Thursday, May 21, 2009

Poor yet Generous

Not long ago I was in line at a downtown Wendy's when a homeless guy cut in front of me. He literally acted as if he didn't see me. He stepped up to the counter and ordered a .99 cent hamburger and a water. He handed the teenage girl behind the counter two wadded up dollar bills to cover the grand total of $1.07. As he stuck out his hand for the change, I noticed him reading the label of a donation box for kids with MS. In one quick move, he took the .93 cents he was given in change, jammed every penny into the box, spun around and bolted out the door.

It caught me off guard. And it was my lesson for the day (if not week).

Today I found an article that interested me and reminded me of this experience. It was written by Frank Greve and was surprisingly titled, "America's Poor Are Its Most Generous Givers". Here's how it started:
When Jody Richards saw a homeless man begging outside a downtown McDonald's recently, he bought the man a cheeseburger. There's nothing unusual about that, except that Richards is homeless, too, and the 99-cent cheeseburger was an outsized chunk of the $9.50 he'd earned that day from panhandling.

The generosity of poor people isn't so much rare as rarely noticed, however. In fact, America's poor donate more, in percentage terms, than higher-income groups do, surveys of charitable giving show. What's more, their generosity declines less in hard times than the generosity of richer givers does...
(to read the article in it's entirety click HERE)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Something Happened Last Night...

I sat in a living room last night in East Austin dreaming, praying, discussing, and planning with a group of men I never would have known just a handful of years ago. Through networking initiatives like the Austin PlantR Network (, a handful of lunches, meetings, emails, and phone calls, we each found ourselves looking at each other and asking the question, "What if"?

So there we were: Two white dudes, three latinos, an african-american, a native-american, and an asian-american... all pastors, all feeling called to be a part of a collective spiritual and social renewal effort in the amazing city of Austin. Some are reformed, some wesleyan, some from the holiness tradition, and honestly some have spiritual journeys I'm still trying to figure out. One of us (who will remain unnamed) preaches in flip-flops, another wears a robe. There is much we do differently, but have at least one thing in common: the belief that it's time to look past our secondary theological disagreements and not just "say" it won't divide... but actually take major steps towards partnering together to reach a city that needs hope more than we need to be right.

It was very encouraging. The Spirit was overwhelming. And while it ended up being a four-hour meeting, I left refreshed. Something just seemed right. While part of me wishes I could fast forward five years and see what happens, I have a feeling that the joy will be in the journey of simply "what's next".

To be continued.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I had a great conversation the other day with Dave Ferguson, Pastor of Community Christian Church in Chicago. It’s a large church with multiple campuses. Dave’s an awesome guy and has a heart for church planting. Since Austin New Church has officially entered the journey of helping plant churches (not just be a church plant ourselves), we were talking about the sustainability of some of the modern church planting movements. And he asked me the question, “What do you mean by sustainable?”

Great question. Initially I thought, well, sustainable is when a church can survive on it’s own without outside support. But then my mind flooded with all the things that should be sustainable that are much more important than even financial feasibility. Is our vision sustainable? Are our values sustainable? Our hope is to create a reproducible model, but while it may reproduce, will it sustain? Do our goals have an inherent reality of sustainability? Are our intentional relationships based on a sustainable foundation or do they end after an event is over? The list continues.

The reality is, the only things that are sustainable are the things of God. And today’s scripture struck a chord with me. Psalm 45 is a wedding song. It’s laced with the imagery of Christ as the coming groom and the church as His bride. As the psalmist begins his description of the groom he writes,
“You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one; clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds.” - Psalm 45:2-4

Christ, and all He represents, is eternal. Verse four tells us that it is in truth, humility, and righteousness that He rides forth victoriously and that in his right hand He displays awesome deeds. Verse two says that His anointing mark is grace. It is in His grace that all things sustain. It is in His grace that we find eternity. It is in His grace that we will find purpose beyond our plans.

I’ve had an interesting day already. After leaving an early morning meeting with a group of men from my neighborhood, I sensed the urge to pull over into the parking lot of a traditional Baptist church that I know has seen some recent ups and downs. I sat in their courtyard for a while and just prayed for them. During that time, God convicted me that while I knew all the church planters in the area, I didn’t even know the name of the Pastor who led that church.

As I sat there reading Psalm 45, a wedding song for the Bride of Christ, He reminded me that His purposes are far greater and more sustainable than my plans could ever be. He reminded me that whatever I do as a leader, it needed to include sustainability for HIS church, and never be about “my” church.

It doesn’t take much to make the jump and apply these truths to our personal lives as well. Whether it’s in our family or our career (hopefully both) there are sustainable pursuits and those that are fleeting. Somewhere in there we’ll find contributing factors to the difference between what our reputations are and what our legacy becomes.

Father, your Son taught us to pray for your Kingdom to come and your will to be done. May we see your Kingdom break through in our churches, our lives, our families, and in our priorities. We know this will happen when we submit our will to yours. Give us the desire, the wisdom, the hope, the courage, and the will that it will take. Amen.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” - Psalm 51:12

“Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed.” - Psalm 119:116

“Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.” - Psalm 119:175

“The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.” - Psalm 147:6

“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” -Isaiah 46:4

“The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” -Isaiah 50:4

Monday, April 13, 2009

Relationship Receptivity

Ed Stetzer and team recently released one of the largest surveys on Americans’ receptivity to different methods of church invitations. Conducted last December, the study included a survey of over 15,000 adults:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Corporate Church

I’ve come to truly love the “sending” of the Church. I love the opportunity to band together in unity of Spirit when we go out into our workplaces, social circles, schools, and neighborhoods as ambassadors for something greater than ourselves. I’ve grown to love experiencing faith in new and exciting ways. I’m learning more and more each day the joy that comes from intentionally living out the command to “love others” Monday through Saturday. Call it an attempt to be “missional”. Call it an effort to live “incarnationally”, whatever we call it… I love it.

And I still love the corporate gathering of Church. I love the Spirit and energy. I love the momentum. I love teaching as well as hearing the Word of God. I love times of reflection and prayer. I love taking a moment each week to intentionally recall the cross through communion. Corporate worship is one of the most powerful things I experience each week. There is something special that happens when we exalt God together. There is something special that happens when you can physically and spiritually sense the Spirit moving among a body of believers.

