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Over the past weeks I have been busy with travel, meetings, and a writing project. I am expecting news to be available on the writing project soon, but it is under wraps for now. I can share that my writing has involved a good amount of research which has turned up all kinds of interesting things as usual. One of those, I wanted to go ahead and pass along. It is a video of Caesar Kalinowski, one of the planters and elders of Soma Communities. He has spent time learning from missionaries about the process of storying with pre-literates and now is advocating use of story with post-literates.

Storying has potential application in urban centers among nationals and what some may consider an emerging people group of transnationals–people that are more at home in international cities than they would be in smaller towns or villages among people that share a language and cultural background. I have used elements of storying with post-literates among multiple cultures and feel like this deserves more trial both in the U.S. and among the nations.

Ceasar Kalinowski – Story of God from Verge Network on Vimeo.

Categories : trends, video
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toward building programs (3 of 4)

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For regular readers of this blog, this post may initially sound a bit off-kilter for me. However, I believe it is time for churches to seriously consider the need for undertaking a new building project. Right now. No, I am not proposing the next $130 million dollar project. But I am proposing something that should be promoted and celebrated with the intensity that some would allocate to constructing a state-of-the-art worship center celebrating the majesty of God. This humble project should be fast-tracked. Regardless of a church’s financial condition, a capital campaign for this undertaking will likely be met with enthusiasm from those that are passionate about putting the words of Christ into practice. The church would do well to consider ways to put in gardens and greenhouses on church property and empty lots throughout the community.

During a time of rapid growth in unemployment, with food stamp usage nearing an all-time high, and even signs of escalating suicide rates because of financial stress, the church needs to be active in feeding the hungry. To provide ways to deal with one of the most basic needs of life for those struggling financially the church can equip and enable them to plant, cultivate, and harvest produce. In addition to providing much needed food, the process gives a sense of self-worth while providing multiple metaphors and object lessons of God making us into a new creation. Depending on geographic location, greenhouses may be beneficial to allow year-round produce to be harvested.

Called to seek the lost, the church will do well to make the garden visible to the community. It is possible that the garden and/or greenhouse function as a sign of service to the community. This sign could replace the symbol of the steeple for the church signifying that this is where a group of people that love and minister to their community for the glory of God in obedience to Him may be found worshipping and working. It may serve as a new symbol of trust, hope, and safety for the community.

To take this into the community more, creating multiple gardens throughout the community may serve as points of engagement with the lost and hurting. Use of empty lots as a way of beautifying the city while meeting needs for the surrounding neighbors through their labor and collective work will allow people to begin a process of discipleship and journeying toward Christ long before they have made Him their Lord.

It is time for the church to rethink the old food pantry and to look for creative ways to meet needs and share the love of God through being the incarnation of Christ as we live and work and relate to those that are lost. Additionally, considering other alternatives that maximize resources such as Angel Food Ministries will be a blessing to those in need.

Continuing with this series that began with stating the obvious and pursuing prioritization, the next post will address the need for pursuing mass conversion….

Categories : church, trends
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Current Lessons from a Historic Church

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This week I had the privilege of participating in some interviews (behind the camera of course) offering me the opportunity to hear some good perspectives. One of these key interviews was with Ed Stetzer and Greg and Ruth Haslam of Westminster Chapel. Ed posted a piece with the video and helpful insight on “Involving all of God’s people on all of God’s mission.”

Here is some additional background information that may provide more scope and meaning for the video.

Westminster Chapel was planted in the early 1840’s. Some 25 years later, the church moved to its current location which had a large amount of poor people in the area. Some years after the church’s relocation, the word “slum” was introduced to the English language. This word was used for this area of London at that time. It had been for this very reason that the church had moved into this area according to the pastor’s wife, Ruth Haslam. Since that time the community has gone through a gentrification process.

There is a history of great preachers that led the church throughout its many years. These men include: Rev. Samuel Martin; Dr. G. Campbell Morgan; Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones; and Dr. RT Kendall. In our modern day it is more difficult to encourage and observe obedience with only a preaching point as the means for discipleship. Though not captured on the above video, Pastor Greg shared that the transition he is leading to establish community groups is necessary as church participants need to be participatory in becoming more obedient to the Savior and His mission.

