Monday, December 10, 2007

Permission Granted!

This fall my wife Carol has been looking after two young daughters of a friend, when they get out of school. Once a week she takes them for a particular appointment and the other week she decided to take her knitting with her. Another woman, also waiting for her child commented upon this and lo and behold the next week she also brought her knitting. It was as if Carol's actions had given her permission to do something she wasn't sure was appropriate.

Reflecting upon this, my thoughts (as they often do) turned to the kingdom of God and the nature of discipleship and ministry. For too long of its history, the institution of church has restricted the work of ministry to the few, specifically the clergy. As if it was too dangerous a thing to equip and release so-called uneducated or untrained people (also known as the laity). Even the Reformation did not lead to significant change in this mindset and/or practice, in spite of a re-appreciation of the priesthood of all believers. However, God cannot be contained and his purposes will always prevail.

One of our values at BridgePoint is that everyone baptized into Christ is a minister. Our authority to do so comes not from human structures (such as bishops), but from our relationship with our heavenly Father. This was also the source of Jesus' authority. The power and ability to serve comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, the very life of God that enables us to do all things (to which God has called us). The place where we do ministry (service) is wherever we find ourselves ... as John Wesley said, 'the world is my parish'. He was seeking to break free from rules of men in the tradition parish system, where a bishop decided who could minister where. But Jesus sends us all out into all the world ... (see Matt 28:18-20).

However, there appears to be a hurdle that is sometimes too high or too imposing for people, and I think it is in the area of permission giving. Because we have lived with man-made restrictions for so long, they have become ingrained in our thinking - a stronghold. This needs to be broken down by truth and prayer, the real weapons of our warfare. But I also believe that a key to this is the role of spiritual fathers and mothers, or perhaps 'mentors'. A younger generation (and not a few older folks also) are looking for spiritual parents - people who will release in them the permission that God has already granted but which needs to be encouraged through loving, committed relationship.

I believe that Jesus' invitation to a mixed group of people into such a relationship, one in which they became his friends (more in the manner of David and Jonathan than Ross and Rachel!) Today, people need more than just theology expounded, they also need loving mentors who will model a way of life, but more importantly impart that lifestyle through their teaching, example and encouragement. But the basis of this is loving commitment (covenant friendship), just as the family was instituted by God on the same basis as a means of raising godly, kingdom-centered children.

Permission has been granted, go and do likewise. If you're looking for a mentor in your life, I encourage you to pray about this and then ask someone you look up to and respect. Take the risk.

I would love to hear your thoughts ....

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Lord ... more!

A good friend of mine from theological college in Bristol, UK eventually got around to publishing his first book a couple of years ago. I only recently got my hands on a copy when friends from England visited us back in August. The book is entitled "More .. How you can have more of the Spirit when you already have everything in Christ". It touched a deep longing within me for more of God in my life and in our community. It also challenged me to consider afresh what the Lord is looking for in my heart and life.

Recently I have spoken with one or two people within BridgePoint and it has excited to hear of a growing desire in them for a deeper experience of God in their lives. I sense this is something that the Lord is working in us and wonder if the testimony of others is a similar hunger. This real desire has led at least a couple of us to commit to look for opportunity to get together each week to encourage one another and to pray specifically that the Lord would pour out his blessings but that also the reality of the Spirit within 'me', would be a greater force, a wider, deeper river, whatever the metaphor we prefer.

This coming weekend I will be teaching and preaching at a Church of Christ church in Grand Prairie, near Dallas. They have invited me to speak at their Alpha away-day on the subject of "How can I be filled with the Spirit" and then to preach at their Sunday gathering and teach in Sunday School - so a busy weekend. I would appreciate your prayers for the Lord's anointing upon our time together.

It is interesting to me that these things are all happening together - perhaps a mere coincidence, but I sense that the Lord is also speaking to us through these events. In particular, that he continues to scour the earth, looking for worshippers who will worship in Spirit and in truth. What will he find when he visits your home?

In his book, my friend Simon Ponsonby speaks of different ways we can both hinder the work of the Holy Spirit by 'putting on the brakes' but also ways we can 'clear the path'. I wanted to include them here for your own meditation and prayer.

Putting on the brakes
  1. An unexpectant heart
  2. An unyielded life
  3. An unconfessed sin
  4. An undiscerned enemy
  5. An unclaimed inheritance
  6. Unwanted gifts
  7. Unbelief because of unworthiness
Clearing the path
  1. Repentance
  2. Obedience
  3. Unity
  4. Prayerfulness
I close with a quote from John Piper;
What we should seek (and this applies to all Christians) is that God pour His Spirit out upon us so completely that we are filled with joy, victorious over sin, and bold to witness. And the ways He brings us to that fullness are probably as varied as people are. It may come in a tumultuous experience of ecstasy and tongues. It may come through a tumultuous experience of ecstasy and no tongues. It may come through a crisis of suffering when you abandon yourself totally to God. Or it may come gradually through a steady diet of God's word and prayer and fellowship and worship and service. However it comes, our first experience of the fullness of the Spirit is only the beginning of a life-long battle to stay filled with the Spirit. (sermon on Eph 5:18 - "Be filled with the Spirit")
So, let us wait upon Him for the promise, for His glory alone.

Praying for righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,

Monday, October 8, 2007

"Do you Care?"

