A cool thing about our Outreach Saga is that I don’t have to carry the load. I do a lot of the teaching, but others step up when they have something from the Lord to share.

A couple of weeks ago my friend Cyndi Gavin shared. She talked about the worth we have to God. What she shared was so good I had to pass it on:

If you could do anything, what would it be? That was the question she posed to us. We had a paper and pencil to write down what we would do if we could do anything we wanted. Then she talked for a bit about how we get our sights on things that aren’t worthwhile.

She pulled out a fifty dollar bill and asked if anyone would want it. Many hands shot up. What if it was dropped in the mud? There were still takers. Now if a one dollar bill was in the mud, you’d consider whether it was worth it. Not with the fifty. It’s gone.

Then she came back to our papers, with our one wish on there. She asked this question: How much was it worth? Was it worth giving the life of your child for it?

No one said yes.

But God said yes.

He said we were worth enough that He would sacrifice His Son for us. And He did just that.

That is how much we are worth.

So, know that you are loved today. And no matter how bad things may seem, God thought you were worth it.

All In

When people ask me where I go to church now, I tell them about our Outreach Saga. Meeting in the park. Trying to do a community of Jesus in the midst of a group of people on their turf instead of in a specific building.

Sometimes people respond, “So you don’t go to church anywhere else?”

Well, no.

What we’re doing is church.

We don’t go to a building in the morning and then do outreach after that. We’ve said that sink or swim, stand or fall, what we’re doing with people in the park is what we’re doing. It keeps us more engaged I think. There’s no lifeline. There’s no safe place to retreat to if the going gets rough.

Since we can’t go back (well, we could, but not immediately), we have to press in. We have to love people as they are. Working through the ups and downs of life. Pointing to Jesus when it gets rough or when it is going well. It keeps us engaged with the Lord, because without Him it all falls apart. I wish I could say I did this perfectly. I don’t.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that with this church in the park deal, we’re all in. No chips held back. They’ve been pushed to the middle of the table and we’re playing this hand.

It’s exciting. It’s frightening. It requires a lot of faith, and the Spirit encourages us an awful lot when we have those human moments of doubt.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not sure if this song fully fits, but here’s Lifehouse with All In.

Back To The Park

Did you see the angel behind the tree? 😉

Ugh. I don’t even want to look at when the last time I posted. It’s been one of those months.

But in better news, the Outreach Saga is back in the park.

This was our Sunday for church:

We had beautiful singing with a battery powered keyboard.

The worship leader gave an anointed word at the end.

Our main speaker had to wait until the dogs checked each other out to continue.

We talked about Jesus as our redeemer. As we talked about how we can’t earn any more unconditional love than what God already gives us, one new gal spoke up. “We can’t do sh*t by ourselves. It’s Him.”

At one point I had to duck a lit cigarette as the gal next to me excitedly waved her arms talking about Jesus.

Yep, we’re back in the park. All of us beautiful messes, learning to walk with the Lord in His love and truth. Out in the fresh air. Mixed up with real life, which isn’t always pretty or “religious.”

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Is Missional “The New Legalism?”

There’s a post from World Magazine making the rounds in Christian circles by Anthony Bradley entitled, “The New Legalism.” He wrote it in response to a tweet he sent out that said:

“Being a ‘radical,’ ‘missional’ Christian is slowly becoming the ‘new legalism.’ We need more ordinary God and people lovers (Matt 22:36-40).”

 He goes on to decry the people that call for Christians to live missional lives and to walk in a radical Christianity. He makes a case that it comes from Millenials disdaining the suburbs they were raised in and the narcissistic world we live in now where everyone is special and needs to do grand things for God in order to be fully walking as Jesus walked.

I saw it posted by Mike Duran and Jaime the Very Worst Missionary, both mentioning it as an interesting read. It is a thought-provoking piece, but I think it is a flawed premise that misleads by focusing on a few points in exclusion to the whole context.

There are some areas where I agree with Anthony. I came of age in Christianity in the Charismatic/Third Wave movement of the 80s and 90s. Well-meaning preachers would call us the Joshua Generation (Psalm 24) and proclaim how we would do great things. Prophecies were made (it was Charismatic after all) and I was encouraged that I could be a leader/teacher/missionary and so on. I believed I had a call to missions, and I did two stints with Youth With A Mission in their Discipleship Training School and School of Biblical Studies.