As much as Austin New Church is a “sent” Church, it is also a body of gathering worshipers. It’s real. It’s thick. And I love it. For those who struggle balancing the role of the sending and the gathering of the church, Psalm 48 (a chapter I just happened to be reading today) is another small reminder that there is every biblical precedent for both:
“Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, his holy mountain.” – Psalm 48:10

“Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.” – Psalm 48:9

Psalm 48 is listed as a song of the “Sons of Korah”. In other passages, "the Korahites," are described as expert warriors. More interesting, however, than the fighting Korahites are these “sons of Korah", who were somehow connected with the service of song.
"These are they whom David set over the service of song in the house of Yahweh, after that the ark had rest. And they ministered with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, until Solomon had built the house of Yahweh in Jerus" – 1 Chronicles 6:32-32

One article I found about these “sons” said,

“In this way we are introduced to David's 3 great leaders in choral and orchestral music. Among them Heman the Korahite has at first the place of primacy, though Asaph, later, comes to the front. The events just referred to are mentioned again, more in detail, in the account of David's bringing the ark to Jerusalem. There it is said that at the suggestion of David "the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel," and also Asaph and Ethan, "and with them" several others, "their brethren of the second degree" (1 Chronicles 15:17,18). The record proceeds to speak of the services of "the singers, Heman, Asaph, and Ethan," and their associates, in the pageantry of the bringing of the ark to Jerusalem. After that, it says, Asaph had charge of the services of thanksgiving and praise before the ark in Jerusalem, while Heman and Jeduthun served in the high place at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 16:4,37,39-42). Later, the record says (1 Chronicles 25), David made an elaborate organization, under Asaph and Heman and Jeduthun, for song and instrumental music.

Translated: Corporate worship was a big deal to David.

For years I’ve heard people say, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” In our postmodern world, it’s becoming more and more prevalent of a thought. Theologically, you can indeed receive Christ without a corporate gathering, and many have. But I would argue that the Christian life is incomplete without a time in which we come together to make God our centerpiece.

I think our problem is our posture and perspective. While the law certainly put different requirements on the gathering of God’s people, I don’t believe David saw worship as just a mandate. I think He saw it as a privilege. I think He loved it. He saw it as an opportunity to exalt the King. He made much of God, and if we want to be known as a people after the heart of God, so should we.

Monday, March 23, 2009

No Uptick in Americans’ Religiosity

I've heard a ton of pastors expressing that a recession might be a really good thing for the American Church. Here's an interesting article on a recent Gallup Pole taken on the topic:
"Despite suggestions that the economic recession might cause religiosity among Americans to increase, there has been no evident change over the past 15 months in either Americans' self-reported church attendance or the importance of religion in their daily lives. Forty-two percent on average have reported attending church every week or nearly every week during that time, and 65% have reported that religion is important in their daily lives. These results are based on an analysis of more than 425,000 interviews Gallup has conducted since January 2008."

For the full article click HERE.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Learning from Europe

Several Global Church leaders have challenged American church leaders to keep their eye on and learn from what has happened and is happening in the European Church. Their fear, if we don’t change, that we won’t be far behind.

With that in mind, I’ve tried to educate myself. Along the way, I found the following 2008 article from the Christian Culture Journal. I contemplated whether or not to post all of it, thinking that we might get so distracted with the discussion of discrimination, that we'd miss some of the other significant thoughts on the division of church and the massive decline of professing Christians. Although some of the conclusions feel like a bit of a stretch, I thought I’d share it in its entirety as written. I found it interesting for many reasons.

"The divisibility of the Church is the cardinal document of Anglicanism, and its most fundamental heresy." Abbott Chapman (20th cent)

According to a recent study conducted by the U.N., two-thirds of British citizenry claim no religious affiliation. The 23-page report by a special rapporteur of the U.N. claims that the 2001 census which found that nearly 72 per cent of the population is Christian is no longer accurate.

Excerpts from TIMESONLINE: "The report calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England. It says that the role and privileges of the Church do not reflect “the religious demography of the country and the rising proportion of other Christian denominations”.

"The report says that there is an “overall respect for human rights and their value” but it gives warning of discrimination against Muslims.

"Citing research that 80 percent of Muslims in Britain feel that they have been discriminated against, the report singles out the Terrorism Act 2000 for particular criticism. Under the Act police in some areas can stop and search people without having to show reasonable suspicion.

The report’s author also criticizes terms in the Terrorism Act 2006 for being “overly broad and vaguely worded”.

Certainly, if a church is founded upon the notion that Christ's Church can be divided, then this same church therefore becomes subject to division, disestablishment and even elimination itself. The curse of the Reformation may well be the Islamization of Britain.

"And so the stage is set for the chastisement which the prophecies say will be very severe for England." Catholic Prophesy, Yves Dupont.

For the sake of maintaining the article's "integrity", I posted all of it. I don't believe that the Reformation will cause the Islamization of Britain. So please don't read that into why I posted it. And while any bit of discrimination certainly bothers me, my greatest concerns from the article are two fold: (1) The shrinking church and (2) the divided church.

"Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand." Mt 12:25

Friday, March 13, 2009

Tony Morgan - Are you really the leader?

Great post from Tony Morgan on Positional Leadership in the Church Today. Completely worth the read. To read the whole thing click HERE. In the meantime, here's just a glimpse:
The days are behind us for those situations when someone gets out of line and the head-honcho just takes their subordinate out to the woodshed for a reminder of who’s the boss. Leadership is no longer a title on a business card. (Do people still carry those things?)

Leadership looks a lot different these days.

-It doesn’t necessarily reside in the corner office.
-It’s something that’s earned rather than bestowed.
-It rarely tells people what to do, but rather asks how can I serve?
-It can’t be bought, because most people ultimately care very little about the money.
-It’s focused more on the mission than the tasks.
-It’s concerned more about fostering influence instead of wielding power.
-It recognizes the next new idea will come from someone else.
-It doesn’t necessarily require words

Monday, March 9, 2009

Reality of Legacy

"When it's all said and done, what do you want to be known for?"

That's a great question. One that I'm hearing more and more regularly from men whom I respect. It's one that, if we'll allow it, can really shape how we do things as leaders. I've heard that Ed Stetzer and Mark Driscoll had this conversation. It's rumored that someone had the same conversation with Rob Bell. While I cannot substantiate either conversation, there has always seemed to be this common chasm for Pastors between how we think others perceive us and how we're actually perceived. So when we consider our "legacy" (if you will), or even our "Kingdom" reputation, it's a question certainly worth exploring.

Below are some thoughts I read recently from a minister of 57 years. He was asked the question, "If you had the opportunity to do it again, what would you change?" It's kind of like the same question but from the other perspective. I decided not to give the name of the Pastor, it's really irrelevant to whether or not we should or could identify with his statements. I'd just challenge each of us to let the statements stand on their own. Take 'em or leave 'em.
Question: If you had the opportunity to do it again, what would you change? What would you do differently?

1. First of all, I would do nothing until I had been filled with the Holy Spirit. I would lock myself in with God and not come out until I was absolutely sure that His anointing and empowering were upon me. As a young pastor, I knew nothing about the baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit. That loss was tragic to me and my congregations.

2. I would develop a life-style of prayer that was unrelenting. My "closet" would become more important than my pulpit; my private devotion more prized than my public preaching. My meditation more valued than my ministry. My continuous conversion to Christ and death-of-self would become my greatest pursuit. I would be more concerned about "glowing" than showing.

3. I would zealously commit more Scripture to memory and seek its deepest meaning. I would let the Bible speak for itself rather than listen to others' claims about it.

4. I would seek to love everyone more eagerly, more generously, more obviously.

5. At the same time, I would waste no effort on insincere Christians and "false brethren." While I would cultivate a merciful spirit, I would confront and expose religious tradition, falsehood, abuse, without hesitation. I did not always know to do that. Everyone suffered because of it.