An oft-quoted refrain in our household, "do you care?" may just be a somewhat random, unrelated response to the particular topic of discussion. But sometimes it may well be a serious question about our willingness to lay aside our preoccupation with our own world, and respond to someone else's need. It is a question that the Lord seems to be placing on my heart often as I reflect about my life, BridgePoint, the people in my own Simple Church community, not to mention those around me who I see but don't truly know.

My thinking has also no doubt been impacted by my work with the Center for Relational Leadership and subsequent involvement, at an intimate level, with people I may have just met for the first time that day. The 'tag line' for our network that I wrote on some recent vision documentation invited us to be a "Knowing ... Caring ... Serving" kind of community, understanding that the first step in the process, "Knowing" (or "Befriending") is essential if we are truly care for people. It is hard to care for someone unless we make an effort to really know them. Such 'knowing' is at the heart of the Christian faith. It is a relational knowing, supremely of God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - an intimate union that is designed to produce life-giving fruit as described by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5.

Just today in our Scripture reading together, Carol and I read from Paul's letter to the Philippians, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (2:4) We went on to read that such an attitude would most closely resemble that of Jesus himself, one that comes only with humility and often with personal sacrifice. But such an attitude is most pleasing to our Father in heaven who promises to so graciously exalt us when that is our preoccupation.

I heard recently of someone encouraging us towards 'Covenantal Relevance' rather than a focus upon 'Cultural Relevance'. He was suggesting that our lives and ministry should focus upon helping to strengthen our ability to live into the great commandment to love God and love our neighbor. The primary human expression of God's covenant relationship with us as the people of God, is that of marriage and the family. A few days ago we were reading Ephesians 5, where Paul urges us to be filled with the Spirit in order to 'live a life of love' (5:1) and then immediately goes on to describe how this spiritual life needs to be 'earthed' (or we might say 'incarnated') in our marriages, families and workplaces.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells his followers that they are to be empowered through the Holy Spirit to become witnesses (a translation from the Greek word from which we get the word 'martyr'), in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. These are like extending circles of impact for which we might think about our own relational impact extending outwards in the following sequence;
  1. At HOME with spouse/children/parents ... our Jerusalem (where I live)
  2. With FRIENDS ... our Judea (those most like me)
  3. Among WORK COLLEAGUES ... our Samaria (similar but different!)
  4. WHEREVER God sends us ... the Ends of the Earth (people 'foreign' to us)
It has been on my heart for some time, to gather together with any who wish, to explore how to deepen our relationships with spouses, friends, parents, children and work colleagues. There is a growing need for this within our culture and I dare say within our faith community, and therefore within each of our hearts if our lives are to be increasingly characterized as focused upon knowing ... caring ... serving in a selfless and sacrificial manner.

So, here's the plan. Carol and I want to invite any who can come to our home on Sunday October 14th at 7pm for some refreshment and cake .... or pie! Just to have an evening together where we can share more of our heart on this as well as interact together. Out of that time, we would want to invite any who wish, into a process of personal growth to help develop more authentic, intimate relationships with family and friends. The Sunday evening is a one-off event, so you can just come to that if you wish to hear more and hopefully enjoy some fellowship (and pie!) together.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mixing the Generations

During our Little Rock Network Gathering (for AMiA) last week, we had a day with Reggie McNeil who spoke on the subject of becoming a missional church. He spoke under three main topics;

(i) Shifting form Internal to External focus

(ii) Shifting from Program-Driven to People Development

(iii) Shifting from Church-based Leadership to Apostolic Leadership (unfortunately he only had a brief amount of time on this topic which, for the clergy present, is the most pressing issue).

In speaking about People Development, Reggie took a brief look at the 6 different generations currently co-existing in our culture (for the first time), and gave some reflections on each one. It was interesting to hear this (albeit not for the first time for me), and consider what this might mean for our life together as the bod of Christ. The years represented are only a general guideline and in reality there is probably some degree of overlap. Neither would I say that everybody would neatly fall into their respective category. Having said that, there is a good deal of truth (from my experience) in these distinctions.

1. SENIORS (born before 1925)
- not much to say about these other than that they are old

2. BUILDERS (born 1926-45) ... 60% have specific church 'affiliation'
- this is the generation that typically has the most trouble with change
- diversity (of church expression) is not particularly valued by this generation
- many are dealing with grief over loss of culture
- need to help builders change conversation from 'loss' to 'legacy'

3. BOOMERS (born 1946-64) ... 42% have specific church 'affiliation'
- experience and economy significant to this group
- have not been mentored by older generation, did not really desire or seek this
- needs to be fun and work

4. GEN-XERS (born 1965-83) ... 18-22% have specific church 'affiliation'
- value authenticity and relationships
- not career-minded people
- created and shaped their lives to revolve around friends (hence the TV show)
- some are beginning to simplify their lives
- start asking for mentors
- life coaching is real appealing to this group (life skills)

5. MILLENIALS (born 1984-01) ... less than 10% have specific church 'affiliation'
- this is the first digital generation
- non-institutional orientation
- high sense of self-esteem
- believe they can change the world - one person at a time
- sincere sense of responsibility for the world/environment
- high level (paradoxically) of drug-dependence and depression

6. NEXTERS (born 2002-)
- bit too young to know yet!

One of the thoughts that occurred to me, or really reinforced something that I have been aware of for some time as it relates to what the Lord is doing among us here at BridgePoint, is the importance and desire for mentors among our young people. We must see a greater inter-mingling of the generations than we have been used to in the church. Some people already see this and are involving themselves in the lives of younger people. Others are finding that harder and wondering sometimes what their role is. I would encourage all who have that extra life experience and story to tell, to seek for ways to get involved with some of our younger people. This is the biblical model, but this is also the cry of a younger generation also. I would say that you are never too old to be involved, it just takes a heart for the people. If anyone wants some more guidance on this, please let me know.

