Sunday, June 12, 2011

Death to Life as One Church Brighton

Early up and off on Sunday morning to Brighton, seaside town of 250,000 which is in man respects culturally similar to Austin, Texas. In fact, the community has unofficially adopted "Keep Brighton Weird" as a tag line. One t-shirt was seen with the tag line on the front, and on back, "I'm doing my part!"

Greater Brighton is one of the most unchurched towns in Britain, with about 54% of its residents claiming atheism. In this environment, Dave Steell and family sensed God's leading to serve the Gloucester Baptist Church, a dwindling center city congregation. Within a brief period of having come to Brighton, Dave had a vision that Gloucester Baptist and another dying church, Florence Road Baptist, might come together to become one new church.

Space does not allow me to describe the entire process that led to the new church, but our team was privileged to worship with One Church Brighton, a part of the Body of Christ in the city. Where there were formerly two congregations that were close to death, the decision was in fact made to die. From the death of the two, one new church has been birthed.

For one year, the two congregations met together, heard the stories of those who were members of both congregations as Steell interviewed them week after week during worship. Then, on Easter Sunday, the formal launch of the new church saw the property filled with worshippers. While some members of the former congregations were not able to "make the journey" to become part of a new church, most have remained. Additionally, during the year of preparation for starting One Church, others who were not part of either church have come to identify One Church as their faith community.

Today, there is the critical mass for a healthy winsome church meeting at the Florence Road facility each week for worship and teaching. The center city facility, formerly Gloucester Place, is used for offices and public meetings of the community. Because of its location, plans are for it to become a ministry center for the city.

Our team had lunch with Dave Steell to hear him tell the story of two churches dying so that One Church could be born as a new healthy infant, with a vibrant future ahead. Just hearing the story brought us great hope.

Across America there are many places where the potential exists for similar death to life stories to be written. Pray for One Church Brighton, for Pastor Dave Steell and his family, and for the faithful congregations who are investing themselves to love Brighton in fresh ways. Pray for their effective service to the diverse and spiritual distant population of the city to which they have committed their lives.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Arrival, Underground, Fish-n-chips

Upon arriving in London, the tube system quickly became a lifeline for our team. We connected at Heathrow with Phil Young, who had arrived a couple of hours before us as he flew direct from Chicago. As we prepared to exit the terminal, I gave an Oyster card to each team member and welcomed them to life in London. Oyster cards are loaded with cash value and then swiped for access to trains, buses and the underground.

We caught the Picadilly Line at Heathrow and exited at South Ealing Station in southwest London. There we were met by car to transfer our luggage to the rental that would be our "home away from home" for the week. Through the online service, Vacation Rental by Owner (, I had located a home with sufficient bedrooms and baths to accommodate our team.

After dropping our luggage, we walked to Northfields Station where we caught the tube to King's Cross St. Pancras Station, one of the oldest and most ornate tube stations in London. From there, we took the bus north to the studios of More than Gold. After the briefing and sight visit to Olympic Park,, we tubed to Victoria Station to enjoy our first dinner at St. George's a traditional English pub.

Most of our team were ready for the first serving of fish and chips. While we were waiting for our meals to be served, Henry Deneen, Bryan Doyle and other GEM staff joined us. By we were finished, more than fish and chips had registered in the traditional english food category, as we splurged and had sticky pudding as well!

It was well after dark before we boarded the tube for "home" and the short twelve-minute walk to our rental property. After the overnight flight and a very full day, the team were ready for a good night's rest.

Friday, June 10, 2011

More than Gold - London Learning Lab

For the last week, I have guided our first Learning Lab in London. Our team of four church leaders left the US on Thursday, June 2 and flew home yesterday. Team members were Danny Gilliam, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hillsboro, Texas; Dean and Austin Meade, pastor and worship leader from Calvary Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas; and Phil Young, staff member with Tennessee Baptist Convention. These friends joined me to visit with church leaders in the United Kingdom who are developing creative ministries to reach out to those living in a post-christian culture.

