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Monday, August 22, 2011

The Ancient Journey Enters a New Phase

This will be the final blog post on Ancient Journey...

In my previous post I described some of the new adventures that are coming about with the transition of Missional Monks from a podcast and online social network to a dedicated equipping organization. For quite some time I have been working on consolidating my various projects into one website and at 2am, August 22, 2011 it has finally happened! From now on you can find my writings and information about our various activities at You'll find all the posts from this site, plus information on The Gathering, The Academy for Missional Wisdom, the Missional Monks Podcast, the Missional Monks Network and, of course, Communitas & other equipping ministries on the new site.

So...see you there!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Where Do We Go From Here?

A few days ago I watched a History Channel show on Rogue Waves. Basically, these are waves which can come out of nowhere and are at least twice as large as any other wave in the set. Often these waves are three and four times larger than anything in the area - and they can even pop up on calm seas. Apparently for a long time rogue waves were reported, but considered to be the excuses a drunk captain came up with to avoid the truth of his ineptitude...until people started catching them on camera. Waves of over 100 feet have been filmed, smashing into and completely destroying huge tanker ships and even oil platforms.
There’s a growing suspicion that these waves are particularly prevalent, and provide partial explanation for the strange disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle.
I was fascinated.
It wasn’t until the next morning that it struck me why these rogue waves captured my imagination. They are a perfect metaphor for the last several years of my family’s life. There have been storms, to be sure - even some that we were not sure we would survive. However, it wasn’t the storms that were the source of our anxiety, it was the random rogue waves which always seemed to come along in the calm seas after the storm had “passed.”
Our latest rogue wave came in the form of a series of disconnected (but utterly connected) bad tidings regarding finances. Without going into the boring details, I should be panicked right now...or selling a kidney. But what has been very perplexing is that I’m not. I realize the seriousness of the situation. I’m doing what I can to address it and “avoid the rocks” (in sticking with the maritime metaphor).
But I’m not panicking.
This baffles me. Why am I not a blubbering mess?!
At first I was afraid it meant I’d finally had a mental breakdown...the part of my brain controlling the self-preservation instinct had just dissolved or something. But, if that were the case (and yes, I seriously considered it enough that I had to actually rule it out), I wouldn’t be trying to do something about the situation.
I quickly ruled out both super-faith and Pollyanna-like naiveté. My faith in the face of risk has certainly matured, but I’m still plagued by doubt. My current lack of fear doesn’t stem from a confidence that “everything will be okay, because God won’t let the monster get us.” I have several years of empirical evidence to suggest that God is most certainly faithful and compassionate, but I do not take deliverance and rescue for granted. 
Bad things still happen in this world, and it will continue to be so until Jesus finally and fully establishes the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. I can’t be so arrogant as to think God will keep all the monsters at bay, because there are too many people in this world that get eaten...and I am no more precious to our Lord than they. (Which is not at all to say that neither they nor I are precious to God.)
The other night, as we had this very conversation, a friend asked, “Are you just numb?” I could only respond, “Well...maybe.”
But I don’t really think that’s it either.
I think - and I hold this belief with humility, knowing that tomorrow it could look differently - that I’m just getting a bit peace in the midst of the storm. The storm is real; the chaos - like the fiery furnace that three Jewish boys stood before - is threatening. And from somewhere I’m being given the strength to respond, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from [this threat]. But even if he does not...
I don’t know that this is a test...and if it is, I don’t know that we’ll be delivered at the 11th hour for our faithfulness. But even if we are not, we will not bow down to the idol of fear. 
I don’t want to oversell it. There are too many people who love us for me to believe that my children will ever be truly hungry...there will be a place for them to sleep in peace. Perhaps that’s a source of peace as well. In the book God’s Economy, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove speaks to the wisdom of investing in relationships over financial security...perhaps for this very reason. Jobs have a tendency to go away, bank accounts seem to dry up. People who love you are much more valuable.
So, back to the title of this post: where do we go from here?
We’ve done what we can to streamline the budget, now we have a few short-term, a few mid-range and a few long-term plans.
For right now, here’s where we go.
Over the last few years, I’ve been developing this six month process for groups (congregations, small groups, house churches, bible classes...or just a gathering of friends ready to move forward together). My doctor of ministry project (which is currently over half-way through the action phase) is focused on one particular aspect of the Communitas experience.
Communitas, which means a deep experience of community which is formed through a shared struggle, ordeal or common mission, combines online learning and dialog, with spiritual formation in community and practical engagement in missional life right where you are. Unlike other processes which either stress classroom learning or provide manufactured “practice” experiences, Communitas guides participants to begin learning what it means to live missionally by...well, living missionally.
I hadn’t planned to make Communitas available “to the public” until January. I was told pointedly this past week, “What are you waiting for?”
Message received. If you have a group of friends, a study group or an entire congregation that may be interested in this transformational experience, send me a message and we can talk more.
Seminar in Missional Living
In addition to the six month process, I’ve also developed a one-day seminar that can be hosted with your church or group in which we’ll address some of the basic biblical and practical concepts which can ignite the missional imagination.
This seminar can be incorporated into a church retreat - or even expanded to serve as the entire retreat focus - with very little advanced warning. This isn’t just an academic endeavor for me, its an orientation to faith that I live and breathe - if you need someone there this weekend, just give me directions.
Interim or “Relief” Preaching
I love my church family. One of the most endearing qualities of this group of people is a genuine concern for people over programs. Rather than just being willing to press on without me if I’m invited to speak somewhere on a Sunday, these folks are willing to find other ways and times to get together.
If your church is in a period of transition between preachers, I am available to preach on Sundays or Wednesdays - for one week or several, whatever fits your circumstances. I’m also happy to fill in for the preacher who just needs a week off - whether its for an out-of-town trip or an out-of-pulpit respite.
If your church is in or around the DFW metroplex I’d be happy to come spend time and share the good news of God’s kingdom with you.

