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Living into an Unpolished Missional Vision

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I’m a planner.  I love organization, tidiness, and feeling prepared for things.  Color-coded calendars give me an odd sense of satisfaction!  Planning ahead and having things in nice neat boxes has served me well for many parts of my life and leadership.  But there are other places where the Lord is teaching me to chill out a bit and see what He’s doing before I go and make my nice, neat plans!

 

In the missional community I lead, we are sensing the Lord calling us to a new level of purpose and intentionality with mission in this next season.  Our community has seen huge growth in terms of becoming family and sharing life together, and we’ve worked hard at predictable patterns of gathering and playing well together.  But there’s an overall sense that the water level is rising and the Lord is up to something and it’s time to go after it with gusto.

 

If left to my most natural leadership tendencies, I would cast crazy-compelling vision, get everyone fired up and go for it!  But it’s awkward.  Every time I try to do that, the Lord’s like, “nope.”
Awkward.

 

And then I remember: mission isn’t about my great visionary ideas of how we can help the Kingdom of God break in.  Mission is about partnering WITH God where he’s ALREADY at work around us.  That means we need to see what He’s already doing!

 

We’ve been given an incredible invitation to partner with God in HIS mission to restore the world back to himself.  It’s amazing, really.  In my excitement, I can get way ahead of Him with great ideas that are just that…great ideas.  But they may not be His ideas.

 

So as much as I’d love to already have a beautifully polished missional vision statement (I still have faith we’ll get there!), I’ve been learning to live in the tension of what we know God has called us to thus far and what He’s still revealing through the journey.  What I feel most passionate about, though, as we live in this tension is that we don’t wait for the magical moment where it all comes together before we start engaging in meaningful “out.”  It could be an incredible temptation to sit around and wait until God brings amazing clarity.  But what I see throughout the fabric of scripture is that clarity comes in the GOing.

 

The Jordan river parted after the first set of toes were dipped into the water.

 

The food multiplied as the disciples gave it away.

 

So take what you know, start engaging with it and see what God reveals through the process.

 

For us, this has meant a couple of things:

 

We’ve become really good observers.  Who seems to be hanging around?  As we walk the neighborhood or part of town we feel called to reach, what do we notice?  We take note where people gather, how they celebrate, what the needs are, what’s going on in the area and ask the Lord how we can meaningfully engage in those things as a community.

 

We love experiments!  The word experiment communicates a freedom to try things, a freedom to take risks, and a freedom to fail!  It gives room to try different ways of engaging your neighbors or co-workers or your “who” that you feel called to reach.  What works?  What doesn’t?  Inevitably, you’ll stumble into things that surprise you.  Some of your experiments may become a new regular rhythm for your community.  Others you won’t do again.  Either way, HOW you reach those you are called to reach will become clearer as you try things.

 

So before you get all stressed out about your missional community or your missional family not having the full picture of what mission looks like specifically, embrace the process!  Live into your unpolished missional vision and allow time for the clarity to come as you GO!

The Five Capitals of Parenting

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I knew I was in trouble the day my daughter learned how to shop.  She was about 18 months old at the time, and we were in the toy section at Babies R Us.  Up to that point, she hadn’t paid much attention to the toys on the shelves unless I pulled something down to show it to her.

That day, however, something clicked, and she realized she was surrounded by a wonderland of fun.  One-by-one, she began pulling toys off the shelves and bringing them to the cart. She wasn’t fussing for them, just delighting in each item and doing what she’d seen her parents do in stores time and time again–throw things in the cart.

She had a such a sweet attitude about it that I was ready to hand over my wallet.  At that moment I realized that if I had the money, I just might buy her every toy in the store.  I really would have.  There was something deep in my heart that wanted to give her everything.  I wanted to give her an abundant life.

Then, a thought emerged in my head as clear as day.  “You have the power to absolutely ruin her.”  God revealed to me in that moment how easy it would be to invest in my daughter in all the wrong ways.

