Monday, October 31, 2011

Not one model

I had a very invigorating weekend off.

A dear friend turned 50 and we celebrated for the whole weekend. Reaping the fruit of some 35 years of friendship was lavish. Isn't that a great word? 'Lavish'. It should be a God-word! Of course the sacred text reads: "How great the love the Father has lavished on us..." 1 John 3:1.

Sitting with so many extraordinary folks from so many life's stories was inspiring, intriguing, empowering. However, I was aware that the picture of the church, in many of their minds, has once again been our greatest foe. Leaving to come home last night, I was very engaged by the challenge of showing a God-story that is true perfume to a world where beauty and fragrance is desired but rarely received.

The gospel redemption story is worthy. Dressing it with the church has not always been appealing.

Can one model of the ecclesia fulfill this glorious mandate? The answer is obviously 'No"! History tends to tell us that every move has their 'revelation', which then becomes the one true and 'biblically accurate' way of doing church. This gets taught with much passionate and prophetic fervor. However before long, the slow stench of yesterday's manna begins to creep into the community. Those who smell it are viewed as disloyal and traitors. Well the rest is history simply repeating itself.

Can we pause with personal reflection? Can we engage in this convo with healed hearts, passionate Jesus-love burning in our hearts and a passionate love affair with the church evidenced in our souls? With that settled, then through the church and sacrificial love for the nations that this cross-driven Christ has shown us, can we enter this realm of thoughts ready for a new perspective and a new adventure?. This is a holy moment - to reflect on church-future is very holy indeed. It cannot be touched or tainted by dirty hands of selfish lusts or breathed over by the foul breath of criticism and destruction.

Can we then explore the wonder and width of architecting churches that can enter these very different and colorfully exquisite cultural worlds?

1. Pagan, premodern world;
2. Modern, boomer world;
3. Post modern, exchristian world;
4. Post modern, post Christian world...

The ecclesia that reflects reaching the 'lostness' of these communities should be remarkably different in form but not in DNA. We will look at this next time, but I would love you to join us in this conversation....

Sunday, October 30, 2011


These have been a remarkable few days.

It was March 1977 that began it all. I had recently began my own faith journey. The December before, I had asked a simple question - "Jesus, if you are real, come into my life". I knew if there was no Jesus, it would simply be a question resolved in its naked silence. If he was real, my long haired life would soon change. How, I was not sure but my selfish, self-preoccupied story would end.

So within 4 months, I was asked to speak at this church camp in South Africa. The first night, I told them my story. That was all I had. I had no theology, exegesis, wise or persuasive words. I simply had a story, and I told it.

Many teenagers stepped forward as an old fashioned 'altar call' drew them to an introduction of their own Jesus story. In the little crowd were 2 girls whose eyes glistened with the tenderness of a perfect love encounter. Jesus found them and they found each other. An almost 35 year friendship began.

That is what this weekend was all about. Remarkably our friendship with Bruce and Helena has now spanned all these years. I did their wedding in a very intimate setting some 28 years ago. Both couples ended up in Southern California. And our friendship simply kept ticking on.

This weekend was as much about celebrating a birthday as it has been about applauding friendships. From establishing a new friendship when M and I had lunch with Britt on Friday, through the Friday night fun of margaritas and tacos, and a most outstanding sit down dinner last night with many honoring stories, as even Lorna skyped in from Australia. A truly remarkable testimony of a woman who gets friendship.

See Jesus connects us with friends that we are to do life with. There are times we 'live in each other's pockets' and there are times when we are separated by time, space and journeys. But these are gifts that we are to treasure and continue to invest in. To end our days, naked and relationally empty-handed is to dishonor the great friendship maker. Over dinner I sat with a journalist from a large newspaper and the director of a film school. Amazing how one friendship would now connect us with two more and then more and then more. They won't all be as close nor carry such history, but they will all be valuable.

As I blog, I enjoy my coffee, my scriptures and my reflections. In a while we will join the crew for taco breakfast before heading home to LA. This time the worship on my lips, has a lighter note. "He is good and his love endures"... the hymn writer wrote. Because Jesus met me that day in 1996, he not only put me on a redemption journey, but gave me friends and for that I am eternally grateful.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


C2C was amazing. I loved every part of the few days we had together.

Intentionally designed in such a way that the planter could connect to the modus operandi, the format seemed to work. Rather than go big, we went small, personal and interactory. Instead of the large band approach that the planter simply cannot have, we had amazing worship from 4 churches, where a voice and 1 instrument was more than we could have imagined as God met with us.