We also have several other things in the works which we believe will cultivate a more sustainable rhythm for our family and ministry. Some of these should come into fruition in the next six to nine months, some over the course of the next couple years. This post is already too long to get into them all...but maybe I’ll post some further thoughts in the next few days. 
The final piece I want to mention in this post is: 
Support for Church Planting.

Just in the past couple months we’ve launched out with our new church planting effort, The Gathering: Burleson. We have a fundraising newsletter that we’ve put together with more information about our work in this area, and we would love to tell you more if you’re interested in partnering with us. We’re grateful for the community of friends who’ve supported us over the last few years, and we’re praying that God will raise up a few more to get us through the wilderness and into (we hope and pray and hope and pray) Canaan, soon.
If you would like any further information on Communitas, the Seminar in Missional Living, Interim Preaching availability or supporting our church planting work with The Gathering, please don’t hesitate to email, post a reply or just yell really loud.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Am I Crazy???

In our group's discussions on "Missional Imagination" (part of my DMin project)an issue was raised that I think is appropriate to respond to publicly. 

The question came in response to several disturbing passages of scripture - most notably the story of Abraham's call and willing response to sacrifice his son Isaac. Initially the question was, "what would you do if God asked you to kill your child?"

Another passage, the story of God speaking to Moses through a burning bush, brought up the comment that if one of us experienced such an event, we and everyone else would think we were crazy. So, after some discussion on both passages the follow-up question was (I'm actually paraphrasing a couple questions here) "If you claim to hear from God, people will say you're crazy. But who is to say that the crazy lady who kills her children and says God told her to, DIDN'T hear from God?...after all he told Abraham to kill his child."

Here are versions of my responses to the questions raised (with a little editing to keep confidentiality in our group) I'm basically addressing 3 questions:
1) Are you "crazy" if you claim to hear God?
2) How do we know that God didn't tell someone to kill their children?
3) How can we know who is and isn't hearing from God?

First, there is a difference between someone being CONSIDERED crazy and someone BEING crazy. The difference, in this situation, is whether or not the event being described actually took place. If someone, like Moses, actually did see a talking bush, they wouldn’t be crazy. If they imagined it, and believed it to be real, they would be crazy. So the question is whether or not it actually happened. Since this is outside the parameters of “normal” experience (especially today), we would immediately suspect they imagined it until evidence was provided to prove otherwise. But just because we consider them crazy doesn’t make it so.

Another issue is how we define and determine “normal.” Norms are typically determined culturally, not universally. For our highly modernized society there are any number of things which are considered superstition or even “crazy” which, even today in other parts of the world - or in certain segments of American society - are considered normal. 

In parts of Africa, it is “common” to see demons. In Pentecostal churches it is common to “speak in tongues.” Who determines whether these things are crazy? Well... “we” do. (We being the people who live in that place; participants in that culture.) The collective community decides what is and isn’t normal. That does not necessarily mean that someone operating outside those boundaries is actually crazy.