As I processed this kairos later, I realized that what I had experienced was my natural impulse to reflect the Father’s heart.  In Matthew 7, Jesus said, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Because we are made in the Father’s image, it’s the nature of parents to want to provide for our kids.  We want our kids to flourish.  However, our Father in heaven doesn’t just provide, but also protects.  That means God doesn’t just give us things.  He gives us the best things, the experiences and spiritual resources that will lead to true life.

From our limited vantage point, though, it’s easy to get confused about what exactly are the best things for our kids.  Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”

That day in the toy aisle taught me, that without God’s direction, my parenting impulse to give my kids the best could destroy them.  If I focused on giving them abundant life, I would end up giving them no life at all.  However, if I focused on giving them Jesus, the abundant life would follow.  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

What matters most

When Jesus commands us to “seek first,” he is clearly telling us to prioritize our lives.  He is saying that some things in our lives are simply more valuable than others.  To help our children follow Jesus, and as a result, experience the best God has to offer, we have to get our priorities straight as parents.  Because we have a finite amount of resources to invest in our kids, we have to make sure we’re focusing on the most important things.

In his book Oikonomics, Mike Breen identifies five capitals or resources, that God has given us to manage in our lives:

  • Spiritual
  • Relational
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Financial

The trick to managing these resources well is to realize that, though they are all valuable commodities, some are more valuable than others.  Our spiritual capital is the most valuable while financial is the least.

A friend of mine told me about a mom in his huddle who was wrestling with these priorities.  She said, “I’ve been parenting with the five capitals in reverse.”  In other words, her natural priorities as a parent were the opposite of God’s.

She’s not alone.

The world tells us the most important thing as parents is to raise successful, happy children and, as a result, we may prioritize our parenting like this:

  • We throw money, toys and new clothes at our kids to make them happy (financial).
  • We push our kids to get good grades (intellectual).
  • We sign our kids up for a million extra-curricular activities (physical).
  • We arrange play dates and Pinterest-worthy parties to make our kids popular (relational).
  • If time allows, we squeeze in church on Sundays (spiritual).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with toys, good grades, extracurricular activities and play dates.  It’s just easy to forget what’s most important when it comes to raising our kids.  Jesus says that if we go after kingdom stuff first, He’ll take care of the rest.

You had one job

If you’ve spent much time online at all, you’ve probably stumbled onto the phrase, “You had one job.”  It’s an internet meme used to describe epic fails in the workplace and beyond.  The pictures frequently include misspelled signs, products with the wrong labels or people generally fouling up the simplest of tasks.

I’m convinced, that if I don’t keep my priorities straight as a parent, some day I’m going to look back on my kids’ childhood with regret and say to myself, “You had one job.”  Jesus told me to go into the world and make disciples, and the two disciples I have the most influence with are my daughters.   When it comes to parenting, I have one job.  It’s not to raise smart kids, popular kids, or athletic kids.  It’s to raise kids who imitate Jesus.

Again, it’s not that being smart, popular or athletic are bad things.  They’re just not the most important things.  Our job as disciples, and as people who are discipling our kids, is to learn how to leverage the less valuable capitals in our children’s lives for what matters most.

In the economy of the Bible, it’s all about trading up.  Jesus illustrated this by telling us about a merchant looking for fine pearls.  He said, “When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:46).  The merchant made a great deal, and we can teach our kids to make great deals too.

For example, if your kids are into sports (physical capital), you can help them to use that opportunity to build friendships with their teammates (relational capital) and potentially discover people of peace who they might be able to invest in spiritually.  In that scenario you’ve just shown them how they can take something less important, sports, and trade it for something more important, friendship, to get something of eternal value, the growth of God’s kingdom.

Of course, the best way to teach our kids what matters most is by modeling it ourselves.  Our kids learn their priorities by watching us in action, whether we want them to or not.  In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul said to “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”  This is the essence of great spiritual parenting.   Follow Jesus and invite our kids along for the ride.