6. I would focus on a "Kingdom" ministry and nothing on denominationalism. In my later years I came to see the hypocrisy of denominational division; it is a delusion for which truth and integrity are needlessly sacrificed. Good men reject each other for the sake of a false, sectarian identity. Being "orthodox" for the sake of protecting myself or others would never again be a consideration. I would become radical for God rather than remain a decoy for the devil.

7. I would more boldly preach against pride, self-centeredness, false piety, and egotism in my church and leaders; instead, I would expect genuine humility, godliness, sincerity, in all who worked with me. I would absolutely stop the "elitist" spirit in deacons, elders, etc. Everyone holding church authority would submit to deliverance ministry and discerning of spirits or not function.

8. I would fight church politics as a deadly disease.

9. I would never again allow church leaders to usurp a God-given vision for the sake of protecting their own appearance and self-esteem.

10. In many ways I was naive; too trusting. I would never do that again; instead, I would base my trust on people's verified integrity and not on my assumptions about them. Were I to repeat my ministry, I would seek to be "wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove." --- But, I would definitely be more wise.

11. I would seize every opportunity to learn from older ministers, to explore their hearts and minds, and learn from their successes and failures. In my youth I traveled with men who preached in the 1800's. I would devour as much information as possible from every stream of church history and intensify my education in those areas that directly benefitted the Kingdom of God.

12. In my personal life, I would more carefully expose everything to the investigation of the Holy Spirit, to Scripture, godly advisors, and my heart-conviction. A God-given ministry is too valuable to be wasted on self-deception, religious hobby-horses, or the previous generation's prejudices. I would want to hear what "the Spirit is saying to the churches" and move forward with that alone.

13. Theologically, I had to escape my Calvinism long enough to quit blaming God's sovereignty for all the negative circumstances in life, exercise the spiritual gifts and authority Jesus gave me, and take full responsibility for my ministerial success or failure. I did not do that soon enough.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Network DNA - Church Planting

While discussing creating Networks of Networks, specifically the merging of the MISSIO and FORGE efforts in America, Alan Hirsch (Author of The Forgotten Ways and ReJesus) shared the following DNA pieces of the existing Network. These are great thoughts for those invested in apprenticeship networking. They might be in a book somewhere, but I've never seen them compiled in this fashion so I thought I'd pass them along.

1. Context is Everything.
• Place interns in context.
• Academy is not the best place to form missional leaders.
• Just as we cannot learn leadership outside of influence of leadership, we can’t learn missional outside of context.

2. Teachers must be Practitioners.
(Reflective practitioners, created ethos)
• Cannot teach what you do not know.
• Lead from the front.
• Beyond Theory.

3. Put Risk into the Equation.
(Becoming a learner instead of expert).
• We only learn what we know in comfort zone.
• Take two steps out of comfort zone.
• They need to feel the potential of failure.

4. Action Reflection Learners.
• Do it, then reflect. Evaluate, critique.
• Assumption is that we will learn as we do.

5. Relational Empowerment
• Coaching with emphasis on relationship

6. Inspiration THEN Information.
• Major on motivation and inspiration.
• Quantifies the information

7. Imagination is a Key Resource.
• Not just pragmatism
• We repeat what we know
• Helping us find our new maps.
• ReImagination is a cultivator for leadership
• “If you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it.”

8. Intellectual Engagement.
• Theology
• Missionaries should be our best thinkers.
• We’ve got to be thinking better.
• Become learners, but also become thinkers.
• High Quality information. Web is a wonderful resource.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cultivate - Vince Antonucci

I'm hanging out this morning with some of the ELI guys at their Cultivate gathering at Gateway Community Church in Austin Texas. Vince Antonucci just shared some great reminders on "Principles of Programming for People far from God". Vince, who left his mega church post in Virginia to plant a church in Las Vegas, is author of "I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt."

Before I get into the list, let me remind you (as Vince did) that context is everything. We simply can't hear and apply. We have to hear the heart behind the principle and apply in our context. Vince also admitted that these are fairly simple thoughts, but rarely will we find a church that applies all of them.

Also a reminder: This list is primarily about our church POSTURE at our Sunday gatherings (From a creative and intentional level). However, some of the principles can certainly be applied to any environment where we might be evaluating our posture in regard to sharing the Gospel. In fact, thinking about those daily-life moments might help inform how we should shape our weekend efforts (See #3).

Principles of Programming for People far from God

1. Unfolding Arms principle: figuratively and literally. Unchurched are coming already thinking, “I don’t like church, someone told me this is different. Prove it. Quick.”

2. Wear their Shoes principle: Try and get in their head to understand what they are experiencing and thinking when they come to your church.

3. Guest for Dinner principle: Treat visitors at your church like you would treat a guest who came over for diner. The fact that they ARE there might change how we do things (not to get them to come). Some things we won’t change, but we’ll offer the courtesy to explain it. (1 Cor. 14:23)

4. Joe DiMaggio principle: Center fielder for Yankees. Famous for hustling to “weird” degrees.Teammates would job to field, Joe would sprint. Always sprinted to first, even when out, even when walk. Interview: Why? Answer: because I know in every game I play there is some kid who it’s their first time to see me and I want them to see what’s right. In the same way, every Sunday, we know there is at least one new person there. If it’s their first time to come back to church, what is it that you want them to see?

5. Check your influences principle: Who are your influences in shaping your weekend gathering? We all have influences. Most of them come with models. Who are they? Hopefully our main influence is God (Theology). In all those areas that have been left undefined or a-biblical, our influences should be non-churches.

6. Use their Culture principle: (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) Paul speaking at Mars Hill, quotes poets, compliments their religious culture. Use a their culture to break down walls. Purpose is not to change who you are, but to break down walls.

7. Don’t use your Culture principle: Your assumptions will create your crowd. The words you say in your message, between your songs, introductions… Ask yourself the quesiton: What do my words assume? Speak to the chairs. Explain “The Bible Says…” Our service is still for Christians (it’s not Seeker)... yet we still CONSIDER who’s listening. It’s not FOR seekers, but we recognize they are there so we EXPLAIN everything. Communion, Ephesians, offering. (They’re little, but they add up)

8. Authenticity principle: The unchurched and the dechurched are coming in with the questions: Why should I listen to you? Are you anything like me? Do you even know what I’m dealing with? Can you relate? Because I need you to relate for me to relate. So, share who you are. Personal stories: I have a past. I struggle in the present. I have hope in the future.

9. Love principle: Do you really think non-christians think, man I need a really good rock band, need to laugh, etc… I’m gonna get up early and go to church. Those things are important, but they can get it other places. What they can’t get from SNL, at a comedy club, or a concert is LOVE. Instead, they need to know there is a zero percent chance I’m gonna get judged here. All things must flow from this place.

Something New with Missio/Forge

I spent the week in Colorado with some amazing people.

