Love Does Indeed

I am presently at a conference called THRIVE in Northern California, hosted by Bayside Church. Yesterday Bob Goff of Love Does fame spoke. Here is his deal if you don’t know. He is one of the most inspiring people you could ever meet. I had the privilege of hanging out with him a couple of years ago until all hours of the night with a few other people, and the things God has used him for that he explored with us are insane. And his whole message is that that can, and should be, all of us. We should impact the world around us through love. Acts of love that make the world around you better, and more felt by God’s love and grace. My church is actually partnering with Bob’s organization this year at our annual golf tournament to build a hospital that will serve over 7000 women and kids in Mosul, Iraq who have been displaced by ISIS.

What a great opportunity to love.

Early Church Love

Historian and sociologist Rodney Stark points out the anomaly of Christian charity in the early years of the church’s existence. More than any other group Christians served the poor and sick with little to no regard for their own lives. They reacted very differently to widespread suffering and pain than those who adhered to the established polytheistic religions of the time. The Roman Emperor Julian said, “The impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us” (approx. 360 A.D). Dionysus, the Bishop of Alexandria, confirms this report saying:

[During the great epidemic] most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves…Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ…Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead… The [pagans] behaved in the opposite way. At the first onset of disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled even from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead” (260 A.D.).

The difference in what these people did was in what they believed. In Christianity God is not a distant, uncaring God who offers higher levels of enlightenment or religious principles for life, but a God who became one of us, suffered in our midst, calls us to love and actually rose from the dead and offers everlasting life to all those who trust in him.

The early church really believed that Jesus rose and thus they didn’t need to fear death either. And that freed them up to love in a way that didn’t have boundaries. Because even if they gave away all their money in an effort to love, they had eternal security and homes and rewards that transcended this world (Matthew 5-7, read these chapters for yourself!). Even if they contracted a disease, they were going to a place with no more sickness or tears or death (Revelation 21-22, and these!).

Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty spoke yesterday as well. He shared a story that on the runway on his way to the conference, the plane had to go back to the terminal three times for problems, and as they waited he listened to the stewardess’ talk. One had bills she was trying to pay because she was a med student and was talking to the other about the stress she was going through because of it. So as he left the plane once they landed he took all the cash out of his pocket (which would likely be more than you and I carry!), and gave it to her with a note that said “God bless you.” He said he never did this kind of stuff until he met Bob Goff, and read his book.

Random acts of love, but life changing, even for a few days, or months, for another person who may or may not know the God behind such acts, such power.

The truth is: the gospel doesn’t just free us up to believe the right things, or have some kind of private spirituality, it frees us up to love. It frees us up to do what God did: give stuff up to bless others.

And in those acts, change the world.

Are All Religions True?

One of the things modern people often say about different religions is that ‘they are all basically the same’: they teach about being a good person, about a higher being of some sort, but all lead to the same place – just different paths to the same thing. While this position sounds good, we must understand that it turns out to not even be close to true, and that’s important because we should be seeking out not what is easy to live with as human beings but what is ultimately true, and lines up with reality.

University of California, Berkley, professor Huston Smith explains, “As soon as the notion of sameness, between the religions, moves beyond vague generalities, that every religion has some version of the Golden Rule, it falls apart on the fact that the religions differ in what they consider essential and nonnegotiable.”[1] Smith is saying that when we dig into any religion we will find contradictory ideas when compared to other religions. This is true about a number of foundational beliefs around which religions are shaped. Here are a couple of examples:

1 – God

Religions differ on their views of who or what God is. Christianity says God is one God in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), eternally one but eternally distinct. An eternal community, which is why there was love and humility and servanthood, before there was a universe, or people. This is by definition how John can say things like “God is love” (1 John 4:8). You can’t have love without community of some sort, which this view of God allows for. This description of God is known as ‘Trinitarianism’.

Islam and Judaism on the other hand have a Unitarian view of God, wherein there is a strict oneness to God that does not consist of this plurality, or trinity, at all. In fact, both religions see this concept as a heresy. In contrast to Islam and Judaism, Buddhism and atheism says there is no God, while Hinduism says there are hundreds of millions of gods. Which religion is right? Modern western culture says ‘they all are’ and ‘they all teach the same thing’. Clearly we are ignoring the facts, and being irrational, which is the one thing an informed skeptic does not want to be.

 2 – Jesus

Consider also the question of Jesus Christ himself. Christianity says it’s essential that Jesus died to pay the sacrifice for sin, taking on the wrath of God and then rose again from the dead. If these things did not happen, belief in Christianity is “vain”, and useless, and Christians are “still in our sins,” and the most “pitied among men” (1 Cor. 15:13-18). Their view of God, and salvation, is not just different, it is wrong. Islam is vastly different than Christianity in that it says that Jesus didn’t die on the cross at all, and thus, that he did not rise from the dead either.