In Moses’ time people were more likely to believe in “magical” or supernatural appearances than your typical 21st century American. But even then, remember, Moses wanted God to help him know what to say to people who most likely wouldn’t take his word about the appearance of God. Even if it may seem that way to us, theophanies (an appearance of or conversation with God) were not common even in Moses' day.

I was asked by a friend (who first raised several of these questions) what I would do if God appeared and asked me to kill one of my children. My first response was that it is hard to know what we would do if God showed up in front of us and said to do something. Maybe we’d be so overcome with fear we wouldn’t know what to do. I start with this because I think its foolish to confidently declare what we would or would not do if we were talking to God face-to-face.

It is also important to remember that, with the Abraham/Isaac story in particular, we only have a small picture of this story. What was the context? Did God show up in front of Abraham unannounced and say, “Hey, remember your son Isaac? Well...I’ve got an idea...”

Or, did Abraham look around at the other religious cultures of the area, notice that most of them engaged in child sacrifice and become convinced God was calling him to do the same? Did he then find a ram in the bushes where he was about to sacrifice Isaac and determine that God had been testing his faith and had provided an alternative based on his faithfulness? (*Some will say that this scenario isn’t possible because the Bible says “God said to Abraham” – but consider two things: 1) These early stories were transmitted orally for many years before being written down. 2) We have scriptural evidence that the details of the stories were sometimes changed to make specific statements – compare Exodus 18:17-26 to Deuteronomy 1:9-18 / Numbers 13:1-6 to Deuteronomy 1:19-24  / Numbers 13:26-33 to Deuteronomy 1:25-28 / Numbers 20:1-12 to Deuteronomy 1:37…in one speech Moses changes several major details. I’m not saying Abraham did this, just saying, we don’t know.)

Did God call Abraham to perform such an action and then stop it as foreshadowing for the very act to which Jesus would willingly submit in the future? Was this a way of showing humanity that God is going to greater lengths to redeem us than that we could imagine?

Or was it something else? We don’t know.

What we DO know is that God did NOT require Abraham to sacrifice his son and has never required any of us to offer child sacrifices. Beyond that, we know that Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross did away with the sacrificial system...and from the words of the prophets we can wonder whether the sacrificial system was ever what God desired in the first place.

For God to suddenly require me to murder an innocent child flies in the face of how God has always operated; it would not be consistent with the scope of Scripture, with the teachings or life of Jesus, or with what we know to be right. Child sacrifice is an abhorrent practice and to suggest that such a thing would be pleasing to God suggests some very distasteful things about God. As Hosea reminded us, "God desires mercy, not [blood] sacrifice." (Hosea 6:6)

Jesus extended that to say, "If you knew what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent." (Matthew 12:7) So for God to suddenly decide we should randomly murder an innocent child would be an unnatural departure from the very nature God has professed to humanity.

If "God" were to just suddenly say, "I need you to kill your child" then I would first question whether or not this "voice" was truly that of God. But, for the sake of argument, let's say it was. At this point I would begin to question if God has ever been good...and I would consider the possibility that Satan is right, we need to overthrow this tyrant.

BUT (and this is a very significant but), I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think God is an evil tyrant, I don’t think Satan is a noble revolutionary and I don’t think God would ask me to kill my child.

I don’t often make definitive statements about other’s motives or actions, but I will now. Those who claim that God told them to murder their children are either lying or crazy or else the good God we worship is a lie. And again, I don’t think its the latter.

Throughout history, people have used “God” to justify all kinds of craziness, whether it was Christians and Muslims killing each other throughout the middle ages; the extinction of entire groups of people (Germans killing Jews, European Americans killing “Native” Americans, Hutus killing Tutsis in Rwanda, etc); one people group enslaving another; men oppressing women; the rich oppressing the poor - all have claimed divine mandate to do so - and I believe they’re all crazy.

The question that seems logical here is, “How do we know who is and who isn’t hearing from God?” This post is already ridiculously long and it would be book length before we could exhaust this question, but let me suggest 4 important aspects.