It started on Tuesday with a small gathering of some great leaders talking and dreaming about merging efforts towards an intentional missional church planting effort in America. Involved in the conversation was Todd Wilson (Exponential Network), Hugh Halter and Matt Smay from Missio (Tangible Kingdom), Alan Hirsch (Forge), Lance Ford (Co-founder of Shapevine), Cam Roxbrough (Missional Training Network), Nick Boring (Vision 360), Andrew Taylor and Alley HArding from Church Resource Ministires (CRM), Bob Harrington (Stadia Network), a handful of organic, hybrid, and mega, missional church pastors including guys like Dave Ferguson (Community Christian Church) and Tom Shrader (East Valley). I'm still trying to figure out how I got an invite.

It was a powerful meeting. I think Lance Ford (Shapevine) put it well:
"We are forming a convergence of folks and organizations that include simple church, micro church, megachurch, and just about anyone that wants to move forward missionally. We are not settled exactly on the name or branding yet, but it will be under the banner of either Forge or Missio, with Shapevine providing the online support and training platform. We have been aware for sometime now that there is a need for a more unified effort that highlights training options and gives more support. There is so much great stuff happening out there, and much of it is under the radar. We really want to see a collaborative, peer learning community develop. If you are interested, keep an eye out, we will be providing more information as we develop it. I would really encourage you to attend the Exponential ’09 Conference in Orlando, in April. Shapevine handles the Missional Tracks and we will be sharing about the new network."

To put it briefly, and in Alan Hirsch's own words: “There’s much that can be gained from finding a common ground”. Here's a handful of my favorite "Alan quotes" from the day:
“We’ve been captured by a paradigm... where true innovation is a very rare discovery. In terms of ecclesiology, it’s time. We must find new forms. Based on principles, of course, that are defined by the scriptures.”

“There’s something phenomenal going on.”

“We need to be a network of networks”

“Traditional and contemporary church will appeal to about 40% of America. That’s a very real and important thing. My concern as a missionary is for the other 60%.”

For a little glimpse of the nuts and bolts of what's going on, here are some of the shared distinctives of Missio/Forge:
• Holistic approach to mission
• Action learning approach to missional leadership development
• Culturally appropriate mission methodology in all settings.
• Grassroots movement ethos
• Diversity of approaches and models
• Intentionally networked structure
• Networked cross-denominational structures
• A passionate action-based spirituality
• Creativity, innovation and experimentation in all we do.
• The priority of modeling for leadership and mission
• Coaching and mentoring

To read more about what's going on from Alan Hirsch's BLOG click HERE

Monday, February 23, 2009

Change is Good

I grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist Church. This may sound weird, but I pretty much loved it (Probably 'cause I loved our Pastor. He was a good one). While I didn’t really live it, I still loved it. We had a pianist that played by herself with brother so-and-so leading us through a handful of hymns (verses 1,2, and 4 only of course). As I think back on it now, it feels kind of nostalgic.

I remember a time when I began to shift the way I thought about worship. Something happened to me when I went to a church that had a drum set on stage and a leader who led with a guitar. I remember how difficult it was as a believer when I began to worship in new ways that seemed right to me. I found myself constantly having to defend the fact that the guitar and drums were really not from the devil (I’m intentionally over-exaggerating).

I remember the first three verses of Psalm 33 to be a chapter that gave me comfort when thinking about this new "contemporary" style of worship.
“Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” – Psalm 33:1-3

Why is it that so many were threatened with this new form of worship? For sure there are those who cast stones at the hymnals and choir lofts. While change can be good, sometimes we do it bad. While I didn’t necessarily feel traditional methods in themselves, were any less worshipful, they had certainly lost their place as a personal preference for me.

Today I’m reminded of how I’m learning to just live what I’m called towards. I’m also reminded of our nature to act like we have the market cornered. And even when our intentions are pure, our actions and words can easily not seem that way. They can quickly provoke a defensive posture in others. Our perspective is everything. And while we’ll always have our own perspective, it’s the way of the Lord that matters. As Andy Stanley put it in his book, “Visioneering”: “WAY is God’s specialty.”
“But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.” – Psalm 33:11-12

One thing is for sure, what we must place as a priority in our affections, are the plans of the Lord before our own. No matter our style, method, tradition, philosophy of ministry, or posture in our community… hopefully we’re chasing what we know of God and His ways with everything we’ve got. And whatever we are doing, we do as an overflow of how God is moving in our hearts.

This may come at great cost. We may be called from everything we’ve always known. And that can hurt. I’m reminded in verses 13-17 that many times God uses change to keep our focus on Him and not a model, strategy, or tradition.
“From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth- he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.” - Psalm 33:13-17

If we were to think on these last few verses, we could probably find many places of application in our lives that would benefit from a little reorientation. That might demand some change in our lives. That change might just be the catalyst that results in the personal revolution our soul’s been craving.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Parasitical Parachurch?

Jonathan Dodson, Pastor of Austin City Life, a great thinker, and a great friend of mine recently published a blog concerning some thoughts from Neil Cole’s book Organic Leadership. In it, he says that “Neil prophetically points out how the parachurch has assumed the role and mission of the church leaving her weak and anemic”. Click HERE to see the entire post.

He then closed his post with a handful of questions:
What do you think? Where has your church capitulated to the parasitical parachurch? Is there a way forward? And what of the modality sodality distinction? Are both mission agencies and local churches together the church? Much more could be said on these matters.
This is a very relevant thread of conversation for Austin New Church and South Austin Cares. So here’s what I replied:

I think you know where I land on most of this conversation. I’ve long thought the non-profit sector has taken the place of the church in our culture. Even many of the faith-based non-profits have begun to do their work “in spite of” the church. Whether that’s because of a lack of passion on the part of the church or an organizations simple avoidance of the typical church red tape, it’s not their fault, it’s ours. Neglect comes to mind. Like you said (kinda) it seems to be the norm to just “let them do it”.

I’ve had some great conversations in the last week in regards to Sodality and Modality. Although Austin New Church is an intentionally ministry based model church, we are in reality a “hybrid” when it comes to gathering and sending. With that in mind, we’ve found a real strength in partnering with local non-profits instead of capitulating to their head start and success. There’s much we can learn (and leverage) from others who have gone before us.

What we’ve found? Most non-profits don’t mind a faith based community partnering with them. In fact, we’ve found nothing but open arms. One of our missional communities was literally told at the LiveStrong Challenge that they were the best group of volunteers they’ve ever had. What a compliment.

And it makes sense. Why would I try to start my own food bank when we gather a mile away from the Capital Area Food Bank that feeds over 40,000 people a week? Seems like they know what they’re doing. Why re-invent the wheel? The only reason I can see is if we cannot represent the church while serving with and for them. So far, it’s not been a problem.

So what do we do? I suggest partnership. Bold, innovative, Gospel centered partnership. Let them know the Church cares. That just might be a paradigm that needs changed anyways.