As we learn to prioritize the five capitals in our parenting, we’ll begin to see spiritual fruit in our kids’ lives that we never dreamed was possible.  They really will begin to experience the best that God has to offer.  While we may be tempted to settle for buying them every toy in store, God has something far better, the abundant treasure of a kingdom that can never perish, spoil or fade.

Accidents Happen

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Accidents Happen

I have started in our little community an accidental change of sorts, and it’s a surprisingly eco- friendly one as well. I bought a “whirligig”—well that’s what we call them back in Sheffield. It’s an outside clothesline/dryer shaped like a spider web that you stick in the ground. So instead of all your clothes tumbling and jumbling around in the inside of a dryer they get pegged on the line and blow in the wind and dry in the sunshine.

I have to confess I have never been a fan of the dryer. I have a natural suspicion that they shorten the life of your clothes and we all know they eat socks, not to mention shrinking your favorite sweater.

They are meant to diminish or eliminate the need for ironing but that’s only possible if you stand guard, waiting for its annoying buzzer or beeper to sound so you know its finished. Who has time for that?! I seem to over use the de-wrinkle cycling in an attempt to get rid of the deep creases created by hot air.

ANYWAY I love whirligigs.

They are way more efficient. All you have to do is wash clothes and hang them on the line, let them dry then fold and put away. You do also need to check the weather don’t forget to do that! You don’t damage your clothes, the environment or for me any way my mental health, due to shrinking sweaters or lost socks!

So I bought one within the first week of moving here to Greenville. The previous place we had lived here in the US we had a HAO stating we could not let our clothes dry on any line outside, and out of obedience I had complied. This time It didn’t matter there was no HOA, No restrictions and lots of sunshine a perfect combination.

Mike bought the bag of cement to keep it centered and secure and it stood proud in the middle of our yard! In our conversations on the porch with our neighbors, they began to mention the “Whirly gig” I was actually waiting for some sort of negative response but it was the exact opposite. One neighbor said it reminded them of there child hood and their mother putting clothes on a line, another said it just made them happy to see the clothes blowing in the wind and others loved how Eco friendly it was.

They all now have one of their own or are about to buy one.

What struck me about this whole thing, apart from the fact that our neighborhood now has ‘whirlygigs ‘ scattered in people’s yards, was that I had accidentally caused people to want to change. And all from simply being myself.

I have been reflecting on all this and how people are always attracted to authenticity even when what you are doing is outside of their norm. Everyone was open to change and willing to embrace it. All I had to do was to point out its benefits and show them. It made me think again how complicated we sometimes make sharing our faith. Maybe we should just be true to ourselves and tell our story.

Communicating the Uniqueness of a Discipleship-based Church

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Communicating the Uniqueness of a Discipleship-based Church

None of us are as “open-minded” as we believe we are.  Even the most adaptable and eager to learn among us are actually constantly reinterpreting what we see in the world around us to fit the existing neural pathways of our brain.  In other words, we have established ways of “seeing” things in our minds that we force what we are observing and/or experiencing to fit.  These preexisting templates are called paradigms.

Although our 3DM way of life and ministry is not an innovation but really a return to New Testament roots, most of the people to whom we try to explain this way of “being church” will struggle to understand it.  Since the the Latin word “radix” means “root” and our word “radical” is derived from it, it is fair to say that this very biblical approach to life and ministry may well be too “radical” for 21st century North Americans to grasp without a focused mental process.

Almost all North Americans will have to go through a process of Information–Immersion–Internalization before they “get” it.  At each stage, their mind will be stretched and new neural pathways will be slowly created until a new paradigm exists that is shaped by a New Testament rhythm of life and ministry and not a programmed one.

At the Information stage, I try to consistently use the term “discipleship-based.”  As frequently as I can I try to point out that our congregation is different in that we are “discipleship-based and relational” as opposed to “program-based and attractional” in our way of life and ministry.  Often, you will find that people nod and agree they understand but, really, they are translating what you say into their existing paradigms of church, ministry and spirituality.  This is not the time to argue–trust the process and patiently help folks move forward.