1) Community. It is very important to have a community of faith surrounding us; praying and discerning with us whenever we feel we've gotten direction from God - be that in a general sense or a very specific calling. That doesn't HAVE to be your church, it can be a group of close and trusted friends and spiritual advisors - people who are serious about their faith and serious about listening to the voice of God. Community (not a new theme from me, I know) is an important corrective to many of our ills - whether they're overtly religious ills or not. It was to the Community of God the scriptures were entrusted in the first place - not individuals. Which leads to my next point...

2) Scripture. Does what you're hearing fit with the scope and trajectory of scripture? This is not the same as saying, "can you find scriptural permission to do this thing?" Scripture isn't a rule-book meant to give instructions for every event that crops up in our lives. BUT it is the story of God at work with (and in) humanity. In the pages of scripture we find a story of redemption that has progressed and continues into this very time. We turn to the scriptures for wisdom more than instructions - instructions are just information, wisdom is the ability to apply information to a given context. This wisdom comes from Scripture, but we need to remember that Scripture is the story of God at work with the people, so...

3) History. An awareness of the story of Judaism and Christianity - both what is found in scripture and what we can learn from both secular and church historians. This is true both for specific "callings" as well as more general matters - like the formation of a new church or church planting movement. Do you think what we're doing is new or unique? Not even almost. There have been reform movements similar to ours in nearly every generation - including MANY that took place before the Protestant Reformation. Some of these movements have had long lasting positive impacts...others have devolved into very unhealthy expressions of faith. Many of those which have veered into toxic faith have been those who shunned connection to and awareness of the history of Judaism and Christianity. And finally...

4) Theology. When faith lacks reflections on the implications of our theology (whether it is explicitly stated theology, or implicit - what we apparently believe because of how we function, regardless of whether we've thought it through) it is difficult to notice when we're moving in the direction of toxic faith and an improper or false "hearing" of God. I know because the "theologians" and leaders in churches have at times abused power or worked to control rather than serve the church, many people are distrustful...but what is needed isn't LESS theological guidance - it is godly, good, healthy, Christ-like and humble theological service to the church.

There are many voices calling for attention and loyalty. Discerning the voice of God in the midst of the chaos can be difficult - which is why we must be dedicated, as disciples of Jesus, to learning his voice and listening carefully together.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Innocent by Association

I have a relative who spent time in jail because he was with a group of people who robbed a convenience store. It didn’t matter that they testified he had no knowledge of what they were doing. He was with them - guilt by association.

I wasn’t at the trial, but I seriously doubt that any lawyers suggested that the other people be acquitted because there was an innocent person with them - there is no “innocent by association” in our system of justice.

And yet, that is precisely what Abraham asks God for in Genesis 18.

Then the LORD said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”
 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD.
Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

If you’ve read the story you know (and if you haven’t, check out the rest of Genesis 18) that this leads to a really interesting “negotiation.” In truth it isn’t a negotiation, God never counters. Abraham asks God to show mercy and God agrees. Then it just stops at 10.  God never said, “Okay, 10, but that’s my final offer.” Why not keep pressing to 1?

One possible reason is that the numbers aren’t the point. This passage makes us uncomfortable because it seems like Abraham is teaching God about we explain it away. There are plenty of statements made (I’ve made several myself) about how God already knew Abraham would ask these questions. Giving Abraham a chance to stand up for others was God’s plan all along. But there’s 2 problems with that theory.

     1.  It makes God deceptive. He basically lied about his plans to Abraham in order to goad him into standing up for others.
     2.  The text itself never says anything to support this theory. From the perspective of the story, God was fed up and was ready to destroy everyone in the city (if “what he’d heard” was true...which is another interesting tidbit.)

Perhaps the “negotiation” ends abruptly because its really just beginning. The Bible doesn’t seem nearly as uncomfortable as we are about presenting God as one whose decisions can be swayed and mind can be changed by the pleading and reasoning of people. Moses did it a few times (see Exodus 32:9-14; 33:1-17), Abraham does it, the prophets repeatedly tell Israel that God will relent (see Hosea 11:8-9) if they’ll cry out in repentance and learn to seek justice rather than rebellion (see Isaiah 1...and the rest of Isaiah).

But, back to the matter at hand.

What Abraham asks isn’t merely the deliverance of the righteous, but the deliverance (at least for now) of the entire city on account of the righteous. This isn’t the way the legal system works now, and it wasn’t the way it worked then. Guilt seems to have a wider circle of influence than innocence. And yet, one reason that this conversation in Genesis 18 is so important is that it points to a day when that will no longer be the case. In a way, this conversation is foreshadowing.

