Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An Invisible Footprint; Do We Trust the Social Networking Scene?

Facebook recently made significant changes to security. Since that time I have not been posting updates on FB. Why? Because I have not gone through the step of making the required “privacy settings” decisions. Members must choose the level of access that they are willing to grant to others. Does everyone in the world get to access my personal information or do I want to restrict that privilege to only those who are my family? Or friends? Or friends of friends?

My wife tells me that I am naïve. I want to believe the best in people, that they do not intend to be hurtful, that they will not use knowledge about me to their own gain and my detriment. That leaves me asking why I should not allow everyone to have access to my personal information. I trust them. And trust is a big issue.

Facebook has raised interesting issues for those involved in social networking and the safety of those who utilize tools like Facebook to stay in touch with friends. As I was reviewing the options, I began to think about how the same issues must be addressed in any community. Trust is paramount. We must have confidence that others will not abuse our transparency. When we take off the masks and allow ourselves to be known, we open ourselves to potential abuse. Someone may divulge things shared in confidence. Or they may hold those confidences dear while graciously helping us to become more of who we were created to be, conformed to the image of Christ.

One thing I know, missional lifestyles are not lived in isolation. Being missional requires relationship with others. Facebook has a limit on the number of “friends” one can have. Ed Stetzer became a “big deal” when his friends numbered 5000. (You can laugh with Ed by clicking here.) In reality, probably none of us could have that many true “friends.” The number of persons in whom we can invest and be invested emotionally is much lower. It is in the smaller group that authentic relationships develop; those that move beyond superficial to significant. Without community we are incomplete. Yet community carries a price tag that is too great for many.

Hugh Halter and Matt Smay got it right: “Everyone’s talking about community. Everyone seems to want it, most complain if they don’t find it, but it’s harder to pull off than you think.”(From the introduction to The Tangible Kingdom Primer) Where have you experienced real community? Do you currently have a relational community whom you trust completely? Do the words “church” and “community” intersect for you? If so, how? If not, why?

I look forward to dialogue about “missional community” with people like you who are on the journey at VERGE on February 4-6 in Austin, Texas. I’ll see you there.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Impressions of Russia - By Shafer Parker

Pastor, Hawkwood Baptist Church
Calgary, Alberta

The Rostov Baptist Bible School was created in the mid-1990s after the fall of Communism. In meetings with Russian Baptist leaders, North American Baptists asked how they could best support what Russian churches were already doing. Educating pastors and young adults for Christian ministry became a priority. Financially the school is supported by NAB churches in Canada and the U.S. All costs for each student are covered, including a tiny amount of spending money. The program is completed in one year, with each subject handled in two-week intensives (Bible survey courses, theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, etc.), led by volunteer professors and pastors from North America. Teaching is done through a professional translator and visiting professors live in a well-furnished apartment a five-minute walk away.

As I write this I’m on my way home from two weeks of teaching the Pentateuch at the Rostov Baptist Bible School in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. This was my second teaching trip and as I left for Russia this time I mistakenly assumed I would simply pick up where I had left off in 2008. Well, that notion disappeared in a hurry. I’d forgotten how much the translation process slows everything down. I also failed to realize that with a brand new group of students (10 men and 3 women) it would take a few days to assess their level of Biblical knowledge and develop the same rapport I had enjoyed with the students by the end of my first visit.

Nor had it crossed my mind how different the weather could be. I mean different from last year because this year it never varied from one day to the next. It rained, except for short periods of heavy overcast and dripping trees, then it rained some more. The hour of the day made no difference. It just rained. As we discussed Noah’s flood in the classroom, nature was giving us a graphic illustration of 40 days of inclemency just outside the window, with narry a rainbow in sight. Rostov is on the Don River just 20 miles east of the Sea of Asov, so I expected the humidity to be a little higher than in my home town of Calgary, Alberta. But this was ridiculous. Ah well, I made up for the dampness outdoors by the dryness of my teaching style indoors.

To meet a Russian Evangelical Christian is to meet someone who understands total commitment to Christ. Exceptions must surely exist, but I’ve not met any. Russia is no longer Communist and religious freedom is a reality, but by and large the culture is so opposed to Christianity, and evangelical Christianity in particular, that no one decides to confess Christ without counting the cost. Or else, like many of this year’s students, they’ve traveled the way of the world to its bitter end and know how to compare the cost of that journey to the rewards of following Jesus. Several of the men in this year’s class have spent time in prison, or in drug and alcohol rehab. They came to faith with the desperation of a Jacob, begging for a blessing from God after all natural strength has been torn away. None of them harbor any illusions as to the source of the new life they presently enjoy, nor would they return to their old way of life for anything this world can offer.

The classroom and the dormitory for the Bible school are in the basement of Central Baptist Church, the only new Baptist Church building to be built in Russia during the Communist era. The Soviet Union hosted the Olympics in Moscow in 1980 and the government was anxious to show the world that its people enjoyed religious freedom, which meant that precisely one church in one city got permission to build — at the end of a narrow, pot-holed lane that appears more alley than street, and where the church building is hidden from view behind some of the most dilapidated buildings in Rostov. No one just drops in at Central. To get there you have to be looking for it, and even then you probably need guidance from someone who knows the way.

Despite the difficulties, a growing number of people are attending Christian worship in Russia. The thousand-seat sanctuary at Central Baptist is nearly full every Sunday, with enough young people present to convince even a convinced skeptic that Christianity cannot be dismissed as nothing more than delusional comfort for a dying generation.

Still, attendance at Central isn’t what it once was — not, surprisingly enough, necessarily a bad thing. Before the fall of communism standing-room-only crowds were the order of the day. But over the past 15 years many members have used their new-found freedom to immigrate away from Russia, and an equal number have gone out to plant new churches around the city — one of them an imposing brick structure on a major thoroughfare with a large cross on top that leaves no room for the passing crowds to misunderstand what goes on inside.

For me, it’s the students I will always remember. Andre, who grew up as one of the good guys but remained haunted by the thought that something was wrong with his life. It was when one of the local pastors suggested he help out at a drug rehab centre that he began to understand his own need for repentance. Michael was a patient at that same centre who shared with me that he had dedicated 20 years of his life to drugs, alcohol and prisons. Within six weeks of entering rehab last year, and being exposed to a Christian witness, he had repented and believed. “Since then God has led me with His own hand,” he reports.

Then there’s Alexander (Sasha to his friends), who was a “danger to other people and a danger to myself.” Twice he tried to commit suicide, and twice the Lord preserved him until he finally went back to his believing parents and asked them to “tell me about God.” Since then “God has released me from my burdens,” he says.

These days Andre, Michael and Sasha are focused on preparing for a lifetime of ministry to others. They’ve got a long way to go to be completely ready, but I have little doubt they’ll make it. To God be the glory! Great things He has done!

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Heart is full…I am Thankful

Introduction by: Milfred Minatrea

Matt Chandler, pastor of the Village Church, will have surgery this morning in Dallas. Through this year it has been my privilege to walk with Matt, the staff and elders of the Village Church through the transition of Northway Baptist Church as it became The Village Church Dallas Northway. The most recent series Matt has been preaching was designed in part to introduce the Northway family to the Biblical doctrines that underpin the dynamic faith shared among the Village Church family. As Matt prepared to entered surgery, he communicated through a blog post matters that were foremost in his thoughts. You will be blessed as you read his post. He and his family will be blessed as you intercede. God will be blessed as His glory is shown in power through the touch of His mighty hand.

Here is Matt's post:

The last seven days have been some of the most interesting of my life. I have felt anxiety, fear, sadness and a deep and unmovable joy simultaneously and in deeper ways than I have felt before. I am grateful for this heightened sense of things. Today at 10:45 a.m. CST I will have a good portion of my right frontal lobe removed. I head into that surgery with a heart that is filled with gratitude and hope.

