Category Archives: Change Is In the Wind

18 Days

18 days have passed since I left home for India. A lot has happened. I’ve seen so many things, been confronted with endless needs, and am positioned to step into some amazing opportunities for Kingdom impact.

One of the reasons for my trip to India at this time is that it provides what is desperately needed for missions in a new era. Fading away are the days when an agency picks a field (or chooses it because someone wants to go there) and churches eagerly support it. The paradigm of primarily sending long-term full-time missionaries to a people group or region is a motif of days past. Because many churches want missions to be personal, hands-on, and often times self-led, completely new initiatives for missions must be considered. There is a startling amount of mission work still to do, we just need to approach it differently in today’s changing times.

Consider a few reasons that a mission agency like Converge Worldwide must still be relevant in our current shifting context:

  • The world is flat. 20 years ago, if a church wanted to engage in missions, they needed an agency. Not so today. A pastor simply needs to get on the internet and identify needs, opportunities and partners to do missions with–an he can do this in less than 10 minutes! I know of one church that did exactly this, found a church in Kenya with its same name, contacted the pastor through email, and for several years now has had wonderful ministry through this connection. If an agency hasn’t found their nitch or “add-value”, it will quickly disappear.
  • A little information can be dangerous. Many churches are giddy about what they’re doing in missions, but it’s too often creating more damage than good. While working in India, I was confronted numerous times by pastors telling me how detrimental one well-know mission agency is in Asia. Though respected in the United States because of its excellent marketing, it is creating havoc in countries where income is low. Very few of these chuches are evangelistic in nature, but instead draw 75% of their people from good Bible-teaching self-supporting indigenous churches. People are drawn away because they go where the money is–American money. And I hear of great churches and wonderful people all the time (many of them from Converge Worldwide) who are givingt to this organization and feel really good about it. This, of course, is only one example of how a little knowlege can be dangeous.  Somehow, mission organizations need to inform and guide churches into strategic and wise mission engagement.
  • Many churches like to go solo. Yes, it’s easier, but it’s not better to go solo. Larger churches easily fall into this “trap.” With substantial resources, mavericks in leadership,  and people resources to do great things, it’s common to overlook an important body-life principle — we’re better, stronger, and more effective working together. If churches passionate for a mission field or project could engage other churches effectively,  everyone wins. More needs are met, checks and balances between churches and leaders are present, and the blessing of unity is unleashed in the church. Especially as a denominational entity, we can help form collaborative partnerships to see great ministry get done in new places. So far, in Converge, we’ve been calling this “church-driven missions.”
  • Nationals do it best. At least if you have godly and God-ordained leaders in the countries where ministry needs to get done. If we can identify the “champions” and construct wise methods of partnership and engagement, the probability of getting good, fast, and culturally effective ministry done with exemplary stewardship of resources is very good. We have an amazing scenario coming together like this in India which contains one seventh of the world’s population and still around 3000 under-reached people groups.

This, of course, is just a simplified synopsis of the changing face of missions today. There is so much more. However, my commitment as a leader of missions and missionaries is that we see all of these realities with fresh eyes–most importantly, with God’s eyes. If we don’t strive for effective ministry in our current reality, we will be quickly discarded on the waste-heap of unresponsiveness. That wouldn’t do anyone any good. Most of all, it would dishonor our God who has such a passion for our lost world.

That’s why 18 days in India. I hope it produces 18 years of relevance for the Kingdom.

 

A New Season

So this is it…the official beginning of another season of progress. (That means any time that isn’t summer.) The first Tuesday after Labor Day is when everything starts up again…school, regular routines, the church year, and a fresh approach to life (get it done…now!) I’m excited about what’s coming ahead at Edinbrook in the weeks ahead:

  • A new three-week Sunday morning teaching series called “The Greatest Loser: What We Need to Lose in order to Win!”
  • A well designed multifaceted outreach event on September 25 and 26 called “The Greatest Loser”. Sean Algiers from the TV show The Biggest Loser will be with us.
  • Dr. Oliver Blosser will be teaching on the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for believers. He will be doing that on Sunday mornings September 12, 19 and 26. We’ll then have a “field trip” to the Science Museum in St. Paul to check them out in person!
  • Morph begins the week of October 3! Sign up for a Growth Group in September! This will be life-changing.
  • The youth have their first Wednesday night worship, outreach, and teaching in their new space in the upper level. Cool! I know I’m going to be there tomorrow to experience that holy energy!

