Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Midtown Prayer Collective - Some Reflections

We are coming close to the halfway point of our season of prayer, so I thought I would share some reflections.  For the backstory of the MPC, go to or

First, I've been so encouraged not only by the turnout but also by the hearts of those who have been coming.  We have a huge wall that people have been writing on over the last two weeks.  Here's how the wall looked 2 weeks ago.

And here's how it looked as of a few days ago.

There have been deep longings for God, cries for help, and passionate prayers for our city.  I have a strong belief that God hears and is responding to those prayers.

Second, I love the communal aspect of this season of prayer.  Each time I go in I start by reading the wall above.  I also take time to read the communal prayer journal.  Again, such rich prayers and praise to God.  I love seeing what God is doing through this time.  I don't know the bulk of these people, but I know that we're in this together, and that brings me such encouragement and hope.

I also love the fact that we made the prayer room large enough for groups to be in there.  That was my buddy John Carroll's idea, and he was right on.  I've prayed with my wife, my kids, my team at NC, and my fellow pastors here in Midtown.  New dynamics of friendship and partnership rise when we spend time together in prayer.  I have seen that played out over and over again.  Tomorrow night I'll be praying at 11pm with some of the pastors who started this.  I can't wait to seek God with them.

Next, as much as I love to be with people in the prayer room, I also love being there alone, or better, just me and God.  I signed up for an afternoon spot yesterday, and almost forgot about it.  But when my alarm reminder went off an hour before I was supposed to be there, I started wrapping up my work and headed over.  Normally, stopping in the middle of a busy day to pray for an hour would not be in my schedule.  I know, I'm a pastor, but if I'm honest I have to say that prayer, or at least this kind of sustained prayer, has not been a habit in my life.

But my hour went by so fast, and it was such a great way to refocus and re-energize.  One of the things I did was to take the sign-in notebook that is at the entrance of the room.  Every time someone comes in, they write in the date, their name, and their church.  I picked that up, went into one of the corners, and prayed for everyone from my church who has been in there.  I just went line by line.  I prayed very specific prayers for my congregation.  I also prayed for sister congregations and their leaders.  I felt as if I was engaging in the most important activity I could do at that moment.

I find it easier to pray in this space, and I believe that's the case because we prayed for this.  We told him that we would dedicate this space and this time, and we asked him to meet us here.  God honors these kinds of prayers because he loves being with his children, and he loves responding to desperate prayers.

Finally, if you're reading this and are taking part in this season of prayer, I encourage you to share your reflections with someone.  Perhaps you've been once or twice and have had a good experience.  Share that.  Or maybe you haven't.  Share that as well.  Maybe your time there has been difficult.  If that's you I hope that you'll keep going.  Set some goals as to how many times you'd like to be in there over these final three weeks.  Decide when you'll be there by yourself and when you'll be there with others.  And then ask God to meet you there.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Let Your Kingdom Come

A few months ago I started watching the show Breaking Bad.  This is one of the most spiritually intense shows I've seen in awhile, but I'll save those thoughts for another post.

I'm in season 2, and last night I watched an episode called "Peekaboo."  In this episode one of the main characters, Jesse, is on a desperate quest to get money back that was stolen from a crackhead couple.  Jesse gets to their house, begins psyching himself up, and then breaks into the house.  No one is there, so after looking around for his money he sits down on the couch to wait.  A little time goes past, and he hears a door open.  Out walks a little boy, maybe 3 or 4 years old.  He's quiet, he's dirty, he's little, and most of all, he's alone.  The boy walks over to the tv and turns it on.  It's a QVC-type channel with a man selling a knife set.

Jesse asks him if he'd rather watch Mister Rogers or something like that.  No response, so Jesse goes over to the tv and flips the channel.  Nothing but static.  Next channel: static.  On and on like this until he gets back to the shopping channel.  So he goes to sit back down by the little boy.  Finally the boy opens his mouth and says, "I'm hungry."  So Jesse goes and fixes him the little bit of food he finds in the house. And then he continues to wait.

Finally the parents come back, and you quickly see what terrible people these are.  They leave their little boy alone.  They don't bathe him.  They don't take care of him.  They don't parent him. This saddened me and angered me.  And I know this is a fictional story, but there are kids like this in our city and throughout our world.  And if this saddens and angers me so much, I wonder how it makes God feel.

Here's what is even sadder.  If something doesn't change for this child; if someone doesn't step in, then the chance is good that he'll end up like his parents.  And I can be mad at these "parents" all I want, but what was their childhood like?  Was it similar?  We live in a broken world.  What God intends for us has not happened.  The Bible says that we are all guilty of violating Shalom (wholeness, peace,welfare).