Grace and peace,

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Forty Trends back to Simplicity

Rethinking the Nature and Function of Church

By Robert Fitts

1. From the sanctuaries to the streets. (Doing the works of Jesus wherever we find a need)

2. From Christianity to Christ. (Not a philosophy or a system, but Christ in you!)

3. From church houses to house churches. (Simplify to multiply)

4. From upward to outward growth. (Plan to have a church split! You’ll be blessed!)

5. From paid pastors to common, ordinary tentmakers. (Rejecting the clergy/laity system)

6. From a special priesthood to a priesthood of all believers (All are ministers & preachers)

7. From hierarchy to servant leaders. (The great ones are those who wash feet)

8. From weekly worship to constant worship. (Worship is more than singing. Rom. 12:1-2)

9. From bringing people to church to bringing church to people. (A life changing prayer) *

10. From symbolism to substance in the Lord's Supper (Take it often. Take it with a meal)

11. From denominations to Spirit-led networks (Identify with the whole Body of Christ)

12. From social respectability to salt and light. (Turn the world upside down. It needs it!)

13. From performance by professionals to I Cor. 14:26 meetings. (Everyone has something to share)

14. From program based to home based church.

15. From the seminary system to the apprentice system.. (Two Timothy Two Two)

16. From tenth to total in our giving. (When generosity is encouraged, reward is promised. Ck. it out!)

17. From selective submission to total submission. (To every authority, everywhere, all the time)

18. From titles to function. Call no man teacher, father, Rabbi. (What about "Paul, an apostle"?)

19. From independence to inter-dependence (Embrace the city-wide church)

20. From paper membership to Body membership (We ARE members one of another, already!)

21. From the wheel to the vine (Releasing teams to plant simple churches in homes all over town)

22. From organizational unity to spiritual unity. (There is only one step to unity - Rom. 14:1, 15:7)

23. From Safeway or Circle K to Safeway and Circle K. (Receive everything that God receives.)

24. From "Us and them" to just "Us" (Refuse to allow an "us and them" spirit in your midst)

25. From planned church to spontaneous church. (Recognize ekklesia when 2 or 3 gather in his name)

26. From bondage to freedom for women. (Acts 2:17-18, Gal. 3:26-28. Freeing God’s ministers )

27. From presbytery without the people to presbytery with the people involved. (Acts 15:22)

28. From arbitrary guidelines to biblical guidelines for appointing elders (I Tim. 3, Titus 1)

29. From "my pastor" to "my pastors." (MR. PASTOR, TEAR DOWN THESE WALLS!)

30. From raising up leaders to appointing servants. (The ground is flat in God’s kingdom)

31. From local vision to world vision. (Jesus last command: (All the world, every person, every nation)

32. From building my kingdom to building His kingdom. ("Come and let us help you fulfill your vision")

33. From wall-wide church to city-wide church. (They filled Jerusalem with their teaching)

34. From fear of stealing sheep to fear of possessing sheep. (Acts 20:28-31. One city-One flock)

35. From building-centered pastors, to people-centered pastors. (Acts 20:28-31. One city-One Body)

36. From using the word "church" to using the phrase "the Body of Christ." (Acts 19:32-41)

37. From restricted to unhindered fellowship. (I’m a member of every church in town.)

38. From overwhelming oversight to restful oversight.

39. From lecture Bible study to interactive Bible study. (The Body of Christ ministering to itself)

40. From dependence on programs to dependence on prayer. (the Acts 4:29-30 kind)

* "Father, give me a divine appointment with someone today who is hungry for God or in need. Give me sensitivity to know when that happens and grace to minister the love of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit."

Friday, July 27, 2007

No Greater Love

This week I have been reading a book recommended to me by a friend from England. Actually, he was reading the book himself and all the time he did so, he kept sensing the Lord telling him to send it to me. The book is by Mother Theresa and is entitled 'No Greater love' and is a summary of her key teachings, really a summary of the woman herself.

Mother Theresa became known throughout the world for her work amongst the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. This has been just one more powerful prompt from the Lord to me, about his call upon my life, and in particular to reflect his love and compassion for the poor and marginalized in our society.

Then again, just yesterday, someone read a passage from Isaiah 58 which has always tugged at my heart. The text goes like this;

"Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free,
And break every yoke?
"Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry,
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
"Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
"Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.'
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
And if you give yourself to the hungry,
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness,
And your gloom will become like midday.
"And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
"And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the streets in which to dwell." [Isaiah 58:6-12]

It causes me to reflect upon a parable Jesus told in Matthew 25:31-46 about the sheep and the goats (I encourage you to read the passage for yourself). Again and again in the Scriptures, from the old testament to the new, we see God's compassion for the powerless. I feel that to some extent my own ministry has not had sufficient focus upon relieving the needs of the poor. As I read the prophesy of Isaiah 58, God seems to calling Israel to a fast of compassionate ministry and justice. Working for the needs of those who are being unjustly treated and overlooked. God has a special heart for such people, he identifies with their suffering.

Surely the goal of his salvation being worked out in our lives, and our experiencing the liberating truth of the kingdom, is that we should seek justice for others. That we should spend ourselves on behalf of those less fortunate. In our desire to spread the good news of Jesus, we must first of all BE the good news, meeting real needs in people's lives. This a the way in which we demonstrate the love of God in a practical way simply because we want to be like Jesus who came to serve.