God is up to something. I’m excited about what He is doing, the lives that will impacted, and the opportunties we have to build the Kingdom of God.

Enter!

“We often settle for familiar bondage rather than unfamiliar freedom.”

I’ve scribbled these words in the margin of my Bible near Numbers 14:1-4. This is the story of the Israelites processing the report of the twelve spies sent to scout out the land of Canaan. Two came back encouraged, with great faith in God’s ability to overcome the challenges in order to provide the Promised Land that He had promised. Ten, however, spread a negative report and turned the people into unfaithful cowards.

1 Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. 2 Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. 34 Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!” “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?”

When I read this, I’m stunned. Can you believe how foolish they could be? They wanted to go back to the slavery they knew rather than trust God for His promises of a grand future!

I have seen this dynamic at work so often in churches, too. God has a great plan, but a risky one. It may be unfamiliar, it may be new, it may be risky, it might be scary, but God is in it. Dissenting voices, however, can turn a congregation sour. Suddenly, moved by cowardly fear rather than risk-taking faith, they turn away from a great life-giving opportunity. The result is ALWAYS similar to what happened in Numbers 14 when Moses clarified their situation to the people in verse 42: “You will only be crushed by your enemies because the LORD is not with you.”

Many churches have continued on for a long time even though God is not with them.

I am so grateful for a congregation at Edinbrook that takes risks, seeks God-opportunities, steps into unfamiliar terrain, and pushes forward with authentic faith. In these types of endeavors, God provides life! We’re in one of those seasons right now.

Thank you, Edinbrook, for being Calebs and Joshuas rather than those ten negites that God could not bless. God is leading us into some life-giving terrain. I can’t wait to see what great harvest awaits our steps of faith!

Love Is the Measure

Bible teaching churches have traditionally assessed spiritual health by how well your devotional life is going, how much you’ve been learning, and how few pet sins you’ve been committing. Pretty shallow.

The bible actually teaches something very different. The Pharisaical system above, or any other version like it, actually categorizes our life and puts spirituality in a box. Jesus made this very clear to the religious leaders of His day too, when He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence,” Matthew 25:23. Jesus is terribly disappointed with people easily measuring spirituality with their man-made measures, and in the process, overlooking what’s actually coming out of your life.

The great apostle Paul writes to young maturing Timothy about what really matters…

“The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith,” 1Timothy 1:5

By the way, on both sides of this verse are warnings against buying in to the cognitive and knowledge-based system of spiritual maturity so many were espousing. It’s the love that matters! It’s the way we live out our lives that matter most.

The questions I always keep asking myself is this:

  • What difference is this making?
  • How is this helping me fulfill the greatest commandment to love God and love people?
  • Is this helping me engage in the great commission?
  • Who’s life is being affected by mine because of this spiritual discipline?

I’m concerned that for way too long, churches have done what’s expected rather than what’s effective. We have programs that pacify people and keep them happy, but fail to powerfully transform lives. Where’s the fruit?

A healthy church should be a growing church. Yes — numerically. We’ve poo-pooed the numbers game for way too long. I think partly because it’s so definitive! We can’t explain lagging numbers away for too long. On the other hand, we can point to spiritual growth, at least our definition of it, and be quite safe. This is something we’ve learned to do quite well. Besides, it’s not quite as measurable. We can fudge the results fairly well and keep ourselves feeling pretty good.

A healthy church is a growing church. Just look in the book of Acts…

John Ortberg writes in his brand new book, The Me I want to Be, “I want to love God and the world He made. I want to do my part to help it flourish, for my spiritual maturity is not measured by following rules. ‘The me I want to be’ is measured by my capacity to love. When we live in love, we flourish.”

Our new paradigm of spiritual maturity will follow this track much better than anything we’ve ever done. Help us, Lord, to love you authentically and love people completely.

Rhythms

God loves rhythms. He invented them! When God created the heavens and the earth, He also created rhythms…He worked six days and rested the seventh. He also made the seasons, which bring newness and freshness to life in regular repeating patterns. God is so passionate about us observing the sabbath rest that He made it one of the ten commandments and re-emphasized it’s importance in the New Testament by stating that it was made for our benefit. Every seventh year, the ground of farmers was to remain barren…it was a year of rest. The year of Jubilee in the Old Testament was God’s way of providing a new beginning every 50 years.