Here are some of the things I am thankful for in no particular order:

  1. I am thankful for the thousands of you who have prayed and fasted for my health. It has brought far more tears to Lauren’s and my eyes to receive this kind of attention from the Church universal than this tumor has.
  2. I’m thankful for health insurance because I’m guessing they aren’t doing my five-hour surgery for free!
  3. I am thankful that I have deep, real friendships at The Village with Michael Bleecker, Josh Patterson, Brian Miller, Chris Chavez and Beau Hughes. They have been such a comfort to me and my family this past week. Pastors should have good friends on their staff. It’s risky but worth the risk.
  4. I am grateful for the men of God in my life, namely John Piper who taught me to hold my life cheap and to join with Paul in saying “I don’t count my life of any value or as precious to myself if only I might finish my course and complete the work that He gave me to do to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God. I’m nothing, I just have a job. God keep me faithful on the job and then let me drop and go to the reward.” Without this strong view of God’s sovereign will, I’m not sure how you don’t despair in circumstances like mine.
  5. I am thankful for my wife Lauren. “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’” “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”
  6. I am thankful for my children. Audrey the Beautiful, Reid the Valiant and Norah the Joyous. Being a daddy to these three is one of the greatest joys of my life.
  7. The privilege of seeing and appreciating all of life through the grid of a heightened sense of my own mortality.
  8. I am thankful for brilliant doctors and surgeons who have been given a real gift by our great God and King to repair things as complex as the brain.
  9. I am thankful for The Village Church. If there is a place that loves Jesus more, takes sanctification as seriously and wants to see the lost love the great King deeply I am unaware of it. These last seven years have been a spectacular joy!
  10. More than anything else I am grateful to my King Eternal, my Lord Immortal, for my God invisible. He alone is God. All Glory and Honor, Forever to You O God. I am overwhelmed in these moments by God Himself and the assurance of a future inheritance of a Kingdom that cannot be shaken and where all things are made new (Hebrews 12).
Christ is All,
Matt Chandler

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Some Things Money Can’t Buy

Even in economically difficult times, most of us in the West know little of the pain of poverty. Do not misunderstand, I am not saying that poverty is absent in our communities. In my own state statistics indicate that one of every ten children will experience hunger. Globally poverty is multiplied exponentially compared to that experienced in North America. One out of five people on earth exists on less than one dollar per day, and nearly half of the world’s population exists on less than two dollars per day. Ninety-five percent of the “poorest of the poor” live outside the North American context.

The fundamental cause of hunger is poverty. God is very clear; hunger cannot be attributed to inadequate supply, but to lack of compassionate justice in distribution. Abundant food is in the fallow ground of the poor; but it is swept away by injustice (Proverbs 13:23).

Consider the following thoughts on poverty from The Needs: Hunger in the World: “Virtually every country in the world has the potential of growing sufficient food for the indigenous population on a sustainable basis. This basic capability is too often undermined by a variety of factors, some related to technology and material resources (soil degradation, water shortages and pollution, inappropriate or destructive agricultural practices) and others related to human frailty (war, ethnic rivalry, corruption, greed, political oppression).

More than 16,000 children die every day in the developing world from preventable and treatable diseases. Worldwide, one-half of deaths for children under five years of age are caused by malnutrition. Seventy percent of all childhood deaths are associated with malnutrition and preventable diseases.”

These facts are a dart that should pierce the heart of the American church. Too often we have become creatures of comfort rather than compassionate Christians. I recently drove past a number of large ranches, each of which had intricate gated entrances identifying the owners with their proudly emblazoned surnames. Driving past I was reminded of these words from Psalm 49:

Why should I fear in days of adversity, when the iniquity of my foes surrounds me, Even those who trust in their wealth, and boast in the abundance of their riches?

Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever, and their dwelling places to all generations; They have called their lands after their own names. But man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish.

Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house is increased; For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not descend after him.

Though while he lives he congratulates himself – And though men praise you when you do well for yourself – He shall go to the generation of his fathers.

It is not my intent to demean or judge those ranchers, they may in fact be caring and compassionate sharers of the resources they possess. I do not know. But I do know that too often Christians in the West fall victim to an abusive “wealth and prosperity” Gospel that focuses on our own consumption rather than on sharing resources as agents of Godly compassion among those living in poverty.

The feature article of a recent issue of The Atlantic magazine was titled, Did Christianity Cause the Crash? The article investigates links between churches proclaiming a wealth and prosperity gospel and the church’s role in guiding parishioners toward assuming high risk sub-prime loans. These together with other factors are identified as primary contributors to the economic crash.

The article merits our attention. As the missional people of God, we must seek answers to poverty and injustice. Where our consumption contributes to these conditions, then repentance is mandated. We must remember that repentance is not just expressing sorrow for that which we have done wrong, but actively pursuing that which is right.

When I read the Atlantic article I immediately thought of the ongoing question of the appropriate engagement of Christians in and with culture. What is our appropriate role? That question has been the ongoing topic of reflection by gifted writers such as Richard Niebhur in his book Christ and Culture or contemporary theologian James Westgate, professor at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, California in Spiritual Edgewalkers. Missional thinker Alan Roxburgh responded to The Atlantic article with his typically adept reasoning and insight.

All of us who follow Christ bear responsibility for confronting ideologies and systems that perpetuate poverty and hunger. We must adhere to the Good News that resonates with the ancient voice of our Master; the message of a Kingdom whose foundations are righteousness and justice (Psalm 97:2). We reject all false gospels. As those who have the mind of Christ, we must find a different way to complete the familiar commercial: There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Learn from the Ants

Introduction by: Milfred Minatrea

Bill Tinsley is a colleague in ministry, a gifted author, as well as a passionate disciple of Christ who possesses the mind of a missiologist. I like the guy and love spending time with him. We meet regularly to encourage one another, stimulate one another in mission ministry, to drink coffee and lavish praise on his remarkable dog, Buddy. Bill is my friend. In fact, Buddy is too.

Most recently Tinsley served as the designer of WorldconneX, a new paradigm mission entity that sought to ensure the local church as the primary equipping and sending entity in God’s mission. Among other leadership roles, he formerly served as Associate Executive Director of Baptist General Convention of Texas and Executive Director of Minnesota Wisconsin Baptist Convention

Upon dissolution of WorldconneX by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Tinsley founded the Tinsley Center which is partnering with Missional Church Center to assist congregations in finding their way forward in God’s mission. The following article is one of a series of reflection columns that Tinsley write weekly for distribution through local newspapers. In this article he addresses a subject that none can ignore if they are Shaped by God’s Heart.


We have ants. We have kept them at bay inside the house, but outside, that is a different matter. A single dropped crumb on the patio and the next morning a stream of ants appear, hundreds of them in a neatly organized operation to dismantle the discarded food and store it in bits and bites for later use.

How do they do this? Do the wandering scout-ants have cell phones? When they make a discovery do they place a call back to home base and say, “Send the troops. We have food!” Who organizes the operation? Who tells these worker ants to answer the call, and who plots the route, usually the shortest and least obstructed line to the treasure?

If they were humans, the searchers who discovered the food supply would immediately stake a claim, lay title to it and horde it so that they could be wealthier than all the other ants. They would let the weaker ants in the colony starve. And, they would probably spend most of their time in “ant court” defending the right to their possessions. “Ant lawyers” would probably claim the greatest portion of the wealth.

Why can’t we learn from these little creatures? Every year a billion people on the earth die of starvation. Every day 25,000 children, world wide, whose stomachs are bloated and empty draw their last breath. They die in remote villages far from public scrutiny. Over half the world’s population, three billion people, live on less than $2.50 per day.

