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.