Archives For May 2013

Yesterday, after a little hiking in the woods of Wildcat Hills, we stopped at the drive through to get a drink and I saw what may be the strangest combination I’ve ever seen. The current fadish addition of bacon to just about everything doesn’t really bother me. I think about any meat sandwich is around 47% better with bacon on it. I get the concept of the bacon topped maple long johns at the bakery. And I have to admit that bacon flavored popcorn at least poses an intriguing possibility. But I was completely unprepared for what I saw staring at me from the Sonic menu…

Peanut Butter Bacon Milkshake

Don’t let that sink in too deeply because this isn’t really about cold and disgusting ice cream treats.

I read a lot, but I usually don’t start a book until I’ve finished the last one. I know other people who read 5 or 6 books at a time, but I like this method of reading books one at a time. I think it helps me sink into the whole of the book a little better. But the last couple weeks, I’ve done a little book mixing that’s sparked some interesting reaction in my mind. I found myself reading Steven Pressfield’s War of Art (about overcoming the resistance to your inner creativity) at the same time as Madelaine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet (about a boy who rides a talking unicorn around space and time in order to ensure that a egomaniacal South American dictator doesn’t bring about the nuclear devastation of all of humanity). It was strange how these two dissonant voices danced around some eerily similar etherealities (which I suspect is not actually a word, but if you read enough L’Engle you’re allowed to make up a few of your own).

A couple weeks ago, I read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game at the same time I was reading Dan Kimball’s Adventures in Churchland. In Ender’s Game, a bunch of children are trained to fight an alien race that threatens to wipe out mankind. Adventures in Churchland is about helping people find Jesus in the mess we sometimes make of His church.  The two have nothing to do with each other, but I kept asking myself, “What if the church’s best hope to reach our culture with His life is in our ability to unleash the potential of our next generation to creatively engage the enemy who is seeking to end that life?” As these books mash together in my mind, I can’t help but feel that it really is.

Is there someone in the next generation that you could be investing in, to help them make the most of what God has placed in their lives? Whose gift could you “fan into flame” by sharing a little of your own fuel?

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Share your own story in the comments: What’s the strangest combination you’ve encountered (foods, thoughts, people, etc.) and did it spark anything new in you?

What if every church thought like a church plant?

This thought kept echoing through my mind last month (as it often has) as LuAnn and I attended Exponential 2013. I keep wondering what it is that changes as a church moves from being a church plant to an established church…

In reality, every church is a church plant. Unfortunately, some of us older church plants have forgotten. We’ve sometimes lost the intensity and clarity of focus we once had.

Drift happens.

But it doesn’t have to happen. We don’t have to get mired in slavery to “what we do” at the expense of “why we’re here.” If we want to, we can participate in the shifts that will help us make disciples more effectively and faithfully.

Exponential put together a really helpful conference, and I found that, while the focus was obviously on planting new churches, the message of the conference is one that us old church plants need to hear, too. And that message is that we need to be more focused on making disciples. There are a lot of things that happen in the life of any church that can cause us to drift from that clarion call of Jesus. And when we do that, when we lose His vision for lives that are transformed and transforming, we lose the heartbeat of what we’re supposed to be all about in the first place.

Drift happens.

Wherever you serve, whatever your church’s story or background, it’s a church plant – Placed and planted by God in your particular context in time and space in order to share His light in the darkness and make disciples there. Somewhere along the way, we stop thinking like a church plant and drift into an ‘established’ mentality that often is not helpful in being disciple makers.

The solution is shift – and it only happens on purpose. Unless you determine to make disciples, you won’t. Unless you decide that making disciples is the priority of your life and of your church, it won’t be.

Whether you’re planting a brand new church or working in an existing one, I hope you’ll join me in some shifting. And if you’ve just been a fan, “going to church,” I hope you’ll stop going and join Christ’s Body in the work we have to do. The potential that lies dormant in the church needs to awaken. The world is crying out to be made whole and we need to show the Way.

Let’s go make disciples!

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I’ve outlined each of the shifts presented at Exponential 2013 in the following posts, but if you want to get a firsthand look for yourself, check out the very first Exponential West in October in southern CA or look into some of the free ebooks available on Exponential’s site.