I so enjoyed the diversity of the catalytic teaching - Terry Virgo - apostle, father, Brit and been church planting for over 30 years. Jeff Vanderstelt - emerging apostle, inspiring missional community model, seeking to engage the post-modern, post-christian America. Alan Hirsch - seer, prophetic mobilizer of the church to a new story... I loved it all.

We coffee'd together, ate together, dialogued together. Listening, learning and leading all at the same time. Rock Harbor hosted wonderfully.

The big question now is - 'Where to from here?'
Do we host another one next year? Or
Do we maintain the integrity of intimacy by having one in Canada, one on the East Coast and the West Coast one?
Or was only a one off gathering and it has done its job?

Lets see what the Spirit says to the church....

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fathers and the Gospel

Just reflecting...

We have just had a most wonderful week. Having old and new friends around our dining room table was simply extraordinary. The laughter, the listening, the newness and the familiar, shaded our home with a deep sense of gratitude.

Terry and Wendy Virgo were simply amazing. Brushing the 70's, Terry continues to pioneer and demonstrate, in all humility, the entrepreneurial apostle that he is. His ministry was so expansive and enlarging. Always drawing us into the big picture, this apostle father so honored us as he took us to the texts and left us very tender, so desiring for us to live in the big spaces that the Father has created for us.

New Frontiers, Terry and Wendy's life investment is entering a new chapter. Rather than charge down the age old trap of handing over to one man [reproducing apostolic succession], Terry has identified around 20 apostles who will spearhead their own apostolic spheres continuing to celebrate their past, holding on to a common DNA, and anticipating their shared future, while each sphere surges in their gospel pioneering opportunities.

I am envious. That is the way we should have gone. Rather than fragment, we should have celebrated a theology of multiplication. Authentic bible fathers understand that the gospel grows. Wherever Jesus is declared, Gen 1:28 is activated: "Increase, multiply, fill the earth...". This Gospel will be preached to all nations then the end will come. We should have changed history not succumb to it. Fathers are there to empower their sons to "Leave and cleave." For the sake of the gospel, fathers are to raise up their sons and daughters, empowered with the beauty of Jesus, the punch of the width of his gospel story, to embark on a journey that will fill the earth.

Sitting with a Prof from one of the local universities recently, he, a student of movements asked me if I thought that movements are able to prevent implosion or institutionalization. His perspective was that movements are one generational. They will die or slowly fade into history.

I was less pessimistic. My reply to him was that I believe we can change the course of history but it will cost much. We have to return to keeping the great Jesus story as the full and center piece of the brotherhood. Our intent simply cannot be to brand, imperialize or seek to defend our history. They are transitional killers. We have to keep the gospel as the big story, with none other even closely second.

Secondly, as fathers have to continuously remind ourselves, that we are supposed to raise up spiritual sons and daughters to 'leave and cleave' and celebrate that! Apostolic christianity was never designed to ever grow into one papal uber -structure. Rather, fathers are always raising up their sons to leave home, get mature, start having families of their own and multiply gospel communities and movements continually.

Thirdly, as the sons spread their wings and learn to fly, the biblical picture is not to be dismissive, nor alienate the fathers. Looking exclusively for a peer group is as dangerous as is the notion of fathers trying to keep the sons under one roof. One is not better than the other.

We know there is no "the model". But there is one Gospel. The greatest gift we can give our children is not one pattern but one message. Then let them fly and watch Jesus and the Holy Spirit get to work. Match this with the E4 partnerships [not over us], and this glorious last days church can still be quite remarkable. I am hopeful that we will get fathers who see this gospel, this Jesus, as the greatest gift we can hand on.

As always... just thinking

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reaching the 60%

I loved C2C opening with Alan Hirsch. Not only is he a dear friend, but a master at probing the thinking man's mind with key kingdom components.

Yesterday he stretched our western validation of our ministry model with some pretty pertinent questions. Taking us through the Ralph Winter missiological process of M0 to M4 [steps that missionaries have to process to minister into new missionary platforms - where M0 is where we are on the same cultural page as the community we are trying to reach and M1, M2, M3, M4 are further and further from our cultural world], Alan engaged us in how our missional mindset has to change.

Our western worldview and cultural reality is no longer strongly overshadowed by the city center cathedral, so we are ministering more and more into very Christianity-unfriendly environments in which the practices and programs that got us this far are probably not going to get the job done. These great old 'wineskins' that were so genius in the 90's are now leaking at an alarming rate and we will run out of gas within the next 10 years.