Today in Britain, less than 7% of the population regularly attend any kind of church. In a nation that was once the center of the modern missionary sending movement, God's story is rarely known. Young adults may be compared to third generation immigrants who know longer speak or understand the language of their grandparents. They do not know the story of Christ or why the church even exists.

In 2012 the world will come to London for the Summer Olympics. The global games provide a unique opportunity for churches to serve and share with athlete families and fans from virtually every nation. After our overnight flight from the US, our team hit the ground running by visiting the offices of More than Gold. Begun during the Olympics in Atlanta, More than God is the umbrella under which churches come together to minister during major sporting events. In this case, the Olympic Committee has asked More than Gold to provide host homes for incoming athlete families.

During the games, More than Gold has committed to provide thousands of Christian volunteers who will serve in more than 200 various ministry roles. Filling those roles will require volunteers coming from around the world as short-term missionaries during July and August, 2012. Team members were briefed on the opportunities and invited to bring mission teams to serve during the games.

John Burns, of the More than Gold staff, led the briefing while we enjoyed lunch. We were also joined by my friend Bryan Doyle, and Henry Deneen, president of Greater Europe Mission.

Following the briefing our team caught the tube and made our way to the Olympic Park which is quickly nearing completion in Stratford. There we prayed that God would get great glory during the 2012 games. I filmed Danny Gilliam as he recorded a video to share with his congregation inviting them to pray and prepare now about being part of the mission in London next year.

Danny pointed to the structure being built for the Olympic flame and challenged his church to pray that the true light that overcomes darkness would be received by thousands who will come to Olympics 2012. Thousands will come from nations where the Gospel cannot be freely proclaimed. Pray that in London they will encounter the Light of the World.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Encouragement When I Fail

The repeated failures of Peter, as he learned to follow Jesus, encourage me.

“Well, that didn’t work” is a practical commentary on failure. Not that failure is accepted. Failure as a follower of Christ is never accepted, but it must be acknowledged. When confronted in repentance, failure gives way to restoration, to a renewed walk that, because of the experience, is better prepared for similar situations in the future. Colloquial wisdom calls it “Learning from our mistakes.”

Peter was exposed to endless hours of instruction as he journeyed with Jesus, living in community day after day, night after night. His instruction clearly included the stories of Israel, the heritage to which his own story was being added. When confronted with the “kill and eat” dream on the rooftop of Simon Tanner’s home in Joppa, Peter’s reaction was informed by the theology that was the fabric of his own story, “By no means. I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”Obeying God’s direction, Peter went with those who had extended him an invitation to visit a gentile home in Caesarea. As result of Cornelius’ prayer and God’s response, Peter encountered a community of people who were waiting in the soldier’s home to hear good news from God.

At that moment, Peter made an interesting statement, I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality” (Acts 10:34). “I most certainly understand now.” To what did the “now” of Peter’s statement refer? It must have referred to the total experience of the last twenty-four hours: a dream on a rooftop, an argument with God, relinquishing tradition to obey God’s direction, entering a gentile’s home, hearing how his being there was God’s answer to Cornelius’ prayer, responding to people who were waiting for God’s promised message.

The totality of that experience, all the parts combined, became Peter’s “now.” Apart from the “now” Peter had only words of instruction; propositional truth. But as he obeyed God, theological propositions became experiential truth for him. Let me be clear, I do not mean to imply that the theological propositions alone were untrue. Their truth was activated by obedience. As he confronted his own failure to fully grasp the truth of God, as he repented (turned around, going where he thought he would never go), restoration brought him one step closer to being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. And that is God’s intent for every disciple.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Church Brighton Launches

Recently I joined our ministry partner Bryan Doyle who serves Greater Europe Mission for a week filled with tube and train travel around London and other UK cities. During the week I had the privilege of meeting Kingdom leaders who are creating new and effective paradigms of ministry.