Categories : discipleship, story
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The volume of silence

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It has happened before. Recently, I am aware of situations where it has happened again. What if a leader was suddenly, unexpectedly unable to talk for an extended period of time? What if the best (and worst) sermons a pastor could give were already taught? What if a teacher’s audible lessons in discipleship were already taught? What would it look like now? How would the disciple(s) do?

I have seen and experienced situations where those who were making disciples relocated in places far from the disciples they were training. Perhaps we thought they were ready. Maybe not. It is beyond us…still at times it hurts.

This weekend I had the privilege of meeting Brother Sam in person. We didn’t talk much because he was unable. Due to significant pain in his mouth of late, he visited the doctor and learned that he has oral cancer. More tests and treatment are soon to come. My prayers go out to him, his family, and his church. I look forward to having opportunities to sit and talk with him in the future. Through being with him and praying for him at this time, however, I have been prompted to ask many questions.

What if I lived my life with the expectation that I would soon be mute and no longer able to teach or disciple those walking with me? What would I do differently? What if, as one who makes disciples, I was suddenly unable to speak? What would I do to help advance others in walking more as He did? What if all the lessons I could ever teach were by example? How much would I pray? How much would I serve? How much would I think of others as better than myself? What changes would that make in how I view church?

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Key Findings in Trust Research

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Key findings of original research made available on the resources page of this site this week sheds light on some key findings about trust levels and discrepancies between these levels for the person on the street and the person in a Baptist church in Moscow, Russia. This research dealt with five key areas: 1) business; 2) government; 3) non-profit organizations (NGOs); 4) religion; and 5) media. Some of these findings include:

on business – “Moscow Baptists are significantly less trustful of business in general than are their secular counterparts, especially foreign companies (by an astounding 29%).” As a result, one analyst concluded that, the cultures of the Muscovite man on the street versus the person in a Protestant church, “do not have much overlap.” The analyst continues to state, and the church “just [doesn’t] get it” and, as a result, church-goers “appear, in the eyes of the lost, to have very little that is relevant to offer.”

on government – “Baptists seem wary of outside influence, showing less trust for the UN than the average Russian.”

on non-profit organizations – Russians have more trust in business than in non-profit organizations that are politically funded–whether the funding came from within or outside of Russia.

on non-profit organizations – “While in all other categories Baptists are distrustful of foreigners, they have scored foreign NGOs with the highest marks of the entire survey. Being believers, Baptists likely have less of a problem understanding an organization seeking to do something good for humanity without alterior motives…. Potentially, this could be an area where the Baptists could demonstrate their trustworthiness to the secular population. They could show a real sense of relevance and true community involvement by participating strongly and intentionally in this area.”

on religion – The man on the street in Moscow does not distinguish between Mormon or Baptists as he or she equally distrusts both (some 3%). They do have a 5-fold higher trust of Muslims. Yet the official religion, Orthodoxy, is viewed as being 20 times more trustworthy than religion under the names of Baptist or Mormon. For a religion that is practiced by some 2% of the population to be quantified as 20 times more trustworthy than another religion gives insight into the dearth of trust in general and in religion specifically by the average person in Moscow.

on media – Both the person on the street and the person in the trust distrust most forms of media. The man on the street prefers Russian magazines and international news while the person in the church prefers Russian newspapers and radio.

conclusions – “It’s clear that to garner the trust of Russians, the motives for your actions must be up-front and obvious. It seems that even self-serving or immoral motives are better than hidden ones. The particular history of the Russian people has apparently made them highly suspicious and careful in what they place their trust. They no longer want to have things controlled for them, and want to make up their own minds and form their own opinions.”

conclusions – “It’s pretty clear that Russian Baptists have a culture in their faith and in their churches that dramatically sets them apart from secular Russians on many levels. They are less open to new trends, less involved in change, more disposed to trust the government (at least locally), and less accepting of outside influences. While this traditional approach has its virtues, it will continue to alienate them from their neighbors as time goes on, and make them increasingly irrelevant in their communities. They must look for points of commonality to avoid this fate at all costs. Relevance often breeds trust, and without it, they will continue to score 3% among Russians in general. If 97% of the population finds you unworthy of their faith, then it’s time to take a hard look at changing something. Moscow will never be won by people who are disconnected from its society.”

