Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reflections from Orlando Pt. 3

Discipleship seemed to be one of the primary themes that emerged for Jason and I. His first breakout session was on this topic, and it continued to come up throughout several other sessions. As I mentioned in the previous post, Hirsch said that Jesus must be at the center of everything that we do. This prompted some questions:
  1. What would it look like for Jesus to be at the center of our lives? Our homes? Our church?
  2. What does it mean for Jesus to build and lead His church?
  3. What is our system for making disciples?
  4. Have we been faithful in presenting the true calling of following Jesus: Come and die?
One of the big takeaways for me was understanding that our methods are determined by our goals. Here are a few questions regarding goals and methods:
  1. Do we have goals for the different things that we do as a church?
  2. If so, are they the best goals?
  3. Are our goals God-sized goals?
  4. Do our goals fit our mission?
  5. Do our methods match our goals?
A few weeks ago, Jason and I discussed starting one or two Life Transformation Groups (LTG's) with the guys in our church. During the conference this was affirmed over and over. It's been over two years since I was in an LTG, and I know that I personally need to be a part of one. If our goal for the men in our church is for them to love God, love their families, and love their world, then I know of no other system that helps this to happen than LTG's.

We also talked about our Sunday night worship gathering. We have an awesome facility in the Skinner Center. Mark Batterson talks about the day they realized that they would never be able to build a Union Station (where they're church meets), and therefore they would always rent. I feel the same way about the Skinner Center. It is such an amazing setup for us, and one that we could never recreate. We have a great park outside. We have a gym and a pool. We have a kitchen. And we have more rooms than we need.

So the question is, "How do we make the most of the time and space that we have on Sunday nights?" This is a question that Jason and I are asking, and will take to the group in the next week.

Reflections from Orlando Pt. 2

I mentioned that we had made a few mistakes in my last post. Maybe a better way of putting it is to say that over the past 12 months, we have pushed a few default buttons on what it means to be church. This was pointed out to me by Hugh Halter, a new friend from Denver. We were sitting at dinner on Tuesday night, and as I shared some of our story, he made the comment, "So it sounds like you've pushed a few defaults along the way."

What are some defaults of church planting? Here are a few: renting a facility, direct mail marketing, singing, preaching, children's ministry, etc. None of these things are wrong, and I should also point out that we would do most of these things again if presented with the opportunity. I just think that we perhaps rushed certain things. Doing what we're doing, in the city where we're doing it, takes time. It's human nature to do whatever it takes to speed up the process. The problem, though, is that speeding up the process is often detrimental to the process.

Two years ago we moved into our neighborhood with the intent of being incarnational missionaries bearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Little by little others with a hope of seeing God accomplish his purposes in our neighborhood joined with us, and before we knew it we had a little church. How exciting, yet it was at this place that some of the default buttons began to be pushed. As I listened to Alan Hirsch, I finally began to understand. Hirsch presented the following diagram:

Christology --> Missiology --> Ecclesiology
Hirsch said that Christology comes first. Jesus is at the center of everything that we do. We then begin to understand and follow Him into His mission. Finally, we become church with one another.

Christology (Jesus as Founder sets the primary template)
Missiology (our present function in the world)
Ecclesiology (the church comes out of missionary engagement)

Another ways of saying it is that we started functioning (and organizing) together as a church without fully understanding the mission. When the mission is not understood, we're not really sure of the purposes of everything that we're doing and creating. What is the goal of our Sunday night gathering? Why are we going through this daily Bible reading plan? Why are we working with Peabody Elementary School?

I'm still processing this, but I hope it doesn't sound like I'm depressed. I'm actually so thankful that Jason and I are asking these questions. During one of Hirsch's sessions, Jason turned to me and said, "We have a lot of work to do!" We just laughed. I am thankful, however, that we've at least stepped out and made some mistakes. I'm glad it's not all up in our heads.

In the next post I'll give some thoughts on where we're talking we should go from here.

Reflections from Orlando Pt. 1

It's been a few days since I returned home from the Exponential Conference, and I think I'm ready to post some reflections from our time in Orlando. The biggest takeaway is that I'm once again reminded what a joy it is to serve with Jason. I am so glad that I'm not doing this by myself. God directed our steps in such profound ways throughout the week, drawing us to His heart and to His mission for our church.