The reality is: Jesus died or he didn’t die. Islam and Christianity can’t both be true at the same time. There are massive implications on every level of life and civilization to the claims of these faiths and it’s the height of laziness to claim them both somehow true at the same time, even if it is in the name of civility. Someone once said, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ and it is nowhere more clear than in this postmodern effort.

Pluralism in India

When I was in India, we were sitting at the top of a mountain. The team I was leading, and I, were praying together and talking around the campfire and off to the side there was a Hindu man worshipping and praying to Shiva and Vishnu and what he called “the monkey god.” He came and joined us by the fire and told us all about his beliefs and then we told him about Jesus. None of us around the fire that night said, “Hey, both versions of reality are true and reliable at the same time.” That would have been a mockery to our beliefs and to his.

The reality is that our options are that one view is right, or at least more right than the others, or that all religious views that have been developed so far in civilization are possibly wrong, but not that they are all right. That is not only the most irrational position but the laziest.

Steve Turner wrote a poem about the absurdity of this postmodern approach to life:

We believe that all religions are basically the same. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation. We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him. Reality will adapt accordingly. The universe will readjust. History will alter. We believe that there is no absolute truth except the truth that there is no absolute truth.[2]

Turner’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek as he satirizes the modern approach to truth.

And it should be.

How You Can Change in 2017

This is long post. I like to write four or five paragraph blog posts because I know our attention spans are short, but I also wanted all of this info in one spot. So here is a post that I think will be helpful for the New Year! 

The best book I read this year was James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You LoveThe basic idea of the book is to present the Augustinian model of how we function as human beings versus modern presentations, most importantly the fact that we, even in the church, are pitched a version of ourselves that we are primarily thinking creatures (the power of the mind and all that) and that therefore discipleship and transformation in our lives is primarily about changing and influencing our thinking. Thus, the solution to all of our problems are focused on things of the mind: reading the Bible more, sermons that transfer right information, etc., This seems plausible enough, and in some senses is true. Discipleship is a lot about the mind (Rom. 12:1-3). The very term disciple (mathetes) is derived from the idea of being a learner. But, Smith argues, we learn in far deeper and more profound ways than just our thinking. We make decisions and live life out of other, deeper level, ‘under the hood’ convictions. Some call it our “gut”, others our “heart,” others our “affections”. The Bible talks of Jesus feeling “compassion” for people, and it uses the word splagchnon, literally a feeling that comes from his bowels (Mat. 14:14).

Whatever one calls these feelings and compulsions they are arguably more powerful and more influential on our actions than just our conscious thoughts. So Smith says “we could say that human beings are fundamentally erotic creatures” (You are What You Love, p. 9). Not in the sense of eroticism, but that we are heavily controlled by our desires. We are controlled and driven by pleasure – by what makes us happy, not by what is most rational, or right, in any given moment. And to ignore this fact is tragic if you are looking to change or get better in any way, whether that is simply making new years resolutions (to lose weight, or be more disciplined in your devotions) or the bigger call in life for the Christian: to become more like Christ, to kill sin, and grow in godliness. It means we must go beyond our thinking and start to work that deeper part of ourselves.

Thoughts Aren’t Enough 

The bottom line, Smith says, is that “you can’t just think your way” to right living. A way of life is not arrived at by convincing the intellect alone, but by allure – our wants, and desires. Not just data, whether true or false. In fact, pleasure is likely more influential on our lives than just information. Which is why the culture around us sells us maps of ‘the good life’ that aren’t primarily information based, but appeal to us aesthetically; romantically, not rationally. Think of the car commercials, or the ads for Apple products. It’s not about data and information but about a look, a colour scheme, a feeling. Art, not science. They appeal to our imagination not our intellect.

(ASIDES: First, it is of course not even clear which, the ‘head’ or the ‘heart,’ influences the other first because, as science is now showing us, our brains are influenced by everything else going on in our bodies including our stomachs! Secondly, a point which Smith doesn’t draw attention to but which I think is important to talk about: I think the terms ‘head’ and ‘heart’ and the distinctions of brain versus ‘soul, or gut’, or even ‘intellect’ versus ‘imagination’ are somewhat flawed because we know there is not something called the ‘heart’ aside from the brain. We don’t actually have a ‘soul’ somewhere inside of our rib cage. It is all about our brain. Even our affections, and desires, are brain-oriented things. The point still stands, however, that there is a part of ourselves that is more information/data/intellect driven and a part of ourselves that is more affections/desires/wants driven, both which likely reside in our brain. Once we understand that then we can still talk about those parts of ourselves as ‘heart’ and ‘head’ if we like).