- Brandon Hatmaker

Monday, February 16, 2009

Balancing Mission

Great new post on a discussion between Ed Stetzer and Rick Meigs. Here's just a glimpse:
"When we look at the history of missions, it is frequent (dare I say common?) that those churches which focus on societal change lose their focus on evangelism and church planting. The most healthy churches engage in evangelism (individual transformation), church planting (collective transformation), and societal impact (cultural transformation). And one tends to lead to the others. The best societal impact occurs when it is a reflection of individual and collective, gospel transformation.

So, when you hear someone you consider less "missional" that you say, "Let's tell them about Jesus because if we serve the hurting we will lose our focus on missions," it might have more historical validity than you would choose to believe. Thus, many are convinced that if churches have to choose between evangelism and social action, they should choose evangelism. And with good reason.

I just think that it's short-sighted for churches to choose. Evangelism, church planting, and societal impact are like fruit that blossom and grow from healthy church trees. We do not have to bow to the tyranny of the "or." - Ed Stetzer

Check out the whole thing by clicking HERE.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fear of Failure

There is a big difference between fear of failure and fear of the Lord. Honestly, I fear both. But the problem is, I don't always or instinctively know how to distinguish between the two in life and mission. Especially when I'm pursuing success. Especially as a Church Planter. Yet, it simply changes everything.
“Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.” – Psalm 25:12
The significance of this statement is the promise of instruction for those who fear God, not who fear failure (or even the lack of success) itself. Instead, it’s a promise for those who know and trust the power and ways of God, who fear being out of His will, who fear losing His favor or leading. These come with two different starting points. It comes with two different motives and two different trajectories that will lead us in two different directions. These differences determine our journey.

The problem might be in how we evaluate success in the first place. Our nature is to allow the ends to determine our means. Do we really measure success the way God measures success? That’s a deep rooted and loaded question. There are many layers that have to be peeled away in order to find the truth. And probably only God knows where we stand.

I was having this exact discussion this week with a friend when he said “I’d rather fail than succeed if it meant I had to do it with my own strength rather than God’s leading.”

Sadly enough, I used to perceive a statement like that to be lazy or an obvious excuse for a recent or impending failure. And it may be for some. But for others, it’s really a powerful statement of faith. And I’ve found that when they mean it, they really mean it. (They also seem to be the guys who have peace in their lives…hmmmmmm) According to Psalm 25, if we believe and live by this fear of God, “like an archer shoots an arrow”, He truly will instruct us on our journey.

And any success will be His success. Anything else, will not be credited as success (nor righteousness). Do we believe that? I wonder how offensive it is to God when we claim to be men and women of faith yet fail to live and lead anything close to this way.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” – Psalm 139:23-24

Friday, February 13, 2009

Small Things

I've always heard as well as thought about it as a statement or command: Do not despise the day of small things! But today I see it differently. In my understanding, Zechariah was asking a question, kind of rhetorical, but non-the-less it was a question: "For WHO has despised the day of small things?" (Zech 4:10)

I see two sides to this question that we may need reminded of:

1. The first, is the rhetorical side. Certainly God does not despise the day of small things. He knows where he's going with it. He knows how to make things great. What's different is that He sees the great in the things that we cannot (or do not).

In the same way, there are many things that we consider great, that God may despise.

2. The second is the perspective that we are to rejoice in seeing even the plumb line in the hand of God's workers. So let's get back to the question: church planter, missionary, believer, how do we feel about the day of small things? I must confess. I've got a long way to go. How will we lead others to this place if we aren't there ourselves?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Just Because

Here's something that just lifted my spirit a bit today. Thought I'd share:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Our Need for Mission

This is kind of a rePost of a Post of sorts. My friend Michael Stewart from the Austin Stone Community Church posted this from what Alan Hirsch wrote, in his book The Forgotten Ways. It's a good reminder. And in it, he tells this story about missional community:

"In a remark ascribed to Gordon Cosby, the pioneering leader of that remarkable community Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., he noted that in over sixty years of significant ministry, he had observed that no groups that came together around a non-missional purpose (e.g., prayer, worship, study, etc.) ever ended up becoming missional. It was only those groups that set out to be missional (while embracing prayer, worship, study, etc., in the process) that actually got to doing it." (p. 235)

Hirsch goes on to say that experience tells us that a group that aims at community seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the group that aims at mission will have to do community, because community "is the means to do mission... By planting the flag outside the walls and boundaries of the church, so to speak, the church discovers itself by rallying to it - this is mission." (p. 236)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tribal Leadership

Seth Godin's brain is larger than his head. That leads to a pressure that apparently must be released through him writing blogs. Good for us! Here are some of his thoughts (and some of my thoughts following them) on his post: "Leadership is now the strongest marketing strategy"
Yelling with gusto used to be the best way to advertise your wares. There was plenty of media and if you had plenty of money, you were set. Today, of course, yelling doesn't work so well. What works is leading. Leading a (relatively) small group of people. Taking them somewhere they'd like to go. Connecting them to one another.

It's enough if the tribe you lead knows about you and cares about you and wants to follow you. It's enough if your leadership changes things, galvanizes the audience and puts the status quo under stress. And it's enough if the leadership you provide makes a difference.

Go down the list of online success stories. The big winners are organizations that give tribes of people a platform to connect.

Go down the list of fashion businesses or business to business organizations. Same thing. Charities, too. Churches, certainly.

It's so tempting to believe that we are merely broadcasters, putting together a play list and hurtling it out to the rest of the world. Louder is better. But we're not. Now we're leaders.

People want to connect. They want you to do the connecting.

What stands out to me first is his statement that "it's enough" for the tribe you lead to (1) KNOW you (2) CARE about you and (3) WANT to follow you. Those are huge... to know and to care comes only from vulnerability. It's the key between "knowing of" or "about" someone and really "knowing" a leader. It's the catalyst for creating empathy and connection on a team regardless of circumstance. It's the key for building two-way trust. And it's our responsibility as a leader to create that kind of culture.

The second thing that stood out was the statement that the list of success stories constantly show organizations (certainly churches, he said) that give tribes of people a platform to connect. This doesn't happen in a corporate gathering of one-way communication to multiple tribes at once... it happens in chewable bites. And it doesn't happen because of casual contact... it happens specifically through a unified vision or purpose to action... call it addressing a CRISIS... or together simply fixing something broken or improving something that needs improvement. In the Army we had what we called a "Rally Point". If something goes wrong... and we disconnect somehow... we all know, we can meet back at that place and regroup. It's a necessary, if not life saving, element of connectivity. No one wants to go at it alone. It's alone that we are at our weakest. And together that we are at our strongest.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Tangible Kingdom

Not long ago I had an opportunity to hang out a bit with Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, authors of “The Tangible Kingdom”. I love being challenged from guys who live their faith out of the box. I love it when I’m forced to ask questions I might not normally ask. It’s good to increase our exposure, even if we don’t agree with everything. Many times it can open our eyes and take us places we wouldn’t have gone on our own.

