extravagance. From the Genesis story God declared: Gen 1: 28 "And God blessed them. And God said to them:'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth...'" The garden was never a destination but a launch pad. God plan was never smallness but multiplied largeness. This was repeated throughout the OT to all the great patriarchs [ Gen 8:17, 9:1, 13:14 - 17, 17:3 - 8, 26:2 - 5, 35:11 - 14, 48:3 - 4.]

Beyond a whole book in the scriptures that gives an account of Numbers, we see continuous referral to numbers and details. Of course one cannot have this conversation without the life and teaching of Jesus himself. Luke as doctor and author, had a particular eye for numbers. In his account of the Jesus story, he walks us through the calling of the twelve, then the sending of the twelve [5:1 - 11, 6:12... 9:1 - 6] to the next group of 72 that Jesus trained and sent [10:1 - 23] to the 120 in the prayer room [Acts 1:15] then the wonder of the first sermon preached that led to 3000 added that first day [Acts 2:41]. My point being that God indicates number details because they are important and should build our faith to believe for God to do more amongst us. In fact when Jesus speaks of himself as the shepherd [John 10], he says that ' I have sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them in also.' He always has more sheep for us, that are not yet in the fold.

Paul the great apostle does a great job in 1 Corinthians 3 when he reminds us that: ' I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow'. This ecological metaphor is delightful. Seeds multiply themselves. They cannot help it. We need to labor - each with our giftings. It takes more than one to get the job done. Then of course, it is God who brings the growth. True God life brings growth, for wherever He is, there is life [Rev 2:1 + 2] and where there is life, there is growth.

Now may I add to the conversation, those who would say that they are sovereignly destined to be in communities or to lead communities that are small. This sentiment does pander to insecurities but does not reflect scripture. It is true that God gives us gifts and talents of different sizes and capacities. However, it is not true that that is a fixed number that cannot be changed. Two parables in Luke's gospel dispel this [Luke 16:1 - 13; 19:11 - 27.] If we are faithful with a little, we will be entrusted with much... there is a relationship between the two. Or in the second text, Jesus teaches that if we are trustworthy in a small matter, we will take charge of ten cities. Our capacity is not a static predetermined amount. Our response to Jesus does influence the nuance of the Father's generosity.

We cannot end this theology of growth conversation without looking at the power of team. When the scriptures draws to our attention that: 'Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work'[ Eccl 4:9] we are joined to a journey with others, that is empowering and liberating. Punching beyond the 150 ceiling is rarely done alone. Of course it can be done by force of character or by charismatic personality. However, for many, this will only be achieved when this local community, agree theologically that it is the Father's desire for them to grow and are prepared to lean into the wheel together, that this mark can be shattered.

Beyond 150 - Cheers

So I am in Tyler Texas with my dear friends Dave and Lea Bianchi - dear friends, wonderful planters, heroes in the faith. Needless to say our discussions have been endless as thoughts, ideas and dreams rampage through our stirred souls.

One of the greatest challenges for every church planter is firstly to crack the 45 person ceiling. Then the second and more difficult is to pillage through the 150 mark. The clever people say that is even more difficult. It does seem to be so.

Mark Driscoll says it this way: " A congregation of 150 can usually gather in one service and exist as one large community, yet have the resources to hire a pastor and function with greater programming for the people. In “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell argues that the Rule of 150 states that the highest number of people the average person can connect with is 150 and that explains why many groups cease growing at that number. For examples he cites the Methodist movement of John Wesley that collected people into communities of about 150, in twenty-one hunter-gatherer societies the average village had 148.4 people, most military fighting units are under 200, and Hutterite communities grow no larger than 150 by design. Therefore, any congregation committed to evangelism and the extension of its ministry should expect to find people feeling displaced once their communities grow beyond about 50 and 150 people, particularly when communication can no longer be conducted solely by face to face contact with the point leader and when a church transitions to two worship services"

I want us to explore the implications, ideas and actions required to go through this merciless ceiling. Lyle Schaller of in his book 'A Very Large Church" gives these statistics of the church in America:
Churches under 45 are about 25% of the total
under 75 50 - 60%
under 150 75%
under 350 95%
under 800 98%
over 800 2%

Whilst this is more of a sociologist report than a theological set of conclusions, there is much to be discussed around these stats. Is that God's sovereign intention or simply our free will? Can we change God's level of talents and gifts he gives us or must we simply accept things for what they are? Is it out of intentionality or ignorance that these ceilings are reached? Is it simply through prayer that we grow or are there things we need to change? Can we reinvent our style or are we simply the way we are?
Is it not interesting that Acts 1:12 - 26 esp vs 14 + 15 " All these were together with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus and his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the brothers [the company of persons was in all about 120]...