The most challenging of questions was raised with this notion; based on research over many years, it may be generally true to say that we are working on a 60 / 40 window in the USA [as a general rule]. This research showed that only around 40% in the average American City connects with the attractional model [culture, style and message]that the boomers so popularized in the 80's and 90's. However, even in these best practices, this model [of most mega-churches] can at best reach 40% of the population. Then the question arises, how and who will reach the 60% [a number that by all research is growing every year]?

This is not a conversation about being cool, hipster, gimmicky. This is a highly gospel-centered investment. How are we going to become "missionaries" in our own cities and reach this unreached people group who eat at our restaurants, work in our buildings, live in our 'hoods but do not know Jesus? These are major questions that need to fashion our ecclesiology into the next generation. Jesus has brought all nations to our doorstep, so that the gospel that needs to go "to all nations then the end will come," can now be done by us in our every day.

It is time to reach the 60% in our world. What will that look like?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reality is Beautiful

It is 5:27 am and winter is definitely creeping into the bones. Of course that is as a Southern Californian speaking. Yesterday it was 64 degrees down at the beach where I took 2 young Brits for a Wahoos meal before a walk down the Huntington Beach pier.

The older one gets, the less one should caught up in the applause of men [Van Morrison sings that that is 'the sound of one hand clapping'] and more preoccupied by a call to divine obedience. We are so vulnerable to, so easily impressed by the big, the many, the large.

Jesus seemed to go there reluctantly, the crowds that is. He was filled with compassion when he saw them. He healed them, fed them, taught them, loved them, but then invested in the 12 intentionally and consistently. He simply would not deviate from that path. In good old fashioned English he 'put all his eggs in one basket'. His success, legacy and the future of Christianity, lay in the evidence of his investment in but 12 men.

Everywhere I go, I am surrounded by the voices of impersonal imperialism. So few leaders are obsessed with the "Story of 12". In spite of the clear Jesus model, this evidence in Paul's life, of Billy Graham saying, if he had his life again he would have taken 12 men... It is the shotgun approach to life, to scatter ourselves over many horizons in many contexts, growing to be a voice in many stories, growing our churches, multi-sites, churches that relate, organizations that grow, movements that spread...

And, to be honest, I guess I have heard enough planters / pastors who have bought into a dream, say that they're tired of the unreality so easily found in the quest for many. Fathers are replaced by co-ordinators, apostles are replaced by generic teams, prophets are replaced by PC's, pioneers are replaced by loyal subjects - and it happens very quickly.

As 'for me and my house', we are embarking this new year - 2012 [ironically] with a simple vision of 12... 12... 12. We want to do this new chapter with focussed apostolic reality. Investing our lives intentionally into:
*'12' base churches that are catalysts for becoming movements through planting, replanting, multi-siting and drawing in orphan churches - empowering them on their journey...
*'12' plants / replants helping lay foundations, establishing them in their story...
*'12' key leaders whether their call is to E4 gifts, marketplace leadership or planters...
for a 2 year cycle of priority and partnership. Then reconsider if the job is done and start working with the next crew. I don't profess to have all the admin and logistics sorted out but I can't escape the call.

I will write about this some more later. I guess my passionate apo heart wants a whole lot more of Jesus in my story - even if it means that "reality is beautiful".

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ministry Schedule for November 2011

M and I are very excited about this coming month. However, next week we are stoked to have Terry and Wendy Virgo, as well as Jeff Vanderstelt stay with us for C2C - our church planting conversation, hosted by Rock Harbor.

Our ministry for November in headlines looks like this:

Wednesday 2nd - Exploration - our LA monthly conversation for planters and pastors.
Sunday 6th - I am ministering at Soul Survivor with Mike Pilavachi in Watford UK,
Monday 7th - Wednesday - Pastors from the USA, and UK are going away for 3 days to enjoy each other, hear each others stories, learn from each other, - Wed, Steve Timmis will join us,
Sunday 13th - I am delighted to be at Kingsgate Church, in Kingston UK with Keath and the crew,
Thursday 17th - M and I will be ministering at Exponential LA - their regional one day gathering,
Sunday 20th - M and I will be in New York to be with the Barson Band!

So amazed that the Father is so kind to place us in such a large story.

Titus - Church Replanting

This is a piece from my study of Titus as a truly great church replanting book...

"That is why I left you in Crete, so that you might set in order that which is lacking..." Titus 1:5.

Paul sends his young lieutenant in on one challenging assignment. This community has been planted in Crete, to be " together, in community, on mission around the gospel". This new Christ community is soon reflecting the culture of the day more than the beauty of His glory. With robust apostolic affection, Paul sends Titus in with clear instructions — set them in order!