Hugh was sharing from Jesus’ instruction to Peter in Matthew 16:
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will NOT overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Matthew 16:18-19

His thought was that as we think about the Kingdom of Heaven, many times we think of it as standing in opposition to the Kingdom of Hell. But that is not what Jesus called it. He didn’t call Hell a Kingdom. Jesus said that instead we should see it as a gate. He said the “gates” will not overcome the church. He drew light to the fact that the gates were keeping us from passing through and experiencing the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not something we should just “avoid” and stay clear of. He reminded us that they are a serious threat to our advancement. Our typical response is to “Defend” our faith, our ways, our church, our tradition, our methods… but what we need to be doing instead is seeing the threat for what it is and go on the offense.

I guess what he is saying is that the “best offense” isn’t always a great defense… sometimes it really is a great offense.
“When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. "A god has come into the camp," they said. "We're in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!" So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers.” 1 Samuel 4:6-10

Okay, this is going to be a weird twist of thought. But here it goes: We should learn from our enemies (The Philistines). What was the lesson to be learned in 1 Samuel 4? They saw a serious threat, they acknowledged how serious it was, and they attacked it with all they had. They didn’t dig in and create a stronger defense, instead in their fear, they “strapped it on” and attacked.

I love it that the Philistines realized the magnitude of their threat. They were legitimately scared. So many times we are overtaken because we underestimate the strength and cause of our strife. Especially in leadership, we at times deceive ourselves. It’s too easy to pretend everything is okay. Julia Duin, religion writer for the Washington post in her book “Quitting Church”, said that
in all my research the most baffling thing to me is the fact that Pastors are in denial of what’s going on in the American church culture. If the pastors are in denial, their flock will be too.

It’s too easy to get tunnel vision and defend our path. I heard once that the greatest threats to the church is when we don’t think we are in crisis, when we pretend everything is going great and it’s not. When in fact the church thrives in crisis. Just look at countries where church is “underground”. They hold some of the largest churches and are experiencing some of the greatest revivals in the world.

But let’s look at us for a moment. Forget the stats that say many are leaving church. Let’s take a moment to look at those who remain. Since I can remember the typical thought is that 20% of the church is doing 80% of everything, not just the giving, but the leading, the serving, living on mission, etc… in some churches it’s 10% doing 90% (and it’s been this way for a long time). Guess what? If our main goal is to make disciples and to equip the body for works of service, then what we’re doing is not working. To 80% of our people, what we say is really irrelevant to their lives. Hearts are not increasingly changing and compassion is not increasingly growing. We’ve lost ground for those who leave, for those who stay, we’re simply maintaining 20%. Are we okay with that? If any of my kids came home with a 20% on their report card, I’d have a cow. That’s not even close to being acceptable. We’re only perpetuating it if we don’t address it. It’s a fact that people are leaving the organized church in droves… let’s start looking deeper at the why. Let’s start asking some tough questions. And let’s start listening to the answers.

I believe we need to look at the big picture of what God is doing in the Kingdom, and fight. We already know the answer to who wins. Jesus said the Gates of Hell will not prevail. So let’s attack them.

How? How about with the methods Jesus mandated we live. How about starting with love and compassion. How about putting people before process and keeping them there. What if we took the time to evaluate where the greatest physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs are in our city and make a plan of attack to both meet needs and make disciples. How about we make the sacrifices to show genuine concern for others. How about a concern for the least of the least, those without hope. How about we pour into people as if we truly loved them as we love ourselves. How about we give of ourselves for others and not just our personal agendas. We’ll have to consciously fight for that, because of our selfish nature. How about we listen to the other part of Matthew 16 where Jesus reminded us that on this rock, if we trust His ways, HE not us, will build His church. He gave us the keys to the Kingdom not to "our" church.

Jesus knows this goes against our fleshly nature. This is a battle we all struggle with daily, but as leaders we must work diligently to lead people towards this. It's not only worthy of our efforts, it's biblical, and it will work. This is a battle I find myself in the middle of, and I’m not going to stop fighting.

Leading in Fear

As a church planter, I think I have a new and fresh understanding of what it means to live in the “fear of the Lord”. I really don't mean that in an arrogant "knowledge" kind of way... it's really a type of confession. It’s a constant and crazy mix of confidence and intentionality wrapped up in a little bit of insecurity and wonder. And God’s hand or presence being removed is my greatest fear. I guess that’s why my study today in 1 Samuel 13 struck such a chord with me. Two verses stood out like they were written in a different font:

"You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command." 1 Samuel 13:13-14

What more can you say? There is a ton of power in these two verses. In these words are both found (1) hope and (2) consequence. The hope is that God is not passive... He is not detained... He will not only SEEK out a man after his own heart, but He will find one in David. He'll find it in the least expected: a young shepherd boy. The consequence is that since Saul did not seek God out prior to going to battle or prior to selecting his men, it would not be him labeled as one who sought after God's own heart. He tried... after the fact. He tried to commit to the Lord something he had already done. But it was too late.
So as church leaders our promise of hope and our warning of consequence is this: May we always be those who seek after God's own heart. And may we never venture forward prior to God's leading or void of His way.

Leadership 501

That’s right, I just jumped to 501. I don’t think I ever wrote on 201, 301, or 401… they’ve always scared me. But since I’m going to keep it to quoting one of the most highly thought of leaders of our day, and we’ll also see it played out in scripture (1 Samuel 9), I’ll claim this insight for a moment. What we’ll find is that just as history repeats itself, and just as “keep it simple stupid” (K.I.S.S.) seems to work, leadership has a path that actually comes full circle. At it’s highest level comes a simple key: Humility. An amazingly difficult thing for most leaders (including pastors) to have, much less maintain.

I outlined earlier some of what Jim Collins (Built to Last, Good to Great) shared in a recent speech on his thoughts on leadership success and failure. Behind these successes and declines are not only the strategy of a leader, but also the capacity of a leader. The focus of Jim’s thoughts, are essentially about leadership capability. He questions the thought we typically have that either leadership exists or it doesn’t. Instead he offers the idea that leadership has levels.

Here’s what Collins said:

“In general I have had a bias against a CEO-centric view of the world. Leadership answers often strike me as over simplistic and in danger of covering up too many variables. If a company does really well we say it was great leadership; if it doesn't do well we say the leadership wasn't as great as we thought.”

“That eventually led to the idea that leadership is an evolving series of capabilities and levels of maturity. So it's not a leadership or not question, it's a "what stage of leadership" question – and what level of maturity are you.”

So what is a level 5 leader? Glad you asked. First of all, a level 5 is to be thought of as the highest level of leadership possible (at least for today). It’s characterized by a humble “concern for the organization and for IT’S success rather than for one’s own riches and personal renown.”

It almost seems counter-intuitive that humility would be the key trait for such high capacity leadership, and that’s exactly what Jim thought during his team’s research. “The Level 5 Leadership finding, which came out in Good to Great, was not what I expected to find. But it’s what he found.

Level 5 leadership challenges the assumption that transforming organizations from good to great requires larger-than-life-leaders. The findings appear to signal a shift of emphasis away from the hero to the anti-hero. Humility is a key ingredient of Level 5 leadership. Humility + Will = Level 5. "Level 5 leaders are a study in duality", notes Collins, "modest and willful, shy and fearless."