We can demonstrate genuine, practical love in all sorts of circumstances, we just need to ask the Lord to open our eyes and hearts to the needs around us. But I also believe that the Lord has opened a door through our connection with Myra Cross and the Dream Center. Just last night Carol and I shared a meal with Myra in our home. We were meeting to talk about a monthly worship and healing/prayer gathering we are planning to start next month. But she told of a man who had come into the food ministry yesterday morning to get some food. He had come with his wife. Despite being only in his 30s, he was bent over and found it difficult to get up and down. They took him into the chapel, invited him to kneel and prayed for him. There and then he received healing in his body and was able to stand up straight and touch his toes, when even just standing up had been very difficult for him. You can imagine the impact that trip to the food bank had on him and his wife!

We will experience the Lord's provision, his guidance and his light more in our lives when we give away what we already have. Our lives will become like a well-watered garden according to Isaiah - just like my Texas back garden today due to the persistent rains we have experienced - another beautiful sign in the natural of what God wants to do in the spiritual with all his children.

Praying for the harvest,

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

God moving on UT campus

The following is part of a letter I received this week from Justin Christopher, the Director of Campus Renewal Ministries. This vision and action has come out of several years of praying and working for unity among the various campus ministries. They have embraced the Simple Church principles as a means of reaching, discipling and thereby transforming this college community in the Name of Christ. It is exciting to see how God is blessing their faith and commitment. I believe for no less for the wider community of Austin/Central Texas, and the Lord has called us to play our part in this.

It was encouraging to see their strategy of sending out students two-by-two (sound familiar?) but also the foundational importance of prayer. In our home church we have sensed the Lord's renewed call to be a people 'devoted to prayer' and for July and August at least, we have committed to gather every Sunday evening simply to come before the Lord in prayer & worship. This is in addition to our weekly gathering on Tuesday evenings - we just believe that to be devoted means that we will prioritize prayer and make sacrifices. But our longer term desire is to see the wider community transformed through the gospel of the kingdom, to see people coming to faith, being discipled and new simple churches being formed. So, a consistent part of our prayer is for workers for the harvest that God declares is ready.

Please pray for the work being done on UT campus and the people involved. But also ask the Lord to show you how he is calling you to the same work in your own context. May we begin to see a discipling movement emerge that leads to the establishing of new faith communities and the transformation of our city for the glory of God ....

Something tremendous is taking place among students at the University of Texas. Hundreds of students from over thirty different campus ministries and churches are working together to sustain 24/7 days prayer on the UT campus in the Campus House of Prayer (CHOP). These students are captured by a vision of seeing their campus transformed by God. They have a deep conviction that God will only reveal His glory in a transformational way on campus when the body of Christ unites in continual intercession.

Ministry leaders at UT, under the direction of Campus Renewal Ministries (CRM), have been working together for the last fifteen years, not simply by doing events together, but by actually pursuing a common vision to fulfill the great commission at UT. We are working “to see a viable Christian community in every college, club, residence, and culture at UT.” As part of our united commitment to research together, we have identified one thousand specific communities on the UT campus that we are attempting to reach. The goal: To commission missional communities of students into each of the one thousand. Two hundred of the thousand have commissioned missional communities in them already!

While the “campus saturation” strategy, as we call it, is the practical hands-on strategy to reach the campus, it is only as effective as the prayer base that supports it. Students have united around various prayer initiatives over the years, but never has there been the upsurge of students hungry for God in prayer as there has been since the Campus House of Prayer opened last year.

These students want a sacred place near campus where they can come to seek the Lord together at any time. They want a regular place to cross paths with students from different campus ministries and churches. They want a place where they can grow in their prayer life, where they can hear God’s voice as to their role in reaching UT, and where they can pray into the larger vision to saturate UT with the good news of Jesus. In the fall of 2006 God has provided the perfect place for a Campus House of Prayer (CHOP).

The CHOP is right off UT’s main drag, Guadalupe. Students can literally walk over to seek the Lord for an hour between their classes. Students in dorms or west campus housing can safely walk there any time of day or night. Plenty of parking is also available for students who live in other areas of the city. The building has a spacious prayer room, two small community rooms for studying and building relationships, and two small offices. CRM has moved its national headquarters from Cedar Park to this building near campus so that other national ministry leaders and students who come to learn about CRM can come to the headquarters and really experience the unique work that God is doing here.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

a missionary church makes disciples

Last week I talked about what "mission-shaped" church looked like and identified five primary values. I was challenged by a comment made to me that probably most churches would claim to uphold these values, yet the reality was that they were not truly engaged in mission. So, I wanted to take at least one of them (maybe more in future weeks) and think about what this looks like in practice within BridgePoint. I hope that this both challenges and encourages you to seek the Lord in prayer but also to step out in faith and put flesh on the words!

"a missionary church makes disciples"

A missionary church is active in calling people to faith in Jesus Christ, and it is equally committed to the development of a consistent Christian lifestyle appropriate to, but not withdrawn from, the culture or cultures in which it operates. It engages with culture, but also presents a counter-cultural challenge by its corporate life based on the world view and values of the gospel. It encourages the gifting and vocation of all the people of God, and invests in the development of leaders. It is concerned for the transformation of individuals, as well as the transformation of communities.