“Exponential Shifts Toward Discipleship” Series

  1. Exponential Recap – Discipleshift
  2. From Reaching to Making
  3. From Leading to Being Led
  4. From Teaching to Modeling
  5. From Assimilating to Creating Community
  6. From Attracting to Deploying
  7. Exponential Recap – Drift Happens, Shift is On Purpose

Don’t just accumulate people. Deploy them.

-Dave Ferguson

To me, this brief quote may have summed up the heart of the Exponential conference for me (and may be the best brief philosophy of ministry statement I’ve ever heard). It certainly pulled together the final shift: from attracting to deploying. It seems that many churches aim to have more people there on Sunday morning than the church down the road. We don’t say it that way, and I know we probably don’t even see it that way, but is that what we’re actually doing? Accumulating people?

Now, I know that every number is a person who matters to God, so it feels like getting more people in our doors would always be a good thing. And generally speaking, it probably is. But if we’re not doing anything to equip them for the work God’s got for them to do and then to deploy them to do that work, we’ve missed the point. But we don’t always do a very good job of counting deployments do we? We count attendance pretty well… We count offerings meticulously… And so we work to increase the score in those areas.

But deployments?

How do we count those?

Admittedly, it’s a little harder to track this on the scoreboard than bucks in the plate and butts in the seat. But I’m convinced that if we could learn to score what matters a little better, we’d see amazing results in our effectiveness at doing what we’re actually put here to do: make disciples. Ferguson (of Community Christian Church and New Thing Network) suggested a few areas that they count that might be a great place to start.

  • Apprentices – What if we counted the number of people who are in a 1 on 1 type of mentor/apprentice relationship in our bodies?
  • Groups Sent on Mission – How many groups or ministry teams are we sending out into our communities and the world on specific mission opportunities?
  • Family Tree – How many churches have we planted? How are we fostering our whole church relationships with our own ‘family’?
  • Leadership Residents – How many leaders are working with us ‘in training’ to go out and plant additional churches?

As a youth minister, it’s always made sense to me to measure the percentage or number of students who graduate HS and go to Bible College or plug into leadership of a campus ministry. I want to make sure I’m not just connecting kids with my youth group/ministry, but connecting them with the mission of Christ – and that they’re pursuing that mission when they launch from here. (This may be why Jen Hatmaker’s statement, “Don’t be a landing zone. Be a launching pad.” really resonated with me.)

A couple years ago, we asked students to track the number of hours they spent reading the Bible each day. Guess what happened? Our students dug into the Bible that summer like never before. Several of them read the whole Bible during their summer break from school!

Current Middle and High School students involved in leading campus ministries and Bible studies at school is another important category to count.

Also, former students working in ministry is a category that matters deeply to me.

Because these things matter, I hopefully find myself working toward these kinds of deployment efforts a lot more than just getting more kids to show up for youth group. It’s fun to have a big crowd. But the big crowd attendance numbers can’t compare to the excitement I feel when talking about former students serving Christ faithfully on 4 continents or getting their classmates involved in a run to raise money for ActiveWater or sharing Who they’ve found in Scripture with their own families and then baptizing their own moms and dads…

What are some other ways you’ve seen to move from attracting to deploying?

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I’ve outlined each of the shifts presented at Exponential 2013 in the following posts, but if you want to get a firsthand look for yourself, check out the very first Exponential West in October in southern CA or look into some of the free ebooks available on Exponential’s site.

“Exponential Shifts Toward Discipleship” Series

  1. Exponential Recap – Discipleshift
  2. From Reaching to Making
  3. From Leading to Being Led
  4. From Teaching to Modeling
  5. From Assimilating to Creating Community
  6. From Attracting to Deploying
  7. Exponential Recap – Drift Happens, Shift is On Purpose

The next shift advocated at Exponential was the shift in focus from assimilation to community. When we think of assimilation, we may most often think of some kind of Borg-like, “resistance is futile” scrubbing of the individual to make them fit into the collective. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about there, you have somehow avoided any hint of assimilation into the nerdery of Star Trek… and you’re really missing out, I promise.)