This is the story of two churches becoming one - not a merger, but a new entity. After two previous conversations about merging, Gloucester Place Baptist Church and Florence Road Baptist Church, are about to become a new church. In previous dialogues, reticence on the part of one or the other congregations always led to backing away; the costs were perceived to outweigh the benefits. But when both congregations were willing to die, something new, relevant and exciting could be born.

Gloucester Place Baptist Church and Florence Road Baptist Church officially launch as One Church Brighton this week on Resurrection Sunday. Already the two congregations have becoming one community of faith under the leadership of Senior Pastor Dave Steell. When two hundred plus year old congregations agree to die to allow God to birth one new church, it might just be that a miracle has occurred. Since last July, members of the two churches have been moving toward their launch as One Church Brighton; working through the tough issues of letting go of the old and learning to lay hold of something new.

The facilities of both churches will be utilized in the new mission focus, one as an office complex and community center to serve the center city, the other as the primary worship facility with good access to public transportation hubs in the city. As I worshipped with the congregation, I was in awe of the intentional processes they are employing toward becoming One Body.

In the midst of their identity transformation, this group of believers see themselves as one part of Christ’s larger Body in Brighton. It was a joy to hear the members praying by name for sister churches of various denominational traditions; including very specific prayers for upcoming events which they knew would be taking place over the next days.

In a post-Christian culture, the Body of Christ in Brighton is learning how to release itself to a fresh work of God in this generation. It is a lesson that needs to be heard again and again by churches throughout North America.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MissionShift: 1.3 - On Enoch Wan's Response

At the outset of his reaction to Dr. Charles Van Engen’s essay: “Mission” Defined and Described, Dr. Enoch Wan explained the format he would utilize. I appreciated the manner in which he clarified his intent. He utilized his brief rehearsal of Engen’s essay as a means to compliment the author’s essay as well as the credentials that give weight to his writings. As I read Wan, I was impressed that his major contribution to this dialogue might be his indirect but fervent acknowledgement that could be verbalized; “How we view mission influences how we do mission.”

Wan discusses two major objections or corrections which he suggests need to be addressed in Engen’s essay:

  1. reduction of Trinitarian implication of mission to a merely Christocentric approach
  2. focus on the institutional dimension of mission at the expense of the individual dimension.

Finally, he provides an alternate definition of mission which corrects deficiencies he perceives in that provided by Engen.

With reference to the Trinitarian/Chistocentric issue, Wan affirms Engen for his citation of “key trinitarian texts” but finds him not “true to the texts.” Wan states, “Thus the richness of the theological foundation of mission being Trinitarian has been reduced merely to being Christocentric.” He also indicates Van Engen “cites trinitarian texts but unnecessarily reduces missio Dei to being Christocentric only.”

I agree that the language used by Van Engen is predominantly Christocentric, but I also perceive that he clearly identifies the import of the triune Godhead. This is evidenced in his statements, “Biblical mission is God’s mission. Mission is participation in the mission of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church, in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (p.12) And “God’s mission works through sending the people of God…by the work of the Holy Spirit…as a sign of the coming of the kingdom in Jesus Christ.” (p.27)

In Wan’s suggestion toward enhancing the trinitarian nature of mission, he offers a diagram of “The Interactive Relationship within the Trinity and Beyond” which he suggests, “clearly portrays the complexity of the divine and human realms converging, plus the dynamic interaction of the triune God with personal human beings and the institutional church.” After reviewing the figure and reading Wan’s description, I find that what he states explicitly provides little additional clarity. Perhaps my perspective is too trinitarian to perceive the distinctions, but when I read of the work of Christ, I automatically envision the Father and the Spirit engaged in that same work. I cannot divide His essential unity.