To put faith in Jesus Christ implies to follow him as Lord and Savior, in other words to live by the values and practices he taught and modeled when he was upon the earth, to adopt a lifestyle that honors him yet which may very well bring us into conflict with others who choose a different lifestyle. This is why Jesus spoke the following words in the context of calling and commissioning his disciples to a missional lifestyle;

"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
" 'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law -
a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'

"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." [Matt 10:32-39]

The words seem almost shocking to us and don't seem to fit with our "pc" culture. But that is just the point - Christ calls us to costly, loving obedience. Some of the language is the Hebrew way of making a point - Jesus is not canceling the command to honor our father and mother, but is saying that even that primary relationship must not be allowed to get in the way of obedience to him.

So how do we ourselves grow into this, never mind call others also? What I see Jesus prioritizing in the gospels, as well as his devotional life with the Father, is that he calls a group of men into community (the 12) and then a smaller number still into an even tighter, more intimate partnership (the 3 - Peter, James and John). In other words, this lifestyle is not imparted primarily through the "classroom", but through relationships, shared life, celebrating and mourning together, praying and praising together, teaching and discussion, commissioning and equipping. Lessons are learned as he sends them out not alone, but in partnership with another to hang out with (eat), to heal, and to share the message of this kingdom (obedience to Jesus who is God with us) that is available to all.

This kind of devotion and commitment does not come easily or automatically - it is worth noting that even one of the 12 (Judas) did not follow through. His fate is a sobering reality. For us to fight the good fight and finish the race [2 Tim 4:7], we need to be in partnership not just with God but with at least one or two fellow-believers. We also need to be part of a community of people where we are known and where we can serve. To consistently serve God by sharing our lives with those who don't know him yet, we need the encouragement and support (including involvement) of others.

For some time I have been encouraging people to see the Life Transformation Partnerships (or Groups) as a tool or model to help keep us on track. It has been encouraging for me to see more people taking a risk and inviting others into a partnership such as this. You can read more details about these by clicking here. It has been interesting to observe that it tends to be the younger people who are more ready and able to engage at this level. But I want to encourage all of us to see that there is great value in our being this purposeful and intentional - in fact it is the (slightly) older ones among us who have much to give to a younger generation simply because of their life experience. The challenge however, is to commit to a more intentional, intimate friendship for the purpose of promoting a missional and godly lifestyle.

Just this week we had dinner and celebrated 4th July with our neighbors
(ironically 2 Brits, a Mexican and an American!) I shared some of what I have been talking about here and invited my neighbor into such a 'partnership'. He was very open to the idea despite our age difference. I look forward to seeing how the Lord will use this for his glory in mine and his life. My genuine hope is that these more intimate and dependent relationships help us 'put flesh' on the call to make disciples - they provide the context for imparting the life of God into seekers and new believers as we grow. So I encourage you, if you are not in such a relationship to find one - not primarily for your benefit (though you will benefit), but for the sake of the other person. Learn to give your life away for in doing so you will find life.

If anyone needs help or more information about these partnerships, please contact me at

Much love and prayers,

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What does "Mission-Shaped" Church look like?

This past Monday evening, partly in response to my blog of last week, a group of us met over coffee to pray and reflect over the question, "What does 'mission-shaped" church look like?' It was a good time and an opportunity to hear from one another as to how we perceive God's call upon our lives as a community and what it means for us to engage the wider culture with the gospel of the kingdom of heaven.

I include here part of a sheet I gave out to help fuel our discussion which is a quote from a report produced by a working party in the Church of England back in 2004 entitled, 'mission-shaped church ... church planting and fresh expressions of church in a changing context' along with some of my own comments as to points I believe of particular significance to us flowing from this;

Lambeth 1988 Resolution 44:

“This conference calls for a shift to a dynamic missionary emphasis, going beyond care and nurture to proclamation and service; and therefore accepts the challenge this presents to diocesan and local church structures and patterns of worship and ministry, and looks to God for a fresh movement of the Spirit; in prayer, outgoing love and evangelism in obedience to our Lord's command.”

- this dynamic missionary emphasis is a great challenge to us who have been part of a church structure and model that was more relevant to 'Christendom' rather than the mission field in which we now operate even here in North America. The importance of prayer cannot be over emphasized. Are we 'devoted to prayer' like we read of the early church in the book of Acts?

five values for missionary churches

§ a missionary church is focused on God the Trinity

Worship lies at the heart of a missionary church, and to love and know God as Father, Son and Spirit is its chief inspiration and primary purpose. It worships and serves a missionary God, and understands itself to share in the divine mission. All of its life and activity is undergirded by prayer.

- again we see the priority of prayer, but this is simply a reflection of the truth that everything we are and do flows from our focus upon and relationship to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to join in God's mission which is already taking place in the world. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism - which means that there is only one Church also - how do we better give expression to this spiritual reality in our 'communities'? When we over-emphasize denominations and even doctrine (i.e. our interpretation), we become divisive. "Is Christ divided?"

§ a missionary church is Incarnatlonal

A missionary church seeks to shape itself in relation to the culture in which it is located or to which it is called. Whenever it is called to be cross-cultural then its long-term members or initial team lay aside their cultural preferences about church to allow the emergence of a form or style of church to be shaped by those they are seeking to reach. If a church is long established, then it evaluates itself in relation to the culture of the community it serves, and strips away whatever is not required by the gospel. An incarnational church seeks to be responsive to the activity of the Spirit in its community.