We are made to live in rhythms too. In fact, we most naturally grow spiritually in rhythms and spurts. If you reflect on your life, I’m guessing you can identify a few seasons in your life when you really felt yourself maturing, changing, and being transformed. We grow in spurts.

One of our Edinbrook Board members recently talked about the Old Testament battles. The people would go out to fight, then retreat for refocusing and getting re-energized for the next surge into enemy territory.

We will be taking regular breaks from the Growth Groups. Rhythms are a very important part of our proposed model for spiritual growth at Edinbrook. We will surge into “enemy territory” for a time (take back in our lives what Satan has taken from us) and then retreat to get re-energized and refocused for the next surge into “enemy territory”.

We American Christians often underestimate the value of rest. We’ve somehow gotten the idea that an unrelenting press is more spiritual than something that appears less. Sometimes less is more! Jesus retreated on a regular basis to refocus and re-energize. We plan to incorporate these healthy rhythms into our new paradigm for spiritual growth at Edinbrook.

I’m convinced we’ll be pleasantly surprised at what great things God will do when we step into His patterns for spiritual transformation in our lives.

New Ways to Grow

I was just sharing this new growth groups paradigm of ministry with someone today that I really respect. This person is godly, mature, and passionate about building the kingdom. One of the things we talked about is how everyone develops spiritually in their own way. We are not meant to be cookie-cutter Christians. After the conversation, the person stated, “Yes–we all learn in different ways.”

This person didn’t even realize they had done it, but they revealed a such a deeply held understanding of spiritual maturity that, even though they agree 100% with the new directions we’re going, they still spoke in their old language. “We all learn…” The statement was directed towards a cognitive model of spiritual maturity, not a more wholistic model.

I hear it all the time. For instance, when we come home from a retreat or mission trip, the first question is usually, “What did you learn?” We have been so carefully shaped to coincide maturity with knowledge that we usually stop right there. Unfortunately, we then miss out on so many other ways we could and should be maturing in our faith.

So–our plan for engaging Edinbrook people in a spiritual growth plan for their lives is taking shape. It will be Growth Group based with three sessions per year, divided up with five to seven week breaks in between.

The “off-times” get me really excited. They are “off-times” from the Growth Groups, but may actually be some of the most stretching times for spiritual growth in the whole plan! We will be encouraging everyone to intentionally set a few simple goals during these break cycles. Do some things that are highly beneficial, will grow the Kingdom, and challenge your faith.

Here are a few examples of things that could be done in place of the evening or time you have had your recent growth group:

  • Invite a neighbor over for dinner, desert, and a casual evening just to connect with them
  • Spend a night doing something unique and special as a family that you have never done before
  • Go serve in the community in some way that benefits others
  • Take that evening, for a few weeks, to dig deeper into a particular passage of the Bible that you’re interested in understanding better
  • Gather a few new friends together, maybe from your last growth group, and just have a bunch of fun
  • Write letters of appreciation to a few people who deserve it

I hope you get the idea. Every one of these activities, and many more, will touch your life in a way that is different from the Growth Group experience. Maybe not better, just different. And who knows — maybe better too!

I get excited about the “off times” because we will have opportunities to grow in ways and through experiences that we often do not engage in. When we move into these seasons as a church, we will be reminding you of the great opportunities you have to grow spiritually in some new and fresh ways. All you need to do is take the initiative and be intentional.

I can’t wait!!!

The Plan

We plan to see Edinbrook move from being a church with small groups to being a church of small groups. We are planning to call these Growth Groups, most likely, but these would be the primary means by which all Edinbrook people could step into a spiritual growth plan for themselves. There would be Growth Groups of all different styles and emphasis. There would be something for everyone!

These groups will be short-term (10-12 weeks) with a break period in between. During that “off-time”, there will be new sign-ups and we do it all again. Etc., etc. etc… Three of these sessions would happen every year.

There are many great reasons to do this, so let me mention a few:

  • There will be regular opportunities for uninvolved people to step into a spiritual growth plan for their lives
  • Many people are willing to participate in a group experience if they know it has an end-date. It’s more inviting…less intimidating.
  • People can choose what they really need each time
  • Individuals will meet a variety of others during each session, giving opportunities for new and meaningful friendships to develop
  • There will be a clear, easy process for people to get involved. Presently, it is VERY complicated and totally intimidating.

