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Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: Evangelicalism

Gordon Cosby

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I'm not sure how I missed this (I guess it's been a hectic week), but Gordon Cosby from Washington DC passed away a couple of days ago. [Read Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's article on Patheos here.]

I spent a little time with Gordon at the Church of the Savior in the past couple of years, and those few moments were transformative for me. Not only was I introduced to a truly missional church, but was amazed at the power of a small group of people to serve so many through self-sacrifice and deep commitment. From the planting of several churches and several non-profits ranging from a retreat center, a transitional home for women and children, Christ-based Child Care Centers to an innovative art center for inner city kids to a jobs placement center to a hospital for the homeless to a theological school to train servants of the gospel to a hospice for the homeless and those with AIDS and other illnesses to an affordable housing organization to one of my favorite coffeeshop/ bookstore/ diners (you can find a more comprehensive list here). This little band of gospel centered people discipled and shepherded by Gordon have loved the least of these in ways many of us merely talk about, and their impact is incredible. Their commitment to Christ, to each other, to the spiritual disciplines, to prayer, and to service is inspiring.

Gordon taught me many things in our short conversations. I heard him speak passionately about being people formed by the essence of Jesus, about the importance of the inward journey, about doing the gospel and the outward journey, about downward mobility, and about the power of a simple act of love done in the name of Jesus. Gordon talked about our addiction to culture rather than to seeking the essence of Jesus. He spoke of pursuing the questions and pressing into the God who is the answer rather than seeking answers in themselves. I was impressed by his ability to hold the evangelical power of gospel transformation together in practice with a deep commitment to social justice - a marriage so often divorced in the contemporary church. As we talked about that issue, I asked him poignantly about the loss of spiritual fathers and mothers for my generation, and he looked deeply into my eyes and pointed his finger... "You be a spiritual father to the next generation." Quite a challenge, and not what I was looking for. I was comfortable lamenting the lack of spiritual fathers, and he gave a simple call to action. He reminded me to stay focused on Jesus as the center - what he called "the essence" - which so easily gets lost in our doing and our addictions, and we so often don't realize we're losing his essence. I was privileged to have spent a few moments with him, and know that Jesus has said to him, "Well done, Gordon, good and faithful servant."

"We are addicted to knowing and doing, and I wish we were addicted to being."

"Let the artisan shape you."

"If we are going up the rope, and Jesus is going down, then we've missed him."

-Gordon Cosby, March 2009 and April 2010


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David Platt at Urbana 2012

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Urbana is an incredible missions conference for college students originally held on the campus of the University of Illinois and put on by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship - one of my favorite organizations. My wife and I attended this conference long ago, and it impact us for life. Though at the time we thought we would be "goers" to Africa and China respectively, we ended up being "senders" and "supporters" instead. The impact this conference has had on our life and commitment to missions is still inestimable. The conference happens every three years, and if you can send a college student, you won't be sorry. Save some money over the next two years and send someone that you sense God is prompting. If you haven't seen David Platt's talk from Urbana this year, I would encourage you to watch it. However, as a friend of mine said, "WARNING....Don't watch this unless you want your life to change drastically..." PS... if you have not yet read "Radical" or "Radical Together" by David Platt, I would also encourage these books at seminal reading in personal missional thinking and drive towards action.


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13 issues for the Church in 2013

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Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and author of several books including Break Out Churches, has written an interesting blog that looks at trends in the church - particularly with the rise of the millennial generation. This list he compiled is largely taken from Sam S. Rainer, senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN, and president of Rainer Research. I'd love to hear what you think about these projections:

  1. The impact of the “nones.” The 2012 study by Pew Research rightfully garnered much attention. The percentage of the adult U. S. population that claims no religious affiliation increased from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2012. That is an amazing 33 percent increase in that one category in a relatively short period. One implication for local congregation is the decrease of marginal church attendees, often called “CEO” (Christmas Easter Only) Christians. There is no longer much societal pressure to attend church. Those on the margins are thus falling off completely. There will continue to be a financial impact since these infrequent attendees typically provided some level of giving to their churches.
  2. Migration back to small groups. For three decades, the key emphasis in American church life has been the corporate worship experience. Though that emphasis is not going away, there is an increasing emphasis on moving people to small groups of all kinds: Sunday schools; home groups; life groups; etc. There is an increasing awareness that those who are in groups have a higher level of commitment in almost all areas of church life. As the Sunday school movement swept the nation for a half-century through the 1970s, a similar groups movement is already underway and should gain even more momentum.
  3. Accelerated closing of churches. The institutional church stubbornly resists formal closing. Even if only six or seven people attend each week, those few fight for the survival of their church. Those who were attending these very small churches are either moving to the “nones” category, or they are moving to larger churches. The primary stalwarts to keep the doors open are members of the builder generation, those born before 1946.  As that generation decreases at an increasing rate, more churches will close. Any guess to the number of closings in 2013 is speculation on my part. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the numbers reach the 8,000 to 10,000 level.
  4. More churches moving to multiple venues. Membership in Mensa is not a requisite to have an insight on this issue. Just from an anecdotal perspective, the number of congregations moving to multiple venues is staggering. Indeed that issue may be the single greatest distinguishing factor in growing churches. The variety of the venues is increasing as well. Some churches have different venues on the same campus. Others move to multiple campus models. Some have an onsite preacher/teacher; others offer video streaming. Some churches have venues on Sunday only. Other churches have venues up to seven days a week. In the 1960s American congregations moved to multiple worship services in sweeping numbers. That same trend in multiple venues is taking place today. It should accelerate.
  5. The growth of prayer emphases in local congregations. Though prayer is foundational in the life of New Testament congregations, it frankly has not garnered much attention in recent years in American churches. There was a subtle but noticeable shift in 2012. More and more church leaders and members realized that the power and strength of health in their congregations is not human-centered but God-dependent. I am reticent to predict a true prayer revival in our nation, but I am confident in saying that more local congregations will focus on prayer. It will be interesting to see how such an emphasis manifests itself in each local body.
  6. Fickle commitment. In his post, Sam Rainer noted an overall decline in institutional loyalty. It is certainly pervasive in many American congregations. Indeed, the culture of the vast majority of American churches has been one of low commitment. That lower level of commitment is evident, paradoxically, in even the more committed members. Those members who once were present “every time the doors were open” may now be present, for example, 75 percent of the time. It is likely that decreased frequency of active attendees may be the single largest contributor to church decline in the past five years.
  7. Innovative use of space. I recently drove onto a church property located on approximately three to four acres. My consultant training told me that 300 to 500 people could worship on that site. The Millennial pastor who was riding with me said that the site could easily accommodate 2,000 in attendance. The younger pastor did not see limitations of times or days of worship. Indeed that generation will cause us to look anew at church space limitations.
  8. Heightened conflict. The Millennial generation will not accept church-as-usual. They are shaking the status quo in many churches. They are not seeking to be adversarial; they are simply asking tough questions that those of us in older generations were reticent to address. Anecdotally the greatest resistance to change is occurring in the Builder generation and the older Boomer generation (roughly including those born before 1955).
  9. Adversarial government. More public schools and other public facilities will be less accepting of churches meeting in their facilities. Some other local governments are resisting approval of non-tax paying congregations expanding their facilities. New churches and existing churches that are expanding their venues will be forced to become more creative as they look for new locations.
  10. Community focus. One of the great benefits the Millennial generation brings to our churches is their focus on the community in which the church is located. They are not content simply to offer ministries to those who come to the church facilities; they are going into the community to serve the merchants and residents who work and live there.
  11. Cultural discomfort. Many of the issues noted thus far point to growing levels of discomfort for the congregations in the culture they seek to minister and serve. For all of the twentieth century and even the early years of the twenty-first century, it was culturally acceptable, even expected, to be a part of  a local congregation. Those expectations are all but gone. There is a growing and distinct divide between the values of the culture and the Christian values most churches hold.
  12. Organizational distrust. There is a pervasive and growing distrust of institutions in general. Those institutions are found in both government and business, but religious institutions are not exempt from this lack of trust. That diminishing confidence exudes from those both in churches and those who do not attend churches.
  13. Reductions in church staff. I am watching this development carefully. Two different forces are at work. First, in many congregations there is a greater emphasis on laypersons handling roles once led by paid staff.  Second, the tough economic climate and declining church attendance are naturally affecting church budgets. Congregations are reticent to fire staff, but more and more are not filling vacant positions.