Something happened in Bible school. God told me to get a skill. I went into medicine, thinking it could open doors for the mission field. Except…I got married. Now, I married my best friend who had also been in missions, and she taught school which would be another great tent-making opportunity. Except…we started having kids. And I had school loans. We bought a house.

All of a sudden I was settled down into a suburban life. I went to church on Sundays, tried to establish my career, coached kids in soccer, and wondered when I would get into missions, my real call.

This is where I agree with Anthony. In the Charismatic stream I came from, greatness was the promise we were told God had for us. I could see myself traveling and teaching, ministering in different countries. There was some narcissism there. Prophets never seemed to say, “You’re going to live a boring life in the town you grew up in.” There was always more suggested.

The problem was that basic commitment to serve the Lord in whatever way He called us. I was always willing to do whatever, or at least that’s what I said. Still, I had my idea what that meant, and I struggled when things didn’t go that way. If I had a heart for missions, why was I still in the U.S.?

Then last year things were turned upside down in our lives.

We found ourselves in a like-minded group that didn’t have expectations of going to a regular church and doing the “typical Sunday things.” We asked God what we could do. He gave us the Outreach Saga, where we met locally in the midst of a low-income housing area and worked with people that felt on the outside of church.

In the midst of this upheaval I’ve started following people like Neil Cole, Alan Hirsch, Francis Chan, and David Platt, people associated with groups like the Verge Conference. Verge talks a lot about missional, radical Christianity. And Anthony wonders if too much pressure is being placed on young Christians, teens and college students, to do something extraordinary in their lives. If they don’t do certain things, they aren’t being the best Christians they can.

Anthony creates a straw man argument here. Yes, if leaders are telling people that you can only live for God if you do a certain set of things, it is a form of legalism just like the Pharisees. The problem with this is that it is an extreme and not the norm, as far as my perspective goes. I think Anthony has a particular theological slant against David Platt as evidenced by his review of Platt’s book. I don’t know all of Platt’s teachings, so there may be more here than I realize.

However, Anthony’s article makes it sound like every Christian is being told by the missional/radical movement should move to the inner city, do social justice and artistic work, and give up worldly possessions to proclaim the gospel.

You know what. Why not?

I think it comes down to being obedient to what God calls you to do. If it is to work in a successful law firm and make money so you can support other ministries and causes, that is great. If it is to volunteer your law skills to help victims of trafficking, great.

Anthony seems to be asking for a corrective. Americans are very into themselves, and I know that some of the theology and teaching/prophecy from my early years tickled my ears more than spoke of true discipleship. But doesn’t the church in America need awakening?

I have many friends that give up so much for the sake of the gospel. I have other friends that love God but segment their lives and don’t live in the fullness I believe God has for them. They travel out of town to a large, fancier church with a gifted teacher as the pastor to worship and get fed…and that’s it. I know they go there so it can be no muss, no fuss. They don’t have to get involved with the church, because it is large and they are anonymous. They don’t have to get in the midst of people’s messy lives if they don’t want to.

I fear this is a large segment of American Christianity. Thus I believe a call to discover missional living, where people are intentional in all they do in order to be used for the Kingdom, is sorely needed. I see the need for Christians to be called to “radical” Christianity. The issue is that it shouldn’t be radical in the first place – it should be common-place of a disciple of Christ.

The intro to Anthony’s article states:

Is Paul’s urging to live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11) only for losers? Do you feel that you’re wasting your gifts if you “settle” into an ordinary job, get married early and start a family, or live in a small town or suburb?

I did struggle with this for a time. I knew God was an extraordinary God, and I wondered if I was missing out. I was faithful serving in my local church, and walked with Him the best I could. Slowly I realized there are seasons of testing or training, and there are seasons of adventure. I knew in my head that we are all missionaries wherever we are, but now I am living it in my heart as I work among the people at the housing complex. I don’t have to travel or speak to large groups. I am allowing God to use me to target a small, specific group of people, and it is right where I am supposed to be. I don’t worry about not fulfilling my call, because I know I am now.
God can use us in so many ways. But “living quietly” in the above verse also must be alongside “take up my cross and follow Me.”
I’m glad I read the article. It sharpened my thinking in this arena. But I disagree with the premise that a missional or radical emphasis is inherently legalistic. My blog is called Spoiled For The Ordinary. We may live an “ordinary” life. But our God is anything but ordinary, and I believe all Christians would do well to see the crazy love He gives us and then go and do likewise. 