Essentially he’s saying a level 5 leader finishes strong and with a legacy of humility.

So let’s go to the Bible and take a look at Saul for a moment. Scripture tells us he was built for the role of leader. In fact 1 Samuel 9:2 says Saul was “an impressive young man without equal.” Yet there was something special about Saul. He had everything going for him and every right to be prideful, yet when he was called out by Samuel, he struck a posture of humility. Look how he responded:

Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (1 Sam 9:21)

This posture wasn’t new to Saul. Earlier in the story when he was about to give up, he gave ear to the counsel of his servant who not only encouraged him (vs. 6-8), but also gave him direction (led upward). This highlights another key benefit from humility, a willingness to listen to those around you. Collins said recently that great leaders constantly ask what our “question to answer” ratio is, and is constantly seeking ways to ask more questions. The reason? So we can hear the answers we might not normally come up with.

I have a friend who has seen some amazing professional success in the business world who said that the trend in companies unable to make it to the next level is the CEO or key leadership team’s attitude toward everyone else in the company or their competitors. He said, “When you find yourself in a position where you feel constantly that you’re surrounded by idiots and you’re the only one who knows what to do, beware. You’re about to take the fall. You’ll find soon that you’re the idiot. And you think too highly of yourself.”

Bottom line, in the beginning, Saul had an amazing personal mixture of humility and confidence. From level 1 through level 5, Humility is the key in keeping confidence from becoming arrogance and pride. And confidence is key. It’s the fuel for the “Will” in the “Humility + Will = Level 5” equation.

Another friend of mine who is a West Point grad, ex-Special Operations officer, and now owns a management consulting company in Denver wrote the following about this confidence in leadership as seen through 1 Samuel:

“Confidence is a tricky character trait for a leader. Too much can make them prone to rash and arrogant decisions. Too little can leave them timid and passive. In either case, too much or too little, the end result can be a leader who is too selfish to lead effectively. They are so focused on their own strengths or inadequacies that they miss the power of their team and God’s hand in their work. In recent chapters we saw the Israelites with too much confidence when they carried the ark into battle against the Philistines. And we also saw them with too little confidence in believing they needed a king to be like the nations around them. Both results were due to having poor relationships with God, and thus, a poor understanding of their power and security with Him. When we truly know God we know who WE are in Him. This appropriately sets our confidence. We understand that we can “do all things through Him who gives me strength”, but we counter that with knowing that He has to be a part of any venture for us to succeed, no matter how small. So, while we can do all things through God, we can’t do anything we want through God. Confirming that God is leading gives us all the confidence we need.”

So why use the example of Saul? While he started as an excellent candidate for a level 5 leader, he ended up being an excellent example of someone who failed to reach it.

The problem is that power corrupts. That’s in the bible. Look it up. So humility at this level of success and influence is not only rare, but possibly our greatest mountain to climb.

As church leaders, we must all be aware and beware. We know how the story of Saul ends. After leading as King for 42 years, Saul ends up going crazy and chasing David all over the place. This is a huge reminder to me at any level of leading that might lead to seasons of “success”: We must constantly check ourselves, our motives, and how they fit with God’s true vision. We must maintain the correct posture, create the right processes, and place the right people in right positions to help us keep focused on His calling. We have to protect ourselves from ourselves as we remember that this is not about us.

This is getting long. Officially, the BLOG ends here.

Unless you want to keep reading for part #2… in that case, here is a furthering thought on Saul’s humility and the tragedy that follows. It comes from an email I got from a friend this morning (at 5:15am) that sits on my board at Austin New Church. He’s an incredibly insightful leader whose current role is Executive VP of Global Services for a company headquartered here in Austin. The only thing bigger than his insight is his track record and professional accomplishments… check out what he said about Saul.

“Saul starts with the admirable trait of humility which leaves him as he becomes king. He has all the traits that Israel wants in a king, he is taller than most, good looking and strong and comes from a prominent family. Saul is like some of the men and women in this world that we see attain fame, fortune and glamour only to fall from grace with a character flaw. In some ways Saul is a tragic hero, the main character in a tragedy who makes an error in his actions that leads to his downfall. Some characteristics about a tragic hero include:

- The hero is led to his downfall due to hubris, or excessive pride.
- The hero discovers his fate by his own actions, not by things happening to him.
- The hero sees and understands his doom, and that his fate was revealed by his own actions.
- The hero is physically or spiritually wounded by his experiences, often resulting in his death.
- The hero is often a king or leader of men, so that his people experience his fall with him.
- The hero learns something from his mistake.
- The hero is faced with a serious decision.
- The suffering of the hero is meaningful.

God why use Saul? Why use a tragic hero and not raise up another more deserving more righteous man? God raised up many to distinction who were less deserving than others were. We cannot figure out all of God’s reasons for raising one over another in this world. Many of these reasons are contained in the unsearchable wisdom of God. What we should never do is assume that just because God is using a man, that he deserves it. And more importantly we should not somehow see ourselves as less than one who God chooses to raise up by the scorecard of this world. Once we do this, we start imitating the characteristics that make these people tragic heroes. For all are human, and all have a flaw, the more the spotlight of the world pierces us, the more our flaw becomes known. The only hero who is not tragic (in the literary definition) is the Son.”

Wow. How ‘bout that with your morning coffee?

Gathering and Sending

"Do you believe it possible to have a co-existing presence between missional and attractional elements in a single church organization? Can both be a part of a singular vision or should they be exclusive one from another? How have you seen or heard of this working or failing?"

Here's a brief consideration: I believe both the sending (incarnational) and gathering (attractional) elements are not only critical in our western culture, but also have a strong biblical precedence. We must never consider living incarnationaly as a more important expression than exaltation (and vice-versa). if we do, we are in danger of doing exactly what we set out NOT to do, make it about us and what we can or want to do instead of about God and His influence.

In order to do this however takes a few incredibly intentional steps. Here is what we're finding at Austin New Church to be effective in balancing the two:

(1) Exaltation: Keep the gathering component vertically focused. If we're not careful, we make the messages about us, the song lyrics even talk about us, etc... in turn, we end up creating a consumer environment and wonder why people either complain a bunch or end up not feeling "nourished" and wanting more. Followed by leaving. If we encounter the Spirit of God, we will be filled. Some will still leave... but maybe for different reasons.

(2) Nature: Our nature and our culture will automatically lend itself towards the weekend experience. So we don't have to worry about not focusing on it enough... we probably always will. Our worry is focusing on it too much. We have to make decisions WEEKLY in staff meeting to choose missional efforts over attractional efforts. NOT because we don't value the gathering (I actually love it!) but because we naturally lean that way anyway. We have to constantly evaluate how and how much of our resources (money, time, leadership, etc...) we are dedicating to the two. We have to constantly talk with our Missional Community Group Leaders about planning our incarnational and missional focuses on being "among" the people not just inviting people to join us. We have to give them permission, but also communicate priority church-wide. And they feel it.