As soon as possible, we need to get people into Immersion/Imitation in the experience of LifeSharing and discipleship.  As long as a discipleship culture permeates our church, every activity and every event will reinforce the contrast between consumer-based programs and discipleship-based relationships.  Quickly, the people whom God is calling to this journey of growth will begin to adapt to new rhythms of life and metrics of ministry.  Still, we can’t expect too much.  Old paradigms don’t disappear, they only fade away.

Personally, I have never seen anyone enter the last phase of Internalization/Innovation without participation in a Discipleship Huddle.  Perhaps it is possible, but I have yet to see it.  To me, this is stark evidence of how deeply a program-based paradigm to church ministry has become hard-wired into the brains of 21st century North Americans.  I find it doesn’t click for most people until, after we internalize the LifeShapes biblical paradigms, we go chapter by chapter through Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen.  Then I find most people understand what a unique entity a discipleship-based congregation is in our present context.

Over and over my 3DM mentors told me to “trust the process” and be patient as I set out to plant a discipleship-based church.  “Two years to learn and seven years to build out” seemed like a lot but three years into the task of changing mental paradigms for believers and unbelievers alike, “revolutionary change” at an “evolutionary pace” seems to be the best path.  Perhaps, with enough time, “discipleship-based” can even become a paradigm that is widely recognized and broadly blessed.  Just as long as we have the patience and commitment to live it out!

 

Moving from Liking Mission to Living Mission

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Moving from Liking Mission to Living Mission

 

It’s easier to “like” something than to live it.  You can “like” something nowadays with the simple click of a button.  It can tug on your heartstrings, brew up raw emotion or even get you to shout an audible “Amen!”  All you have to do is push that little “like” button and you feel like you’re supporting something bigger than yourself and getting behind something great—without ever leaving your chair.   I wonder – is that what we’re doing with the whole idea of living missionally?

 

Mission is a bit of a buzzword in the church at the moment, so it’s worth defining.  Others may define it differently, but for me it’s been helpful to think about mission this way: “mission” is how I engage with God where He’s already at work around me.  It’s not a trip.  It’s not an event I’ve signed up for.  It’s in the ordinary places and spaces of my life.

 

I recognize that as Jesus sent the disciples in the Great Commission, so I’ve been sent with all the other Jesus-followers to imitate His life within the context of mine–to “go and make disciples.”  As I have taken the posture of living as a “sent one”, I’ve also taken on His strategy, starting first in my Jerusalem.  I needed to work out what mission looked like in my hometown, in my neighborhood, in my daily rhythms and in my existing relationships.  Mission has meant learning to be a carrier of God’s power and presence into my everyday.

 

This has been a journey for me.  I must admit, I was drawn to the excitement of it all—the adventure, the catchy tweets and the feeling of being a part of something that would change how believers engage with what it means to follow Jesus today.  It just sounded so revolutionary, so paradigm-shifty, and so movemental.

 

I liked the idea of mission.  I really liked it.

It was a whole other enchilada to actually live it.

 

Recognizing my call to lead others in the things God is leading me, I’ve been a part of leading others into an ordinary, everyday missional life for some time now.  And it’s harder than it looks as you can probably relate.

 

So if you are trying to figure out how to lead your church or those you’re discipling to go beyond just liking the idea of mission and to seriously engage in living a life on mission, here are a few simple thoughts:

 

1:  Go first.  It starts with you.  Leaders always go first—that’s what it means to lead.  People will have a hard time following you into a life on mission if they can’t see it in your life first.   Here are a few probing questions to help you reflect on your missional leadership:

 

  • Do you have unchurched friends? Do you have real relationship with people who wouldn’t call themselves Christians?  If you do, prioritize those relationships.  Eat together, play together, celebrate together.  If you don’t, you probably need to get some.  I have been there, believe me.