What did “the visitors” find in Sodom? They found a man who immediately offers them hospitality (in a very similar fashion to the way Abraham had received them outside the city). They also find a violent mob meaning to do them harm. Then this valiant and hospitable host steps out to stop the crowd and offers himself in their place, right? Nope, he offers the crowd his daughters. This is complete speculation, but I wonder if things would have turned out differently if Lot had offered himself as a sacrifice? Perhaps this would have been the righteousness that God was seeking in order to relent. Maybe not.

The speculation doesn’t really matter because Lot doesn’t offer himself, he offers his daughters. The visitors pull him back into the house and tell him to get out of the city.

In Romans 5, Paul picks up on this theme when he says that just as guilt came into the world through one man, now rescue has as well. The innocence of the one has finally spread to cover the guilt of the others. Unlike Lot, Jesus offered himself to the angry mob.

Genesis 19:27-28 is an incredibly depressing statement and yet it seems to be filled with meaning and significance:
Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.
Abraham saw no life, no deliverance, just death and destruction. I think its interesting that the story comments that he went and stood in the place where he’d stood with the Lord the previous day. From Abraham’s perspective this must have been devastating - Even after an encouraging conversation, God has not delivered the city. What hope is there?

And yet the next verse is like postscript ending to a movie that lets you know without doubt that a sequel is planned:
So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.
The blessing of Genesis 12 which promised that others will be blessed through Abraham is starting to become a reality. The conversation is far from is, in fact, just beginning.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Site Under Construction

I've got a few major updates coming to the usual I've started one project and need to move on to others before this one is finished.

More info soon.

In the meantime, all blog posts will remain live on the site.

The Management

A Timely Retrospective

As we prepare to once again launch a fundraising effort for church planting, I decided to repost this article I wrote on the cusp of our move to Burleson nearly three years ago. The details are different this time around, we're hoping to relocate to the other side of town, not to another state. We have 3 years experience in the ministry of planting churches and specifically working with people in this area. We've now been married over 10 years and for the first time ever have lived in the same house for over 2.5 years. We're hoping our next move will be the last for many years to come. As I reread this post, I was struck by how much things have changed and how much they have stayed the same. The economy got worse, then it seemed to get a little, organizations are giving less to charitable causes and non-profits while individuals seem to be giving more. Our prayer as we begin this process is that the Holy Spirit will guide us to connect with both churches and individuals willing to partner with us in the ministry of planting churches and equipping congregations to live missionally in their neighborhoods.

Bad Ideas and Ones That Just Seem That Way. Oct 3, 2008

So as you may or may not know, Rachel and I have been married nearly 8 years and we are about to (hopefully) complete our 8th move together. Over the years we have become pretty proficient packers and movers, with a thoroughly tested and carefully revised system. Rachel has always been in charge of packing (I handle the garage, my closet and anything she tells me to do…). I’ve been in charge of moving day and take pride in the fact that when folks show up to help us load the trucks there are pretty much only two types of items in our home: boxes and furniture. When we moved from Mesquite to Dallas the total time from when the first box was picked up until we were all sitting in the new house eating lunch was 2.5 hours (that’s including the 15-20 minute drive to our new house).

But times they are a changin’. If you read Rachel’s blog you know that she normally has nearly half the house packed before we send the kids to grandparents’ house for crunch time. The jump from 2 to 3 kids has shifted the balance of power and we simply did not have nearly as much done. Wednesday when I took the boys to my mom, Rachel was sick – which meant that the whole day she had to herself to get stuff done without me or the boys in her way was…well, it wasn’t good. Then yesterday I spent the day battling off the ick as well.

However, last night as we prepared for bed, we felt that all-in-all we were in decent shape. Joey had been incredibly cooperative, we actually had several boxes packed, the garage was close to ready…and we still had all day today, Saturday, most of the day Sunday and Monday before the big day Tuesday.

But that wasn’t good enough for me.

While carrying some stuff out to the truck I accidentally walked into the side of an open drawer. That was not a good idea. Three hours later we were back home with seven stinking stitches. But you know, we still got a lot done today.

The doctor, after conceding that I wasn’t going to stay off my feet, requested that I at least spend an hour of so with my leg propped up so that the bleeding would stop (which it didn’t do the entire time they were stitching me up…it was kinda cool). During my long lunch break I watched CNN. There was plenty of talk about the bailout plan – which at that point was being deliberated in the House of Representatives. There was also plenty of talk about the overall state of the economy and the future for jobs and financial security for American citizens.