(3) Priority and Permission: This is just something we've decided to do. Instead of staffing and/or keying in on volunteers for program ministries our key responsibilities are with our missional community groups. Each Pastor or key volunteer's primary responsibility is to shepherd a group of missional groups that are shaped by tribe or sub-culture. Their secondary responsibility is children, operations, youth/college, etc... We have to give permission for this, so our evaluations are shaped with this priority as well. In our staff meetings we spend a majority of our time focusing on people and communities, how are they doing, how can we serve them, how do we equip them for mission, how do we give them the resources they need, how do we increase our influence through the relationships that already exist? This way there is always a massive focus on missional community.

(4) Leverage the Stage: On the weekend, the only elements not focused on weekend Exaltation are focused on weekday Incarnation. Our focus is to take our congregation, and EXPOSE them to the "Crisis" or "need" in our community and world and as sojourners, our "need" to address it. We then help them "EXPERIENCE" it through exhortive promotion and scheduling of our "Serve Austin Sunday" efforts (event) and then offering a way for them to "ENGAGE" through missional community (sustained). Someone who is doing a great job with this funnel strategy is Rick McKinley at Imago Dei in Portland.

(5) Recognize: Our final focus is to recognizing that our individual church culture will certainly evolve as it grows. The needs and strategies on day one will be different from day two. As we grow, there is a massive need for the HOW to change as the WHAT stays the same. We need to be constantly evaluating our What and How. We need to be willing to change (without compromise) as culture changes, both in our own congregation and in our community. Sending is messy. You know what? So is gathering. Neither will be constant. Most of us are willing and trying to shape culture, we must also be willing to respond to shifts in culture instead of ignoring them and being drug along anyway.

Just my two cents. I guess you get what you pay for.

Constants in Church Planting

So many methods, models, and strategies exist in the church planting world today. I think that's a good thing. Intentionality and strategy is certainly a necessary if not a critical element. We have a biblical mandate for order and structure in the church. I embrace the idea of diversity, I believe methodology does not determine theology (i.e. conservative theology does not necessarily translate to hymns and pipe organ) so you can have two guys having the same theology but different methods. I agree that it takes a variety of strategies depending on community and culture to effectively share the Good News. But in a season of such diverse movement, there must be some constants in our strategy. Which leads me to the question: Beyond our Doctrine and Theology, what is it that really matters in church planting? What are the foundational and constant elements for all of us? I think the answer is probably the same for any pastor, established or planting. While there are many things I’m sure… two come to mind today:

Constant #1: “Revelation”. The kind of revelation mentioned in Proverbs that is easily translated vision. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18

While this scripture is specifically talking about the law, it’s still very relevant in understanding God’s leading as it relates to His vision. The problem is that we often think it’s okay to make this about our spin on a general vision for the church instead of God’s specific vision through personal revelation. We motivate our people with a “vision” statement that can easily be created out of our read on what we’re supposed to do, but if we were to evaluate it before God, many times we’d find it came from a head knowledge, a great idea, or something we read in a book more than a direct, no doubt about it, revelation from God.

Constant #2: "Heart". It’s been that way from the beginning, and it's always been more important than ability. Remember the selection of Saul? “An impressive young man without equal among the Israelites – a head taller than any of the others”. God is the consummate teacher. He is always teaching about the priorities, currency and values of His Kingdom. In 1 Samuel, the Israelites want a king so He brings a king that has the values this world reveres. Yet that king turns out to be a curse rather than a blessing to the people. Then God brings Israel a king of His own choosing. Now, rather than looking to the values the world respects, He shows the value that He respects. God was looking for a man after His own heart.

Here are some thoughts from a friend of mine on heart and leadership:

“What does it take to be a leader in the Kingdom? Rather than go to the gym and exercise, rather than soaking up all of the knowledge in the world, rather than being an expert on public policy, rather than burnishing all the skills the world respects…we must work on our heart. We must find the model of heart in God’s Kingdom, study it, search where we fall short and get to work changing our heart. The good news is that God the Father does not keep that model a secret any longer. He sent His Son so that we would know the way. What breaks Jesus’ heart? What does His heart long to see? Let us follow His heart, that is the only way we can become men after God’s owns heart.

In the words of Pema Chodron; When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, cast and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Good to Great

Last fall the Austin New Church team and I spent a few days in Atlanta at Catalyst, a Cultural Leaders conference focusing on the next generation of church leaders. I can't help but post some thoughts from Jim Collins (Author of "Good to Great" and "Built to Last") on Building a Great Church. Here are just a few thoughts from his talk for those of you who couldn't make it.

· Within every organization or company that is great…you will find a culture of discipline.

· Most overnight successes are really about twenty years in the making.

· It took 7 years for Sam Walton to open his 2nd store. It took Starbucks 13 years before they had 5 stores.

· How do the great typically fall? It’s not through complacency. It is typically over-reaching that derails great organizations. Going too far, too fast.

· A great organization is more likely to die of indigestion of too many opportunities rather than starvation of not enough opportunities.

· #1 sign of over-reaching and the start of decline: When you grow beyond your ability to have the right people in the right seats on the bus.

· It is the undisciplined pursuit of more that will kill an organization.

· We need to spend more time on who and less on what. If you have the right who, they will figure out the right what.

· The people who do well in difficult, unpredictable situations are never any better at predicting the future than anyone else.

· We are in turbulent times. The years 1945-2000 were an anomaly. The convergence of stability and prosperity. It is unlikely we’ll see this again in our lifetimes.

· The greatest CEO’s from the greatest companies in history had one distinctive characteristic that separate them from other leaders. The trait is HUMILITY. Humility is the key to level 5 leadership.

· If it is about you…you will not build something great. And only you know if you are all about you.

· If you make your church dependent on your powerful personality…you are being irresponsible.

· It may take 30 years to build a reputation. It only takes 30 seconds to destroy it.

· Every generation needs to determine their own practices to passionately adhere to the values that cross through all generations.

· Everyone on your team should be able to articulate their responsibility and not just their title.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dangerous Churches

Today at Innovation3 in Dallas, Ed Stetzer spoke about the "Dangerous Churches" of the future. He meant "Dangerous" as a good thing. Kind of in the same way Seth Godin used "heretic" in a good way in his recent book, Tribes. Rumor is that he'll be posting his entire outline later on his website. But in the meantime, here are a couple thoughts I caught off the live feed and tweets.
1) "Dangerous" churches will learn to network together"

2) More ministry based evangelism will define the dangerous church.

3) A Dangerous church has worked through denominational catharsis, found networking strategies & implemented new innovation.

4) Networking doesn't equal cloning if churches want to have impact.

Any additional quotes or thoughts?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

And We're Baaaaaaack...

I took a break from blogging on Faith Parley for a while. It was a personal thing really as I wanted to take time to reevaluate the direction it was heading and the role it should play in my various network circles. While I saved all the entries, the mistake I made was in not archiving the responses. My bad. I should have just stopped writing instead of deleting the blog. Lesson learned.

To all of you who have contributed in the past, thanks for your insight, questions, debate, heart, and practical suggestions. I look forward to having much more dialogue in the future. I hope to repost some of our most involved discussions as we go along.