But what is that thing that is "lacking"? What does Paul clearly indicate are essentials for a healthy strong, community on mission? And then by implication, what are the things that he intriguingly leaves out?

Set in order / set in place / make sure that none of these areas are weak or absent:
  • Gospel Centeredness - strongly stated in all three chapters, Paul paints Jesus and his work simply but profoundly - love the amount of truth he teaches in such few lines.
  • Apostolic Partnership - I love the affection with which this father writes to his son, from why apostles exist, through to Paul inviting Titus to join him in Nicopolis for the winter [come and hang with me for some rest...], this is not an impersonal journey in a system but a real partnership between an apostle, his son in the Lord and a community.
  • Leadership Appointment - This is not a generic checklist but a description of the leadership essentials that Titus must look for in Crete, train them, then appoint them. In fact I think is more about the kind of believer that Paul wants to see raised up than a random list of leadership must do's.
  • Cultural Clash - If this cultural piece is not identified and dealt with, any plant will ultimately fail and collapse. The replant must identify cultural mindsets and ways, defeating them through the gospel preaching and direct challenge if necessary.
  • Contextual Conflict - Paul identifies 4 groups that are dividing and destroying the community. He has no patience with them but requires Titus to deal with them, putting them out of the church if needed. No PC apostle here.
  • Multi-generationalism - A healthy church is a 4 generational one. There is no applause for a one generational, cool, hipster community. The expectation where the church is strong, is where the older look after the younger.
  • Intentional Discipleship - As Paul does with Titus, so he calls those who have walked with Jesus longer to do with those who are newer. Discipleship is definitely not a program but a taking of responsibility. Without this component, the church is not healthy.
  • Community Connectedness - We all know that gathering a crowd is not a church yet we are still way too mesmerized by the numbers on a Sunday rather than the health of the relationships. Without community, the church will probably be a one generational wonder driven by one personality — and Paul never allowed that to happen in the churches he worked with,
  • Sound Doctrine - That should not surprise us . It is the cornerstone of this replant. As Alan Hirsch has written: Christology leads to Missiology, which defines Ecclesiology. Jesus comes before mission or brotherhood. If the sound doctrine piece is missing something else will replace it, and that is very scary.
  • Grace and Works - Grace is mentioned 4 times in this book — twice in the greetings. Works are mentioned 3 times. Paul tells Titus to "avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions and quarrels about the law for they are unprofitable and worthless " 3:9 There is Spirit led genius required to teach the twin truths of grace and works well and in freedom.
  • Discipline Courage - A replant is invariably a community with very bad and destructive habits that have removed God's blessing — these have to be set in order, recognized, taught through, rebuked or silenced if needed. If this fails these folks have to be put out of the church. This takes heaps of courage, with theological certainty and legal counsel.
  • His Return - The days were urgent. The apostle led from a position of Jesus is coming back or we are going to be martyred. This is no long term strategy — either way, get these churches running on their own without long term dependence. They have to grow up quickly and stand on their feet. There were other churches that needed apo help.
It is interesting what subjects Paul does not highlight to Titus as important to replanting. Sometimes the drums that get beaten are not major or essential leadership pieces. What he does highlight he is strong and robust about. In the simplicity of these three little chapters, Paul states what "a replant" needs to endure to become truly healthy, reflecting the glory of this Jesus in a very dark world.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Measuring Sundays

The Sunday reflection is the pastor's shadow. Our performance culture driven by stats, moments and feelings, can be one of the greatest enemies of our self-critique. It can drive us to excessive self-jubilation or sober, somber self-assessment neither of which is truly kingdom and certainly not helpful. If these overcome us, is it that strange that our spouses and kids eventually find no more joy in our Sunday's labor of love?