Soccer or Football

I was talking to a friend this weekend who passed on an observation from someone else.

“Church can be like football or like soccer.”

This piqued my curiosity. I am a sports fan after all. I love to watch American football, but I enjoy playing soccer more.

A football game is equipment and support heavy. All the helmets and pads. Several referees. A special kind of field with marks every ten yards. To do it right, it takes a lot of effort and resources.

Soccer can be the essence of simplicity. You need a ball and two spots for goals. That’s it.

 The laws of soccer are actually very few, compared with the myriad of penalties and rules for what is acceptable in football. Try explaining to a football novice the difference between running into a kicker vs. roughing the kicker, or pass interference, or illegal formation. The wide receiver covered the tight end? What is that?

Of course kids can play a simple game of football in a park, and soccer can be done with huge stadiums and use a lot more resources. Still, the analogy holds: football is generally a lot of work to actually get to the game, while soccer can be done with a minimal of requirements.

When it comes to church, doing our Outreach Saga has convinced me that doing things simply like the soccer match is a valid way of meeting together as the body of Christ. I recognize that the big football game of Sunday morning church has its place and can do things we can’t do in our small group. However, I think both can be used to meet the needs of people around us.

Are we willing to do something small and simple to reach people, instead of always going for bigger and showier?

For now, God’s given me a soccer ball. I’m willing to play the game He’s put in front of me.

What do you think of the analogy? Does it ring true, or do you have a concern about it? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

Organic Outreach?

There’s a lot of talk on the internet about Organic Church. I know the internet gives any cause a voice, but when we moved into our Outreach Saga and started meeting outside of the traditional church, it was heartening to find other like-minded people.

I’ve paid attention to several writers: Frank Viola, Alan Knox, Neil Cole, Alan HirschChurch In A Circle, Church Multiplication Associates, and Simple Church to name a few. These sites have information pertinent to doing church organically, in a different pattern from the typical Sunday morning setting. They talk about the body doing ministry together, meeting out in the world (rather than a church building), and growing disciples in more of a relational manner. 
These are all very helpful resources, and I’m grateful to these brothers and sisters for sharing the way the Lord is leading them and their testimony and experience in walking out church in a new way.
I’ve come to realize an issue though. My group that I’m involved with isn’t doing strictly Organic Church. 
We met in a park during the summer and fall, moving into a local counseling center for the winter weather. Many people share during our times together. We eat, sing, and bring the Word as we’re led. These are things that an organic church will do.
The thing that may be different is that we’re an outreach at the same time. 
We’re in a neighborhood with low income housing, and we’ve mainly reached people in this apartment complex. I think most of the people coming are Christians, but I’m not certain in every case. Some have been in the church and felt rejected. Others come because we are so close and accessible. 
It seems we are a little different than a lot of the organic church talk I’ve followed online. Maybe I’m wrong and not catching it. 
The challenge is that we’ve got a core of believers that have had relationship with each other over a long period of time with a desire to be the church instead of doing church. Then we have another population of people that we’re getting to know and trying to disciple. It is very exciting what we’re doing each week, and it is a huge blessing to be ministering to each other. I am touched as often as anyone else is. That doesn’t take away from the sensation I have of walking on the water at times – trying to keep my balance as the waves shift beneath me!
I guess the point of this post is to throw this situation out there. Does anyone have experience doing organic church as an outreach? If so, I’d love to dialog with you on this topic. If you have a heart to pray for us, that would be greatly appreciated! 
So leave a comment if you’re interested in a discussion on organic church and reaching out. I’ll meet you in the blogosphere.

Most Influential Book of 2012

In my last post, I shared my favorite fiction books from 2012. Fiction books can be very influential as well, but there was one non-fiction book that helped with a paradigm shift in how I thought about church and its mission.

The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating The Missional Church by Alan Hirsch was recommended to me over a year ago by my friend and former pastor Brian Harrison. I didn’t read it until this year when my friends and I started into our Outreach Saga. A group of us had left our former church and were looking into what God had for us.