In the church, we don’t usually verbalize any value of this kind of hive mentality, but we are criticized for promoting it sometimes. From the outside, sometimes people look at the church and see a sort of mindless adherence to a rigid set of rules and regulations that make us all look and talk and act the same. From that perspective, it looks like some kind of weird assimilation has taken place. The friends they used to know and have fun with started hanging out with church people and now have little time for them anymore because of that new Bible study and small group and ministry team they joined. They’ve been sucked in to the collective…

To be fair, people see that because, though we don’t often state it, sometimes we do value conformity a little too much. I’m not talking about conformity to the character of Christ here. That is something we should all value and strive for. What I’m talking about is the way we can take a new believer and fill their time with so many church programs and activities that they become assimilated into the Christian sub-culture so deeply that they’re isolated from the very people Jesus would have them reach with His love.

But what if we could shift from a “bring them in and teach them to be like us” approach to one that focuses more on being a community of unique people who are sent on His mission to restore? What if we could shift from an approach that hopes to produce disciples by assimilating individuals into a slate of programs to one that makes disciples by grafting together a unique blend of personalities into a community that shares a commitment to the mission of Jesus? We don’t have to all be the same. We are allied by our devotion to His mission. Instead of assimilating a common culture, we assimilate a common mission. His mission.

This kind of community can provide the organic accountability that is needed for the healthy spiritual formation of the individual. And this formation of the Spirit of Christ in individual lives which are given to His efforts is the essence of discipleship. Instead of primarily focusing on getting people to attend our stuff (building our church), we can focus on Jesus living in people’s lives. As Mike Breen put it,

If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.

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I’ve outlined each of the shifts presented at Exponential 2013 in the following posts, but if you want to get a firsthand look for yourself, check out the very first Exponential West in October in southern CA or look into some of the free ebooks available on Exponential’s site.

“Exponential Shifts Toward Discipleship” Series

Exponential Recap – Discipleshift
From Reaching to Making
From Leading to Being Led
From Teaching to Modeling
From Assimilating to Creating Community
From Attracting to Deploying
Exponential Recap – Drift Happens, Shift is On Purpose

If you set out to learn how to sculpt marble statues, you could get a few books, take some classes, listen to lectures from well known art teachers, & probably even find some good instructional videos on youtube… But at some point, wouldn’t it be more productive to sit down with a block of marble, a few tools, and a sculptor who could walk you through the process? To transform a nondescript chunk of rock into a work of art, you’d learn better by being mentored by someone who already knows how it’s done, right?

In the church, we aim for a transformation that is much more important than rock to statue, but sometimes we’re missing this apprenticeship aspect to discipleship. The problem with that is that it’s so central to the way Jesus actually did discipleship. In His mission to rescue humanity from our sin and our selves, knowing His time was limited, He didn’t establish a school or write a book or make sure all his lectures were accurately preserved… He chose a handful of normal people and spent 3 solid years living with them.

The way Jesus did discipleship wasn’t to try to funnel everyone through a well thought out and well executed curriculum. He apprenticed them. In the third session at Exponential, Chris Hodges asserted that the “rabbi culture” was about relationship, not just information. So He lived with his disciples.

They spent meals with each other and learned how Jesus ate…

They slept in the same places and learned how Jesus rested…

They traveled together and learned how Jesus treated people…

They talked together and learned what Jesus really valued and how He lived to show His love for His Father and for His neighbor…

It was messy. It was painful. It was probably a lot less efficient than other time management methods could have been. But the maker of time didn’t aim to manage it efficiently with His disciples – He aimed to make them like Him. The way Jesus made disciples was to model. He showed His disciples how life could be done and outfitted them with everything they needed to live that way. Then, as He’d been sent by His Father, so He sent His followers.

There is certainly value in the large group sharing of information that goes on in the church today. Hopefully, people are learning something of value in all those sermons and lessons and studies they’re taking in. But as Wayne Cordeiro shared, “you can transfer information at a distance, but you can only reproduce up close.” We aren’t just called to pass along the answers to the next quiz, we’re called to make disciples.

Are we paying enough attention to developing the up close and personal modeling/mentoring relationships?

What if each member of your church could name 3 or 4 people that they were regularly spending time with, for whom they served as a model of Jesus’ way of living?