After some 30 years of being involved in church leadership, here are yardsticks that have no biblical substance and are of little help in our Sunday audit:
  • Numbers - counting our attendance can keep us honest, but its dark side is that we place way too much weight of Sunday's number and not enough focus on the multi-generational nature of our call - the sin of David counting his warriors can be our demise too.
  • Miracles - a deep hunger for a naturally supernatural church is most wonderfully commendable. However, even the life of Jesus reflected how "all, many, some, one" were healed with him [from the gospel of Mark]. Church history equally reflects times of many miracles then times of quiet. This is a mystery that is not simple to explain. If we do not get this, we will end up driving ourselves and our people for more results - the quest for more faith actually ends up with more performance and less faith,
  • Vibe - our post-modern influence is more marked than we know. A sense of vibe / feeling good can be such a fickle mistress. Not only is the feel good factor such a fragile measure, it has no biblical substance. The hard yards are also necessary, but don't always feel good, yet every football knows the 65 yard touch down is as valid and necessary as is the 2 yard run - but one has a particularly huge feel good factor,
  • Dollars - my how the offering messes with our brain! Even if the numbers are down, if the dollars are up, boy does Monday feel good - but should it? This fragile yardstick helps the business minded, but is not necessarily a true God reflection of any given Sunday,
  • Media - microphone feedback, power-point fails to work, the songs show up late with spelling mistakes with the wrong verse, throw in some poorly made announcements and we care not happy campers,
  • Visitors - new faces especially cool, rich, famous new faces can make our Sunday afternoon nap feel very good but should it? Does it really show anything that is necessarily good or bad about the day?
By what should our Sundays be measured?
  • Worship - was the trinitarian God richly and clearly praised? Our Father who is hallowed, the Son who is celebrated and the Spirit who is honored... is our worship trinitarian?
  • Gospel - whatever the subject, was the beauty, perfume, majesty, freedom of this glorious gospel clearly proclaimed in one or more of Jesus' works - life, death and resurrection - if not, then we must make a needed adjustment,
  • Times - have we discerned the times of our church well? Which chapter of the big story are we in? What is the truth that God is revealing about himself to us? What is our call to response? Do we know it? Are we doing it? Sometimes a strong word is what is required but the preacher may go home wasted - just like a good parent needing to discipline their child yet is so tender afterwards!
  • Seasons - as in the natural, so the supernatural. Is it a time of pruning, multiplication, or simply sowing? The true measure of growth is not how quickly one grows now or not, but how one copes with the pruning of God when it comes - oh it will come for sure!
  • Priests - the God life flowing through the Jesus lovers is a far greater yardstick than the numbers in the crowd. No-one attracted a crowd like Jesus, yet he was more focussed on the obedience of the disciples than he was on the many looking for a miracle,
  • Community - far deeper than a cool vibe, are the lonely going home lonely again or are they loved through their darkness? Are their broken hearts being bound up by the communion of Christ's community or is this a cool church for the hipster, the rich, the fancy, the appealing?
  • Him - what did he say afterwards? That is still the loudest voice post meeting for me. When I get into the car after the gatherings, I need to know what my Father thinks. The voices of "men" are too fickle - the supporter will seek to applaud even when the Father isn't. We love having them around but they are not helpful. If we are always doing well by their comments, their voice cannot be trusted. The critic is not always a foe - to silence them is foolish, but to rely on them is ignorance. The only true voice is His!
  • Multiplication - more people, more sites, more chairs are fun. But do they reflect the Father's favor? I am not sure they do. Obedience by faith , through grace, is what truly matters. Presenting "Jesus Lite" may attract a crowd but may not bring a divine smile that matches human accolades. Growth must be a byproduct, not a primary goal-its what God does. When we do it as our duty we are messing with God's order of things.
Guys, please watch the Monday reflections. They must empower us through great kingdom conversations - none more important than the one I have with Him.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Spiritual Warfare: Civilian Casualties

"I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid." Gen 3:10

The nature of this combat is that no-one is exempt. The action of Adam entered all mankind into the conflict zone. We are a people at war, believer or not, Jew or Gentile, male or female, adult or child. There is no "Geneva Convention" standard of war. The enemy comes to rob, kill and destroy. He has no other intention, no matter how appealing his means may seem.

The calamity of the garden, is the first indicator of what happens to mankind when he / she has been overshadowed by darkness. This is our first drama preview of what lay in store for the world and especially for the church. From now onwards there is a predictable spiral of decay and decline. Have a look:

  • The woman said to the snake - demonic dialogue is not a role play to be encouraged,
  • the woman saw the fruit - the tactics to soften us unto sin are those things which appeal to the senses. The enemy does not create new things - he is not a creator. He is a destroyer but he will use all his wiles to seduce us through the senses. The wonder and glory of the senses has now been replaced by them becoming a death trap of bondage and captivity. A nasty transition to the other side.
  • they were naked - the garment of righteousness that covers us with such light and life is replaced over us by the sense of being naked and transparent, unprotected and vulnerable,
  • they hid from the Lord - the estrangement from our Father, creator and God, is not a sweet place but one of much loneliness and estrangement, anger and rage,
  • they were afraid - the casual ease of faith has been replaced by the horror of distance from God and closeness of a new dominator - one who is out to kill you...
  • they hid - mankind started running. Not just running away but also running from someone who was now wrongly depicted as the new enemy, one to be disengagement from at all costs,
  • the woman you put here with me - perfect beauty and harmony has now been substituted with animosity and blame. Unity has been exploded. Harmony has been imploded. Divorce was set in motion as the new war norm. The gender war began as a poisoned side plot. Cultures would clash, genders would conflict, generations would collide, nations would destroy.
A few moments of authority surrender catalyzed the end of a world of beauty, perfection, harmony and unity. Death, destruction and decay had come to squat on another man's land. A deliverer, rescuer or redeemer was needed to fight this battle for the garden. Man was at war.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Apostolic Movements - not the same please...