Our Longings are Learned

The next point Smith makes is that our loves, longings, and desires are learned. But how? We often say, through our thinking, and so we need more right information – theological or otherwise, and what we have failed to recognize, Ok, maybe you already knew this, so what I have failed to recognize, is that we learn to love “not primarily by acquiring information about what we should love.” Well then how do we learn to love something? What shapes our desires? I tend to emphasize right thinking, almost exclusively, or at least first, but Smith says, no, it’s not right thinking but right habits, “rituals that form and direct our affections.” These habits, Smith calls “pedagogies of desire”. So, we can’t counter the power of the cultural story over us, he says,

“with didactic information poured into our intellects. We can’t recalibrate the heart from the top down, through merely informational measures. The orientation of the heart happens from the bottom up, through the formation of our habits of desire” (p. 25).

So how do we get new habits? Again, we can’t think our way to them, he says, we must habit our way to them! You can’t just think your way to a better golf swing, or to losing weight, or to new tastes. These take certain habits. They are learned. That’s why golf teachers talk about ‘muscle memory’. Muscles that swing and do a certain shape over and over again until a person does it without thinking about it. And over time the habit produces a result which then produces a desire. Like someone starting to run. At the beginning running at 5:00 AM is not fun, but over time, the practice forms a habit from a desired result (literally an addiction to the feeling that the release of certain drugs in the brain gives to the runner). So,

A PRACTICE -> A HABIT -> A WANT

So, Smith says, our discipleship of Jesus is more like a Weight Watchers program, meant to retrain our hunger, than listening to a book on tape (which is what many preachers have made the mistake in thinking it is). If godliness is the end goal, which is all about God not changing what I do but what I want to do than habits are a key part of the way to get there! Our habits end up informing what we want to do.

Who knew?!

And that is how you are going to change this year.

The Bible, raising kids, and temptation

All of this has a thousand applications.

+ You want to start reading your Bible but just can’t get into it. Don’t try to get into it! You aren’t. Just read it. Make it a practice (everyday for 30 days say), and then that will give way to a habit, and over time the habit will create neural pathways forming the desire for more of it.

+ Raising our kids: we not only have to shape our children’s thinking by reading them the Bible at night, or by teaching them the Bible stories, and right doctrine. If we want them to love and follow Jesus, we need to also build into them certain practices, which will then create habits that will shape and create desires in them for more of God.

+ Having victory over sin: Temptation is not just a mental battle. “Because we tend to be intellectuals [we] assume…temptation is an intellectual reality, where some idea is presented to us that we then think about and make a conscious choice to pursue (or not). But once you realize that we are creatures of habit you’ll realize temptation isn’t just about bad ideas or wrong decisions; it’s often a factor of de-formation and wrongly ordered habits” (p. 54).

In other words overcoming temptation requires more than just knowledge, but rehabituation, a re-formation of our loves. How? By new habits that will form and inform that love.

So, how can you change this year? How can you become more like Jesus, or have a better marriage, or lose weight? Start from the bottom, not the top. Train the gut, not the head. Admit you don’t presently feel a particular way about someone or something, that’s ok, start by acting toward them the way you want to feel, and over time it will start to take shape.

Instead of starting by trying to force yourself to want something by thinking about it, reading about it, forcing your brain to want it, change your habits first, into one’s that will over time cause the change you want to want but don’t yet want.

I think that last sentence makes sense, and is the key to the whole thing.

I am excited about the new year, and how my life may change by new habits and rhythms of life that will in turn create in me desires that I have been trying to force myself to just have by sheer will for years.

Dummy.

Overcoming the Monster: What Story Are You Telling?

In Christopher Booker’s book The Seven Basic Plots, he outlines the fact that every story we tell ourselves as human beings – since the beginning of time, whether around the campfire or in a big budget superhero movie – all fit into seven basic categories:

1 – Overcoming the Monster – The protagonist sets out to defeat an antagonistic force (often evil) which threatens the protagonist and/or protagonist’s homeland. (Beowulf, Nightmare on Elm Street, Star Wars, Jaws, The Dark Knight, James Bond, Jurassic Park)

2 – Rags to Riches – The poor protagonist acquires things such as power, wealth, and a mate, before losing it all and gaining it back upon growing as a person. (Cinderella, Aladdin, Pretty Woman)

3 – The Quest – The protagonist and some companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location, facing many obstacles and temptations along the way. (Iliad, Indiana Jones)

4 – Voyage and Return – The protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses to him or her, returns with experience. (The Lord of the Rings, Odyssey, The Wizard of Oz, Interstellar)

5 – Comedy – Light and humorous character with a happy or cheerful ending; a dramatic work in which the central motif is the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion. (Much Ado About Nothing, Mr. Bean, Dumb and Dumber)

6 – Tragedy – The protagonist is a hero with one major character flaw or great mistake which is ultimately their undoing. (Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Breaking Bad)

7 – Rebirth – During the course of the story, an important event forces the main character to change their ways, often making them a better person. (Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol, Despicable Me).