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I’ve outlined each of the shifts presented at Exponential 2013 in the following posts, but if you want to get a firsthand look for yourself, check out the very first Exponential West in October in southern CA or look into some of the free ebooks available on Exponential’s site.

“Exponential Shifts Toward Discipleship” Series

  1. Exponential Recap – Discipleshift
  2. From Reaching to Making
  3. From Leading to Being Led
  4. From Teaching to Modeling
  5. From Assimilating to Creating Community
  6. From Attracting to Deploying
  7. Exponential Recap – Drift Happens, Shift is On Purpose

Sometimes, those of us in church leadership can be tempted to focus more on leading than on the church. If we’re not careful, we can lose our bearings a little bit and begin to drift into organizational models that reflect the current best business practices more than they reflect the heart of Jesus. Now, there’s nothing sinister about studying sociology and learning how groups of people think and work and act together in an effort to lead our particular group (the church) well. There’s nothing wrong with using all of our abilities to formulate and cast vision and build systems that support that vision.

But…

Leadership is not the same thing as discipleship.

Larry Osborne talked about how leadership is concerned with getting to the front of the line, or even getting others to the front of the line, while Jesus always had compassion on and patience with those were struggling to keep up, or just not quite ready yet. Being a disciple of Jesus means going to the back of the line with him. Alan & Deb Hirsch pointed out that we lead the way (not just point the way) by going where Jesus goes. We follow Him.

Before we can make disciples, we have to continually be sure we are being led by the Spirit as disciples.

Don’t accidentally stop serving Jesus because you’re serving the church. Focus on following Jesus more than leading people.

-Craig Groeschel

Groeschel also points out the following obstacles to following Jesus:

  • Concern with what people think at the expense of what God thinks.
  • Concern with public image at the expense of private devotion.
  • Concern with bring people in at the expense of honoring God and transforming lives.

The bottom line here is that church leadership should focus first on following Jesus, then on leading well. If we stop following Jesus, we aren’t going anywhere worth leading anyone else to anyway.

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I’ve outlined each of the shifts presented at Exponential 2013 in the following posts, but if you want to get a firsthand look for yourself, check out the very first Exponential West in October in southern CA or look into some of the free ebooks available on Exponential’s site.

“Exponential Shifts Toward Discipleship” Series

  1. Exponential Recap – Discipleshift
  2. From Reaching to Making
  3. From Leading to Being Led
  4. From Teaching to Modeling
  5. From Assimilating to Creating Community
  6. From Attracting to Deploying
  7. Exponential Recap – Drift Happens, Shift is On Purpose

As I mentioned recently, I’m working on a series of posts reflecting on last week’s trip to FL for Exponential, “the largest gathering of church planters on the planet.”

The first shift brought to our attention at Exponential is fundamental to the rest. In order to be the church Jesus intends us to be, we need to shift our focus from reaching to making.

On the surface, the concept of reaching people doesn’t sound so bad, does it? But a subtle drift has happened that’s caused a lot of deterioration to what we really mean when we talk about reaching. Maybe it was in the 70’s when everyone was freaking out about the end of the world and a lot of really bad end-times theology got passed around the religious community like a spiritual anti-bong full of anxiety and panic… Or maybe it was more recently as we put down our placards and bent ourselves around sensitivity and too many of us sought to be the biggest, coolest church in town… But somewhere along the way, many of us in the church have lost the plot. We’ve forgotten what this whole thing we call church is supposed to be about.

“Reaching people” (presumably with the gospel) became more about getting them inside our buildings on the weekend than about the transformative power of the Spirit of God at work inside lives. We talk about church attendance (and track it) as if that is the win – if someone’s in church a lot, we’ve done our job and ‘reached’ them. We win! They’re on our team. Hooray for us! But is that really what we’ve been called to? Is that really the bottom line of the church’s work?

Francis Chan asked the question in the first session,

How many believers go to church every week, but don’t really follow Jesus?

The problem with the “reaching” focus is that we stop at church attendance as the mark of whether or not our efforts worked. But while that level of thinking produces church attenders, it doesn’t necessarily translate to making disciples. Jim Putman, in the same session made the statement that…

Some places that call themselves His church are not really His at all.