I have to admit this convicts and alarms me. I need to be more like the little critters who invade my patio. I need to sound the alarm, send out the signal, martial others and join them in distributing food and resources to those who need it. But how do we do this? How do we know that our gifts get to the people and places where they are needed? There is so much graft and corruption in the world that charitable gifts are often routed into the pockets of the greedy.

I guess the best thing is to be alert to opportunities. When a beggar approached me on a parking lot in downtown Dallas, I took him across the street to Subway and bought him a sandwich. Unfortunately, as I listened to him, his story seemed to unravel and I am not sure it was the best thing to do. But it was something. When one of our church members returned from Kenya and made an appeal for people she knows who are starving, I sent a check. When I visited Tillie Bergin at Mission Arlington and saw the difference she was making among the poor in the inner city, I sent a gift. It’s not much. But, for me it is a start. If all of us gave more generously we could make a difference, like the ant.

Proverbs says, “Go to the ant … consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” (Prov. 6:6-8). John, describing true repentance and faith, said, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11)

Bill Tinsley has served as pastor and mission leader in Texas, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He has international experience in South America, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. He can be reached at His books are available at

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Depression: Pastors in Pain

David Treadway, pastor of Sandy Ridge Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina committed suicide in September. His tragic death is the fourth pastor suicide in the Carolinas during the past four years. Pastor Treadway was undergoing treatment for depression. In a USA Today article published October 29, 2009, Greg Warner addressed depression among pastors. He wrote, “Most depression does not lead to suicide, but almost all suicides begin with depression.”

The article identified impossible role expectations often placed upon pastors, together with their innate resistance to seek help when they become depressed. They fear, too often appropriately, that congregational leaders would understand their depression to be a failure of faith rather than an illness to be treated. So, pastors suffer alone while trying to care for others.

Matthew Stanford, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University in Waco, Texas said “The likelihood is that one out of every four pastors is depressed." Further, “Anxiety and depression in the pulpit are "markedly higher" in the last five years...The current economic crisis has caused many of our pastors to go into depression."

The author clearly cited the economic environment as a primary cause. Then he added, “Besides the recession's strain on church budgets, depressed pastors increasingly report frustration over their congregations' resistance to cultural change. When I read those words, a passing comment on a secondary cause of depression in the article, my heart leaped. For that is precisely what I repeatedly hear from pastors across North America.

“My congregation wants to return to the way things used to be. They are unwilling to accept the reality of cultural changes in our world. Further, they perceive culture, “the way we do things” as sacred. Even when those things are no longer working, they say we should just try to do them better. And when those old methods are not successful, the failure is perceived as being the fault of the pastoral staff. They are unwilling to allow our congregational culture to change so that we can be more relevant among a changing population.” This resistance to change is sometimes public. At other times it skims just beneath the surface like a private torpedo locked on target, ready to do massive destruction.

As pastors understand the marginalization of Christianity in contemporary culture, consequently perceiving the requisite adaptation of the church toward an incarnational missionary posture, their passion to lead toward such culture shifts is often met with resistance. Leading a conventional congregation to perceive the need for change is a massive undertaking, a challenge that will often result in things getting worse before they get better. Those who cannot accept the need for internal congregational change will voice opposition. Those who support internal change will then find themselves defending the need for change. Repeatedly I have seen the dialogue move from the issue of “changing the way we do things” to challenges of personal loyalty within the congregation. Instead of conflict about process, the conflict becomes personal.

In those moments, pastors are caught in the untenable position of loving, serving, and leading a flock that has become divided. I can recall the deep pain of having a man whom I loved dearly, but who did not agree with new directions in ministry, unleash a barrage of vindictive verbal assaults. He was mad. Plain and simple. And his words were not filled with grace in that instance. His words were fiery darts. I felt the darts tear through my heart, a heart that had given eight years of pastoral care to our flock. In my own immaturity I tried to reason with him while he was still angry. I so wanted to please. To make it all right. And when I could not, I walked away wounded. When I was alone, I wept bitterly. Over the next weeks, I was too bruised and weak to continue to lead toward the kind of changes that needed to be made in order for effective ministry to continue. And I walked into a dark night that lasted for months.

Ultimately I found solace through the counsel of Ken Sharp, the tallest Christian counselor I have ever known, who became a dear friend in ministry. Further, I warmed to my own condition as I read Don Baker and Emery Nester’s, Depression: Finding Hope and Meaning in Life’s Darkest Shadow, a wonderful treatment published by Multnomah Press. Not nearly every pastor is blessed with an understanding friend and counselor. Many do not find voices to accompany them through their pain.

As North American churches struggle in a changed and changing culture, the role of pastoral leadership is challenging. We constantly encounter brothers and sisters in ministry who are walking a tightrope as they lead. It is highly improbable that they will be able to walk the tightrope, lead toward a new way of being church in a changing culture, and keep everybody happy in the process. I pray that we can be fellow pilgrims on their journey offering support and encouragement where we can. And sometimes, our greatest help may be simply to walk with them through the darkness.

One thing I know. We must not let those who are suffering walk the path alone.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Resource Beyond Ourselves

Introduction by: Milfred Minatrea

Curtis Ferrell continues to bless me with the insights He is gleaning through God’s activity at South Memorial Church of God in New Castle, Indiana. This church continues an extensive Missional Journey as a congregation. Here are some of Curt’s most recent insights from Scripture:

I saw something new in scripture recently that gets me excited about where we are at in our Missional journey. Remember the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand? You can find it in several locations in the gospel. (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17) In each of these accounts Jesus tells his disciples, "You give them something to eat."

At first this seems like a cruel joke. Jesus knew that the disciples could see the need of the crowd. He knew they had compassion in their hearts for the crowd. He knew the disciples had almost nothing in physical resources. He knew the frustration in their hearts because they knew they couldn't meet the needs that they saw all around them. Why would Jesus tweak His disciples like this?

I believe it was because Jesus saw an even greater need. The disciples thought that they were depleted of resources. The disciples were blind to the REAL source of their resources. They were blind, spiritually, and needed to have their eyes opened.

Jesus could have called quail down from the sky, or prayed for manna, or asked the ravens to feed the people. He could have had a whirlwind pick up fish from the sea and drop them in the people's laps.

Instead, Jesus took what the disciples had (which really came from a child in the crowd), multiplied it and fed thousands of people. The disciples’ eyes were opened. They no longer thought they were their own source of resources. God could take whatever they had and supply answers to the needs that they saw in the world.

Fast-forward to Acts 3:1-10. Peter and John were on their way into the temple through the Beautiful Gate. A beggar cried out to them for money. They saw the need. They didn't have money. But they did have resources; the resources of heaven. The result was better than anyone could have imagined. Instead of giving the beggar a few coins, the beggar regained the use of his legs, God was praised, and a door was opened for the gospel to be shared.

As we become aware of the needs of the community around us, we may be tempted to think the needs are too great and our resources are too small. What we need to do is move from the hillside to the Beautiful Gate. We need to acknowledge the REAL source of our resources. It's time to get Missional!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Glorify Your Father

I’ve been preaching through I Peter, looking for, among other things, the missional elements in this blunt and powerful epistle. From that perspective 2:12 looked like a gimme. How much more missional can you get than to exhort your readers to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us?”

With their usual genius for discovering the obvious, the commentaries all note the similarity between Peter and Jesus in the Sermon On the Mount, where our Lord commands his followers to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). But then I found two difficulties in interpretation. 1) What is the missional point of a life of good deeds if the poor, benighted pagans don’t wake up and recognize their source before the judgment day? And, 2) What kind of good deeds will cause unbelievers to look past the doer in order to praise the Father in heaven?