Categories : trends
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G2g: Event-oriented

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Key principle #6 for moving discipleship from great to good: When considering evangelism, go big or go home.

A disciple communicates the hope he or she has in Christ to those who are without. In the realm of good discipleship, efforts to share the gospel often center around big events that attract the community to a church or group-hosted event. These events, designed for creating an opportunity to make a gospel presentation, take many forms. These include, but are not limited to: concerts, carnivals, circuses, living nativities, block parties, etc. These good events serve as spots in time that allow for a precision sharing of the plan of salvation. Ongoing opportunities to share the love of Christ and live transformed lives may happen in subsequent big events.

The writers of the gospels did not record any big-event evangelism in the gospels. While there were some gatherings of large crowds, these were not used as opportunities to share the 3 key steps to accepting Christ or the 4 spiritual laws. Instead, Jesus shared about his audience’s incorrect understanding of the law as well as the practical ramifications of a life placed in His trust during the Sermon on the Mount. Other key events included the trial of Jesus. He was silent. A third big event was His crucifixion. His words were few.

In the realm of great discipleship, we see Jesus interacting personally with a Samaritan woman at a well; in the cover of night with Nicodemus; meeting often with his disciples; visiting at someone else’s home along with his disciples or in the midst of a social gathering; and being a visitor at another’s home during a time of grief. In many of these cases, these were the beginning or continuation of an ongoing relationship.

Go BIG or go home
In what is usually referred to as the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19-20 is Christ’s charge to His followers. Translated usually as “Go…make disciples,” I wonder if this promotes a big event, big production mentality. A command that often is viewed as being of primary importance–Go! What does it look like if we follow a closer translation? If we seek to “As [we] go, make disciples.” It is a process that is lived throughout the duration of our lives. It is daily. Constant. Ongoing. It is relationships. And context. Perhaps instead of “go big or go home,” our thinking should mirror the Energizer bunny. We are to “keep going, and going, and going….”

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

Categories : Bible, discipleship
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Velocity Quotes

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Here are a few quotes from presenters today at the churchplanters.com Velocity conference.

  1. “We have to assume now that all mission is cross-cultural.”  ~ Alan H
  2. “It’s not that the church has a mission, but the mission has a church.”  ~ Alan Hirsch
  3. (Speaking about planting churches,) “I’m not even sure what we are trying to do the world wants.”  ~ Shawn Lovejoy
  4. “If you do church to reach church, then you’ll reach somebody else’s Christians.”  ~ Hugh Halter
  5. “The [Christian story] is a peasant’s movement.”  ~ Hugh Halter
  6. “…community has to be the witness now.”  ~ Hugh Halter
  7. “You cannot sell a Christendom approach to a post-Christian world. They are anti-Christian.”  ~ Alan Hirsch
  8. “Go among the people. Don’t assume you know what church looks like.”  ~ Alan Hirsch
  9. “You plant the gospel. You don’t plant churches.”  ~ Alan Hirsch
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G2g: Environment

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Key principle #5 for moving discipleship from great to good: Teach and practice discipleship in a safe, sterile environment to avoid dangerous encounters and messy situations.

One great bonus to being a follower of Christ is that transformation occurs. This is true not only in a person’s life, but also in a community. Missionaries share that when an entire village comes to Christ that the village is visibly transformed in terms of sanitation, meeting each others needs, etc. To take this reality and limit discipleship to the realm of good, then it will be important to ensure that discipleship happens in communities and with peoples that have already been transformed. Doing this will put disciples of Christ in situations where they can interact with those that are followers of Christ or followers of a moral code that mimics some of the changes of a transformed life. As a result, disciples pursuing good are safer and able to avoid some difficult, uncomfortable, or morally challenging situations.

Hermetic environments can include doing all discipleship inside the church, in homes of upper-middle class believers, inside conference settings, in cultural contexts that are familiar, etc. Additionally, for further good, extensive opportunities to disciple or be discipled in a safe context, believers can consider massing as residents in select neighborhoods. These could, once again, be in higher income areas or even gated communities. Also, this congregating of disciples can occur in a select country or countries.