Out of the text we can see the essence of that community size:
i. All were at everything,
ii. It was highly family orientated,
iii. Leadership was very casual and collaborative,
iv. Communication was very informal and face to face
v. There was an ease of 'togetherness'
vi. And like the great philosophy class of the 80's 'Cheers' - "I want to go to a place where everyone knows my name".

But that was just the beginning...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Letters from a Father - GIrls 10 / 17

So I thought I would have a son first. Well, there was much mirth around this subject. Of course every Afrikaner father would have a son first — we all "knew that". I am so grateful that I did not strut that notion, nor threw in a scripture for good measure. We simply waited with bated breath for this little birth.

Then it all began. The steam of a natural birth that started to blow — 'fetal distress' was soon followed by an emergency caesarean section. There I was — in the surgery gown, shoes, head covering and all. It was not a pretty sight. I was not made for operating rooms.

The surgery was speedy. Expert hands met with skilled minds and soon a baby began to emerge from M's tummy. With great celebration the doctor proudly proclaimed: "He is a girl, he is a girl". Confusion reigned supreme. Even the umbilical cord look like a generous male endowment. But the little cry that gently came from my little bloodied baby's mouth settled my girl's arrival. Nasia was born. Our little 'miracle of God' was wrapped in cotton and comforted by her very delighted mother.

Well, time sped by as we eagerly awaited our next child. The tender, gentle Nas was soon joined by her joyous singing sister. It was at that time that I knew I had no clue how to raise girls. What does one do? What does one say? How does a dad play with little girls? Does discipline mean a spanking? Realizing that I had more questions than answers, I needed to get on my knees and engage the creator of their journey. Holding each in my hands, I cried out to the Father...

Heaven was filled with the cry of an enthusiastic but desperate father. My prayer went something like this: "Father God, I do not know how to raise these 2 little girls. You created them, each fearfully and wonderfully unique. Please teach me. I love them. They are little bundles of mystery and mystique and I need you to speak." As clearly as I have ever heard my heavenly Father I heard him say: "Prepare them for another." That was all, but I knew then. My fathering was revolutionized by just a pivotal moment where heaven and earth met.

My job was to get them ready for their heavenly groom who would sweep them off their feet one day — they were not mine. They were His. I was a caretaker of His girls preparing them to love Him passionately, serve Him sacrificially and save themselves for Him.

Then I was to prepare them for their 'man'. Every act of my fathering was to that end. They were not there to make me look good. They were not there to effect my dreams, nor to fulfill my desires. They were under my affection and leadership to prepare them for that moment when I give them away. That I discovered is a glorious moment.

That dear reader, transformed the way I lead churches — preparing them for another. However that conversation is for another time. Little girls are mysterious gifts who blossom under the scope of fatherly affection. They revel in beauty. They thrive on affection. They explore creativity. They need space to expand their uniqueness. Their fathers are a safe place where the challenge of a raw ravaging world is silenced by the presence of a father who protects them radically. I love my girls... and am deeply honored by their extraordinary love.


Unity in Diversity.

The ongoing Trinity Story as applied today.

Deut 6:1 – 20 esp vs4.

‘In 1967, Karl Rahner famously drew attention to the then widespread neglect of the Trinity, claiming that “should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged”.’[1]

Letham then goes on to quote Augustine in his De Trinitate: ‘in no subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.’[2]

Rob Bell, in his book “Velvet Elvis” suggested that doctrine was like a wall made of bricks. If this were so, a few may be removed, and the wall would still stand - this is such dangerous thinking. Even when Bell then goes on to say that Doctrine should be more like a trampoline, flexible, expandable, stretchable, he is simply putting into words what so many believers grapple with-namely how important is all this anyway. Whilst he attempted to clarify these notions later, they did reflect the mind of many, especially when discussing the Trinity. Most believers have a Sunday School grasp of this most essential of doctrines.

  • Based on poor, limiting metaphors / analogies, [candle, tree, man,3 leaf clover…],
  • Dramatically and dangerously over simplified,
  • Little text or theological study,
  • Without regard for the historical journey,
  • Certainly not reflected on for its weight and influence on all else.