This is one of those "just thinking" moments of mine.

We live in the messy space where the past and the future collide, history and prophecy overlap. There is an area of collision that the church seems incapable of avoiding. It is the zone of movements becoming monuments.

Even the lightest knowledge of church history tells us that:
  • Every movement starts with a move of God - sovereign and supreme,
  • The Father seems to find a man / woman, who is intense, focussed and fearless,
  • He then expresses himself through a group of men and women, in the upper room of prayer,
  • They give themselves away in a radical, Jesus loving abandonment,
  • They are creative, passionate, Spirit led,
  • They challenge the status quo consciously and subconsciously,
  • They are mobile, travel, apostolic hearted with a sacrificial tone to their lives,
  • They celebrate the many obvious and measurable miracles that accompany their story,
  • They often live as if they are the first of a kind to encounter God in this way, humility giving way to pride,
  • The revelation of truth that they have received from the Father becomes the "true truth" and others who do not prioritize these truths are viewed with suspicion and criticism,
  • The spontaneous and Spirit orchestrated start of this movement soon gives way to structure and form that ultimately will end in a denomination [or implosion as is so often the case]
  • The language is the clearest indicator of that stage of the story: "they are a .... church" [Vineyard, Methodist, Assemblies...]
If one's desire is to start and build a denomination, then these steps are to be celebrated. Some have simply reached the conclusion that there is no other way for this steps to be avoided, so they honesty are loving their journey down the branding road of denominationalism. A few years ago, that would have offended me. No longer. I can honestly celebrate every man's faith journey unless it clearly breaches the scriptures.

But is there another way? What about this - if the family is God's great nuclear example of life, is there a picture for apo christianity that we can learn from? If the objective of the family is not to see how many children we have nor how many children we keep neatly wrapped in our home, but to raise them up to leave home, celebrating their "leaving, cleaving", what does that say to us? I do not want to repeat the past. We do not know our own hearts. I already see some of the new movements applauding their imperialistic steps. The number of churches "relating / connecting / partnering" with them is already a goal and a yardstick of success. Should that be?

I would like to be in an apo story where the intention from the beginning is to "have kids, to raise them up, to let them leave home and live their own story". When I study Paul, one is never awed by his list of churches in his network, movement or sphere. One is awed by his impassioned commitment to see churches stand on their own feet without his role and investment. He knew that time was of the essence. Persecution and pending death always knocked on their doors, so there was no long term goals of organizational development, nor saving the franchise. "As long as I am around," Paul seemed to think, "my desire is to get you to grow and stand on your own two feet. I will do all that I can, to ensure this happens."

I want to be part of a brotherhood of apo peers who are friends, who do not compete for church's loyalty / allegiance. Rather, the passion to plant new ones, whilst the older churches become bases in their own rights, is the prevailing value. Please can we never sit in conversations competing with numbers. It used to be, 'how big is your church?'. It is now 'how many churches look to you?' - oh the fragility of the human ego - a matter that does not bring a smile to heaven.

I love journeying with churches over decades. That is not to create ongoing dependence but the sheer joy of loving and appreciating each other. Can we have some honest, real and personal apo involvement in churches but done so as to set them free on their faith journey, not keeping them closeted in the shadow of our system? Just thinking...

Spiritual Warfare: Combat Deception

'Did God actually say...?' Gen 3:1

He never came the way they would have anticipated. The enemy arrived in the garden not looking like a fearsome, clearly evil, horror movie moment. Rather he came pictured as the very thing that man was to lead, over whom man had full authority, with whom man was spending his every day. His deception had to be subtle, sensual and sly.

Most theologians would agree that our foe was a high end angel whose pride led to his downfall. In Isaiah 14, we get a glimpse of his shift from primary worship catalyzer to setting his own stage of adoring worship. I am not sure that his origin should be our over preoccupation. Living comfortably with the notion of "presuppositional apologetics," namely that we have to live comfortably with what the bible chooses to say little of, we simply see the great deceiver slide into the story with nudgings of doubt and uncertainty. Faith had left the garden.