This observation – that we find these same basic story structures all over the world, and throughout time, is fascinating in and of itself – but the thing I was pondering recently, especially since we just came through eight straight parables Jesus taught in Matthew 13 at our church, was the power of stories and their place in our lives, and more specifically, how we can leverage that to influence others in every area of life from ministry, to business, to even raising our own kids.

Trump vs. Hillary 

Let me use an illustration from American politics. It surprised everyone that Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the end. The media, the politicians, and the institutions were all surprised, and of course there are complex reasons why he did beyond my understanding, but I think one reason he won is because he told a better story than she did (whether that story is true or mean-spirited, etc., is again, not the point). Whatever one thinks of the content of the story he told, they must admit it was a clear, large, simple, and compelling. It was about bad guys and good guys and an old America which was perfect and wonderful, and simple solutions to get America back there again (a combination of “Overcoming the Monster” and “Voyage and Return”). And it was a story that invited people into it.

The power of story is its ability to influence and capture the imagination of millions of people, and to influence them in one direction or another. Not to equate the one with the other : ), but this is the same reason Jesus brought his message of salvation and the kingdom in the form of stories and not just prose. Stories inspire, re-frame the world, turn facts into meaning, answer our biggest questions, and in so doing, change our very behaviour. It’s why we shouldn’t just answer our kids questions with straightforward answers, but tell them stories about why the answers are what they are. Frame their lives in the context of the larger narrative of the world to help them find their place in it.

What story are you telling?

What churches, ministers, charities, and businesses need to ask when thinking about how they get their message out most effectively is “What story am I telling?” “Is it compelling, big, inspiring, and inviting enough?” “Is it clear, or convoluted and complicated?” “Is it boring or exciting?” “Am I presenting just facts, or something more – a mythology?”

I am watching the Netflix show The Crown right now. Elizabeth’s coronation as Queen is one of the most moving scenes of the whole show, and while the guests are watching it on TV, there comes a part in the ceremony when they put a barricade around the Queen so the audience can’t see and a group watching the TV ask why they blocked the cameras, and the answer one of the characters gives is telling:

“Symbol upon symbol,” he says. “An unfathomable web of arcane mystery and liturgy, blurring so many lines no clergyman or historian or lawyer could ever untangle any of it.” “It’s crazy,” one of his guests remarks.

“On the contrary, it’s perfectly sane,” he replies. “Who wants transparency when you can have magic? Who wants prose, when you can have poetry? Pull away the veil and what are you left with? An ordinary young woman of modest ability and little imagination. Wrap her up like this and anoint her with oil and hey, presto — what do you have? A goddess.”

The sub-story

As a Pastor and church leader I have the greatest story of all time to tell on a weekly basis: the story of the gospel of Jesus, and how it in many ways is the combination of all of the seven basic plots (think for instance how the story of Jesus is all about “Overcoming the Monster” of Satan, sin and death, how it is “Voyage and Return,” of Jesus from Heaven to earth, and a “Rags to Riches” story as well, with Jesus as a poor baby who is vindicated in the end). The question for a church leader then, as an example, becomes the sub-story that you invite your city, community, church, or guy in the coffeeshop into as a local expression of that larger story of the gospel.

What local monster can you overcome? What global ones can you kill together? When we do our annual Golf Tournament, this is what we do. The Monster of slavery and sex trafficking needs to be defeated and we are invited in to overcome it. What great Quest and adventure are we all on as disciples of Jesus to “get to the location” of heaven in the end, “facing many obstacles and temptations along the way”?

When my wife Erin and I lead Marriage Conferences we often end, not by cute stories and how-to’s of ‘communicating better’ and ‘having a better sex life,’ but by explaining that the most important thing for their marriage is to be swept up into the mission God has for their lives as a married couple: to together push back the evil in the world, to love and bless the poor, and to fight sin and Satan in the lives of their friends and families, and in their own hearts, and that if they are busy in the trenches doing that they won’t have time to turn the guns on each other. Usually at the end of this rallying cry people cheer and amen and clap. And when I ask them why they usually say they’ve never thought of their marriage in this context of the global spiritual war around them and their place within it before and it helps to frame their problems (usually making them look small and insignificant) and give them something to work toward together.