Actually I want to argue that, the Trinity is the focus of all doctrine. If this is treated lightly or is subtly dismissed as of little importance, we are in serious danger of building a Leaning Tower of Pisa – a building founded on a poor foundation that became a monument of human stupidity rather than a facility of long standing life.

I eagerly await Prof Fred Sanders new book: ‘The Trinity changes everything’[3]

Why then do we study the Trinity?

  • Unfolds to us, daily the wonder, mystery, complexity, extravagance of who our God really is – and how we are to partner with Him,
  • Reveals to us who we are, why we desire what we do and what can only fully satisfy the longings of our heart,
  • Exposes and prevents the drift toward heresies with all the devastation that that brings,
  • Places at the hub of life the central piece of divinity around which everything spins or spokes outward,
  • Without the Trinity we have no true and complete atonement, there is then no salvation to take away the sins of the world with the full personal life transformation that it brings,
  • He / they provide the template for all of life – “the Trinity is the first community and the ideal for all communities… the Trinity is the ideal community in every way.”[4] Be it marriage, family, church, leadership, businesses, nations…

If I may stay with Robert Letham’s book for just a little longer, here is something of note that he argues:

‘The East [church] early on faced the danger of subordination, viewing the Son and the Spirit as something derivative, with their divine status not precisely clear… the east has sometimes tended to see the Father as the source not only of the personal subsistence of the Son and the Spirit but also of their deity. In this way, it is easy to see how the Son could be viewed as a little less divine than the Father, his deity by derivation rather than of himself…the recent awakening of interest in Eastern theology in the West, a social model of the Trinity has arisen in the West that focuses on the distinctiveness of the three persons often tending toward loose tritheism…

The West, for its part, has fallen more toward modalism. By this is meant the blurring or eclipsing of the eternal personal distinctions. This can come about either by treating God’s self-revelation as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit as merely successive modes by which the one unipersonal God revealed himself… Western Trinitarianism has been based on the priority of the one divine essence and has had some difficulty doing justice to the distinctions of the three persons.”[5]

Whilst to some, this may appear to simply reflect a theological / philosophical discussion that really has no daily relevance, the opposite could not be truer. So many Christian movements in the west honestly believe that they have the “right’ to choose which person of the Trinity they emphasize. This they do with

  • The use of selective texts,
  • Testimony accounts,
  • Using highly emotive language and
  • The ‘evidence’ of God’s blessing to legitimize their stance.

Tragedy. All of this is earthed in a poor Trinitarian understanding and revelation that leads to a ‘legitimate’ form of ‘modalism’. Lets look at these realities: [I am aware of the dangers of generalizations]

  • Father God – the therapeutic movement has latched onto the healing Father [often in quite a generic form] almost exclusively,
  • The Son – the new reformed emergence, has placed enormous [almost exclusive] weight and emphasis on the Son, the cross, the tomb,
  • The Spirit – the ‘kingdom now’ theology, often strongly loaded by an Armenian bias, has drifted to a Spirit-exclusive encounter-based journey.

My appeal for us is to posture ourselves with humility around this glorious conversation – The Trinity. We surrender our right of choice [not that we have one]. There remains an ongoing commitment to mine these truths, to keep building on the solid rock of “a God who is one, who is three equally distinctive, with all three uncreated and eternally God”.

AW Tozer as so often is the case, says it the best - “Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity, must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.”[6] He adds later: “We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid to whisper ‘mystery’”.[7]

[1] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity; pg 1

[2] Ibid pg 2

[3] Don’t yet have all the publishing info,

[4] Mark Driscoll, Doctrine, pg 12

[5] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity; pg 3

[6] AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, pg 17.

[7] Ibid pg 18.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Letters from a Father - 10 / 10

Today M and I handover the leadership of Southlands Church to Alan and Rynelle. It is a good day.

I suppose as I reflect on all the emotions that clutter my soul, remembering the 14 years we have led her, so much fills my memory vista. The tears we cried together, the battles we fought together, the celebrations we enjoyed together, the laughter we delighted together, the dreams we had together, the life we shared together, the churches we planted together, the mistakes we made together, the community we did together... it is a little like giving a daughter away in marriage.

I have such vivid memories that travel me back 6 years ago, [9 Oct 2004] when I walked Nas down the aisle. That too was a good day. My gorgeous 18 year old girl floated down that aisle to her 6 foot 4 man. Her beauty still captures me. Her fragrance still reminds me of those very sweet days. Like Southlands, we thought we had the privilege of having her at home a few more years. Her laughter and singing was so intoxicating. Her presence around the house lit the home up because her colorful courageous spirit never let a room or moment go grey.