If an intelligence officer were to study the first three chapters of Genesis, he would have a very clear picture of how his enemy acted. He could then easily project future behavior with some accuracy. He may draw these conclusions about his enemy:
  • His objective was to gain authority over project planet earth by getting man and woman to give it to him — that simple. Authority would bring about worship and he wanted that at all costs.
  • His disguise was subtle, he came in the form of a creature that man and woman dealt with daily. He did not come in his true colors, nor did he come in a form that they were not used to.
  • He engaged Eve in conversation. Now that is a very interesting piece. When Peter said that the woman is the "weaker vessel," what was he saying? I know many remarkable women who are amazingly strong, competent, able, tenacious, achieving women. Therefore to simply take a blanket statement that all women are weak is foolishness. Roger Foster suggests that women are 'weaker' when they gestate, lactate, and menstruate. For me the moment reflects an issue of authority. I am persuaded that God gave man the responsibility to carry primary and final authority, but not exclusive authority, in the home. The true tragedy here is not Eve's conversation but Adam's passive, disengaged, bystander presence.
  • He created doubt. Wherever God dwells, faith reigns supreme. But Satan is a faith killer. That which brings God much joy, Satan is committed to killing at all costs — faith. He did this to engage in combat but not through a full frontal faith assault. He simply probed the cerebral process with a sleight of hand. That dear friends is why we must ensure our congregations have a substantial theological foundation to stand on. God encounters are not enough. Adam and Eve met the Father daily, and they still faltered.
  • He shrunk the expanse. God made creation about 'increase, multiply, fill the earth, rule over...' Gen 1:28. Satan made it about a tree and piece of fruit. Satan's focus is always to shrink us through sin. We miss the mark by getting preoccupied with the little and the pedantic. God work of grace is to empower us to the big and the eternal.
We will pick up dissecting the enemy's deception in our next blog convo....

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spiritual Warfare: A father comments

"Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast..." Gen 3:1

These are tumultuous times to be a christian. They are uncertain in the evolving landscape, be it politics, economics, spirituality, relationships - I mean the NBA may not even happen this season. [OK well that is not that big of a deal!]

From a father's vista, I am loving the fresh and sustained emphasis on theology. To see the emerging voices in the body of Christ, being so intentional and focused in their quest for such intimate knowledge, is delightful. Added to this, is the pursuance to walk in a "Word / Spirit" journey, that just grows in healthy balance and Spirit led lives. I am loving this. To have a low-grade word ingredient but a high value encounter quotient is dangerous indeed. These new 'Word / Spirit' chasers are humble, honest and real - quite beautiful actually.

However, a number of us have voiced interest in the fact that 'spiritual warfare' theology and practice has taken a back seat in recent times. A subject that had such a high profile in previous decades, has surprisingly been pushed to the side as pulpits have moved more and more from exclusively topical subject matter to expository preaching. Whilst I love this, this great and noble package of truth has been neglected.

May I suggest we revisit this conversation with a clear canvas?
  • For those who experienced an excess, may we be bold enough to get before the Father and allow him to remove these excesses from our hearts, so we can once again enter the conversation with a clean slate.
  • To those who view this subject with a certain fear, may we in turn be such students of the word, that we find the full God freedom that comes from engaging in the truth.
  • To those who simply want to stick our heads in the ground and pretend it does not exist, the enemy does not call a truce. He is committed to his quest for our destruction and our white flags do not produce a cease fire. He will come at an 'opportune time'.
  • To those who want the truth of our conversation without the religious subculture that it has dragged behind, I can only agree whole-heartedly. Unfortunately, the greatest 'protectors of this flame' have brought with them the passion for combat [that is good] but carried it with highly religious 'christian-speak' that is unhelpful and very distracting from the true truth [that is very bad]. Can we find the truth in her beauty without the foibles of a religious sub-culture?
These days , especially in the arena of Christian leadership as well as practicing the priesthood, we dearly need to add to our theological toolboxes [ that already carry the glue of a gospel-centered, Jesus honoring task], the hammers, pliers and other tools of -
  • the reality of spiritual combat,
  • the discerning of spirits,
  • the authority of the believer,
  • deliverance from demons,
  • setting at liberty those who are captive,
  • dealing with curses,
  • the power of the name of Jesus,
  • personal and corporate prayer,
  • the impact of fasting,
  • the punch of praise.
  • the role of prophecy,
  • the word... and so on.
As always, I would love your thoughts as we explore this story. Thanks for letting me serve you in this way.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ministry Schedule for October 2011

September was a pretty riotous month. Coming in off a full traveling summer [in Oz, UK, South Africa], it was wonderful to get home, and re-engage in the LA story. The low point of the month, was the surprise of my dear friend falling morally. The disbelief of is all still shadows me. The highpoint of the month has been being in great conversations with Alan, Todd, JB and others about all that God is doing here in Orange County, CA.