This isn’t a bombshell; things have been looking a bit dreary for quite some time now. And to be totally honest there have been a few people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that we’re raising money to plant churches. “Now?” they often ask. A few have even come right out and said that they think this is a bad idea. Is the decision to step out on faith and plant new churches right now an idea comparable to kicking an open drawer while packing?

The short answer, I believe, is “no”.

It is true that finances are tight and we are asking people, in the midst this situation, to partner with us financially. It is true that many people are unsure about their job security. It is true that for many people the hope, optimism and general sense of well-being found in this country’s prosperity have been shaken. But that is all the more reason for us to be doing precisely what we’re doing.

Chris Chappotin, my new coworker, just read a book called Death By Suburb. I’m currently reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope. Both of these books, in one way or another, discuss the danger of putting our hope and faith in something less than God. I wonder how many people have been uninterested in God because a prosperous society has been providing them with liberal doses of pain killers - never truly addressing the problems in their life but effectively masking the symptoms in the short run. But (at the risk of overusing the metaphor) perhaps the prescription has run out for many of us.

I believe that today there are many people who have lost or are afraid they may lose their security net and I believe that those people are going to be more receptive than ever to hearing the good news of God who has come near; a God who has come to repair the broken systems of this world which lead to insecurity, fear and oppression; a God who has called us to work with him to reconcile, heal and restore his good creation.

I believe that people are going to be receptive, but there’s more to it than just that. I also believe that right now we NEED hope. Part of why folks are receptive is that the good news which we proclaim is something which we legitimately crave. The truth is that the Kingdom of God is breaking into this world, even in the midst of financial crisis. This kingdom has implications (as Surprised By Hope emphasizes) for life after death, life after life after death and even life BEFORE death!

There has never been a more appropriate time in our lifetime to be engaged in God’s mission; planting churches right now is a GOOD idea.

Those we are asking to partner with us are being faced with a big commitment of faith – trust me, I understand that very well. However, I am more convinced than ever that this is precisely the kind of risk we are being called to take in the name of Jesus. We have raised nearly 50% of our goal (for the first year anyway), we are moving Wednesday and we are convinced that God is opening these doors. We are also convinced that the hurdles which keep popping up this week are examples of spiritual warfare. I believe that the forces of darkness at work in this world should be nervous – not because of us, but because of the powerfully advancing Kingdom in which our citizenship resides.

We are talking with a few churches right now about coming on board as a supporting church for our family and the ministry of planting churches in the Burleson / south Fort Worth area. Several of these churches are considering one time or special gifts – which we of course appreciate greatly. Our church here at Tammany Oaks has agreed to partner with us for one year. We need other congregations to partner with us regularly over the next three years or so. Make no mistake, we’re still looking for individuals to join us. But perhaps your congregation or one you know of would be interested in supporting (or partially supporting) a domestic missionary family. Perhaps your church family also believes that it is time for the community of God to advance into the darkness in order to reflect light into every dark corner. If so would you help us get connected with your church? Would you be the voice calling your leadership to partner with us?

I have now officially shed blood for this ministry, and the 7 stitches (a good, holy number by the way) are symbolic of my commitment…not my inability to watch where I’m walking, as you may have thought. I pray that very soon we will have raised our full support (because apparently I really need to get medical insurance!!). In the meantime we are continuing to pray for the individuals and congregations that God is preparing to bring into our lives as partners, as well as the individuals and families that we are going to be blessed to be in relationship with through the ministry of planting new churches.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A New Day Dawns

In the summer of 2005 my world turned upside down. I was a youth minister at a church in Dallas, only a few months away from finishing grad school at ACU and we'd just found out Rachel was pregnant with Micah (our now 5 year old). Life seemed to be progressing in fairly predictable fashion. My job seemed secure, my family was growing, we lived in a house we planned to buy in a nice but affordable Dallas neighborhood. We had some exciting things happening in the youth ministry. It wasn't all rainbows and lollipops, there were frustrations and struggles, but all in all, things were good.