With reference to Wan’s second objection, institutional verses individual emphasis, I deeply appreciate the author’s concern. Too often our discussion of mission almost totally revolves around the church gathered engaging people the Gospel through ministries of declaration or demonstration. Too seldom does our dialogue reflect the individual sentness of every follower of Christ in mission within his or her own sphere of influence. In addressing this issue which is a component in his diagram mentioned above, Wan states, “There is no dichotomy between the individual and institutional dimensions of the Christian mission… It is therefore not correct to leave out the individual aspect and focus exclusively on the institutional missional church as Van Engen does.” Yet Van Engen’s final section includes his working definition of mission which states “God’s mission works primarily through…sending the people of God…[for] participation in God’s mission of reconciling people to God, to themselves, to one another, and to the world and gathering them into the church.” (Emphasis added) While I totally agree with Wan’s desire to emphasize the individual role in mission, the micro level, I cannot agree with his assessment that Van Engen is “anti-individualistic.”

Regarding the “better alternative” definition of mission offered by Wan, I must object to his creation of a dichotomy between spiritual (saving souls) and social (ushering in shalom) elements in mission. Postures of dualism challenge every concept of mission with the assumption that some ministry actions are sacred while others are secular (or in Wan’s case, spiritual and social). If this is true, during His incarnation our Lord spent massive amounts of time in unspiritual activities. When our actions are compelled by the Spirit of God, those are spiritual activities, even if it appears as only a “cup of water given.” In no way am I equating the value of a cup of water with the value of a soul, but I am sure that a better choice of words is possible than the dichotomy posited by Wan.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MissionShift 1.2: Reacting to Eitel

In reading Dr. Keith Eitel’s Response to Van Engen, I respectfully submit that the professor succumbed to the “ready, shoot, aim” school. At points in his chapter, I questioned that we had read the same essay. Again, as mentioned yesterday, the Van Engen assignment in MissionShift, was to review the historic use of the term “mission” by the Christian church through the centuries. The essay is titled “Mission” Defined and Described. Yet, Eitel casting of Van Engen’s desired outcome is “to affirm the term missional but to do so with some distinct and emphatic qualifications.” Later, “The essential focus of the essay is to dissect the historical pieces of postmodernity’s preference for the term missional and look at what is inside.” This direct miss in acknowledging Van Engen’s assignment, in my opinion, results in more of a personal rant than a response.

From his unusual opening paragraphs, which introduce an anonymous “missionary” bowing before a Shiva, the author sets out without regard for the essay to which he was supposedly responding. Five paragraphs into his “response” before referencing Van Engen’s work, Eitel writes: “Missional methods or models used to engage a given culture with the gospel reflect an underlying set of assumptions about what missionaries are commissioned to do. Something seems awry with the Shiva sham described above. Are there limits to what Christians can say or do when being relevant? How does being relevant translate into being missional or even just doing missions?”

Interestingly Eitel consistently uses the term “missions” rather than “mission.” Based upon his use of phrases like “or even just doing missions,” one might assume that missions is an operation originating from human cause. That is, “missions” is something man does, rather than an attribute of God in which the church is invited to participate. He warns, “Unless believers set hermeneutical measures in place that will safeguard the integrity of the gospel message itself, missions will falter.” While I certainly agree with the importance of hermeneutics, I doubt that God’s capacity to accomplish mission will falter based upon man’s initiative. Is the purpose of the Sovereign God really that fragile? Not only do I view Eitel’s perception of mission as reductionist, his understanding of missio Dei is similarly limited, “…that Jesus alone is the Sender and the Church is sent out into the world” in his words “comprises the missio Dei.” There is more breadth to God’s reign, and depth in His creative and redemptive work than Eitel indicates as “comprising” the missio Dei.

I affirm Eitel’s concern that methods employed in mission need to operate within biblical boundaries; the means employed in mission must be compatible with the desired end. “If the outcome undermines, destroys, threatens, or contradicts the message we wish to communicate, then we have surpassed biblical boundaries and lost touch with Christ’s mission entrusted to His Church.” But I do not agree with his assessment that Van Engen “…concludes that David J. Bosch and others …shifted the mission world’s focus” that “set the stage for the current identity crisis among those who are engaging in missions or claiming to be missional.” Eitel appears to distrust new methods, reflective thinking, and creative tension regarding mission, “We live in a time of dangerous creativity in missionary circles.”