As we started to meet together and tried to hear from the Lord each week, I was also reading this book. It truly opened my eyes to ideas that I hadn’t considered in a fleshed out manner before. Sure, through intuition and talking with other people I had touched on ideas from The Forgotten Ways but I wasn’t getting the full picture.

Hirsch discusses how the model of Christendom we operate in nowadays in modern evangelical culture (for the most part) is not necessarily how the early church (up to 300 AD) did things. From 300 AD to now the church developed hierarchy and structure that was adopted from Roman systems. They worked in a Christian culture context of Europe in the Dark and Middle Ages, even through the Renaissance and Reformation. However, now that our culture is post-Christian and pluralistic, it cannot meet the changing forces in the world in an adequate way.

The majority of the book describes his theory on how church should operate. Through the complex diagram to the right, he shows how the church needs to function. Stemming from the Lordship of Jesus are the five hubs that continue to expand out and encompass the life of a Christian and the community of believers.

Hirsch has worked in missional fields for a long time and has spent a lot of effort into this study. From the Biblical basis to historical activity and modern theory involving organic systems, he brings a thorough and convincing argument for the need to discover forgotten ways and to fully reactivate the life believers need to have today to fully reach the people out there.

In writing this post I am not doing the book justice in a short summation. Perhaps my testimony will help spell it out. As I read the book, I realized that as we tried to reach out to a needy sub-group in our community, we needed to be willing to risk and try new things in order to touch the people. Instead of being a controlled environment where one person (the pastor) speaks and runs the meeting, we’re developing a time of sharing with each other from the Word and our own testimonies. In this way everyone in the meeting has the potential to share something that another person may desperately need. I know I don’t have all the answers in life – that I don’t have the exclusive on God. In relying on the body of Christ to be the body, I’ve seen the strength it brings by allowing others the opportunity to step up when they have what is needed at the time.

I had a reawakening through reading this book and studying Scripture alongside it. I haven’t had a book challenge me like this in many years. It is an easy choice for me to recommend it to anyone who’s wondering if there are better ways of doing “church.” There are better ways, but we’ve just built human structures onto things that should be organic and not just formed into boxes. For an introduction into this, I can’t do better except to highly suggest reading The Forgotten Ways and seeing if it speaks of His truth and the reality of the world today. I think it does both.

So here’s to 2013. May there be many excellent books in your future, and may you dare to take a risk for Jesus in your life in the coming year.

Mission Monday Reources

Hey all. Mission Monday has taken a hit the last few weeks due to schedule issues. I’ve got some resources for people today.

This year has thrown a group of us into a wild adventure with God. A small group of us separated from our previous church and came together to see what the Lord had for us. Through this we started meeting at a local park to reach out to a nearby apartment complex, and thus the Outreach Saga was born.

I’ve been spending time on the internet looking for resources to help us understand this journey and the new way we feel Jesus is leading us. We’ve stumbled by accident into a way of doing things that has been called organic church or simple church. We’ve gained a heart to really see people discipled in Kingdom ways. So here are some resources that I’ve found to be helpful in our six-month adventure.

Alan Knox is a PhD student in theology who writes very gracious but challenging posts on New Testament practice and how it relates to modern church practice.

Frank Viola is a prolific author. He has written numerous books and keeps up a daily blog. He’s written a lot about organic church but has moved to a fuller study of the person of Jesus. His book, Jesus: A Theography is on my Christmas wish list.

A book recommended to me a year ago became very helpful when we started this summer – The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. It is a thoughtful challenge to the body of Christ and a book that I would highly recommend.

I’ve followed CMA Resources on Twitter and found many encouraging links and articles posted through their work. They have a whole training setup there for people interested in organic church.

Neil Cole is associated with CMA Resources and is another frequent author passionate about organic church and seeing multiplication of disciples. His book Church 3.0 was another intriguing read with some practical advice for those investigating this way of doing church.

The Verge Network has a subscription required for premium content, which I haven’t done yet. Still, there have been free videos released from the likes of Francis Chan and Neil Cole that have been challenging and exhorting for the church to really reach out.

I’ve begun to pay attention to the blog Church In A Circle. Would it be better for the body to interact in a circle than with one person in front speaking to a bunch of rows? That question and more on organic church is discussed here.