Now Jesse, who flirts back and forth between good and evil (one of the great things about the show), wants to do something for this kid, but he too has violated Shalom.  He's a drug dealer, so he can't get too involved.  So he calls 911, sets the kids outside, and then leaves.

God's Kingdom is here.  It was ushered in with Jesus.  But it's not here as it will one day be here.  And until that time, we join with God in His rescue plan.  We work and we pray.  I'm grateful to be a part of the Midtown Prayer Collective.  This season of prayer gives me the opportunity to press into God, to seek His face, and to pray something like this:

God, let Your Kingdom be as evident here in Memphis as it is in Heaven.
Grant us the privilege of being a part rescuing work.
We pray for spiritual rescue.
For physical rescue.
For emotional rescue.
Here we are, God.
Send us!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NYC & City Collective Pt. 2

Yesterday I posted some highlights from our time in NYC.  Today I want to share a little about the City Collective Gathering.  I could write long posts about each session.  All were worthwhile.  But since reflection time is hard to come by, for now I want to share about one.

First, a little background on Trinity Grace:  Jon Tyson, who is originally from Australia, moved to New York City along with several other families if I remember correctly, seven or eight years ago.  They started what is today Trinity Grace Upper Westside.  Over these eight years that church has grown to five churches, but this network is different from most other church planting networks.  

In one of the sessions our first day Jon shared the moment that changed so much for him:  It was the day he felt God say that there were all of these guys in their city who were trying to start similar kinds of churches, and there was a ton of competition going on.  What if, instead of competing, they worked together?

What has happened as a result is that several church planters, some who came as a result of this vision and others who ended up partnering after the fact, have submitted their personal vision to a more shared one.  Together they have identified the neighborhoods in the city that need churches, and they have set out to plant neighborhood parishes there.  Each of these has their own planter/pastor and leadership teams.  Each church takes on the characteristics of both the neighborhood and the leadership.  But that’s where the similarities to “normal” church planting end.

Each of these churches/pastors is connected to the larger group.  The pastors meet together once a week for prayer, relationship, planning, etc.  They are speaking into one another’s lives.  Church planting is difficult, but these guys (and their wives) know that they’re not alone.  When planting a new parish, there is already movement and it becomes much easier to gather that initial core.  The core has already been living in the neighborhood, and it just makes sense that a new parish be established.

They also have what they call their Central Ministries Team.  It’s what we at NC would call the Macro.  They have discovered that there is no need for every church to have unique systems such as accounting, legal management, payroll, media, etc.  All of these are important, but anyone who has ever planted a church knows that it is these things that can consume time and energy and distract from more crucial things.  Trinity Grace has found that centralizing these macro functions allows each church to focus its time and energy on ministry and mission.  

Here are the three big takeaways I had from this:

First, many leaders can’t do this.  If it’s not their thing, or their church’s thing, then they don’t want to be a part of it.  More than anything, that is sad to me.  And I know I’ve been guilty of it at times as well.  But I don’t want to be any longer.  I want to seek out partnerships with other leaders and other churches.  What I saw from the neighborhood pastors was extreme humility.  Whenever I got to talk to them individually, I was asking questions about how they related to one another, how they got over their egos, and how they developed trust together.  Without that humility and trust, this doesn’t work. 

Second, my heart longs to be a part of something like this.  The Midtown Prayer Collective is all about this.  If we’re going to stand together around something, let it be prayer.  As we do this, I believe God will open up some new realities for us.  I hate the competition I feel in the church world.  I have a deep belief that we are better when we are together.  I believe every neighborhood is different and should be approached differently, according to the context.  But I also believe that can happen in a more “together” way than it’s currently happening.  This “together” needs to be defined differently at different levels of relationship, but I am praying and dreaming that God would allow our churches in Midtown to be a part of this redefining.  I’m not sure what it will look like, but even that excites me.  We need something new and fresh.  One of my prayers during this season of prayer is that God would surprise me/us.  This would fall under that category.

Finally, over the last year the leaders of our church have had a lot of conversations about the micro and the macro.  We’ve done it primarily in the context of our micro churches and our macro church (what they would call a parish).  But this thinking also flows up to a network of neighborhood parishes.  In our context, we’ve become more and more convinced that a lot of what we have always done in the macro (finances, mission, membership, etc) makes much more sense and is much more effective in the context of micro.  So we’ve begun to redefine what these things look like.  And then we’ve sought to determine what is left.  What things still work best in the macro context?  These would be things like celebration and worship times, vision casting, coaching leaders, legal and tax issues, and larger mission projects.  