Fortunately, I was able to dispose of the first difficulty rather quickly. “The reference to glorifying God suggests that the salvation of Gentiles is in view,” writes Thomas Schreiner in the New American Commentary Series (volume 37, page 124). “Typically, in the New Testament people glorify God or give him glory by believing.” In other words, those who see the Christian’s good works and believe in Jesus while still alive will bring glory to God on the judgment day.

But that still left me wondering how to serve in such a way that unbelievers recognize and praise God. After much prayer I decided to look to Jesus as my example and teacher (I can hear the chorus of “duhs” already). Here is what I found.

  • When seeking to serve in such a way that people praise God for it, those whom we serve have to believe that we are serving them only because they are loved. And for that to happen they have to believe that they are loved and accepted as they are. This is not impossible. The gospels tell us that Jesus was a “friend” of “sinners,” using a word that means hardened sinners, people devoted to sin. Yet Jesus found a way to befriend such people. He was good to them because he is good, like God, who “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). To be like Jesus we have to learn the indifference of true love. We have to learn to love without the slightest concern for who is being loved, or for what benefits may come back to us. Only then will the world recognize God in us. And by the way, isn’t that Jesus’ main point in the last few verses of Matthew 5?
  • In a related matter, the people we serve must become convinced that only the love of God can explain our commitment (II Cor. 5:14). They need to know, for instance, that we are not looking for their votes. Nor are we trying to get them to attend our church. We must be very clear that we are not trying to sell them anything or make a reputation for ourselves. If the slightest hint of an ulterior motive crops up they may go ahead and accept what we are offering, but they will not glorify the Father in heaven.
  • Our service must be infused with a level of joy, peace, hope and other godly character qualities that can only be explained by a vital relationship with God. No one ever served God without stirring up opposition somewhere. This was especially true for the first generation of Christians who, in the persons of Peter and John, could not even heal a lame man by the temple gate without getting themselves thrown into jail. But at their trial even the priests had to admit that Jesus had made a difference in their lives: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
  • Our service must be done from the heart as an act of worship. Worship and service are two sides of the same coin. We worship God as we serve him, and we serve him in worship. This matters because it balances the first point, the one that says we should be true friends with unbelievers. Without the focus on God provided by worshipping him, we risk failing to give a clear call to unbelievers to repent and believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. We can easily fall into the trap of serving sinners in such a way as to enable them to maintain their life of sin and rebellion.
  • Our service must have an element of sacrifice about it. (See the second point above.) But let me offer a warning. Here is where Jesus’ admonitions to give in secret and pray in secret (Matt. 6:1-6) become relevant. The moment someone realizes we’re making a great sacrifice we risk losing the ability to point them to God. It’s possible they will remain impressed by what we’re doing for them, but our ultimate purpose may be lost.

I have become convinced that a missional approach is necessary if we are serious about building Christ’s Kingdom in North America. We must commit our very existence to the proposition that all intellectual arguments for faith notwithstanding, people will not believe unless they perceive the presence of God in the work we are doing. Even Jesus was driven to this extremity as he defended his divinity before his own disciples: “Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do” (John 14:11, NLT).

This must become the goal of our lives; that people would come to believe in Jesus because of the work they see us do. No other form of evangelism will succeed with any degree of consistency.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Paul Baloche: Singing Our Theology

Churches that are on mission with God function out of deep intimacy with Him, otherwise their expressions beyond themselves become exhausting works that drain strength and create spiritual fatigue. Operating in the flesh to accomplish spiritual ends is a recipe for burn-out. One thing that restores our soul is authentic worship.

Paul Baloche speaks of leaning into God in worship. He writes worship music out of deep reflection in the Word of God and time spent with his antennae up for the Spirit’s prompting. For his new album Glorious released by Integrity Music, Baloche did a video testimonial that moved me when I viewed it. I encourage you to listen as this colleague in ministry discusses worship.

Singing in worship is not about producing emotional highs. I have been amazed at the numbers of people who equate the pursuit of a missional posture with a particular type of worship music.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I have experienced missional churches who sing praise and worship songs, others whose worship is characterized by southern Gospel, some experience only classical hymns and these are only an initial introduction to the forms of worship music in missional churches. The big issue is not the form, but the function. Through our music we sing our theology.

Worship music done well, whatever the “brand,” should celebrate the attributes of our great God, provide a platform through which we honor His virtues, and allow a mutual concert of voices bringing sacrifices of praise. In worship we sing our eternal Story, Psalms from the Old Covenant together with praise that generations prior to Christ could never have sung. We experience the mystery of Christ in us. That is part of our theology. God is not only with us, He is in us.

As you worship today personally, this weekend corporately, I hope that you can lose yourself in His presence. Join with brothers and sisters in whom He is also living; praise, express His greatness, sing His worth, surrender again to His reign in your life. Then live His mission, not out of obligation, but adoration. And by the way, should there be those among you in worship who do not yet know Him, be aware that their observation of your worship is a vivid validation of who He is.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Go and Be

Often it is children and youth who lead the way, forging pathways toward a missional culture. Perhaps B.J. Thomas had it right when he sang, “God bless the children everywhere, for they haven’t yet learned not to care.” Caring for the needs of others is a reflection of the heart of God. Allowing His heart to guide actions is basic to authentic Christianity.

I am encouraged when I hear stories of children and youth being pacesetters in pursuit of God’s mission. I thank God for the Christ following adults who are encouraging those children and youth. As an example of how children and youth are showing compassion, consider what is happening at South Memorial Drive Church of God. The congregation’s children recently spent a day putting together gift baskets and delivering them to shut-in and elderly persons in their community. Their ministry has taken the name Servanthood Unwrapped. I love it! I am pretty sure those receiving baskets loved having children in their homes for a brief visit. I am also sure that the actions of these children brought joy to God’s heart.

Not to be left out, the church’s youth commissioned themselves as the Blue Crew. Once a month they are impacting the community in tangible ways; visiting nursing homes, raking leaves, removing trash, etc. Once again, the focus is on meeting needs of others in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Another phrase of Thomas’ song captures my imagination every time I hear it. “We must not let time age the soul, may the child stay in us all.” I believe children can be carriers of caring, preventing the soul-aging of adults in their world. Interestingly enough, in the same town where these children and youth are seeking to live out the mission of God in concrete ways, the Four-Square Church recently closed their morning worship service so that their congregation could complete community projects on Sunday morning. “You mean they didn’t have church?” someone might ask. No, these churches are learning a valuable lesson. It is more important to “BE church” than to “HAVE church.” Think about it…Go and Be!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pumpkin Patch Ministry of Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City

Last October I spent some time with my friend Jerry McKinney, pastor of Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. While many congregations offer some type of Halloween alternative, Putnam City found a way to connect with families in a manner that is less chaotic than the typical one-evening event. People from around the community are coming to Putnam City Baptist Church facilities everyday of the week in the month of October.

They are finding a few minutes of unhurried joy with their children in a place endemic to the fall season, the Pumpkin Patch. Creatively constructed, staffed by church volunteers, with interactive experiences for families and children, Putnam City is inviting the community right up to the front door. And they are coming!

As Jerry tells the story of Pumpkin Patch, now an annual experience at Putnam City, he talks of this community initiative as an entry point where conversations begin. Members speak of families who bring their children, play games, crawl over, in, and around pumpkins, color a pumpkin picture, all the while smiling and laughing in an environment where they feel comfortable and welcomed. The story is worth your consideration. While you may not start your own pumpkin patch, you can find creative ways to bless people who live near you. You can let conversations begin.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Church Prays – God Saves

Missionaries can identify their mission fields. In Christ, every believer is one sent; a missionary for Christ. Members of missional churches routinely define their primary mission fields. They become aware of people in their sphere of influence who have not yet come to know Christ. Then, they pray. They pray for God to reveal Himself to their friends, tearing down strongholds that keep them from seeing the truth of the Gospel. They adopt the passion of Paul saying, “My hearts desire and my prayer to God for my people is that they might be saved.”