There’s a wealth of wisdom and insight above. I hope if any are curious about what we’ve doing will check some of those out. I believe God can use any church for His purpose, from a traditional style of meeting to one that meets in a park with a free-flowing format. It is up to us to be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us and be willing to take risks for our Lord Jesus. That’s my prayer for all of us in the coming year.
Hope this helps!

If you have any feedback on this, please share below!

The Spirit And Sloppy Joes

Sloppy joes bring people together

There’s something we’ve missed out on in modern church culture.

We don’t eat together very often.

I’ve always gone to small churches. It is easy to eat together. For a long time it was a once a month ritual. Then some people got tired of it and we backed off, but then I realized it made a difference in our fellowship. I don’t know how a mega-church could consider doing it – probably isn’t feasible.

Which is too bad, considering the Bible assumes food and fellowship as part of the regular meeting of the saints, if you read Acts, Galatians, and 1st Corinthians. I’ll come back to this point in a minute.

Having said that, we had another interesting night for our Church in the Park (that is now indoors for the season).

I was responsible for sharing and I was having trouble. I couldn’t zero in on anything in particular to talk about. I’ve wanted to talk about what it means to be a disciple, but that didn’t stick. I looked at some other verses to discuss and couldn’t really get a sense of what I should share. Finally I went ready to talk about three different passages of Scripture. And if all else failed, we’d pray for the election.

Well, one of our regulars asked if there was something in the Bible that could help him with some conflict in relationships.

Okay then. Scrap my other three plans. I guess we’re talking about turning the other cheek and walking in the opposite spirit!

We had a good discussion. I shared a couple of pertinent passages out of Matthew 5 and Romans 12. The group shared their thoughts and from their experiences. There was no clear answer but we were able to address a need and pray for it among each other. I was very blessed that my lack of direction helped me stay open to what the Spirit needed to do. That isn’t easy to do in a regular church service. Thankfully, our situation allows for a more organic response. It was special to see our little group be the body to each other.

Oh, so back to the sloppy joes. One of the guys mentioned as a joke that a lot of conflict can be resolved if there were only sloppy joes involved. I couldn’t help but laugh at that. I think there’s truth though. I wonder if eating together drops our defenses a little bit. It is one thing to mingle in the foyer and make small talk. When we dine and share our food together, it is more inviting to open up to your brother or sister.

Let’s be open to what the Spirit wants us to do. Having sloppy joes couldn’t hurt.

Moving In With The Outreach

We held out as long as we could.

This is truth
We challenged our foe. We braved conditions, kept persevering, and kept fighting. In the end we had to capitulate.
Idaho weather won.
Our Outreach Saga has managed to meet in the park since we started the first weekend in June. Every Sunday we showed up at the park. Those of you who know Idaho’s climate realize this is a minor miracle. Since it has snowed in Idaho in June before (not just the mountains either), I am fairly shocked and pleasantly surprised! We had a couple of windy days, the occasional cold day, but we never had to move our cancel for the weather.

Until now.

This weekend we finally moved indoors. Ironically the weather wasn’t too bad and we could have stayed out one more time. Daylight Savings ends next week though, so it seemed time to pack it inside.

This will change our dynamics. We have had people come and go with the freedom of the open park. We always eat together and then spend some time in worship, Bible study, and discussion. A majority ate and left. That was okay. We never wanted to hold them hostage to something in order to get a meal.  I’ve been of the mindset that they will stay when they are ready to hear what we have to say.

Yesterday actually went well. None of us had any idea of what to expect. We are blessed to be meeting at a counseling center less than two blocks from the park, but we didn’t know if people would trudge down a little farther, if convenience was a big issue.

We had a good turnout. Some kids came and were fed and had a safe place to hang out for two hours. Many adults came for a meal. We didn’t have many stay for our Bible discussion, but we got to minister specifically to those who did.

This adventure has been mind-blowing for all of us involved. At the start of the year I would have never imagined doing an outreach like it. Now I can’t imagine what I would be doing otherwise.

If you’ve been following this, please pray for us as we transition into the winter and being indoors. We will have more of a challenge engaging the kids/keeping them busy. Our sense is that winter will allow some more in-reach, whereas the summer in the park lent itself to outreach and a wider net.

Who knows? This has been an unpredictable journey so far. Why start predicting now?