But God delighted in a different story. It was not what was best for mom and dad. It was not a God inspired decision driven by sentiment. It was a strong prophetically inspired encounter that had the nations with the gospel at the center of the divine intent.

We cried at the wedding. Us men that is - we cried. But it was not because it was sad. What reigned supreme was the overwhelming sense of God's kindness. He entrusted daughters into our hands, and we men, were to pour our lives into these little girls so that we could give them away to another man. That is God's expression of goodness.

Today we give Southlands away... She is a radiant bride. We love her deeply and are so proud of her. She held her head so high during the dastardly dark days of pain and assault. She carried herself so beautifully during the times of prayer and devotion. She released the sweet God perfume to fill a broken world with such simple faith and grace. She carries the gospel with glorious dignity and strength. She robes herself with worship and praise that fills heaven with such delight, I am sure. Her generosity with tears, has enabled her to say goodbye to friends who heeded the call to plant churches on distant shores. I am so proud of her and feel so honored to have led her all these years.

Dear Alan and Rynelle... we could not be more delighted than handing the leading of this extraordinary community to you. You, sir, are a man of peace, a lover, a leader, a Jesus preacher, a Spirit facilitator, a Father worshipper. You passion for the word, Spirit, life journey is simply delightful - but I see Southlands in your eyes - you love her and for that I am most grateful.

Today is a good day. M and I are not sure on what the future holds. We are a father and a mother and I guess that is what the Lord requires of us. But we have opened our hands to let the butterfly fly. We watch her with mesmerizing wonder. Southlands we love you deeply and that will not change. Our prayers will fill heaven on your behalf. We are here when you need us but we want you to thrive on this next chapter. Muchos gracias...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Letters from a Father - 10 / 5

Where does one begin to describe the joy of this journey? I became a biological dad around the same time that I became a spiritual dad. 1983 saw us stumble out of the Jesus People world as we entered the wonder and mystery of authentic, real local church life. It was but three years later that my first daughter floated into our world and turned us upside down.

To my embarrassment I wanted to lead the largest church in town, although it never entered my mind to want the largest family in the city. I wanted our church to grow, become popular, have influence, be spoken of and give me some real street cred.

But my little girl came and captured my heart. Her delicate touch was mesmerizing. Her tender whimper when she wanted love, sent us dashing to the crib. The pain that she encountered with her colic, especially during the evening hours, had us rocking her until the sun came up sometimes. Our love was endless, our service was generous, our affection was ever deepening.

The father metaphor, is the strongest guiding one that has shaped the way I have led churches for 27 years. I love being a dad. I love the sense of awe and wonder of that moment that conception is realized. I have loved watching the belly begin to bulge as M radiated with the mystery of motherhood. Her beauty simply grew, as new God-life began to stir in her inner womb - and we celebrated. We hooted and hollered when we felt that life for the first time. Of course I loved speaking to and through the belly button. I was astounded at the authority I had addressing this little person, in the womb, who would soon enter our world and punctuate our lives with love.

M and I never found out the gender of our three children beforehand. There was a clear prophetic moment with each of the births, when gender and destiny met in divine harmony. God had spoken - and we had been surprised. It is amazing how rarely the God story works out exactly like we anticipated or expected. He just knows better. He is just always right.

Prophetic moments are best left in His hands. He seeds our inner belly with prophetic multiplication. Out of His great love, He enlarges us with the seeds of faith. It is a journey of trust that so often remains shrouded in the unknown. That was our joy. We did not know what gender would surprise us when our child was born. We did not know what little personalities would join our journey. We did not know what they would add to us, nor what we would need to add to them.

I love being a father. I have loved the fatherless that have stumbled into my world and the joy we have shared discovering the significant wonder of adoption. My goattee is grey, my hair salt and pepper and I could give the rest of my life to being dad.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Foundation of Apostles and Prophets

In response to my last blog, a pastor from Asia wrote me and asked why I believe that Ephesians 2:20 is not referring to the Old and New Testament respectively but the actual gifts of the apostle and prophets and their role in the church today. This is an elaboration of my reply to him:

Have you ever wondered, thought, let your imagination drift toward what God did before the beginning? C.S Lewis suggested that the three in one God was involved in a glorious dance, a harmony of oneness. This dance is so magnificent, I suggest, that Paul, when he went to the third heaven, was not able to describe its wondrous beauty.