The previous paragraph is not theoretical. It is being lived out by youth and adults at Calvary Baptist Church of Oak Cliff in Dallas. Pastor Jerry Barker told me that initially the church’s youth began sharing the names of friends who had no relationship with Jesus. Adults soon began to follow the leadership of their youth.

The church prepared simple cards on which members could record the names of their pre-Christian friends. Completed cards are placed on a prayer wall in a private area where members and staff can pray for those persons by name. Prayer works. Nine months ago the church began praying by name for friends, relatives, teachers, and neighbors. Since then, thirty-three people have been baptized as new followers of Christ. A large majority of those have been older teens and adults. God gets all the glory!

Prayer is a simple concept. Prayer changes the one praying. God hears and answers prayer. You have pre-Christian friends, loved ones, neighbors as well. Will you own your mission field in prayer? My hearts desire and prayer to God for ______ is that they might be saved. Fill in the blank and prayer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

LN Author’s Forum

Today, I joined more than a dozen other Leadership Network (LN) authors, LN staff, and publishing representatives from Jossey-Bass and Zondervan for an extended dialogue. Greg Ligon of Leadership Network hosted the web-based forum. Each author opened personal shutters to reveal a little about what is going on in their world, their current writing project(s), and “what keeps them awake at night.” Get creative people together and ideas overflow the banks rather quickly. Just a brief window into their worlds of thought and passion was dynamic.

Our publishing cohorts prompted us to consider contemporary changes in the ways people choose to learn. Preferences in how we elect to receive information are already and will increasingly influence “books” and the broader publishing industry. If not already, you will soon be able to read a digital book with embedded video segments and other media formats to augment learning. Where authors previously described an image with words, soon he or she will simply include the image “in the text.”

The whole process of writing changes when the forms of media begin to overlap. What an intriguing era to be a professional wordsmith.

I would be interested to know how many of you prefer a Kindle or other digital “book” format rather than ink on paper. If both formats are available, which do you buy today? On what are your preferences based?

In this season of change, I am reminded that when the Word became flesh, various forms of communication comingled. He pioneered pathways of excellence in communication.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Boudain and Gumbo

If meals are Boudain and Gumbo, it must be the gulf coast! That is where we spent part of last week with McDonald Memorial Baptist Church. Orange is the easternmost coastal city in Texas; any further east and you cross into Louisiana.

For ten years Danny Gilliam has served as pastor of this wonderful congregation. He and his wife, Patty, have led the church through experiences like hurricanes and arson that have severely damaged their facilities. Together they have joined members in seeking effective ministries to serve the dramatically changing demographic make-up of their transitional community.

It was our privilege to join with guest Worship Pastor, John Bickham, in leading a Missional Revival at McDonald Memorial last week. John and his wife Trina are gifted musicians and passionate followers of Jesus. What rich gifts they brought to our time together. Through the week, we asked God to speak into the lives of the congregation truths that would equip, motivate and mobilize them as God’s transformational missionary force in their own spheres of influence…where they live, work and play.

Join us and hear some of the stories from our time in this somewhat Cajun influenced part of Texas.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Checklists or Dance? - Gabriel Clark

Introduction by: Milfred Minatrea

Let me introduce you to a new friend, Gabriel Clark. Gabriel is a Sophomore at Purdue where he is studying Chemical Engineering. He enjoys theology and learning new things. He ran cross country in high school and at some point wants to run a marathon. After college he would like to be involved in ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ, a non-denominational student ministry. I was blessed by Gabe's thoughts about the Dance!

Americans are busy: Plain and simple. Take an honest look at your daily schedule and you will know exactly what I mean. For students it looks a lot like this: Wake up. Go to classes for the day. Eat. Do Homework. Read that assignment from last week that you have been putting off. Eat. Go to your fourth call-out for the week. Do more homework. Go to bed. Repeat.

If you are a parent subtract classes and add 40+ hours of work, then multiply by your children's schedule. We are weighed down by duties, responsibilities, and over-commitment. Just thinking about all of that can make your chest tighten up with stress. I don't know about you but I know one way that I stay sane in this madness called Life is that I tend to compartmentalize everything. School goes here, friends go here, extra-curriculars go here, and God goes there. Good, we're all set, everything is in its place and nothing is out of line.

The problem is, God is too big for a compartment. He doesn't call me to be His follower when I can fit it in. I feel like often times I treat God exactly how I treat my agenda. When I am done with something "Godly" I check it off my list. Mention Jesus to someone; Check. Pray before my meal so people can see me; Check. (This is embarrassing to admit but if my heart is in compartment-mode and not in full reverence of God this is what my flesh will gravitate towards.) Open up the bible and read a chapter from Romans; Check.

The thing I have come to understand and love about Christ is that He deeply wants to be in constant fellowship with me. He wants to be a friend! Often times I find it a lot easier to understand things about God if I can make a real-world connection with people. So I think, "How would my friends feel if I constantly treated them as a checklist; if I spent time with them or spoke with them out only of an obligation?"

I think that they would get the picture pretty quickly. That kind of relationship is not one that they would value. It reminds me of the scene from Remember the Titans where the football players were required to get to know a teammate of the other color. One white player tells a black player that he just wanted to get this over with and needed the name of his father, where he is from, and some other miscellaneous information. The black player was offended and wouldn't tell the white player because he knew that it was not out of a sincere heart. It was out of obligation and that never makes a person feel loved. So project that onto Christ...

When I get into "robot" mode I am living according to the Law. I am fulfilling a set of standards so I can earn my righteousness. But you see I will never be able to follow God's perfect Law therefore I am justly deemed unrighteous and punishable. I am now weighed with a debt that I can only pay with my blood. But here is the beautiful thing; The Law only applies to the living! What wonderful news!

Now, you may be thinking, "Gabe, you may have missed something there... You are still alive." But I tell you I am not! I was crucified with Christ therefore I no longer live but Christ now lives in me! I am dead to the Law and the (spiritual) death that comes along with that. I am now filled with the Spirit of the Great I Am. And where the Spirit of the Lord is there is Freedom: Freedom to know Him deeply, to be ourselves, and to be broken and contrite. After all, a spirit that is broken and contrite is an offering that is pleasing to God.

When we give ourselves to Christ as a sacrifice, when we crucify our flesh and our sinful nature, it allows us transcend past the Law and move into the Liberation of the Holy Spirit. Only in this are we truly free to slow dance with Jesus, in sweet harmony, as He sings out the song of our Life. Under the Law we are stiff and calloused trying to follow the beat by tapping our feet as we are chained to our debt and our checklist. When we die to that we are free to breathe and sway and be graceful to the tune.

So what do I do with this? I long to feel the embrace of Christ as He and I walk in step and move in time, however I am preoccupied with the tempo of the society in which I live. My flesh wants the checklist but my soul needs the Dance. Jesus paid much too high a price for me to simply check Him off a list. He gave the greatest sacrifice to win His bride. I can only honor that in one way, and that is to fully give Him my heart. I need to not allow my studies or my duties to overshadow His love. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

I need to put God first in my heart and in my life and everything else will fall into place. I feel that the only way I will be able to take God out of the compartment I have put Him in is to really think about how much He loves me. If I can truly grasp His love and his desire for me I don't think there is any way that I cannot allow Him to have free reign in my heart and my life. I don't want to live under the Law... I want to live under Love.