Most people don't have this type of partnership within their line of work. However, if you're married, you'll know what I'm talking about. Often God speaks first to one spouse, then, as the couple talks and prays about it, God brings them both together. This is at least the way it works with Mandy and I. I remember one time, though, when God spoke to us simultaneously. It was May, 2003, and we were preparing for my graduation from Golden Gate Seminary and our move to Las Vegas to work with a network of house churches. Unbeknown to us, God had other plans, and in the span of less than 24 hours, He whispered these plans in both of our ears, at the same time. We knew that he was calling us to move 30 miles away to San Leandro, where Mandy had been teaching the previous three years.

I mention that story because I believe this is what happened with Jason and I this week. God whispered a few things in both of our ears, and really brought us together on what has seemed like a few missing pieces of the mission of Neighborhood Church. We realized that we have definitely made a few mistakes along the way, but we were also affirmed in so many ways that much of what we are doing is good, and even though it is difficult to see the results, it is what God wants us to do.

I'll mention more of those mistakes and affirmations later, but for now, I am grateful that God has revealed his plans to both of us. A few Scriptures come to mind (Proverbs 3:5-6, 1 Chron. 12:32, 2 Chron. 20:12, John 5:19).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Running with Tic Tacs

I'm hoping to blog a little about the Exponential Conference either today or tomorrow. Until then, I have to share a funny story about Adam. Yesterday he got up early, so I got him situated in the back with some juice and the Wiggles, and then I went to lay back down. A few minutes later Mandy and I heard a clicking sound combined with the running of little feet. I said to Mandy, "Do you think he got the tic tacs?" We pictured the scene in our minds, and then both busted out laughing. He opened up the drawer that contained the tic tacs, picked them up, and then took off running to the back room. Little did he know that running with tic tacs creates noise and is a quicker way to get busted than is walking with them slowly and quietly. I'm sure he'll learn soon enough. Mandy walked to the back and caught him with four tic tacs in his mouth. When she came back, we both decided that we could chalk that one to either little brains or total depravity. Either way, it was pretty funny!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Jason and I are in Orlando for the Exponential Church Planting Conference. It's been great thus far. As usual, a lot of great information, though I find myself desiring time to process, and time for Jason and I to talk about what we are learning. I've run into several college buddies, and I've also gotten to spend time with a mentor of mine who I've not seen since I moved to Memphis.

I'm very thankful that Jason and I are getting to experience this together. Once I get back to Memphis, I'm going to try to post some of my big takeaways from the conference. But for now, it's time to chill out and watch some basketball.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Membership Links

Jason and I are beginning our work on establishing Neighborhood Church's process for membership. We plan on implementing membership this fall, and our hope is to make this an annual series, centered around the vision of the church.

As I've been compiling resources, I thought it would be helpful to post some links on this blog. The first few links consist of what various churches believe about membership.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Clean Water Video

You might have seen this if you watched Idol Gives Back last night.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Church of Irresistible Influence 3

...without practically attractive, spiritually compelling, proof-positive lifestyles, what good are our claims and pronouncements about a life-changing God? If we can't outlive the world at every point - in our marriages, with our children, at work, with money, in our relationships, in the use of our time - why dare to speak of salvation and the abundant life? Incarnation of the Word must precede and empower the proclamation of the Word (61).

The Church of Irresistible Influence 2

Here is Fellowship's mission statement.

We exist to manifest the reality of Christ to the world by equipping Christians to live lifestyles of spiritual integrity, which are...
  • Passionately committed to Jesus Christ (a heart for God)
  • Biblically measured (everything by the Book)
  • Morally pure (in a morally compromised age)
  • Family centered (healthy homes are priority)
  • Evangelistically bold (willing and confident in sharing one's faith)
  • Socially responsible (the community around us is our business)
...and to equip Christians for influential works of service in our community and the world (62).

Keys of the Kingdom

Over the past few months Scot McKnight has written 62 posts on the Kingdom of God. Here is the link to the entire series.

The Church of Irresistible Influence 1

I just started reading The Church of Irresistible Influence, by Robert Lewis. Here's a quote from the book.

In my quest to discern how my pastoral ministry could be more effective, I saw that more preaching is not the answer to today's spiritual hunger. Neither is the writing of more books, the hosting of more conferences, better technology, or special effects. For the most part, we are simply talking to ourselves. Meanwhile, the church grows increasingly isolated from its community and the culture, glorying in a biblical "witness" it often does not really possess.

