August 30, 2012

Why We Retreat

This week our staff took a 2-day retreat together. We rented a lake house about an hour from home and got away for some team-building, leadership training, and spiritual renewal. I know that I personally had a blast hanging out with the people I have the privilege of leading and serving with and felt like the Lord really encouraged us and challenged us - as individuals and as a team. I wanted to share with you some of the highlights of what we experienced, discussed, and came away with.

First off, here are some of the main quotes, topics of discussion, and ideas that we wrestled with and hammered out together:

  • If we're never failing then we're never taking any risks either. We have to give ourselves, each other, and our team members permission - even encouragement - to fail.
  • Are the people serving and leader with us clear about 1) their own gifts and strengths and 2) what they're called to do on the team? Without clarity, things get "fuzzy". People will only put up with "fuzzy" for so long.
  • As leaders, there are times when one of our major responsibilities is to "make up our mind". 
  • How do we move from delegating tasks - creating followers - to delegating authority - creating leaders?
  • Our communication should be consistent, clear, and courteous. We should impress people with our straightforwardness.
  • If we are not in the business of leadership development, then we can't say we're "making disciples".
  • We have to constantly be reminding ourselves and those we're leading and serving with: It's not about OUR church, it's about HIS Kingdom!
We devoted an entire session to talking about our spiritual gifts and personality profiles. As a staff team, I think we benefitted most from gaining insight into each other's personalities; specifically, better educating and equipping ourselves on how to effectively communicate with one another. We're wired differently. We receive (and extend) communication in unique ways. It's takes time and effort to figure this out and capitalize on it. I think we came home much more aware of this and ready to make it happen.

In all honesty, one of my favorite parts of our time together was Tuesday night. We played the game "Imaginiff..." If you've never played it before, it's a great way to not only get to know each other better, but to have some serious laughs at the same time. We had a blast!

Yesterday it was an incredible blessing to spend our morning out on the dock, praying for each other, our families, our church, and for God to move and work in our lives for the sake of His Kingdom. This is always time well spent!

Our last session together we spent time pinpointing the strengths of our church - isolating the things that we do really well - and brainstorming the idea or question: If we spent the next year doing nothing but building on our strengths, what would that look like? On one hand, it was incredible how tempting it was to start veering into thinking & talking about our weaknesses. (And don't get me wrong; you have to do that. But it's interesting how apparent it is that we have been trained and taught by our culture to focus on these shortcomings.) But fighting through that, it was incredibly inspiring to dream about and envision the God-sized potential of what could happen if we take the strengths He has given us as a church and allow Him to keep strengthening and growing those areas. What an awesome thought!

I can't even begin to share everything we experienced and learned in such a short time, but this is a great window into just a few of the vital reasons why we retreat

August 27, 2012

In Spite Of...

On Saturday I wrote a post about something that happened on the way to our soccer game. Long story short, I watched a guy in a truck get mad at some people who were simply trying to tell him the light had turned green. His response: he flipped everybody off. Let the bird go flyin'! And in what was an incredibly awkward situation, when we pulled up several minutes later at the soccer field, so did the guy in the truck. And it wasn't just "a guy"; it was one of the dads on our team. Thankfully, I'm pretty sure he had no idea we were one of the 12 cars behind him that got saluted. Nevertheless, it was just a bit awkward for a moment. And that was the point of my post: sometimes awkward stuff happens. What are you going to do about it? It's part of life.

What an incredibly stupid blogpost. 
So stupid that I deleted it. 

I completely missed the opportunity to start a conversation about the most important part of the whole story. Sure life is full of awkward situations. We're human. We do dumb stuff. The point is that in the midst of people's mistakes, failures, shortcomings, and lapses in good judgment, we still have the opportunity - better yet, the calling and responsibility - to love them. People are going to flip you off. (Hopefully you're not always going to wind up actually knowing the person who flips you off. But if you do, what are you going to do about it?) Aren't we called by Jesus to take people's anger - their attacks and insults and slaps and obscenities - and absorb them? That's what "turning the other cheek" is about. (See Matthew 5:38-48 for more on that subject.) The point is not the awkward situation; the point is the PERSON! As Christ-followers, we should constantly be ready to see and love the person, in spite of their failure. That's what (I hope) we did on Saturday. I just failed to tell you about it.

Are you allowing the Lord to prepare us to diffuse these type of situations rather than further ignite them?