So, if you own a business, or lead a church, or even just a family – what story are you telling to frame your lives, your product, or your mission? Is it big enough? Clear enough? Compelling enough? And does it invite people in? If not, work hard at figuring out a way to do so. Why? Because, as Elias Canetti once pointed out, in his Nobel Prize winning book, The Voices of Marrakesh:

“The largest crowds are drawn by the storytellers. It is around them that the people throng most densely and stay longest…their words come from further off and hang longer in the air than those of ordinary people.”

Indeed.

And as a Pastor I admit, I want people to linger. I want people to stay longest, to hear the greatest story ever told and one that can change their lives now and forever. A story about a God who loves them, and died to save them. Who overcame the monster for them, so they never have to. Who turned a Tragedy into a story of Rebirth – and who now invites everyone to experience the joy of that accomplishment.

Why Church Leaders Need To Stop Hanging Out With Each Other

Quote

It is pure invention that popes, bishops, priests, and monks are to be called the ‘spiritual estate’; princes, lords, artisans and farmers the ‘temporal estate’. That is a fine bit of lying and hypocrisy.
-Martin Luther (1483-1546)

I love my friends who work in churches (pastors, directors, etc.,) but  I have come to realize that the friendships and relationships I have with those not in formal church ministry are far more important and for good reason. I will break down three reasons, and the reason I bother to note this at all is not to dis those of us who work in churches (God knows we need all the encouragement we can get as days can be dark), but because I want to encourage all of you who work hard at your normal, everyday, 9-5, shift work jobs who never get the air time you deserve. After all it is your work that supports and allows those in church gigs to have their jobs! This is for the teacher, the stay-at-home mom, and the dentist. I want you to know the crucial role you play in my life. The reasons I feel compelled to write this are mostly unknown to me except that I sense that: (1) There are some of you out there needing the encouragement right now, (2) The record has to be set straight: formal ‘ministry’ jobs (pastoring, etc.) are not necessarily the ‘toughest jobs in the world’, which is often what people working in ministry say and (3) I think vocational ministry people need to encourage you as much as you affirm us.

First, you teach me how to be a good pastor. Of course, I have a ton to learn from other pastors and church leaders in my life as I read, talk to them and get advice. In many ways, though, you have far more to teach me than they do. When I am out with people, I am always asking questions: “What would you do if this or that happened?” and “What is your opinion about X, Y or Z?” Recently, I was out with a business owner and instead of posturing myself as, “I am going to teach you things now as your pastor”, I asked him for his advice. He began his answer with, “Thanks for asking”, likely because no one working in a church had ever asked him for advice! Now, let me be honest. I don’t say this to brag or make you think I am ultra caring. In fact, it is somewhat the opposite. I think, at times, my litany of questions are self-serving. I am a student of YOU. I want to understand you on a deeper level, so I can be better at my job as a pastor, a leader, a communicator. I want to know how you–the custodian or the CEO – processes tragedy in your life, or quits smoking, or stays married. Once I understand you better, I can better explain the Bible to you and lead where I think God wants us to go.

Second, you teach me how to be a good Christian. You teach me about following Jesus in the real world versus following Him in the world of church meetings, conferences and exegesis classes. Just when I think leading a church is the hardest job on the planet, I remind myself of the cops and the small business owners and the recovering addicts who make up our church. I realize again that the real world is hard. It’s hard to show up at a person’s home and be the first to tell them their loved one has died in a car accident. It’s hard to run a business in a world full of sharks. It’s hard to stay clean and work at your sobriety in a society of accessibility. Add on these jobs to being a follower of Jesus and things get interesting and difficult and, at times, grey and complicated. As a Christian, I need to lean into learning these everyday realities. Decisions between one bad thing over another. Confusion over what God is calling us to do when there is no clear choice. God is humbling me every time I put myself in your shoes.

Lastly, you teach me how to be a good leader. In church settings, there is often a lot of theological discussion about methodology with Bible verses attached to each. There is little priority given to things essential in your workplaces and much needed in the church, especially as we try to reach post-Christian Canada, not first century Palestine. Things like: leveraging technology, ensuring we keep our staff lean and goal-oriented, executing ministry effectively, doing things with excellence and working diligently, like the men and women who we serve every day. Which is why in 2 Timothy 2:3-13, Paul called pastors to work like athletes, farmers and soldiers. Up early. Working hard. Heavy lifting.

500 years ago, Martin Luther popularized the idea of ‘the priesthood of all believers’, speaking of the average person’s work (blacksmiths, shoemakers, etc.) versus the clergy, arguing that all work is sacred work. There is no ‘Christian work’ and ‘secular work’. If a person is a musician, or a plumber, or a teacher, their work is just as important as the job of the priest or pastor to the unfolding story God is telling in the world. I believe with all my heart in the priesthood of all believers. When you are out there being a soccer mom, or running a publicly traded company, or trying to make it in show business, know that your work is fundamental to God’s will being done in the world. So, I just want to say thank you. For all you do. Waiting tables, running companies, being nurses. What you do matters, and it is not in vain. And while I hope I can teach you a thing or two as your pastor, know that you are teaching me everyday.