 

  • Where are the places you already go, or the things you are already doing that with a bit of intentionality could become a missional outlet? Don’t think too hard.  Ask God to show you who your people of peace are and where you can start investing some of your own missional energy.  Just start trying some things.    Give yourself permission to fail.  Just go for it.

 

  • Are you letting those you are leading see you living on mission? If you’re already engaging in everyday mission, find ways to allow others to see the practical ways you are doing so!  Tell stories.  Get them praying with you.  Celebrate with others where you see the Kingdom of God breaking in to your world.  Give them something to follow and something tangible to imitate.

 

2:  Make discipleship a priority.  You’ve heard it from us before—we don’t have a missional problem, we have a discipleship problem.   When Jesus made disciples, the kind of disciples He made were missional disciples.  There wasn’t a missionary track and a discipleship track to his investment strategy.  Living missionally was simply what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus.   So if we have a discipleship strategy and it’s not producing missional disciples, it’s worth taking a look at what we’re missing as

we disciple.

 

  1. Emphasize imitation. It’s a skills thing, so bring them with you.  Hands down, the reason Christians don’t engage in everyday mission is because they don’t feel they know how.  They don’t feel they have adequate skills to do it well.  And when we don’t feel we’ll be good at something, we often just don’t do it.  We clam up, we let opportunities pass, and we psych ourselves out because no one has shown us what mission looks like practically!

 

Copy how Jesus developed this skill in the disciples he was leading.  Send them out on little missionary adventures.  Help them practice finding people of peace, starting up conversations with strangers, noticing what God is doing in a city or making missional observations about the world they’re living in.  Bring them with you to practice, let them see how you do it, and de-mystify the whole missional thing by demonstrating some practical skills they’ll need to be effective.

 

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.  And like anything, it always starts with us.

 

So how about you?  What’s your experience?  How have you moved people from liking mission into living a life on mission in practical ways?  What are you learning as you try different things in your context?

Battle for Perfection

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As I prepare for STAND Minneapolis Women’s Equipping Weekend, I have been pondering the battles women face that keep us from living a missional life.

I’m convinced the enemy uses a sneaky stall tactic to paralyze us, to keep us in our own head, to slow down the kingdom impact we’re able to have around us. If he can just keep us focused on ourselves, well…then we’re not so focused on our neighbor, on investing in others, on looking for people of peace.

Here’s how this plays out.

I can’t be “missional” because other people are so much better at it than me! I don’t know what to say. It feels awkward. I’m not good at talking about my faith.

It sounds familiar. The long list of “I cant’s!” sounds a bit like Moses, doesn’t it? “Not me, Lord, I stutter! Surely there’s SOMEONE else you can use, someone much more qualified than I?!”

Yet the Lord chose him, using him in spite all the reasons why someone else might do it better. It was an internal battle Moses had to win to step into the calling the Lord had on his life. The Father had a vision for his life much larger than Moses could see in that moment. And it wasn’t about his qualifications or his abilities; it was about the Lord getting the glory.

I can’t be “missional” because my life isn’t perfect. I need a bigger (and spotless!) house to invite people in. What if they see my messes? What if they see my imperfections? What if my kids say something embarrassing? What if they get too close and see the “real” me that isn’t yet like Jesus?

Ladies, Martha Stewart and Pinterest have not helped us here! They’ve given us this unattainable picture of perfection and longing for magazine-like beauty at home that isn’t actually reality for most of us. Real people have real messes. Dirty laundry, dishes in the sink, dust bunnies in the corner.

If we only invite people in when there’s vacuum lines in our carpet, we’ve lost the point of inviting them close to SEE us. If all they see is perfection, how will our friends see how WE need Jesus? The world needs to see how Jesus meets us in our desperation, how He’s present in our suffering, how He transforms our hearts, how He brings life.

I can’t be “missional” because there just isn’t time. I’m so busy. Our lives are crazy! I don’t know when I would make time.