Is there an opportunity in front of you now to love someone not because of something, but in spite of something? Big difference.

August 23, 2012

Quantify & Control

A couple of weeks ago I preached on missional community - that Acts 2 is a picture of Ephesians 4 being carried out - and that in Acts 2 you don't see anyone actually striving or working for "community". They were on mission, together. I had several interesting conversations following that sermon, many of them that morning right after our services. But one conversation resonated with me because I think it highlights one of our obstacles and barriers to seeing biblical, missional community actually take place in our lives and through our churches. This invisible wall has to do with the fact that what we're describing - this movement that's beginning to take place - is much harder to quantify and control. Let me explain a bit further.

My friend sat down with me and seemed to be a bit distressed. He began explaining to me that he thought what I was describing - missional community - was already happening in his life. That one of his neighbors (who happened to be a minister at another church) and a guy across the street (also a Christian) had started getting together. They had even been talking & strategizing ways to begin reaching out to their other neighbors. "Should we have a block party? Maybe a cookout and invite everyone." What was happening was they were on the cusp of "doing life together". But here was his dilemma: This wasn't happening with people from The Brook. It wasn't something HIS church had stamped their name on. We weren't hovering over it. He wasn't turning in numbers to us. At this point it was undefinable - he couldn't even fully explain what was happening. And he wasn't adding numbers to OUR church. Again - he couldn't quantify all of this. There was no "church" category for what was going on. Here's what I told him:

"It's not my calling to equip you grow our church. I'm called to equip you, prepare you, and lead you to grow the Kingdom! If some of those people wind up being part of the fellowship of our church, great. If they're led to go somewhere else, great. My main concern is that right where you are - right in your own home and your own neighborhood - you're living on mission for the Kingdom."

That's the quantification issue. Now let's talk about control. 

In the Western (American) church - clergy, pastors, ministers - we not only have this driving need of knowing how many people were in our services, in Sunday School, or at an event and how many raised their hand, we also need to know that we're somewhat in control of how it happens. (Sidenote: This "control" we think we have is a full-on mirage. It's elusive and seductive. And the need for the mirage winds up controlling the very ones trying to contain it. And I know that numbers represent people. Many are just trying to ensure follow-up. That's not the issue.) This is NOT what we're called to. Ephesians 4:11-16 gives us very clear instruction and guidance on what, how, and why. It tells us we're called to "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." Here's the thing: We are called to equip people to do the work of the Kingdom of God - for the building up and discipling of those in the church - and to reach those who are "outside" and need to know Christ. We are NOT called to control people, to manipulate people, or even to shape them into a bunch of us's. As I said in my sermon last week, "We've been telling our leaders, 'Here's our box. Let's figure out how to reshape you so you fit in our box.' And the thing is, they aren't shaped like our box. They're not supposed to be. We're supposed to equip leaders to BE who the Lord has made them and to SHINE and GROW and REACH OUT where God has planted them. 

Right this moment - somewhere in America at a church - one more program is being added to the weekly schedule to lure people TO "the church" (which is really NOT the church, it's simply where the church meets). And in doing so we will further excuse and exempt our people from the actual mission. We will give them an escape route rather than an in-road. Yes, Jesus said, "Come to me all who are weary". And then he said, "Go and make disciples..." The church just keeps saying "Come". It's time we started saying, leading, and living "GO!" Not just on a weeklong trip to Guatemala or Haiti or New Orleans, but on Tuesday to your job as a software developer or a dental hygienist. THIS is where we're called. We're called to coach ball teams and host parties and serve on our homeowner's association. Exactly how much training do you need before you don't need another class and you're ready to just do it? I'll tell you. You're ready now!

The Lord is doing some incredible and miraculous things in the lives of churches right now, where people are no longer being coaxed into conforming to the church, but are being led by the Spirit of God to dangerously follow Christ on mission. If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, isn't this what you're longing for? PRAY and ask God to ignite a fire in your heart for His glory and His mission! 

August 22, 2012

Common Interests

If the WHAT and the WHY are Common Mission - the catalyst, growth engine, and reason behind community - then there has to be an initial HOW. How do we propel this into action? How does the Lord lead us to others with a common heartbeat for the mission? This is not concrete. It doesn't always happen this way. But often, it's as simple as finding people around you with common interests. 