Since last October, when M and I handed over the captaincy of the Southlands Community to Alan and Rynelle, I knew it would take a full year for us to get clarity of the divine clarion call, the focussed thrust that we would give ourselves to - not simply be busy - but to be strategically edged in what we do. That is getting clearer all the time

For the month of October, we are particularly jazzed about the things that we will be involved in, actually the people we will be partnering with. Here are the big pieces:
  • Sat 1, Sun 2 - Ministering on "Together, in Community on Mission" at Rock Harbor, with our amazing friends Todd and Lisa Proctor, in their vision month,
  • Sundays 9, 16, 23, - we will be at Mercy Town in Pasadena led by our dear friends Terry and Linda Fouche. We planted with them as our first plant in the early 90's in South Africa. They are now in their second plant and I am loving what they are currently doing. We will go through the book of Titus - a "Church Replanted"
  • C2C - this is an experimental format. Rather than another large conference that we sit and listen we are approaching it slightly differently. Focused on those who are church planting as well as church replanting, we intentionally wanted a smaller group that lends itself to interaction. We will eat together. The sessions will be designed to catalyze then 20 minutes for Q and A or prayer and ministry. We will have "Coffee Conversations" both afternoons - on the wednesday, we will sit with church planters and let them tell their stories. On the thursday afternoon, we will sit with Ephesians 4 giftings so that there can be a clearer understanding of how E4 gifts can partner with church plants. M and Wendy Virgo will have a corner on "How to wife a pastor"... Our primary catalysts will be Alan Hirsch [wrote the book "The Forgotten Ways] will spend Tuesday afternoon with us talking about developing a missional mindset. Then Terry Virgo [wonderful British apostle and church planter] as well as Jeff Vanderstelt [leader of Soma Communites and VP of Acts 29].
Thanks for the love...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Multi-siting: Philosophy

"They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.... And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Acts 2:42 - 47.

The word 'Philosophy' is used intentionally here. Websters says that 'philosophy' means 'a critical study of fundamental beliefs and the grounds for them; ... the sum of the ideas and convictions of an individual or group.' [Websters Dictionary].

This conversation about multi-siting or [satellites, congregations...] has to be kept in the right place in our thinking. If the architecture is made the main thing I suspect we could lose the true and big picture. On these matters, I am pretty sure that the Father is more concerned by other priorities then he is about the detailed shape of our story. The infant church of Acts 2, gives us the most glorious picture of what heart drove this early church. What can we draw from them? Jesus so captivated them that:
  • They were driven by devotion to... The notion of a passive, mediocre disengaged church, filled with fragmented individuals, was foreign to this radical community,
  • They were devoted to teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread [keeping their relationship with Christ and others current] and prayer. Devotion isn't simply a good heart. It had focussed priorities. A church can have all the right multi-site ingredients, but if it does not have this heart of devotion, it lacks true biblical authenticity,
  • Awe, signs, wonders and miracles flooded their mission. We are not looking for good architecture and form, matched with seeker-friendly well scripted gatherings. That is simply not why Jesus died. Of course we want to celebrate the genius of the gift of administration — it is in the list of Holy Spirit empowered gifts, but it is never at the expense of Holy Spirit power. We simply cannot do it without his presence — not power for its own sake but to advance the gospel and to proclaim his name boldly,
  • Being together and having all things in common — the soul of this church that grew by 3000 overnight, was being on mission, but with togetherness. There is a subtle whisper that you can only do this in small churches not in big, then if this is true then big churches are not 'good'. Yet big churches are 'good' because God has this habit of growing them. Therefore by big becoming many small to get even bigger, can really be 'good',
  • They met in homes and the temple courts - I love how simple and clear the scripture spells it out for us. There is so much room for dining room table christianity — being personal, honest and transparent. There is room for family groups to meet and share life together. There is room for medium sized groups to gather to release the priests to express their spiritual gifts as they have done in sharing their lives. Then there is the great celebration moments where God is wondrously praised, where the empowering apostolic word is preached and where we all know we are part of a bigger story. Wow - simple but beautiful,
  • And the Lord added to their number daily... those who were being saved. It is all about Jesus and the gospel. It is not about anything else. If it is that or becomes that, then we need to go back to the drawing board, repent of our distraction and reset our course.
Christianity is basic. Therefore we must do the basics well and audit the true health of our community against that yardstick. If we use any other, we will create Leaning Towers of Pisa. It may last for a year or two but then it will all fall down.