He subsequently identifies the work of Alan Hirsch, as an example of what Eitel calls “a bipolar attitude” that affirms the truth of the Bible while also encouraging relativistic flirtation with cultural modes of thought and action. Eitel quotes a familiar Hirsch passage warning of the threat of any mission expression that blends “religious pluralism and philosophical relativism” saying “the challenge must drive us closer to our original message, not further from it.” Immediately following this quote Eitel dismissively concludes, “…while the sentiment is right, the DNA will breed theological error.” Interestingly, this section of his “response” to the Van Engen essay introduces subject matter which was totally absent from the essay.

My experience with missional church practitioners, those seeking to be the Body of Christ expressed with relevance through a missional posture, does not match the characterizations afforded by Eitel. He writes, “Leadership is suspect if they claim to know truth especially if it is deemed biblical since truth is personally derived. Highly individualized theological opinions are each considered valid and real even if they may conflict with the Bible.” And concludes, “If being missional means relationships that entail little or no intentional and verbal proclamation of the gospel, service without concern for eternal destiny of human souls, or finally relevance without responsibility for truth, then let us simply reaffirm the Great Commission and be willing to keep on telling the old, old story to everyone that wills to listen. The result may be godly disciples and New Testament churches…”

My heart aches when I read those words and reflect on brothers and sisters who are seeking to live as authentic disciples of Jesus interacting with cultures of people who have no knowledge of that old story. Through serving, loving, and listening; through investing deeply in the lives of those without Christ, they seek opportunity to be heard. Their lives validate the message that their lips profess. I would rather affirm a generation which lives with the tension of “dangerous creativity” than to live in pernicious malaise.

Monday, January 17, 2011

MissionShift Week 1

Today at the invitation of Ed Stetzer, I join a host of others in a dialogue built upon essays from the book MissionShift: Global Missions in the Third Millenium, by David Hesselgrave and Ed Stetzer (B&H Academic, 2010).

This week we were asked to react to Charles Van Engen’s contribution“Mission” Defined and Described. Each day this week, I intend to provide brief comments about his article (today) and responses to that article by various authors which are presented as subsequent chapters in the book.


The task which Van Engen accepted is certainly ambitious, a rehearsal of the historic use of the term “mission” by the Christian church; to be capsuled in twenty-three pages. I found it somewhat humorous that other writers responding to his essay identified numerous omissions from his history. Clearly, space confines history. I regarded his treatment as effective within the limitations of an essay rather than a tome.

In fact, I question the value of attempting to define mission. While it can be described, in fact indefinitely so, it cannot be confined to a single definition. I do not propose that there are no clear characteristics for mission, but the totality of assigned characteristics or descriptors still do not define the term. There will always be more facets to be illuminated than any definition can portray. It is like defining love; virtually impossible.

Van Engen quotes Sidney Rooy, “There does not exist, nor has there ever existed, only one definition of the mission of the church. … Each definition and all understandings of the biblical bases of that mission are tentative and are subject to new evaluation and change. Truly, each generation must define mission anew.” While acknowledging these words, Van Engen positions any construct of mission as requiring a foundation in Scripture. Biblical authority is paramount. While some may cite the limited number of biblical references cited in his essay, I perceive the author to have clarified this foundational assumption so that an extensive reference to particular Biblical passages is not required.