The purpose of the blog is not to discuss the Trinity but to draw the wonder of a relational God into our conversation. God is not unipersonal, meaning there is not only one of Him, without the three. If that were the case, He might well have been a deity of laws, rules and impersonal justice. Rather, this glorious God of harmonious relationships, robed all of His creation around the affection of these relationships.

I say that because I believe these are pivotal starting points on any matter under discussion. There is a temptation to take texts like these [Eph 2:20] and interpret them purely on the basis of principles and rules. This they are not. They are truths robed around people, gifts and relationships.

Ephesians 2:20 (New International Version)

20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone

The notion that this Eph 2:20 text is referring to the OT and NT is the position held by the conservative evangelicals. It does suit their agenda, which is that these offices / grace gifts ended at the end of the 'apostolic age'. Their position is that there are no apostles today. There are no prophets today. In fact, a chaplain at one of these Christian colleges said to me, that when we say, "the Lord spoke to me", we are drifting towards heresy - we already have the bible.

I obviously know that that is not your position. Now I certainly believe that we need to be an all Bible people. The revelation of God is seen as we mine both portions of the scriptural texts. We soak ourselves in the mystery of the Old Testament story and then sit and marvel reading the New Testament encounters. What is so apparent is that we do need the actual realities of these two grace gifts in the church today. Look at these texts. They give us an inkling that foundations are not just the scripture.

Romans 15:20

It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation.

1 Corinthians 3:10

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.

Hebrews 11:10

For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. [given to apostles via the ascension gifts]

· The Old Testament was referred to in the New, as “the Law and the Prophets” [For example Matt 17:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, 24:14, Jn 1:45, Acts 13:15]. This may well suggest that Paul was not referring in the text to the Old Testament but to actual prophets given as gifts to these new churches. Of course the New Testament was not yet written and we also know that it was not only written by apostles. Luke was a physician, Mark was Peter’s traveling companion and we are not certain who wrote Hebrews.

· The ongoing challenge of the New Testament, esp. when we look at the Acts of the apostles - 'is this book prescriptive or descriptive?' May I suggest we find both in the workings of the Spirit. The early church did not have the scriptures [NT]. They only had the gifts. These gifts helped them on their journeys... in person, in partnership. When one looks at every account of a local church mentioned in scripture, there is always an apostle mentioned in partnership [for example Phil 1:5, 1 Cor 3:4 – 9, Col 1:1, ] these relationships were real, affectionate, personal and true. Paul would write to these churches with such knowledge of their journey. He mentioned people by name, their challenges by detail and their required responses with personal wisdom.

· The foundation that is laid by these gifts has to do with their job description, the role they play in the churches. Now the apostle's role is so much easier to define as there is so much to measure it by. They are architects / engineers. [ Cor 3:10, Heb 3:1 – 6 where Jesus is the first apostolic gift to the church]They take the blueprint of the text and apply it in each church with wisdom and sensitivity - as the epistles clearly indicate. Each church recorded in the text showed a wonderful 'partnership' between the local elders / community and one or more apostles. The elders are the highest human authority in those churches. Churches do not need coaches, mentors, presidents, team leaders. They need apostles who will journey with them in prayer , love, visiting, collaboration, in instruction. I loved that there was no territorialism, [us and them], just whatever is best for that community. I can write heaps more about this but that is not really your question.

· Now the role of the prophets is more intriguing. Little is said beyond the texts that you have mentioned. What contributions do the prophets bring to each church that are foundational to their existence? Well here are some thoughts: Prophets obviously equip the saints [Eph 4 is important to explore what New Testament prophets are called to as opposed to their Old Testament companions]... they do ensure that the church is living both in the today and tomorrow [already and the not yet]... they continuously reveal the Father's heart to the church... they do 'unblock the wells'... they catalyze the priesthood to engage in the gifts... they play a pivotal discerning role in the work of the enemy... they help in hearing the voice of the Father in identifying and releasing leaders... Prophets can pick up any drift towards heresy or idolatry...The role that prophets play is different and appears to be less frequently needed by the local churches. However, when churches never have the prophets in, they tend to drift towards either a highly cerebral journey without power and Holy Spirit presence, or they tend to lose the sense of the 'nowness' of the spiritual journey. The gifts also tend to dry up, when not honored. As a result, the priesthood drifts to be seen more as volunteerism than power players.

There is always more to say but we can allow the conversation to continue…