Q & A Friday: Is there a profile for a church planter?

Hey Mark. I was looking for some advice on church planting. I feel a strong call to plant a church in my city. I was just wondering how do I know if I am called and gifted to start and lead a church?

This is a delicate question for two reasons. First, because I don’t think one size fits all when it comes to church planting. Some planters are more adept at preaching and teaching, and others at caring for people. We need all kinds of different churches to reach all kinds of different people. Second, because it is such a specific question of calling, which is often hard to measure. For instance, when networks evaluate whether a person should plant a church, they are not evaluating whether they are fit for ministry, or being a pastor in general, but planting in particular, which is a whole other question. There were couples Erin and I were assessed with back in 2008 who were told not to plant a church, but that didn’t mean they should leave ministry altogether at all.

Having said that there are things the Bible says about this role which are important to reflect on. In Ephesians 4, Paul says that God has given certain gifts to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (v. 7-11), what has come to be known as APEST. What are these roles? In their book The Shaping of Things to Come, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch lay them out this way:

The entrepreneur = the apostle (they start new works, are groundbreakers and strategists, who initiate an organizations mission – i.e., missionaries, church planters, para-church leaders, etc.).

The questioner = the prophet (they disturb the status quo, they question the way things are, are theologically deep, and communicate both their questions and their theological answers in a compelling way. They have a deep pining to see holiness around them and to connect people to truth).

The recruiter = the evangelist (they reach new people with the gospel, lead people to Jesus, and rally and inspire people on to mission; they take the message of the organization to those outside and sell it to them).

The humanizer = the shepherd (they love and counsel people well, care deeply for the soul and spiritual well-being of people, love one on one discipleship and relationships; they provide the organizational glue by caring for the individuals inside it).

The systematizer = the teacher (they take concepts and boil them down to simple ideas and sustainable principles for peoples lives, they explain and communicate well, and create sustainable systems for on-going functionality).[1]

In another of his works, Hirsch explains that these roles are not only different from one another but that they actually end up flowing chronologically in how they play out in the world. That each one progressively creates the environment for the next one to be activated:

The APOSTOLIC (a new missionary endeavor, a new church, etc.,) creates the context that gives birth to all the other ministries. It establishes the covenant community, which then leads to the PROPHETIC, which is a ministry that explains what God has to say to a community, and ensures that the holiness of God is honored and truth is respected, which then leads to the EVANGELISTIC, which, now that what God has said/is saying is made clear, one can come into relationship with that God. Without the evangelistic ministry there is no basis for pastoral ministry.

Once people do come to Jesus then the SHEPHERDING/PASTORAL function is initiated. The pastor cares for people to the point that they understand the need for Christlikeness, which is the environment for the TEACHING function, which leads the community and the individual to maturity, understanding and mission.

In light of this then we are in a better place to understand which gift set would best make up a church planter. To undertake the task of starting and leading a missional movement and be able to build the teams to minister to the new people one reaches is done most effectively, not exclusively of course, if a church planter is gifted within the first three categories (APE), with proportional skills in the others (ST).

In the context of a post-Christian context which is opposed to the gospel, and which needs to hear, see, and feel it afresh, one needs to have vision, and competency to move the pieces around the chess board at 30,000 feet, while organizing and inspiring teams of people in a sustainable way (A), have theological conviction/acumen and the gift to call others to repentance, truth, and holiness (P), and have a proven track record of leading people into a saving relationship with Jesus (E).

Once all this foundational, ground level work is done (and is done over and over again), the work of the ST’s takes over in order to grow, disciple, and train up disciples, leaders, those who have been reached by the work and ministry of the APE.

One last caveat: this is not ministry done by one lone ranger. The APE needs to gather around themselves all different types of people and activate them to the mission to reach and train up people, which is the whole point Paul makes in Ephesians 4. We have these gifts “in order to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (v.12). And thus the cycle begins of hopefully a healthy and reproducing organism that is reaching and discipling people in the ways of Jesus.

If you are interested in next steps apply for assessment at C2C Network, an amazing church planting network planting gospel-centered churches across Canada at an amazing rate!

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[1] Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come (Hendrickson Publishing: 2003), 175.

Transformation Trios: how they work & the 15 questions.