Further, the author identifies mission as originating in God rather than the church, but advocates the centrality of the church as God’s agent sent to “invite all peoples to become Jesus’ disciples and responsible members of Christ’s church.” While he addresses the dialogue between ecumenical and evangelical concepts of mission, Van Engen is clear, “This basic understanding of the word mission is most basic and should never be lost or eclipsed by subsequent discussions and refinements.” And “Mission is not merely church extension, not is it merely doing good works of compassion.” He concludes with a ringing Christological statement, “The Sender is Jesus Christ, whose authority defines, circumscribes, limits, and propels Christian mission.” One senses that through His use of compounding synonyms, the author is evidencing the depth of personal emotion with which he views this matter.

After describing the Constantinian era, actually quoting an extensive section on this subject from Sidney Rooy, Van Engen reflects on colonization as not being inherent only to that era. He cautions, “In today’s mission activities, when denominations, mission organizations, or mega-churches set out to “plant” new churches that are essentially identical branch offices of the sending organization, the parallels to the medieval view of missions are quite troubling.”

When giving attention to the development of indigenous churches built upon the “three-self” formula, stressed by some as the goal of mission, Van Engen provides personal commentary on that which has also been adopted as the administrative philosophy for church planting by many within the US. In that commentary, Van Engen returns to his familiarity with Latin America, stating that many “three self” churches started there by Western European and North American mission endeavors now tend to reflect a forth “self” component, “self-centered and selfish.” He includes a footnote comment stating strong personal opinion, “I believe the “three self-formula” is one of the major reason for [the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico’s] lack of missionary vision and practice.”

The author deals with the tension that has long existed between Gospel proclamation and demonstration in mission. He reflects historic rhetoric that has surfaced around this issue, “when everything is mission, nothing is mission.” Some of the various verbal framings of this ongoing debate are woven throughout the essay. In this matter I continue to opt for the breadth of meaning in the scriptural term “evangelization” rather than the reduced form “evangelism.” The latter tends to be overseen by the guardians of evangelicalism who understand the term as the verbal proclamation of the Gospel about Christ. The broader word has room for both proclamation and demonstration, the message about Jesus and the message of Jesus.

I respect Van Engen’s conservative word of caution, not that of an alarmist, but of an informed authentic mission practitioner, “In the twenty-first century Evangelical mission agencies are becoming increasingly committed and involved in humanitarian and compassion ministries, children-at-risk movements, and so on. Given these new emphases in Evangelical mission activism, it behooves us to consider carefully how Evangelical views of mission today may be tempted to repeat the same errors made when mission was redefined…” in a previous era. Let us hear the caution and continue with feet solidly grounded in both components of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Crescent Project Event in DFW Metroplex

I hope to see many of you at FBC Arlington for this important event offered by our colleagues at Cresent Project. We can be more Christlike in how we view and respond to our Muslim neighbors; an incarnational perspective on a global issue.

For more information visit

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Songs

Sing to Him a new song…Psalm 33:3

Every experience of God’s love and kindness should give melody and words to a new song. The oft repeated phrase “Sing to the Lord a new song” is more than a trite statement. It is the expectation of God for praise appropriately erupting from grateful hearts that are aware of His provision and interaction on behalf of His creatures.

Only those who have eyes to see, who don’t just pass through life but who truly observe are capable of composing new songs. Whenever one is conscious of God’s lovingkindness in the minutiae of the moments their heart yields line upon line of music in praise.

We sing the songs of those who have gone before us, joining our voices with theirs to remember what God has done in history. So the victors of Revelation 15 sing the song of Moses. But it would be a tragic silence if the people of God were only to sing again the song of others, failing to give voice to their own products of praise. In fact, “praise is becoming to the upright” (Psalm 33:1). A waiting soul will produce a rejoicing heart when God is the focus (Psalm 38:20). It is the soul that actually sings when the realization breaks upon us that God has done for us that which we could never do for ourselves (Psalm 30:11-12).

Every nation and people should join in singing the historic hymns of the ages. At the same time, every nation and people should be scripting its own indigenous chorus of praise; their own “new song.”

Note: The photo was borrowed from the blog of Kathleen Mower, who says “being the Primary Chorister is the very best calling in the Church.”