Then I looked at some of the early attempts by our church at serving and caring for our community.
  • I noticed the changed lives that resulted from members investing their lives in helping families in a low-income area known as Eastgate.
  • I observed the impact of doctors from our church who set up a medical clinic at a home for unwed mothers.
  • I felt a sense of God's pleasure as I joined hundreds of our members as we went out into the community one Saturday to clean up neighborhoods, repair homes, and complete other projects.
  • I noted that city leaders were beginning to view Fellowship Bible Church as a force for good in the community.
  • And wonderfully, I saw people who were formerly hardened to, and skeptical of, the gospel soften and embrace Christ (47).

What is a Church Planter?

From Acts 29

A church planter is a uniquely gifted pastor with a passion to proclaim the gospel to those who are unchurched with the goal of establishing a new community of believers on mission in their community for the glory of God.
I think that's a really good definition.

Let's hope not

Calipari interested in Knicks job?

John Calipari

Getty Images

Memphis coach John Calipari, on the verge of winning a national title, could have interest in coaching the New York Knicks. Calipari is close friends with Larry Brown, a Donnie Walsh ally.

Housing Woes

Here's more on why the housing market is in the state it's in.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Go Tigers!

I watched my first Memphis State game with my dad years ago, so it was fitting that we watched today's win over UCLA together. What made it even better was sharing a slab of ribs from Central BBQ.

It's good to be back in Memphis!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Who are we called to be?

We're in week four of our book group on Greg Boyd's Myth of a Christian Nation. Here's a great quote from chapter 6:

This is what we are called to be: a community characterized by radical, revolutionary, Calvary-like love; a community that manifests the love of the triune God (John 17:21-26); a community that strives for justice not by conquering but by being willing to suffer; a community that god uses to transform the world by providing it with an alternative to its own self-centered, violent way of existing. How socially and politically revolutionary it would be if his disciples lived up to their calling!

Todd Hunter

I just read that Todd Hunter is leaving Alpha USA. Check out what he's going to be doing.

Effective April 1, Todd Hunter (51) transitioned from his role of National Director at Alpha USA to launch a new ministry focused on helping pastors and lay leaders reach a generation that has become disenfranchised from the church.

Under the new non-profit, Society for Kingdom Living, Hunter will develop his writing, speaking and professional activities in the areas of conversational evangelism and the 21st century church. Hunter has a passion for evangelism but is convinced that Christianity in America has a massive image problem that stymies most attempts at evangelism. With the basic premise that Christianity needs to be re-practiced in order to help make followers of Jesus in this generation, he is developing resources and events that include writing a series of three books, the first to be published by InterVarsity Press, developing conferences, and teaching at key seminaries.

Hunter will begin this ministry by teaching and consulting on Three Is Enough Groups. These groups are designed to show people how to undo un-Christian faith by showing them that heaven is not the goal of Christianity - it is simply the destination. Being the servant - otherly people of God - is the goal.

Through his writing and teaching, Hunter will encourage churches and lay leaders to begin forming Three Is Enough Groups to help individuals pray, grow and serve. Keeping the groups small and focused insures that evangelism can happen anywhere, in the midst of people’s busy lives. Meeting in their most natural places of community – the workplace, school, or at the local coffee shop - Three Is Enough Groups will go on the Journey Inward of spiritual transformation and the Journey Outward of serving others. This will be done through the power of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of others - the least, the last and the missing.

TED Conference

My friend Joe has a great You Tube video on his blog of Ken Robinson speaking at the TED Conference. Lots of funny things from this fellow, but he also said three or four things that I just had to pause the video and think about. Watch it here.

James 5

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

I love the way James is so matter-of-fact about this story. Do I believe that prayer is this powerful? What do I think about this story with Elijah? Do I believe that God works in the same manner today?

Craig Groeschel defines a practical atheist as "one who believes God exists but behaves as though he does not." Groeschel says that as ministers, this is worked out when we "believe that God exists, but we do ministry as though he does not." If I'm being honest, I am often a practical atheist, especially when it comes to matters such as the one that James writes about. I've been thinking a lot about the passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul says that some people are prevented from seeing Christ because their minds have been blinded by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). Prayer is more vital than I have ever realized, yet, before I pray, I have to believe that prayer works, that God desires to do the impossible when we pray.