In light of another pastor/leader I admired years ago having moral failure and being removed from ministry this week by his church, on Sunday I talked about the accountability that I was pursuing in my personal life to help me grow closer to Jesus devotionally, and to help guard against sin and temptation in my life which “so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1-3) – a scary verse if there ever was one. This was based on Jesus teaching about ‘secret sin’ (Matthew 10:26). I also challenged those who make up Village Church to pursue similar relationships/community in their lives. I told them I was going to be starting what my friends church in Amsterdam (Crossroads Church) calls Transformation Trios. I had many people asking to get the information on how this works, so here is the concept if you want to join in:

What is a Transformation Trio?

A Transformation Trio (TT) is a grassroots tool for discipleship and spiritual growth. It is a group of three people that gets together regularly (usually every week) to grow in discipleship and pursue life transformation by sharing what God has spoken to them through reading his Word that week, being accountable to each other, and praying for each other and for those who do not know Jesus yet.

Characteristics:
* A TT meets once a week/every other week for approximately one hour (at a time which works best for all participants).
* A TT is made up of 3 persons of the same gender (because of gender related accountability questions).
* There is no curriculum involved other than the Bible and a list of accountability questions.
* New members will naturally learn as they join an existing group, so no on-going training is required.
* There is no leader in these groups. They are peer based and everyone participates.

*We encourage each group to select a book of the Bible to read through during the week. Together you agree on how much reading to do each week. The number of chapters per week varies per group but ranges from 7 to 30 chapters per week. If the group is reading a book of the Bible with fewer chapters – e.g. James -they may agree to read the book through two or three times in one week.

We believe that real accountability stimulates growth and confessing our sins to each other gives inner freedom and healing (see James 5:16). At each meeting group members ask each another questions which stimulate conversations about character, life-style and confession of sin. This should happen in a safe environment that values honesty, vulnerability, confidentiality, and grace.

The list of accountability questions to ask one another each week are these:

1. How have you sensed God’s presence during this past week?

2. Have you taken enough time to be with God alone in prayer?
3. Have you received a specific answer to your prayers?
4. How did you do in your Bible reading this week?
5. What has God been speaking to you through his Word this week? 6. How can you respond to this?

7. Did you express a loving and forgiving attitude toward others?
8. Have you remained pure sexually?
9. Have you lacked integrity in your financial dealings or coveted something which does not belong to you?
10. Have you taken enough time to rest?
11. Do you need to confess any other sin?
12. Did you pray for your non-Christian friends?
13. Did you share Jesus with someone (in word or deed)?
14. What worries or other issues are you currently facing?
15. What would you like to pray about?

I pray that you can find two people you trust enough to do this with in your life and that you stick with it!

Debunking myths: the church is against science!

If you go back through history, the church and science were at times at odds with one another; those disagreements, however, have been gravely exaggerated. When atheists speak of the church’s persecution of scientists, we hear stories of people being burned at the stake for scientific theories; we hear about Galileo, Copernicus and Giordano Bruno being persecuted by the church for a ‘heliocentric’ view of the universe – the idea that the earth revolved around the sun rather than the other way around – and other such stories. Thrilling dramas, however, they are not true.

Historian David Lindberg speaking about the medieval era, writes, “There was no warfare between science and the church.”[1] Historians are virtually unanimous that there never has been a conflict, and that the science versus religion story is a nineteenth-century fabrication (by such writers as John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White).[2] The mythology of the church vs. science is more informed by famous plays – such as Bertolt Brecht’s Life of Galilio, which present the man as a martyr for the cause of science, than actual history. The church did not persecute Copernicus or Bruno or Galileo for scientific theories. Don’t get me wrong, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake; but he “was not executed for Copernicanism but for a series of theological heresies centering on his view of the trinity.”[3] A gruesome reality indeed, but not one based on fear of scientific discovery.

Another modern example of this historical revisionism is the story of the medieval church believing that the Bible taught a flat earth, and then reacting in outrage when science came along and corrected it. Again, this is simply not true. From the time of the ancient Greeks, people knew the earth was round. They observed that the hull of a ship sailing from shore disappears before the top of the mast, and would see the reflection of the earth on the moon during an eclipse.[4] They knew the earth was round. The so-called flat-earth conflict is simply part of nineteenth century propaganda.

And so, Oxford professor Alister McGrath concludes, “The idea that science and religion are in perpetual conflict is no longer taken seriously by any major historian of science…. One of the last remaining bastions of atheism survives only at the popular level – namely, the myth that an atheistic, fact-based science is permanently at war with a faith-based religion.”[5]


 

[1] David Lindberg, “Medieval Science and Religion,” in Gary Ferngren, ed., Science and Religion (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). 70.

[2] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 85-86.

[3] Quoted in Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity? (Washington: Regnery, Inc., 2007), 104. Italics added.