If only we could allow the Lord to breathe some missional creativity into the things we are ALREADY doing! It’s amazing when things like running our kids to their sports activities, picking up groceries or working out at the gym become an outlet for mission. Living a naturally missional life is less about adding things to our schedules and more about seeing the everyday places and spaces of our lives as opportunities for God to break in.

Ladies, there’s a frontier waiting. The Kingdom of God is ready to come to your neighborhood, your community, your city. It’s time for us to hike up our big girl pants and get on with it! So here’s your invitation to throw your Martha Stewart-meets-Pinterest idea of a perfect life to the waste side and join the rest of us normal, messy, everyday women who still need Jesus on an adventure of a lifetime.

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3DM STAND

Women’s Equipping Weekend

March 27-28, 2015

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photo credit: Barricade Signs via photopin (license)

Pig and Sheep – Review

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Pig and Sheep is my favorite picture book to come along in years. Not only is it a delightful story that’s well-told with engaging text and charming illustrations, it’s also a powerful story of grace.

Little Pig lives in the Grand Pig Sty, enjoying his slops and mud, until one day he spots a shepherd leading his flock nearby. That’s the day Little Pig begins to dream of becoming a sheep. Once he meets the kind-hearted shepherd, that dream becomes reality.

But as many of us have learned the hard way, the transformation from pig to sheep is not always an easy one. When Little Pig returns to the Grand Pig Sty for one last party, he learns just how much the shepherd truly loves him.

Unlike so many Christian picture books Pig and Sheep isn’t heavy-handed or preachy, but the themes emerge naturally from the story.  I love that illustrator Blake Berg portrays the shepherd as a border collie sheep dog, and not as a human. It keeps the integrity of the story world intact, without coming off as cheesy or forced.

Pig and Sheep works on so many levels. My kindergartner loved it for the story and pictures while my third grader picked up on spiritual message immediately.

As an adult, the story moved me emotionally, a potent reminder of God’s grace in my life, and I found myself getting choked up as I was telling the story to my wife.  It’s hard not to be moved by Little Pig’s journey and Breen’s portrayal of three core spiritual themes:

  • Identity:  After his wild partying in the Grand Pig Sty, Little Pig says, ““I’m just a little pig again.  I probably can’t ever go back.”  But when the shepherd finds him, he doesn’t call him Little Pig.  He calls him Little Sheep.
  • Grace: When Little Pig confesses his bad decision to the shepherd, the shepherd responds, “Don’t worry, little one.  I know.  But you can always make a good decision after a bad one, right?  Come home with me.
  • Transformation:  Breen shows us that spiritual transformation is an ongoing process, not an instantaneous change.  Once Little Pig receives a new heart, he begins growing his wool a little bit at a time and still makes mistakes.   Visually, Blake Berg makes this idea fun and convincing.

 

Speaking of the illustrations, Berg throws in several fun touches, my favorite being Little Pig’s rubber ducky, who appears somewhere on almost every page. My kids loved trying to spot where Ducky was going to turn up next.

All in all, I think Pig and Sheep would be an excellent resource for families, children’s ministers and even senior pastors.

  •  Families: This book is a wonderful opportunity to cuddle up before bed and start great spiritual conversations at home.  It would be a fantastic treat to stick in the Easter basket this year.
  • Children’s Ministers:  You could build an amazing lesson around this book for children’s church or Sunday school or even a whole series around the story’s themes of identity, transformation and grace.
  • Senior Ministers:  Use this book on Easter Sunday!  Incorporate Pig and Sheep for a creative element in sermons about the crucifixion, Peter’s denial of Christ and, of course, the stories of the lost sheep or prodigal son.

 

If you haven’t guess by now, I’m loving this book and am sure I’ll be using it at home and in ministry for years to come. It’s destined to be a classic!

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher, but the opinions in this review are my own. I would have bought this book ten times over!

Originally posted on simplekidmin.com