Look at your life - your everyday, weekly, gym-work-home, homeowners association, ball practice, weekend, church services, rhythms in your life. There are people in that rhythm with you. There are individuals - couples - families that if you just took notice are one step away from you "doing life together". (You may even already be doing it, and just haven't realized it.) As a Christian, the key then boils down to a simple question: Are the rhythms of your life centered in the mission of the Gospel? And remember, it's not about trying to figure out how to shove Christ into your busyness and your schedule. It's the realization that EVERYTHING in my life revolves around Him, His mission, and His calling on my life. For instance....

These ladies that I run with every Tuesday morning: Could we be reaching other ladies who need to know Christ simply by inviting them to begin running with us?

These guys at church that I go fishing with one Saturday a month: Are there other guys we know that need to know Christ who could be part of this with us?

That couple from your church that lives in your neighborhood: Could you be getting together and cooking out every other week, inviting other neighbors, praying for them, carrying their burdens with them, loving them, sharing the Gospel with them? 

Sometimes, finding the people the Lord has placed in our lives to carry out this "common mission" with can be as easy as realizing who He's already placed in your life with "common interests". Some common interests include: kids, sports, gaming, gardening, college football, where you're from, the neighborhood where you live, what you like to eat, surfing, music, scrapbooking, photography, running, stage of life.... You get the point.

So, HOW do we help people better make these connections, find others around them with common interests, and allow the relationships to be centered in and focused on the common mission of the Gospel?

One conclusion we've come to as a church family is that we have to begin providing more environments and opportunities for people to simply connect on a social level, like a picnic, bunco night, or service project. You can find a vast resource of ideas for connecting points and missional community from Verge Network. What are your thoughts on making these simple connections? Would love to hear your input.

August 21, 2012

Common Mission

Community - A group of interacting people, living in some proximity (i.e., in space, time, or relationship). Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a household that shares common values and shares social cohesion.

We all need community. We need interaction with people who share our values and convictions. We need to know we're not alone. In fact, we are wired with an innate need of doing life together. You can see it throughout history. You can see it in your own life. And you can see it exemplified in Acts 2 with the account of the first New Testament church. It says that "all who believed were together and had all things in common." If one person or family had a need, other people would give them what they needed - even sell off some stuff to make sure everyone else had enough. (NOTE: This wasn't enforced or regulated by the government. It was propelled by the Holy Spirit!) They prayed together, ate together, went to the temple together. They were doing life together. And at face value this sure seems like the prime example of community. That's because it was. But it didn't get this way because everyone set out to "cultivate community". Community wasn't their aim. There was something of much greater importance that fostered, cultivated, and grew that community: MISSION.

The verses beforehand (Acts 2:41-43) tell us that the first "Christians" were "devoted to the apostles teaching, the fellowship, and prayer. And awe came over everyone, and wonders and signs were being done..." The driving force of life for these first followers of Christ - the first recipients of the Holy Spirit - was mission. The thing that brought them together - the thing that fostered, cultivated, and grew their "community" - was the all-consuming power of the Holy Spirit and the mission that Christ had set before them: "Go and make disciples".

That mission He gave them is still our mission today.
The Great Commission is what draws us and binds us together.

Yet, we still so often set out from square one trying to build community. This is completely redefining "putting the cart before the horse". This is staring at your cart that has NO horse attached it, wondering why it won't go anywhere. As Reggie McNeal pointed out in his book Missional Communities: The Rise of the Post-Congregational Church, "When we (the church) aimed for community we got neither mission nor community. But when we started to aim for mission - community that is centered around the Gospel - we got both mission and community."

When we talk about common mission, most certainly this may manifest itself in some tangible way: building wheelchair ramps together, feeding the poor, tutoring at-risk kids after school. We may all come together in some way to serve others. But this is not THE mission. The mission is the Gospel - that Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection has brought us from death to life and that He longs to do the same in others lives. When you read Matthew 28, Acts 2, and Romans 10 you get this distinct idea that the mission isn't something that we figure out where to squeeze in after the fact. Everything else has to conform to it. The mission isn't a slave to our extra-curricular activities and hobbies and busyness, they are slaves to the mission. At least they're supposed to be. And this is for a very good reason:

The mission is JESUS!

Thinking in terms of community - your need for it, your pursuit of it - are you aiming at and focusing on community, or are you beginning to understand that it all begins with the mission? Common mission. The Gospel. 

What does this look like in your life?