See, His church is under His authority and on His mission. The mission of Jesus was never to gather crowds. The crowds were a byproduct of His loving God and loving people as He worked to make disciples. (Not incidentally, that’s the mission He passed on to us, too.) If we don’t function under His authority and work on His mission, then we’re not really His. And if we’re not really His, we’re not really the Church that Jesus said would prevail over even the gates of hell.

Instead of relationally reproducing followers of Jesus the way He did, we’ve attempted to substitute a mass produced template that we can run everyone through until we consider them ‘reached’. Then they just keep attending and we hope they get enough along the way to stay nourished for another week. But that thought-model reproduces the wrong things. We need to reproduce the character of Christ in mentoring types of individual relationships as the Spirit of God works in our own lives.

The church Jesus builds is intent on making disciples. It’s hard to do, and it’s messy, and it hurts, and it’s risky… But beyond any growth strategy or carefully selected style or model, it is what we’ve been told to do by Jesus, who is and always will be at the Head of His church.

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I’ve outlined each of the shifts presented at Exponential 2013 in the following posts, but if you want to get a firsthand look for yourself, check out the very first Exponential West in October in southern CA or look into some of the free ebooks available on Exponential’s site.

“Exponential Shifts Toward Discipleship” Series

  1. Exponential Recap – Discipleshift
  2. From Reaching to Making
  3. From Leading to Being Led
  4. From Teaching to Modeling
  5. From Assimilating to Creating Community
  6. From Attracting to Deploying
  7. Exponential Recap – Drift Happens, Shift is On Purpose

Q. What do you call an aging old “experienced” youth pastor at a church planting conference?

A. A target?

Last week, LuAnn and I got to go to Orlando to attend Exponential, “the largest gathering of church planters on the planet.” I think there were about 5000 of us there to learn and discuss how the church can best make the shifts necessary to make disciples today. Despite feeling torn in several directions at times (like when I had to choose 1 out of a couple dozen workshops all taking place at the same time with great speakers I really like to learn from), it was a great week of getting out of the routine, meeting some great new people from all over the place, and connecting with ministry friends we don’t get to see as often as we’d like. Plus, it was in Orlando, where there actually is something called ‘spring’!

Even though the church I work in was planted a long time ago (hey, every church is a church plant), I was excited to go to the conference because church planting has always held interest for me, probably ever since watching some of the church struggles I saw as a kid. I noticed that it was really tempting for good, and well-intentioned people to become so enamored with their way of doing church things that they’d forget why they started to do them that way in the first place. Someone else would come along with a different way, and disagreements often blossomed into something less than what either of them would be proud of. I remember thinking occasionally that it would be easier to just start over.

The church planting tribe puts it this way, “It’s easier to give birth, than to resurrect the dead.

While I agree with the sentiment, I’d caution that easier isn’t always better, and add a reminder that we serve a Creator who breathes life into lumps of clay, piles of dead bones, and bodies entombed in graves. He can certainly BOTH give birth to new churches AND resurrect the dead ones. And yes, we need to acknowledge that some of what we call churches are little more than spiritually flatlined country clubs that have lost all but a tenuous connection to the mission of Christ and are in desperate need of His resuscitative work.

After spending some time reflecting, and sorting out a lot of internal conflict that has basically kept me from writing much of anything here lately, I’m going to start a series of posts today that digs into some of the shifts suggested at Exponential that can help us do better at making disciples. Whether you’re planting a brand new church or serving in one that someone else worked to plant long ago, I agree that each of these 5 shifts is critical to your church’s success at actually doing what it’s supposed to be doing – making disciples.

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I’ve outlined each of the shifts presented at Exponential 2013 in the following posts, but if you want to get a firsthand look for yourself, check out the very first Exponential West in October in southern CA or look into some of the free ebooks available on Exponential’s site.

“Exponential Shifts Toward Discipleship” Series

  1. Exponential Recap – Discipleshift
  2. From Reaching to Making
  3. From Leading to Being Led
  4. From Teaching to Modeling
  5. From Assimilating to Creating Community
  6. From Attracting to Deploying
  7. Exponential Recap – Drift Happens, Shift is On Purpose