Worth

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.

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.

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?

Community

Sometimes our culture sets us up against God’s will for our lives.

As we continue walking out the Outreach Saga in the local park, we’re learning things all the time. We are meeting next to a low-income housing complex of 100 or so units. In getting to know the people there, I’ve noticed that they have their own little community there.

Since it is an area of low resources, the people have learned to pool together to help each other out. They spend more time interacting. Sometimes they have conflict, but living so close together they live differntly than a lot of suburban Americans.

We’ve been blessed to be accepted by a group of them, and they come on Sunday evenings to fellowship, to talk about the Word, and to encourage one another.

My point in this post is the contrast to how individualistic we are as Americans. We are taught to do things independently. Pull youself up by your own bootstraps. It sometimes is a sign of weakness to need someone’s help.

American Christians play into this. We talk about “our walk with God” as an individual thing. We forget that we are called to be part of a body, a family.

I don’t think this is God’s will for us. Certainly I have to answer to God for my own actions, and I have a relationship with Jesus. The ancient world used to think solely in the concept of the clan or tribe, and the individual didn’t matter. According to Thomas Cahill’s book The Gift Of The Jews, the idea of an individual relationship with God, an independent reckoning was revolutionary.

Western culture has taken this too far. We are built to need one another. I know some people would rather be hermits. My mother could leave work on Friday and not talk to another soul until Monday morning and it would suit her just fine. She said liked it, but I would argue she let herself get into a mindset that she wasn’t really created for.

I would argue that the Western idea of individualism and the Eastern focus on community over a person are extremes, and that the Biblical ideal would foster a strong personal relationship with Jesus in a healthy community of believers that encouraged and exhorted one another.

I’m glad that we’re learning as much in this process as the people that are joining us in the park. When you don’t have a lot, you have to work together with other more. I’m encouraged by their example, and I hope Christians can wake up to the value of having brothers and sisters in Christ that keep us accountable and build us up. Yes, people can hurt you, but the blessings of opening up far outweight the risks in the long-run.

Got Body?

My mom had her share of corny jokes.

One of her favorites was, “Do you want to hear my ghost song?” Then she would sing the first couple lines from the song, “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” No. Body. Get it. Never mind.

Well, I think in the body of Christ we act too often as if we “ain’t got no body.” In that, we don’t let the body do what it needs to do.

Our little Outreach Saga in the park has been going for about 7-8 weeks now. When we first started, we concentrated on building some relationship and gaining the trust of the people. We shared Jesus when we could, whether through conversation or deeds. The last few weeks we have transitioned to having a little more organized Bible study together.

Now, “organized” has a different meaning for what we’ve been doing relative to most people. In this case, it means we gather in a circle and start with reading a Bible story or a few verses. Then we have discussion. That part has lasted about 1.5 hours the last two weeks. No agenda or specific sermon to go through. We’re opening it up to questions and sharing from our hearts.

The awesome thing about this is that we’re seeing our group be the Body of Christ. I’m kind of the leader of our study time, since I have a big mouth and am not afraid to get the ball rolling. The problem is that I don’t necessarily have all the answers for the questions we’re getting.

Last night several people shared. People from the park have questions but also chime in with thoughts. Others from our original fellowship stepped up with their testimonies and words at the proper times.

I’ve had some great opportunities to go to a wonderful Bible study program, to teach and use my gifts in the past. This doesn’t mean I have it all figured out, or have the right words for every situation. Far from it!

I was so blessed last night to have others willing and able to share and use their gifts and testimony to touch others. I needed them. I couldn’t do it myself (not that I would ever want to!).

More and more in our Outreach Saga I’m seeing the wisdom in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Jesus created us as a body for a reason. We need each other. Don’t be afraid to use your gifts from God. He gave them to you for a reason – to be shared with others.

If anyone has questions about what this whole Outreach Saga is, feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. It’s an interesting journey so far!

A Missional Question

Today I’m participating in a challenge from Frank Viola:

The following exercise is from the synchroblog from Frank Viola’s post Gospel for the Middle. 

Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.

One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.

Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.

Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.

Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.

Recently Fielding asked this question:

When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)

Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.

Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.

Question: If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?

Jason:
 
This is a tricky one. By American standards, we would have trouble reaching Fielding and Felicia. We can’t easily pawn them off on someone else, and we can’t just hand them a book.
 
If I were the cousin I would suggest to Fielding that if he is going to read anything, he spend time in the Bible. He doesn’t have to read a lot at once, but he should read it with Felicia every day. They can talk about what they read and pray about it. I would encourage Fielding to look at God’s glory in creation. I would tell him that we are God’s building, and that He wants to build us together as His temple, not as a physical building, but a house made of people.
 
As the cousin I would need to take a more active role in reaching out in between visits, making sure I prayed for them and helped with questions and discipleship as much as possible.
 
I would explain to Fielding that God speaks to His people, and that every believer has the Holy Spirit. I would explain from John that the Spirit leads us into all truth and reveals the Son, and that they can grow in this way.
 
I recently read The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch, and he talks about how the church expanded in the first couple of centuries after Christ, and how the Chinese church grew exponentially after all foreigners were expelled and Christian leaders jailed or killed under Mao. Despite the lack all the things Americans consider essential to church growth, these churches thrived. I think if the cousin takes the time to offer support and helps Fielding and Felicia recognize that they have the basics – the Bible and the Spirit, that they can grow and thrive in their environment.
 
That’s my thoughts on this problem. What would you say in this situation? How would you help Fielding and Felicia in their walk?