- Paul became all things to all people that might win some. Similarly we must lay aside our own preferences to allow the emergence of new forms of being the people of God that help us connect and engage with people who do not know Jesus. This is not to change the message of the gospel but it is to become a people who are more engaged with those people around them (or at least some of them), praying and looking for opportunities to demonstrate and proclaim the kingdom of heaven. "The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us"

§ a missionary church Is transformational

A missionary church exists for the transformation of the community that it serves, through the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit. It is not self-­serving, self-seeking or self-focused. The kingdom of God is its goal, and church is understood as a servant and sign of God’s kingdom in its community, whether neighborhood or network.

- we exist to seek the transformation of communities with which we are involved - nothing less, for the glory of God. "Let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven". The heart of this transformation is the renewing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person who has come to trust in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. This is the measure of how we are doing as a faith community.

§ a missionary church makes disciples

A missionary church is active in calling people to faith in Jesus Christ, and it is equally committed to the development of a consistent Christian lifestyle appropriate to, but not withdrawn from, the culture or cultures in which it operates. It engages with culture, but also presents a counter-cultural challenge by its corporate life based on the world view and values of the gospel. It encourages the gifting and vocation of all the people of God, and invests in the development of leaders. It is concerned for the transformation of individuals, as well as the transformation of communities.

- this begins with the understanding that the role of leadership (be it ordained or otherwise), is not to be "The Minister", but rather to equip and release the ministry of everyone else in the body. This must continue to be a fundamental practice and conviction of each one of us, demonstrated when we come together as believers, but also as we live our lives as employees, moms, fathers, bosses, friends, etc. Christianity is a way of life and maturity is evidenced by obedience to Jesus. We must move away from seeing maturity as increased knowledge about the Bible and God. We are to be doers of the word who lead others into the same lifestyle based upon close relationships and love.

§ a missionary church is relational

In a missionary church, a community of faith is being formed. It is characterized by welcome and hospitality. Its ethos and style are open to change when new members join. Believers are encouraged to establish interdependent relationships with fellow Christians as they grow into Christ. As a community it is aware that it is incomplete without interdependent relationships with other Christian churches and communities. It does not seek to stand alone.

- it is a most holy thing to eat together around a meal table and affirm the Christ in each other. Each of us needs to be part of a small intimate group of believers (family), but I would also say we need to also be investing in a few key, intimate relationships as a basis for edification, encouragement and comfort. This is why we keep promoting the Life Transformation Partnerships of 2/3 people.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Church & Culture ... Convergence or Contrast?

We live within a culture where a dominant value and pursuit, is that of comfort. It often drives our consumerist lifestyle and is perhaps epitomized in the name of a well-known furniture retailer - La-z-boy. Yes, those of you who have been to my house may well have sat in one of our two "la-z-boy" recliners! However, when we see the purpose of the Church and specifically the gospel, to be simply another item on our 'shopping list' of priorities to facilitate ease and comfort, then I believe we have seriously misinterpreted the pages of the New Testament, and the call of Christ upon our lives.

In a desire to impact or influence the greatest number of people (i.e. for them to like us and what we do as Christians), we can so easily find ourselves more aligned with the values of our culture than with those of the kingdom of Heaven. The very people who are meant to be the 'called out ones' from the prevailing culture and lifestyles of the day ('ekklesia' in Greek which is translated 'Church'), remain somewhat indistinguishable from their unbelieving neighbors, apart from attendance at increasingly 'user-friendly' meetings. It is a danger that we in the Simple/Organic/House Church are equally prone to fall into.

Jesus referred to himself as "the Way", the early Church was initially known as a people who followed the Way (of Life, personified in Jesus) - see Acts 19:8-9. Scott Boren in his new book 'The Relational Way', says, 'The way of kingdom living in the early church was distinctive and missional. By referring to the Church as the Way, it denotes that the people of God are called to action, a mode of interacting with the world that infects it with the life of God.' Of course, this presupposes that we are indeed carrying the "virus" within us. Distinctive and Missional, two words worth reflecting over.

David Bosch in his classic book, 'Transforming Mission' states, 'God is a missionary God ... Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is a Church because there is mission, not vice versa. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God's love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.' The foundational question for me it seems is not so much related to Church structure (ecclesiology), but relates more to our identity as a people on The Way (missiology). How do we become an authentic community of people that stands in contrast to the cultural values that oppose the those of the kingdom? Or, what ways of living would show we were on mission with God?

There's no easy answer, and that in part is the challenge - our culture wants that which is easy, convenient, pleasurable, self-satisfying. It is why the leaders of some of the larger churches in Austin are frustrated because many of those attending don't wish to be disturbed too much from their settled lifestyles, and certainly don't want to devote themselves to God's mission. It challenges us all because according to Jesus it will cost us everything - including our comfort. Paul spoke in terms of 'sharing in the fellowship of his suffering, becoming like him in his death' (Philipp. 3:10)

I sense that this in part is why there are so few (simple) church planting movements here in the West compared to the explosion of growth that is being experienced in parts of the two-thirds world. I desire and long to see this in my own life, here in the US. I am wary of what it may cost us. I believe a starting point is to pray, to pray until we get a burden and a sense of desperation over our spiritual state, and that opens our eyes to what God is really doing. I hope you will join with me ... in prayer and action!

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness ...
These twelve Jesus sent out ...."
[Matt 9:35-10:5]

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Table Talk"

For some time now I have found myself wrestling (in prayer and in my own mind) with the question of how we can best help people move in their journey of faith, in particular from the place of not knowing Christ to discovering a relationship with him through faith.