Jesus walked. He moved. He got dust on His feet. The same dust that stuck to His feet also stuck to the disciples’ feet. Making a strong point, Jesus washed the dust off the disciples’ feet. He walked on the streets in the cities and into the homes of sinners and tax collectors. He walked through other towns that were not places that were normal for a Jew to walk. Places that may not have been safe. Walking with His Father and walking with others, he did not pursue safety. Interacting with the sick, morally depraved, and diseased, He was Truth and Love to a people that had not encountered Him before.

At the end of John’s gospel, we read of a setting when Jesus meets with His disciples while there appear to have been fish flopping on the ground. What an environment for teaching. This was a call to Peter and to the disciples to make a decision if they wanted to pursue a life of fishing for fish or for men. Either course would involve some real settings with real people. One pursuit would matter forever, while the other would matter for a few hours. After this, they understood that this was not a call to either equality or comfort. But it was a great call–the only worthwhile thing they could pursue.

both / and
I find that evangelicals have historically been very in favor of a Jesus who saves. But He said, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.”  His life is emblematic of seeking the lost. He was also about saving the lost that He encountered. This is a both/and construct that He is passionate about. In the Great Commission recorded in Matthew He really calls us to “make disciples” “as we go.” According to his instruction and example, the going is a large part of the discipleship process. As a result, the environment in which discipleship occurs is constantly changing.

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

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From time to time I will be posting some things I have heard or read from U.S. church and those related to it that may be worth a rethink. What are your thoughts?

Billboard ad for a church:
“Unlike any other church you have ever seen.”

Mega church pastor:
“Pray and ask God to do big things this weekend.”

Heard from multiple pastors:
It’s not the pastor’s job to win the lost. His role is to equip the believers.

“I don’t do lost people.”

(This is the second post of this type. See “Say what?” for more.)

Categories : church, communication
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G2g: Disassociate

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Key principle #2 for moving discipleship from great to good: Disassociate the spiritual from everyday life.

G2gTo limit discipleship to the realm of the good, it is helpful to compartmentalize things that are holy or sacred as distinct from other common or secular things. The good allows for reduction of spiritual things to the eternal condition of souls and the church as well as the nature and worship of God. There is upside to this minimalization. The limited range of topics allows one to delve deeper into the cognitive learning as the focus reduces the scope of areas to address. Additionally, with emphasis on a narrow definition of that which is sacred, requirements for disciples and those that would make disciples are minimized. For example, how one conducts business, interactions with neighbors, and family relations will not need to be under scrutiny except for when it involves eternal soul issues. Ultimately, the categorization of sacred vs. secular allows those who are righteous to disassociate from those that are unrighteous in most areas. Ongoing, interactive relationships are not important except for the moments where the gospel is being proclaimed when seeking to make disciples in a way that is good.

Throughout His life, Jesus did so much to blur the lines of the sacred and the secular for the purpose of showing the mercy, grace, and glory of God. He did most of the teaching we read about in the gospels outside of the temple. He allowed a woman to anoint His feet with oil using her hair while reclining in the home of Lazarus. Interacting with the immoral Samaritan woman, He once again confounded the categories that religious leaders had established and maintained. Obeying His mother’s instructions, he changed water into wine in the stone jars that were reserved only for ceremonial washing. Also, he ate in the homes of sinners and tax collectors on more than one occasion.

Jesus was not simply content to come and be in the presence of the lost, but He made it His purpose. He shared that He came “to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” as well as “to seek and to save that which was lost.” His stories revolve around the lost coin, sheep and son. He told of the wealthy father that ran to embrace His filthy, stinky son who had squandered his wealth living as a hedonist. He provided examples and a lifestyle that belong only in the realm of the great.

In his awared-winning book Seeing God in the Ordinary, Michael Frost writes:

The truly converted souls know that gratitude is the stuff of life. Our eyes are wide open because we’ve learned to see God’s goodness in the most mundane things. We see God’s grace revealed in movies, books, stories, good food and drink, sport and hobbies, cooking, small talk, raising kids, shared laughter, and strong coffee. And for this we are eternally grateful. Such gratitude sets us free from using others as objects. It liberates us from codependent, needy relationships.

(In the excerpts from my non-book, Great to Good (G2g), truth or satire may be employed. At times, the two may even meet.)

Categories : church, discipleship
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