[4] Ibid., 103.

[5] Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism, 87.

How serving makes us like Jesus

People generally want resurrection without cross. People want to see a great movement of God without personal sacrifice. But that’s not the way it works. When you study revivals and renewal movements throughout history, they have great healings, miracles and social reform, but they are also coupled with great suffering. And one thing that often accompanies those movements is the church being the church in the world versus letting others be the church FOR them. That was the move in the Reformation for instance. The church woke up and realized that they, not just the professional clergy, had been given gifts and a calling by God in the world.

Wayne Cordeiro says:

“People wonder what common denominators there are in those churches that for decades enjoyed the hand of God on their ministries. One quality in particular showed up repeatedly: the ownership that the people of the church took in the ministry. They didn’t wait for a professional or for someone ‘more qualified’ than they. Everyone knew they had a part to play, and they participated gladly. This marks the transition from attendance to ownership, from being consumers to contributors.”

I love that since the beginning of Village Church it has been a movement of people who serve. A church that doesn’t just sit around and consume ‘religious goods and services’ but who give of their time, talent and treasure to serve God in a myriad of ways from Kids ministry, to Community Group leadership to making meals for struggling people. For instance, my wife Erin told me about a Community Group in Village she knows which makes meals in a special way for other families. Once a month they choose a family, and each couple makes a meal for each day of the week for that family to cover 7 meals. That is amazing!

Of course, the serving spirit (which Jesus showed us most potently on the cross, and in his washing of feet in John 13-19) is not true about 100% of our people, which is why we stop every once in a while and do whole Sundays dedicated to laying out the ministry needs and calling people to Step up and Serve, but all in all we are really blessed!

It has been this way since day one when a team of 50 people decided to leave the comfort of the church they knew to start Village Church, where there would be early mornings, tiring and complex work, and a need to disciple new and undomesticated Christians.

I am so thankful for a church that recognizes that they are on a battleship not a cruise liner. Time is short. Life is fragile. People don’t know Jesus, and serving cultivates a reality where people can hear and be transformed by Jesus whether that is formal Sunday stuff or in the fabric of life on any given day in any given space.

Serving is not some safe trade off for the real work of disciple-making as some have said. It is disciple-making in and of itself. For oneself. In it we become more like Jesus who said, “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle.

I am reading a book right now by Brad Lomenick (a leadership consultant and founder of Catalyst) called H3 Leadership. The thesis is simple. Good leadership takes 3 ingredients: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle.

I shared these three concepts with our staff last week.

If you are a leader, pastor, church planter, business leader, blue collar worker, or stay at home mom – these three H’s are essential to success and effectiveness in life.

Be Humble – Humble people aren’t always the quiet people. Humble people ask lots of questions, ask for help, look to always learn, investigate, find better ways, pray a lot, try not to be the hero of every story they tell, and listen to others to get perspective on themselves. They admit they don’t have answers to every question. People generally like humility more than arrogance, and are drawn to humble leaders and humble people.

Stay Hungry. This is lacking a ton in the church world. In the business world people have hunger for financial gain, a promotion, etc., but in the church world these incentives do not exist in the same way, so what I find is a large amount of people who just kind of got into ministry – sometimes because they aren’t very good at anything else. They were floaters, liked warm spaces, drinking coffee, and not a lot of heavy lifting, so… ministry! But they aren’t necessarily hungry to move forward, expand, reach more people (or do what it takes to reach more people, which is change, adapt, live with complexity and stress and challenge), so they take it slow, and coast. They are happy with who is around, and their heart doesn’t break for the lost among them. At least not enough to cause them to go the extra mile, work a little harder, or make the sacrifices no one else can make. All because many are not hungry enough. They settle, and are satisfied.

Always Hustle. A guidance counselor at a local Bible College recently told a new student that of all the churches he could work at, to avoid Village Church because we would work him like a horse. He immediately left the office and came to Village looking for a job. Why? because he knew that’s the best thing for him. He is that high quality. An H3 leader never mails it in. They always go over and above. They don’t punch clocks. They don’t ask about vacation time in first job interviews. They put their head down, and work tirelessly for the cause. And 9 times out of 10 that work gets rewarded, and they get ahead. Not because hard work equals magic, but because hard work equals better work, which usually equals getting ahead.

Years ago I asked a person working for us to go and do something that I didn’t have time for that day. They responded that it wasn’t in their job description. It took me a minute to realize that they weren’t kidding. I spent the next few weeks helping them re-think how they view their work hoping to instill in them as much hustle as possible.

The reason I would want to take the time to do that is because we don’t really view people as employees but rather as leaders. And good leaders don’t approach things like that. They stay humble, while being driven by a hunger, and hustle in all they do.