Then one Tuesday I was told that the leadership of the church had decided to eliminate my position at the church. In one conversation the rug was pulled out from under us. I began looking for another job. We had grown to love Dallas and had very good friends there...but to find another ministry job would most likely mean moving. For months I searched. Time and time again we found ourselves among the final 2 applicants for a position - several of which were still in the DFW area - and every time someone from the selection committee would call to say they were very sorry but they'd decided on the other guy. In one week I got a call from one church saying they felt like they needed someone a little younger, another saying they wanted someone a little older...and another that just wanted someone else. I felt like I was the momma bear's porridge AND the daddy bear's porridge.

After 6 months, and jobs in insurance adjusting, Barnes and Noble bookshelf alphabetizing, bounce house set-upping, disaster relief child caring and even a few random jobs, we were invited to move to the New Orleans area on a one year contract where I'd work as an outreach minister in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The first year and a half were brutal. We were still wounded from our previous job loss...and in hindsight were probably not in the best state-of-mind to relocate to a disaster area. However, our one year contract became nearly three years, the outreach ministry position became the preaching ministry position and Tammany Oaks became our family.

I began spending time at local coffee shops and cafes. I met and developed friendships with people who had little or no desire to ever step foot in a "church building." It became apparent to me that in order to truly connect with such folks we'd need a very different approach than what we were used to. We began to discern a call to church planting.

So, we told Tammany Oaks what we were thinking and our desire to take up this calling in north Texas - to be sent home as missionaries. I was nervous, I'd been dropped by a church before, how would this one respond? My fears proved to be unfounded in this instance. For six months we remained at Tammany Oaks while we raised support - in the midst of church family that prayed over us and pledged a year of financial support themselves, and friends who are still very dear to us.

Four of us had left Texas in April/May 2006 and five moved back to north Texas in October of 2008 (Josiah was born in Covington, Louisiana, but still secretly on Texas soil as I'd had a bag of that beautiful sandy-loam smuggled into the delivery room...) We began working with Christ Journey, a young church plant in Burleson. I spent time developing spiritual formation and discipleship processes for a house church based ministry, got to know waitresses and strangers in the park, started new house churches and began working on a doctor of ministry in missional church studies at SMU. My school studies were helpful and have led to the development of a training resource for groups - particularly established congregations who wish to begin connecting with people like the ones I'd met in south Louisiana coffee shops...and Burleson coffee shops.

But the real learning took place in the midst of the Christ Journey community and our attempts to cultivate a missional community in the midst of Bible belt culture. I gained insight into the struggles that come with planting churches in an area that author/professor/church planter, David Fitch recently described to me as "extremely comfortable with church."

I learned about the limitations of and the need for godly leadership in young communities of faith. I learned about the inherent relational risks associated with an approach to faith that calls you to invest in one another beyond merely attending events together. I learned about the difficulty and the necessity of leading as a fellow follower, co-laborer and travel companion and the danger of abdicating that calling.

I learned the importance of serving the poor and connecting with neighbors as central elements of life as a disciple of Jesus - experiencing life as "the scattered church" ...and I developed a whole new appreciation for the value of gathering regularly for worship - life as "the gathered church."

I struggled with the role of preaching and proclamation in a culture that values dialog over monologue...and am learning how to navigate that path.

I learned to recognize the need for structures that benefit organic growth and learned how stunted that growth will be without such structures.

My learning is far from complete. But my family and I, along with a few other families have now been sent out by Christ Journey to continue the ministry of planting churches. The Gathering is already connecting with others and inviting new friends to taste and see that the Lord is good. Just as planting an apple tree means planting apple seeds, planting churches means planting not the finished fruit but rather a seed, which is the good news that Jesus himself planted - The kingdom of God is at hand!

Since we moved to Burleson we have been supported financially by a combination of raised support and part-time (and sometimes full-time) jobs. As we launch out on this new phase of our adventure, we are once again seeking others to partner with us financially. In addition to our ministry with The Gathering, I'm currently working several part-time jobs (4 to be precise, along with completing the final stages of my degree at SMU) and am in the process of starting a non-profit ministry called Intentional People, formed around Communitas, the process I've developed through SMU. Rachel currently has 3 jobs of her own (in addition to caring for the infamous Wellsbrothers).

One of our primary goals for fundraising is to be able to raise enough support to let go of a few of these other jobs in order to devote more time to church planting and Intentional People.

We have put together a newsletter which describes The Gathering and Intentional People, and provides information about how others can partner with us. If you, someone you know, your church or another group may be interested in learning more about either of these ministries, please leave a comment, email me at, or send me a message on Facebook or Twitter.