Thanks for Reading.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Nilson Fanini --- Mission was His Mission

Nilson Fanini passed away last Saturday in Bedford, Texas. He was in the US to celebrate the birth of a baby to his dear daughter. When I learned of his illness and subsequent death, I remembered the spiritual legacy God has carved out through his life.

Fanini was the long time pastor of First Baptist Church, Niteroi, Brazil, a missional church long before the term had ever become a buzz word. Dr. Fanini’s life and vision had global impact via ministry that radiated out from Primeira Igreja Batista to the favelas of Niteroi, where the poorest of the poor lived. Through ministries of early childhood education and family medical clinics, the impact of Fanini’s vision was felt in his city.

His church developed training processes and theological education for church planters. Fanini believed in starting indigenous churches among the various people groups of Brazil and throughout the nations. A man of vision and wisdom, Fanini was called upon to provide guidance and leadership to Baptists around the world through the Baptist World Alliance.

The thing I remember most clearly was his response to a question I posed in his office a few years ago when he graciously hosted group of pastoral leaders from Texas who spent a week observing and learning strategic mission insights that God had given Fanini. In a season when churches were being encouraged to develop their own mission statements, I asked Dr. Fanini, “What is the mission of First Baptist Church?” He paused for a moment, looking somewhat taken aback, and responded, “God’s mission is our mission.” Well said.

Fanini died in Texas. He ministered in Brazil. He touched the world. But His passion was the Kingdom of God. Please join me in praying for the family of Dr. Nilson Fanini. A memorial service will be held this Saturday at Iglesia Bautista Getsemani in Fort Worth, Texas where my friend Julio Guarneri is pastor. How appropriate, Fanini’s memorial service will be held in a church whose Kingdom vision is as big as the world!

More Content...Less Commentary

Yesterday we began a Missional Renewal Revival with McDonald Memorial Baptist Church in Orange, Texas, the eastern most city on the Texas Gulf Coast (go any further and you cross into Louisiana). God prompted me to do something that I have seldom, if ever, done. Instead of messages that take one text of scripture which I would “unpack” (exegete, illustrate and apply), I have been led to move through quite a few passages and verses throughout scripture. More Biblical content with less personal comment.

Yesterday morning, we looked at God’s plan for the world: a kingdom of priests who would stand before Him while reaching out to the world (blessed to be a blessing). We talked about the genius of God’s plan: not a few superstars, but every follower growing up to maturity and being witnesses who can then help new followers grow to maturity (Colossians 1:28-29, 2 Timothy 2:2) Finally, we talked about the flaw in God’s plan. It is only effective if we are obedient, willing to die to self, dying as seeds planted to bear much fruit (John 12:24, Luke 9:23).

Last night we focused our attention on the capacity of God’s Word, the power of the Gospel to transform society. We remembered that every form of evil in society has its origin in the heart of men (Mark 7:21-22). Were a vaccine created that could eliminate hatred and selfishness, it should be given to everyone. That is the power of the Gospel as revealed in Acts 15:8-9, Romans 1:16, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Hebrews 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:16. I marvel that leaders of more than 400 churches have consistently rated “expect to change the world” as the lowest of nine missional practices assessed in our Missional Church Cultural Assessment. Yet, we have the only power that can truly transform! Missional churches give that power away.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Swarms - Ellen Livingood and Justin Long Postings from September 9, 2009

My friend, Ellen Livingood, founded Catalyst Services ( ) to help strengthen agency – church collaboration. Postings, her monthly newsletter provides a wealth of cutting edge information for those interested in effective collaboration in God’s mission. Ellen is a missiologist practioner for whom I have great respect.

The latest edition of Postings features an interview with Justin Long, Senior Editor for The Network of Strategic Missions ( on the subject and missional implications of Swarms. Defined as highly focused, highly adaptable networks that exist for specific purposes, Long provides seven characteristics of these networks. Swarms are

  1. Focused on a measurable goal. They are not long term, and the lines are very clear around the purpose. Unless you accept the goal, you aren’t a part of the swarm.
  2. Highly relational. Although many are virtual; personal connections are key.
  3. Self organized. They are volunteer and autonomous.
  4. Transformational agents. They impact their environment.
  5. Highly adaptive. They are resource poor, so they are innovative and make the most of every situation.
  6. Open. They build tools everybody can use for free.
  7. Fast multipliers. They attract others quickly.

Related to mission mobilization, Long identifies two current approaches. First, is the “hierarchical, organizational approach adopted by most denominations. They have resources, events, conferences, recruits—all done very organizationally.” The other approach, upon which he elaborates in the article, operates in a more “swarmish” style.

Swarming was happening before technology, however, technologies have certainly made swarming easier. Technology is an amplifier, but the decentralized networking concept is not dependent on it and is not just something only the young do. Long calls YWAM [Youth with a Mission] a stunning example of swarming and notes the interesting phenomena that the Southern Baptist Convention is swarmish, while their International Mission Board is not.

The article provides helpful insights into the power and possibilities of swarms. Additional resources are also listed. Click here for the entire article. While you are there, let me encourage you to subscribe to Catalyst Postings. Let me know what you think! A Missional Swarm…I like it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Missional Insights from Scripture

Two Facets of Life Transformation

I am intrigued with Acts, the continuing history of Jesus Christ acting in the Spirit. Over the last weeks, Acts has been the focus of my personal Bible study while I continue to read Psalms and Proverbs in my daily quiet time with God. In fact, I am trying to learn to maintain the distinction between those two encounters with the Word. That doesn’t mean that I do not want to learn during the daily quiet time with God, but I do not want that time to be overwhelmed by my going to bookshelves to get multiple resources with which to exegete passages or read multiple insights of other commentators. In our conversation together, I listen as God speaks, without seeking input from others.

In study, I turn to trusted companions for wisdom and insight; commentaries, Bible Encyclopedia, concordances, and countless hundreds of volumes I have accumulated through the years. I also invite God to provide counsel through the podcasts of fellow believers who share what God is teaching them. Sure, I also have the extensive resources of Libronix Digital Library System (a gem for taking a comprehensive library on my laptop as I travel), but honestly, there is nothing that compares to holding a treasured volume in hand and reading from the familiar pages.

So, after having chased that rabbit, let me return to some recent insights from Acts. When an angel released the apostles from public jail where they had been detained by the high priest and Sadducees, the angel instructed Peter and his cohorts to “…speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life” (Acts 5:20). The “whole message” is a loaded proposition! It might be translated simply “all the words” of this Life. As I read that statement I realized how much more there is to the Gospel than the simple rudimentary truths that I often assume.

In fact, part of the reason the apostles were imprisoned was because of the impact the whole message had upon those it touched. In Acts 3, as they were going into the temple, the apostles encountered a man who had been lame all his life. That man’s interaction with the whole message left him leaping and praising God while astonished crowds looked on. In response to their wonder, Peter proclaimed the Gospel and the powerful name of Jesus.

As the crowd grew, Jewish political leaders arrested the apostles and brought them before the high priest and others political leaders. As Peter explained the healing of the lame man, Peter used two different phrases to describe what had happened. In Acts 4:9, “…this man has been made well,” and in verse 10, “this man stands here before you in good health.” I was astounded as I studied these two phrases which sound synonymous in English.

In Greek, the first of those, made well, is the from the root word σώζω (sotzo) which is often translated “to save.” The second phrase “in good health” uses a different word, ύγιής (hugies) which is translated healthy, well, cured, or whole. It is the word from which we take the English word hygiene.

The whole message is not just about eternal salvation, it is about being made whole. Repeatedly Jesus encountered people with physical maladies and in His compassion He healed them physically while also transforming them spiritually. His own mission statement proclaimed release to captives, sight to the blind, and the favor of the Lord (see Luke 4:18-19).