The Scriptures tell us that "faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." [Romans 10:17] This statement by Paul comes in the context of his own wrestling in prayer over the salvation of his own people - the Israelites, although as he states, in God's eyes there is no difference between Jew and Gentile in terms of their response to God - he blesses all who call upon him. But then he points out the issue ... how can they call upon him, or believe in him unless they hear the message, unless someone tells them the good news.

I believe that this is the way faith works - ultimately God has called us to be an expression of the good news in Jesus Christ. We need both words and deeds - our testimony about the reality of Jesus in us (the hope of glory), is then reinforced by the evidence of a changed life. The characteristics of that changed life are multi-faceted, it is a life increasingly shaped by the teaching of Jesus as we read in the gospels, for example within the sermon on the mount. I believe that when these characteristics are evident in our lives, when we serve one another out of love, then opportunities are more likely to arise to give the reason for the hope that is within us.

But there comes a point for most people, when they need to hear the truth of the gospel of the kingdom put into words. We do not have a weekly corporate gathering where they can come and visit (should they want to). It is not easy for a seeker to just come and join us in our home churches necessarily (it depends upon the individual). So I believe we need some "middle space" - environments that are relatively 'safe' that allow the issues of faith to be discussed and reflected upon without pressure. I for one, am looking for opportunities and ways in which we can provide this to help people move in their faith journey.

What does that mean for you? Paul tells us in Ephesians that God gave some to be evangelists - both to do the work of evangelism as well as to equip the rest of the body to share Christ. We are not all called to an evangelistic focus, but some are. All of us are called to be willing to 'bear witness', in other words to talk about our experience and knowledge of Jesus Christ. For that, I believe it is incumbent upon us all to build friendships with people who do not know Jesus yet, which means spending time with them (in their world to some extent). The heart of it is that like God, we treat all people the same, not trying to determine whether or not they are 'true Christians', but looking to serve them because they are 'true people'. Out of this, and our prayers, will come opportunities to simply be real about ourselves and our faith.

For any of you who sense a greater desire to help people find Christ - perhaps this preoccupies your thinking, your prayers or you find a natural affinity with those outside the church - I would love for us to get together to talk, pray and dream about how we might serve God and others. Please email me, respond to this posting or call me. This is not a call for those who have it all together, you just might be the only person there! But simply for those wishing to grow in this ministry.

"How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" [Romans 10:15]


Friday, May 25, 2007

How are you "feeling" today?

This week (after a couple of weeks break), I wanted to follow up on the article I wrote at the beginning of the month. I had the opportunity to be involved in some shadow coaching and small group work at the next McCoys leadership training event this week. They call it "Business As Unusual" - B.A.U.

It was a most moving time to have the privilege of helping some men begin to explore their emotional 'make-up' perhaps for the very first time, and to think about how some of their personality preferences were having an unhealthy impact on their ability to work alongside as well as live alongside, people who were important to them. I know I shouldn't be, but I am often amazed at how much brokenness and abuse some people have had to deal with in their lives, very often as children when they should have been able to expect better. It reminds me of two things - my thankfulness for the blessings of my own upbringing (even though it was not without its challenges), as well as my thankfulness for God's intervention in my life through Jesus Christ, and how that has brought about healing and transformation for me (though as you know, I am still a work in progress!)

We are complicated beings - a combination of body, soul and spirit and it is interesting to me to reflect upon the interplay of each of these parts and how that affects our ability to fully respond to God, our family, and one another. I have been exploring ways in which we might be able to use some of these principles in our community life and discipleship here at BridgePoint, as well as further afield. I have been intrigued to discover that Life Builders are working with Intimate Life Ministries to build a relational component into their discipleship process because they are working with increasing numbers of people who are just carrying hurts and pain in their lives that are hindering the growth process. So they are looking for some tools and principles to assist in the healing/transformation process. Yes we need renewed minds through truth (ultimately about Jesus Christ), but that needs to be mediated through close relationships within the faith community.

So, I will keep you posted on this, and just wanted to share some of my joy at being able to touch the lives of some guys in a business context, who might never darken the doors of the church as we traditionally know it.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A "twist" on leadership development

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a leadership workshop put on by the Center for Relational Leadership (part of Intimate Life Ministries) on behalf of McCoys, the builders' merchant. This was part of an ongoing program of leadership and staff development. The workshop was entitled 'Exceptional Customer Experience' and reflects the beliefs of McCoys (and the CEO, Brian McCoy in particular), that people and relationships are to be prioritized over profit or productivity. Quite a novel (and radical) concept you might think - especially for the business world. They call this 'Business as Unusual'

It made me think of how some might say that we are doing 'Church as Unusual'! They are seeking to become a company made up of people who care about people, and the process is one of growing self, in order to grow others, in order to grow the business ... in that order. This, of course, requires people to develop relational skills such as;

(i) Knowing yourself as well as others
(ii) Giving first to others by meeting needs
(iii) Showing care and expressing empathy
(iv) Becoming vulnerable in order to help develop trust
(v) Dealing with conflict and giving and receiving forgiveness

It all looks very familiar to us because it reflects the nature of authentic Christian community and love. Their approach is to teach these Christian principles and values, without being overtly religious (particularly in the area of language). That would be inappropriate in a business context.

The week culminated in an extraordinary time when the store teams had an opportunity to give testimony as to how the week had impacted them. This was incredibly moving as people became very vulnerable and real. It was quite an honor to be a witness to this.