I am pumped about the great potential in this new paradigm we’re moving towards. We’re looking at a fall 2010 Kick-off date. Pray, pray, pray…

Tomorrow I’ll blog about the “off-times” from the groups. I get as excited about that as anything in this whole plan!

Being Biblical

How do we grow spiritually?

We are each hard-wired to grow best on our most natural spiritual pathway. This could be celebrative worship, spending time in nature, engaging in quietness and contemplation, helping others, or involving yourself in social action activities. There is a plethora of ways that we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The main thing is that we never stop growing and maturing.

Here’s one fallacy I have seen that is rampant in Bible-teaching churches. We tend to think that the main way to grow is to acquire more information. More classes, ingesting masses of information, getting new insights into old passages — these are the things that will really make us grow. It’s really a fallacy.

Scripture reminds of this in a number of ways…

A careful study of the New Testament does not devalue knowledge, but actually clarifies the place it fits, the function it fulfills, and the kind of knowledge that is required. For instance, Colossians 2:2:

“…that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself.”

This verse helps us to see that love (relationships with one another) is paramount, all in the context of understanding and a “true knowledge” of God. This true knowledge, as described in scripture, is not primarily found through an intellectual pursuit, but by experiences that sink information into your soul. It is the Greek word epignosko – a deep experiential knowledge. It comes through action, assimilation of information, and results in conviction and changes in your life-style.

So here’s the deal — there are so many ways to grow spiritually, but we must be careful to not get stuck in our particular rut. We must each be challenged to “run on a different track” from time to time. If we don’t, we find ourselves doing the same things over and over, feeling pretty good about it, but missing a whole world of growth, understanding, and opportunity that God is waiting to show us. We must make the move into some other forms and disciplines of spiritual growth.

Recent research has shown that once a Christ-follower reaches a certain level of spiritual maturity, the classroom does very little to stimulate greater growth. Serving, new experiences, giving of your life and experiences away to others — these are the things that push us to greater maturity. As Hebrews 6:11-12 reminds us, the interactions and relationships with others is what will keep us on the road to spiritual maturity:

“Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent.”

And so — our new model of spiritual growth for Edinbrook people is one that involves a number of disciplines — relationship building, gathering AND assimilating biblical information, applying that information in relevant and Kingdom building endeavors, and sharing our lives with one another.

It sounds pretty biblical to me…

Bold Action Required

I’m excited about some new directions we’re pursuing at Edinbrook Church! I know — I know…change is not always an exciting endeavor. Most of the time, we would rather “stay put” and live with what we’ve got. People will usually live with a certain future of failure than an uncertain future of success. That’s why churches die — they would rather fade away than make necessary and uncomfortable changes that would bring success. After all, success is scary too!

This gospel we’ve been given is a precious treasure. It is never to be taken lightly or handled casually. It has the power to transform lives, communities, and nations. We have been entrusted with this treasure with the command to “go and make disciples”. We often misunderstand this disciple-making process. I have heard so many times that “we want to make disciples rather than be so outreach oriented.”

Guess what? The first step in disciple-making is evangelism! You cannot have a disciple if you do not have a convert. In fact, a careful study of the New Testament reveals that there is no distinction of terms between a brand new convert and a seasoned mature believer. The bible calls them both disciples.

Of course, we want to help Edinbrook people grow up into fully devoted followers of Jesus. We need to do a better job at helping that to happen. Right now, only about 30% of our adult congregation is involved in some sort of spiritual growth plan beyond the Sunday morning worship experience. This is not good. As we have grown, changed, and have welcomed people into our church from all sorts of backgrounds, traditions, and experiences, we have also found that our familiar ways of helping people grow spiritually are missing the mark these days.

Right now, we have:

  • A system that primarily appeals to those from a traditional evangelical background
  • Very few intriguing opportunities for new people to “jump in” to what we’re offering
  • A cognitive orientation of discipleship that lacks accountability and assimilation of information
  • A chaotic process for getting people involved in a spiritual growth plan
  • 70% of Edinbrook people who are missing out on an effective engaging stimulus to their spiritual development

We must do better. Tweaking what we have will not be enough. The gospel is too important — the great commission too urgent to do little. We must take a bold step forward in helping every person in our charge become a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.