The Gospel we proclaim does much more than provide spiritual rebirth. Thank God that it is the power of God to salvation. But it is also Good News today, here and now, in its power to meet the needs of physical life with God’s transforming power. The whole message saves us and makes us whole!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It is His Kingdom...not Mine

This Sunday is the “hard launch” of the Village Church Dallas Northway. This is the next step in a congregational story that started September 8, 1952 when Northway Baptist Church began. Started in what were then open fields on the outskirts of far north Dallas, the burgeoning population of Dallas soon brought rapid growth to the area where the church was planted. Its proximity to the heart of the city made it a desirable location for young families. Fifty years later the area has passed through significant transitions, especially to the south and west. Today, those compass points find poverty and diversity among those living near the church facilities. At the same time, to the east and north of the Northway campus are communities of affluence.

Through the years, Northway was involved in God’s mission, ministering locally while engaging members to the ends of the earth. As the church neared its 30th year, it gave many members to begin Prestonwood Baptist Church ensuring a vibrant evangelistic congregation in the rapidly developing “new” north Dallas. Within another 25 years, Northway although still carrying the name, could no longer be considered “north,” instead she became a metropolitan inner city church.

Following different eras of transition, it was my privilege to become the bi-vocational pastor for Northway Baptist Church in June 2007. By then, the congregation was predominantly comprised of elder saints many of whom had been part of the church since its earliest days. The congregation continued to do its best to care for its campus of large aging facilities, buildings that had once been filled with people of all ages. Northway had adapted its services to become more contemporary…and having made that transition was not going back.

It continued to serve those in its community with needed ministries while committing itself to new missional initiatives, giving itself away to the purposes of God’s Kingdom. I was and am so proud of the Northway family for their selfless commitment, giving themselves in God’s mission. While the congregation grew, it continued to be encumbered by facilities that had become much more than what could be adequately maintained and effectively utilized.

As pastor, I prayed that God would do whatever would be required to sustain His mission at Northway. At the same time the Village Church of Highland Village was also praying for a place to plant a new campus in the heart of Dallas. The church had more than 400 families who lived in Dallas and were driving to the Highland Village campus for worship, even though their lives were planted in Dallas. They had a heart for the city, but no location in which to give expression to that heart.

During the first five months of this year, God performed a miracle in bringing the two congregations together. On May 17, Northway Baptist Church voted unanimously to unite with the Village Church to become the Village Church Dallas Northway. I would become the last pastor ever to serve Northway Baptist Church. Some will likely not understand, thinking that I led the church to “give away the farm.” My position of leadership ended June 7, 2009 with a service in which we Celebrated our Legacy of Faith. It was not the end…it was a new beginning.

Summer months have been spent in a “soft launch,” a private time during which the two congregations “marinated” into one. This Sunday, September 13, 2009 is the “hard launch” of the church. Facility enhancements have been accomplished, and a common vision is shared. A facility previously characterized predominantly by elder saints, is now rich with young adults. Each group has found the other to be indispensable in what God is seeking to accomplish. The two have become one. It has not been, and will not be, without some pain. But God is present, hope is full, and the missional future is rich with possibility.

For more information on The Village Church please visit them at www.the

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Journey . . . New Castle style. - Curt Ferrell

Introduction by: Milfred Minatrea

Let me introduce you to my friend, Curt Ferrell. Curt and I met in Tampa, Florida a couple of years ago where he led worship and I was a guest speaker. Since that time, my love for Curt has grown as has my appreciation of his giftedness. Curt is Associate Pastor of Music and Worship at South Memorial Drive Church of God in New Castle, Indiana. He shares with us in this “postcard” the journey on which their church is embarking in a missional initiative. Married with two school-aged daughters, Curt is a writer, songwriter, worship leader, and dreamer. His interests vary from politics and genealogy, to black-and-white movies and culinary experimentation (which usually produces a messy kitchen but tasty treats).

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:6. That's one of my "life verses". I believe, and have experienced the truth, that the most significant events in my life have been orchestrated by God. He has lifted me to specific places, and at specific times, for His glory and His purposes. The Journey in New Castle began just that way.

In October of 2007 I received a last-minute invitation to lead worship at a conference in Tampa, Florida. I'm always willing to lead worship and my schedule was flexible enough at the church, that I was able to go. My wife Cheryl and I, enjoy ministering in New Castle, Indiana at a church that loves the Lord and loves its pastors. Our church is a wonderful place to minister and the other staff members I've worked with are top-notch. We have become good friends. In fact, the opportunity in New Castle has seemed too good to be true. For the first year with our congregation, we kept waiting for the "other shoe" to drop . . . it never did. While there have certainly been times of stress and frustration, our time in New Castle has been mostly pleasant. But this trip to Tampa was soon to become a trailhead to a hike ordained by God into a new place . . . not geographically, but spiritually.

One of the speakers for the conference in Tampa was Milfred Minatrea. I had not heard of Milfred, but trusted friends and leaders at the conference told me that a book that he wrote changed their lives and ministries. Now, my favorite authors are C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonheoffer, so I greeted these words of recommendation for a book called Shaped by God's Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches with skepticism. After I met Milfred, heard him speak, and saw his passion, my doubts began to fade.

I recommended the book to Pastor Chris and Pastor Tami when I got back to New Castle. As we read the book together it became clear that God was calling us to a new place. The church was doing good things, but were we doing God's things? We soon discovered that, mid-2008, Milfred was going to be at our national convention 35 miles away to lead a conference. Maybe Milfred would speak at our church that Sunday and introduce the concepts in Shaped by God’s Heart to our congregation. God orchestrated that weekend, and the congregation found the trailhead.

During the next few months the pastoral staff and the leadership groups at the church felt that God was calling us "further up and farther in". At a planning session in November, we took the next step; starting in fall 2009 we would scrap our normal Sunday evening and Wednesday evening church events and, for 14 weeks, we would study the truths laid out in Shaped by God’s Heart. On Sunday mornings, Pastor Chris would preach a message birthed from the concepts presented in one of the chapters. On Sunday and Wednesday evenings we would gather in book study groups to discuss the message of the week and the chapter it came from. Month by month anticipation, curiosity, and a little bit of fear built until August 23rd, 2009 and we started the journey as a congregation.

Where will the trail lead? Only God knows. Will we all get there together? I hope so. Will there be stragglers and those who surge ahead? Certainly. Will we have to change? Can anyone follow the lead of God and not be changed?

Three weeks into this new leg of the journey there is still a mixture of thoughts and feelings. Fear? Yes. The pastoral staff has put "all chips in", to use a poker phrase, and the congregation is looking head-on into certain change. Excitement? Yes. What adventures lay ahead for a people fully dedicated to be on mission for the Kingdom? Passion? That's beginning to grow . . .

It's funny how a last-minute invitation to lead worship can lead to a whole new journey with God. I continue to be amazed at how He orchestrates our lives.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Missional Insights: The Capacity of Scripture

It is amazing to contemplate the capacity of Scripture to transform. In what areas can transformation be accomplished? Frequent exposure to scripture transforms the mental models, values, and behaviors of followers of Christ, and through our influence, society becomes more humane. We see differently. Think differently. Act differently.

At this writing, news reports are advising parents to ensure their children receive the H1N1 vaccine, when it becomes available. Healthcare experts assume the capacity of the vaccine, still being developed, to significantly reduce the number of new cases of swine flu. The vaccine is “graced” with an optimistic transformational capacity. Not proven, yet assumed effective.