A central theme of the training, was the notion that our behavior is often affected by and sometimes dictated to, by our emotional state. If we are living with significant amounts of painful or negative emotions, then that will inevitably affect how we deal with and react to people around us. To effect change (or healing) within ourselves, we need to be able to identify strong emotions within, understand some of their roots, and receive care from others. This is what empowers us to reconstruct out thinking (do away with the lies) and develop new, more healthy behavior patterns.

It has struck me that as we have transitioned into a model of church/life that invites us into more intimate and vulnerable relationships (for the purpose of our own healing and enjoyment of life), then we also come up against the same 'strongholds' (to use a biblical expression), that need to be overcome. It has led me to believe that in BridgePoint we would really benefit from working through some of this and shortly I am going to be inviting any who wish to do so, to join with me in doing so. I hope that you will seriously, prayerfully and courageously consider giving yourself to this process.

I would welcome any feedback, comments or questions on this.

With much love,

Friday, April 27, 2007

AMiA Network Gathering ... further reflection

Last week I promised that I would talk a little about the specific subject that Reggie McNeal spoke about during our network gathering in Little Rock. This was certainly the highlight of the gathering for me and Reggie's presentation style and wit certainly kept us engaged. He was presenting material from his book, "Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders". Click here for more information on the book.

Here's an extract of my notes from the day ...

Great leaders bless people – portals for the kingdom of God.

Jesus doesn’t disallow greatness, just puts it in a different context – “like a little child” – not wrong to be ambitious for greatness

Greatness involves SERVICE and HUMILTIY … all about heart attitude, not external position

Service involves COMPETENCY and SKILL SET

1. Discipline of SELF-AWARENESS

If you don’t know who you are, you don’t know why you do what you do (comes with living but not automatically). People can be in their 50s/60s and still be very unaware personally

- Family of origin (knowing loved, secure, dealing with conflict (biggie), etc) - Great leaders take responsibility for personal growth to overcome obstacles

- Talent – what giftedness you bring to the table

o Hidden addictions/compulsions

o Dark sides (we all have them – arrogance one of the hardest to deal with)

- Personality (God does not call us in spite of who we are, but because of who we are)

- Life Experiences (if you’re looking for God in your life, look for the “new” things)

- Passions/Interests (might God be interested in what you enjoy doing?)

These things help us become more strategic and operate out of our “sweet spot”

When did you first become aware that you were a leader? … good question to ask

Never too late (or too soon) to start this journey of self-awareness

2. Discipline of SELF-MANAGEMENT

- Difficult emotions (not wrong to have emotions) – e.g. fear, anger, etc (often we’re not aware of the motivating emotion)

- Time

- Money

- Bodies

- Brains (negative people single most brain-draining – great leaders manage exposure to such people) Protein is good brain food!

- Boundaries – can’t rely on emotions when comes to boundary adjustments because because they have been ‘bent’ towards an unhealthy position

o ‘compliants’ – hard to say ‘no’ due to desire for acceptance

o ‘avoidance’ – build high walls, can’t get in

o ‘controllers’ – passive controllers give most personal pain, know how to hook you, bait is guilt

- Expectations – managing them

o Of people in leadership constellation (eg Jesus with disciples)

o Your expectations of yourself

o Of your followers – don’t set yourself up for disappointment

3. Discipline of SELF-DEVELOPMENT

- Lifelong learning also includes an amount of unlearning (see how Paul had so much ‘unlearning’ to embrace the message of Christ – that by a Pharisee) In a relationship we are constantly unlearning things

- Building upon your strengths (talents issue), not develop/focus on weaknesses

o Gallows Strength Finder

o What makes you feel really alive? Comes easy to you, get feedback on, get better at Your talent will show up in any assignment

o God didn’t make people to get work done, he made work to get people done.

o Burnout happens because we get worn down by the minutiae of things that give us no energy

o Your strengths are also your needs – you need to do what you’re good at

- need to figure out how you ‘lower your rent’ to focus on what you are good at, as well as release others to do what they are good at

- recruit, partner with others (for the grunt work!), outsource (if you can) or quit doing it

4. Discipline of MISSION

Jesus had to go to the nearby villages also. That’s why he came, not to keep ministering to the crowds. [People are drawn to winning causes not losing teams.] Great leaders know why they are on the planet and they are prosecuting that mission. This terrifies the enemy. He uses;

- Discouragement (why we all need cheerleaders in our lives]

- Debilitation (such as operating in areas for which not talented)

- Distraction (biggie)

5. Discipline of DECISIONING

Great leaders make fewer, better decisions. Learn from your decision-making process. Number of components involved;

- Information – right amount at right rate

- Are we answering the right question?

- Do you have the right people involved?

- God help me see what you see” – prayer to pray for 90min in a park, Starbucks, mall, etc.

- Is this the right timing?

- Do we know the results we expect?

6. Discipline of BELONGING

[People vote for the problems they know rather than the problems they don’t know]

- For some your family don’t get it, but it doesn’t have to be the book on you


- Co-workers, mentors, different groups to which you can belong

- Great leaders value community, they understand they’re better because they are connected to others

- Beware the lone ranger leader

7. Discipline of ALONENESS

Great leaders practice aloneness. We all experience wilderness, sometimes because we’re driven there, due to our mistakes, we may seek it out, you’re left alone by others, a spouse walks out, times in our life when we’re suddenly isolated.

Great leaders treat this time differently from most who want out, want to tell everyone what they’re going through. Great leaders ask what they can learn from the experience about God, me, etc. They leave the timing of release in God’s hands.