I’m excited and hungry to go deeper into this path, but I’m also thankful that we’re already on the path.  I believe that we’re set up for a new paradigm of ministry that is needed in our city.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

NYC & City Collective

One of the more difficult things about going to a conference is that when you get home you have so much to catch up on that you neglect reflection time.  That's been the case with me.  But better late than never, so here goes.

Until last weekend neither Mandy nor I had ever been to New York City.  A few months ago we found out about the City Collective Gathering hosted by Trinity Grace Church, and decided that we needed to go.

We started last Friday morning with a nonstop flight from Memphis to JFK.  It's not everyday that you get an inexpensive nonstop flight out of our city, so we were very pleased by that.  We got to attend a Citywide Worship event that evening.  From what I heard there were around 12 churches there.  It was great heart prep for the Midtown Prayer Collective, which kicked off the day we got back in town.

Saturday morning we rented bikes and rode in Central Park, which was a block away from where we were staying.  Central Park is an awesome place, and one of the highlights was coming to Bethesda Fountain and hearing the beautiful arrangement of Amazing Grace I had ever heard.  I found a video of them (The Boyd Family) singing Ave Maria on Youtube, but just know that the video doesn't do the live performance justice.  The acoustics in this place were amazing.

Here's a picture of the two of us there at Bethesda Fountain.

On Saturday afternoon we went to see Ricky Martin in Evita. Actually, Ricky Martin is not the reason we went.  It was my cousin William Waldrop, who is the assistant conductor.  He actually conducted the performance we saw.  Very proud of William!  Later that evening we went to Serendipity.  This one was on Mandy's list, and I have to say she looked extremely cute drinking her frozen hot chocolate!

Sunday began with the Highline Park, then Ground Zero, which was very moving.  That evening we went to Trinity Grace's Upper Westside parish, and then the conference kicked off with a rooftop reception at 230 Fifth.  We had an amazing view of the Empire State Building and spent some time with new church planting friends from Detroit.  To top it off, there were red snuggies.  I know it will disappoint you when I say I didn't wear one, but know that I did sit on one.

And that brings us to conference highlights, but I'll save that for another post, since this one is getting rather long :)

Friday, October 12, 2012


I hate I missed this yesterday, but here's a story that Mandy told me about a little episode from our boys.

Yesterday the three of them went to the Pumpkin Patch with Aunt Megan and Miss Olivia (the boys' baby cousin).  They put together a scarecrow.  Later on in the day they were finishing the last touches on the scarecrow, and Mandy asked them about a name.  Here's what happened in the next 20 seconds...

Micah suggested the name Senorita
Adam laughed at this
Micah ripped Senorita in half as a sign of his displeasure with his brother
Adam hit Micah as he was angry that Micah wasted his efforts in making Senorita
Micah spit at Adam
Adam spit back at Micah
Micah kicked Adam
Mandy jumped in to break up the fight

And then it was over, but quickly followed by 20 minutes of conflict resolving, punishments, and repairing Senorita.

Boys are fun!

Here's a picture of Micah and Senorita.

And lest you think all brothers do is fight, here's a very sweet picture of them together.

When God Changes a Heart

I posted a few months ago about Adam becoming a Christian.  I just wanted to give a quick update on how things have been going.  Sometimes I think I forget that God truly brings transformation to a heart that is open.  Adam is seven, so it's not like he had this sordid past that has now been changed.  But I've still seen transformation.  He is very open to the things of God.  Open as well as interested.  He's been reading a lot of the Bible, memorizing Scripture, and just yesterday we got Sally Lloyd-Jones' new book, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.  She's the author of the Jesus Storybook Bible, which I recommend to everyone, whether you have children or not.  This is him reading last night instead of eating.

What I love is that this is not religion.  Adam didn't become a Christian and then we started telling him all of the things he now needs to do to prove himself to God.  No, God actually changes hearts.  Yesterday he was reading about the difference between trusting and trying when it comes to God.  He understands that he can trust God, and didn't realize that some people think they have to try when it comes to God's love and approval.  That truth only comes from God.  How do I know that?  Because the lie that we have to prove ourselves to God (religion) is so pervasive.

One more story...

Wednesday night we kicked off the Midtown Prayer Collective with a night of worship and prayer.  It went from 7:30 until 9:00, but because fall break started yesterday, we decided to let the kids stay up and go.  Micah was pretty fidgety, but Adam, though he was tired, was pretty caught up in it all.  Yesterday morning I asked him what he thought about the night.  His response: I loved it!

I am so thankful to God for that.  Let me say it again.  I am so full right now because of what God is doing in Adam's heart.  I will not take that for granted, and I will allow God to do a work in my heart as a result.  He's a good God, and He's an active God.  I pray that during this season of prayer we will all place ourselves in a posture where we can receive from Him.