Father, help me to put my faith in You today, especially in this matter. I believe, now help my unbelief. (Once again, I'm so thankful that I can say those types of prayers to You). We need to see you do what only You can do here in Midtown. I pray that You would make us into a desperate people, Father, and I pray that we would see Your great power worked among us.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Church Planting Journey to Memphis

This afternoon I decided to write a little in my journal. I began a Word template journal on May 17, 2000. The past two or three years I haven't written as much, probably due to writing more on the blog. Of course, from time to time I go to the journal since it's not open to the entire world like my blog.

After writing a bit, I started scanning through the 80 or so pages and came across a reference to Memphis on December 31, 2001. When Mandy and I moved to the S.F. Bay Area in August, 2000, neither of us had any idea where we would end up after seminary. At the time, I remember thinking it would be anywhere but back to the south.

It is so good to be reminded of the journey that we have been on for so long, even when we had no idea that we were even on it!

Mandy and I spent a couple of days in Memphis, and took a little trip into the Midtown area. We wanted to see how we felt there. I had told her that Midtown reminded me of the Central West End area of St. Louis. It seems to me that with so many people (and churches) moving out east, Midtown would be a good place to start a church, especially if young people are moving back into the area as I had been told. It was so good just to talk about the possibilities of being close to home.

James 3-4

A few days ago I wrote about the requirements for receiving God's wisdom. James goes into more detail here.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17-18

James first asks the question, "Who is wise and understanding among you?" His answer: "Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom" (NIV). So here James suggests that wisdom goes hand in hand with both good living/character and humility/meekness. He then tells his reader that if there is any bitter jealousy or selfish ambition, there will be no wisdom, because the wisdom from above has nothing to do with jealousy and selfish ambition.

James shows his reader how to discern true wisdom. I have to ask the question, "Am I a wise person?" Going back to the Proverbs passage, I know that there are times when I am not in a place to receive from God, and I also know that there are many times when I do not seek Him as I would seek silver or gold. So do I have the wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere? Wisdom should dictate my walking and my talking, and I know that there are several areas where I do not measure up. I can be stubborn, prideful, arrogant, unmerciful, and insincere, and I also show partiality quite often. So what does that say about me? I'm once again grateful for God's good news! Through Jesus my heart can be transformed. I can come to Him everyday to receive mercy, forgiveness, and a new chance to walk in His Kingdom. For now, I'm reminded that I fall short every day and am in desperate need of a Savior.

Father, reading Scripture is difficult, because it shows me just how need I am. Forgive me for thinking I'm wise. Forgive me for believing the lie that I am pretty self-sufficient. I ask for Your wisdom. I ask that You transform my heart and draw me near to You. Amen.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

What is Worship?

Worship is our response, both private and corporate, to God, for who he is and what he has done, expressed in and by the words that we say and the way that we live.
Louie Giglio

James 1-2

Today we begin reading the book of James, and I decided that this would be another great book to blog my way through. I was talking with a friend the other day, and we both agreed that some days we read and it's a little dry. And then James comes along, and it's difficult to find only one thing to write about. This little letter is full of practical words from the Lord. In chapters 1 and 2 alone, I felt that there were three or four things that were highlighted this morning. I guess I'll have to pick one (not a bad problem to have).

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17

Two things about this verse jump out at me. The first is the word "Every." Anything in this world that is good, perfect, beautiful, generous, free, etc. comes from God. This applies to all people. It doesn't matter whether that person is a follower of Jesus or not; if it's good, it's from God! The question is, "What is our response?" That's where worship comes in. I should recognize that every good gift comes from my Father, and my response should be worship and gratitude. The second thing about this verse that jumped out at me is the reminder that God does not change. More important, His goodness and generosity will not change. It's almost as if it's impossible for this to change with God. And once again, the response is worship!

What will my response be to God today? Will it be indifference? Will I take His work for granted? Or will I worship Him?

Father, I thank you for your goodness and provision in my life. I know that I take your good work for granted so often. Help that to not be the case today. My I worship you through my words and my actions today.

Happy Day

Adam's new favorite song is "Happy Day", by Tim Hughes. He loves to play drums (real or air) and sing the chorus at the top of his lungs...although some of his lyrics are a little different. The first two lines of the chorus are:

Oh, happy day, happy day
You washed my sin away

Adam's version is:

Oh, happy day, happy day
You sent my wife away

I've assured Mandy that I didn't sing that this weekend when they were out of town.