Centuries and millennia have proven the capacity of Scripture as a life transforming agent. Its laboratories of validation have been the countless thousands of persons who encounter God as they read, reflect and respond to scripture.

Years ago I heard Leroy Eims speak about the power of scripture to change lives. In his effervescent way, he indicated that the Bible was the only written document that could so transform. Then he said, “It is a crying shame that there aren’t more people sharing it.”

To have a vaccine that would eradicate disease and not share it would be criminal. It boggles the mind that a cure or a preventative might be withheld if available. Further, we would be astounded should a cure or vaccine be refused by those who most need it.

The mission of the God demands that His church consume scripture, words with power to restore the fullness of God’s image in us. As we are transformed into that image, our actions influence those with whom we relate. We become salt and light, not because we can quote the right verses, but because we live lives of authentic compassion and moral reliability.

The significance of influence is reflected in these words, “May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word.” (Psalm 119:74). When the word of God is transforming us, others celebrate being with us!

Missional churches are the kind of people the world wants to spend time with. The thing that makes us inviting is that, at least some of the time, we look and live just like Jesus. That is the transformational capacity of scripture.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Life's Surprises, God's Blessings.

Surprises enrich our lives, but since they are by definition unscheduled and unexpected we have to be available to slow down long enough to experience them as God’s gifts. A totally predictable life would be boring…too predictable.

In life, we may be so focused on an objective that we fail to enjoy God’s little surprises. Recently Pam and I have driven more than 3000 miles to places where I was speaking or coaching. Lot’s of hours together…with miles to our destination slowly being reduced hour after hour.

I have learned to allow our travels to be interrupted. I am an avid roadside sign reader. While traveling from Arkansas to Indiana, I kept seeing signs advertising a restaurant with “throwed rolls.” We decided to leave the interstate and try lunch at Lambert's Café where they hope you "…come hungry, leave full, and hopefully have a laugh or two!" When we pulled into their parking lot we were astounded. There in the middle of nowhere it looked like a thousand cars had determined the same lunch plans. The wait prevented our experiencing “throwed rolls” but returning from Indiana somewhere after St. Louis Missouri we once again succumbed to roadside invitations…off the road and into Blue Springs Café. Home of the “foot high pies.”

One of the words for surprise in the NT is also linked to the idea of hospitality. In Acts 28 Paul mentions the treatment of those shipwrecked on the island Malta by a man named Publius. The way he shared his home and provision with Paul and his shipmates was surprising.

Missional living requires our being available to God when He wants to surprise us with provision, beauty, and relationships. Slow down today…pull off your predetermined pathway…read the spiritual roadsigns…and enjoy God’s gifts…and perhaps a foot high pie is in your future!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Missional Call by Shafer Parker

According to Milfred Minatrea’s book Shaped by God’s Heart, “a missional church is a reproducing community of authentic disciples, being equipped as missionaries sent by God, to live and proclaim His Kingdom in their world.” And by way of interrupting myself, I say it is a useful thing to place such a key description so early in the book (p. 12). Believe it or not, I’ve searched other books on missional church life from cover to cover without ever finding a description of the very thing that supposedly consumes the author’s life.

But to get to my point, I will never forget the liberation and clarity I experienced regarding my personal call when I finally understood the missional purpose of the church. Frankly, for most of my adult life I often questioned why I was even in ministry, primarily because I never really felt that I fit any of the standard models for pastoral leadership.

To illustrate, consider with me the pastoral styles listed by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church (p. 125). I am not a natural evangelist, so every church I’ve served eventually discovers it will never lead the league in baptisms. And as a worship leader I tend to lapse into expositions of song lyrics when I should be getting on with praising God. I despise the idea of the pastor as chaplain. It seems to me that serious Christians should sicken at the thought of the pastorate reduced to religious window dressing for what are essentially family affairs.

Nor am I a reformer according to the social justice model described by Warren. For one thing, the gospel, not social justice is our primary message. For another thing, a lot of matters that are widely accepted as social justice issues have no connection at all with God’s Kingdom. And for yet a third thing, placards and petitions seem to me to be the very antithesis of the Spirit of our Lord who binds the bruised reed and gently blows the oxygen of His Spirit upon the smoldering wick (Mat. 12:18-19). I do not say there is no place for Christian activism, but is it really the place of the body of Christ to be found quarrelling and crying out in the streets? That seems more like a model provided by the labour movement than by our Lord.

Having rejected the other pastoral styles in Warren’s list I concluded I had to be either an instructor or an equipper. And I was mostly okay with that. Teaching and lecturing came naturally, and as a loyal subject of the Queen it was no bother to me to speak to crowned heads if it meant their owners were bent forward to take notes.

But as I pondered being an instructor or an equipper two questions still haunted me. Instructed for what? Equipped for what? In the end I was never satisfied merely regurgitating partially digested Biblical and theological facts for fat infantilized Christians.

Only when I understood the over-arching mission of the church did I also understand my purpose as a pastor. I was called to produce “authentic disciples who will live and proclaim Christ’s kingdom in their world.” Suddenly, the pastorate became the greatest opportunity for service a man could ever have, an all-consuming vocation not to be traded for anything less (and that includes everything else).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Much is written…much to be read

I am a word person. I read. I write. I speak. In fact, I have the great difficulty being quiet.

But I am learning to listen to the words of others as special treasures. That is why I have asked a number of friends to contribute their thoughts to this missional dialogue. One thing I have learned is that while many may be invited…a smaller number respond.

In the next days, we will begin including posts from some of the friends we have made on the journey. Their insights stir my own thinking. Sometimes they write things that make me say, “Why didn’t I see that?” Other times I do not see eye-to-eye with their insights. Of course, sometimes I don’t agree with myself either!

My hope is that the inclusion of their posts will enhance our own thinking about the roles we each hold in God’s mission. I trust that you and I will be challenged to realize the significant implications of our participation in the Kingdom of God. And I hope that other voices will enable us to enter a more effective dialogue…comments are encouraged…so that iron may sharpen iron.

You will be able to identify their words by the icon: Postcards from friends…on the journey.

Be watching for the first of those posts from Shafer Parker, pastor of Hawkwood Baptist Fellowship in Calgary, Alberta. Having known each other as young children, Shafer and I had lost any contact for more than 45 years until our paths reconnected on the missional journey. Shafer and his wife Jeanne have opened their home when Pam and I have ministered in Canada. We love these sweet disciples of Jesus.

So watch for the “postcard” icon. Read and react to the thoughts of friends who are seeking to live and lead in God’s mission. By the way, I would welcome your “postcards” as well. What is God teaching you? What are you wrestling with on the journey? Share your story with me…and I’ll share it with others.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Broken Guitars…the story continues

Although it is probably everywhere already, I loved the video Dave Carroll created in the aftermath of United Airlines failure to respond appropriately after “breaking his Taylor guitar.”
Watch the video, laugh as I did, and realize the power of these words, “Keep your behavior excellent in the world…that on account of your good deeds, they may glorify God.” The world is watching…just ask United (almost 3 million viewers have seen United Breaks Guitars).

For the first time in history, we have communication methods that are instant and incredibly extensive. “No one will really know…so it doesn’t matter how we respond” is not an option. At a cost of about $150, the songwriter and guitarist recorded a music video and posted it on YouTube. And then people like you and I repost it for our friends to see. Uh-oh, United, now everyone knows.

We have never lived in a vacuum, our actions have always mattered. But perhaps they were never made public as quickly as today. The actions of churches and individual disciples are constantly being observed, just as those of businesses are. It is time to let our light shine…so that the world can see our good works, and glorify our Father. What we do matters. While a Taylor guitar is a rare piece of musical craftsmanship, you and I are created in the image of God and our everyday actions must reflect His care and compassion.

Click here for more of the story.