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The Land Between - Jeff Manion

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(Download a free chapter of Jeff's book "The Land Between" here:http://www.willowcreek.com/events/leadership/2010/between.asp)

Jeff did a great job of exegeting Numbers 11, and what he calls "The Land Inbetween."  He equated these time in our lives when we are stuck wandering in the desert between land of blessing and land of blessing to the time when Israel was wandering between fertile Egypt and the fertile crescent of the promise land.  He reminded us that the story of Moses and the people is a real story of real people going through real problems and issues.  He reminded us that the land between is fertile ground for complaint. (Numbers 11:7-9) I laughed hard when he read this passage, and said it had to be read in a "whiny voice."   The land of between is not only fertile ground for complaint, but it goes further than that to the place of meltdown. (Numbers 11:10-15)  Moses is done, fed up, and says, "Kill me right now!"  We have all been in this place when the finances are gone, we're jobless, stuck in an unhealthy marriage, nailed with cancer, in a broken relationship, when our friends betray us.

Often we're prepared for some disappointment, but not necessarily for years of disappointment.  After awhile we just get crushed by ongoing disappointment after disappointment.

And God doesn't leave Moses alone, but says that he will provide to help Moses carry the burden.  God provides other people to shoulder the load with us in the land between. (Numbers 11:16-17) What if God provides not only for Moses and the Israelites in the land inbetween, but also for us?  What does it look like for us to leave our hands open to let go of the crushing anxiety that is beating us down.  What if he's good?  What if he provides for us, like he provided lunch instead of a lecture for Moses?

Why do we respond like the Israelites do, thinking we are better off on our own without God?  It's interesting when the people complain that God responds, and we find that the land between is fertile ground for God's discipline (Numbers 11:18-20).  Pain, from God, is not to hurt us, but it is for redemptive purposes, to rescue us from something.  He does not hurt us to hurt us.

The land between is fertile soil for transformational growth. But, God says that in order for transformational growth to happen, we have to trust him in the land between.  It is in this space that we learn to pray, to depend, and to trust God.

Jeff used a great metaphor of battling roommates.  Complaint comes unexpectedly into the house and resists eviction.  Trust seeks to move into the house, too, but can't live with complaint, and eventually, when we begin to trust God, trust is the thing that evicts complaint.

May God bless you int he land between.

May you guard your heart.

May trust grow.


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When Leaders Fall, Adam Hamilton

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Francis Schaeffer Institute: 30% of pastors admitted to some sort of sexual failure in their ministry

Adam Hamilton had a tough talk today.  He admitted himself that this was not a fun, motivational talk, nor one he delighted to give.  It has to deal with the moral failure that so many leaders fall into - often, and particularly some sort of sexual/ relational failure.  Hamilton himself experienced the moral failure of two of his colleagues who developed an inappropriate relationship with one another.

As he continues to speak right now, let me just mention how close this is to my heart for a couple of reasons.  First, I have several friends who have been personally affected by such a failure by a parent, friend, or close colleague.  Second, I've seen the damage in my own denomination and congregations I'm close to who have experienced this very thing.  Third, because it's not just leaders who struggle with this.  I'm working with a number of couples right now whose marriages are on the rocks because of some major failure... and all of these are within the church.  Lastly, I have had some people close to me and my family that have affected our lives personally.

Here are 4 ways a church or organization can approach these moral failures:

  1. Ignore it and hope it would go away.
  2. Be evasive and say the two pastors were leaving because of personal reasons.
  3. Scarlet letter approach - add more shame and exile.
  4. Approach it with transparency, honesty, and compassion.

In such situations, many people look to see how the church will approach these situations in order to a) either reinforce their greatest fears that we really are the Pharisees or b) to be surprised that the church can respond in a way that is human, biblical, compassionate, and filled with truth seasoned with grace.  The hope is that such a defining moment will be lived out in a way that is closer to the second.

What are some things that churches can do to help avoid sexual misconduct among and between staff members?

  1. Develop policies and staff covenants
  2. Talk about it among the staff.  Have the sex talk with the staff.  We are wired for reproduction, intimacy, and sin.  The combination of these three can often lead us to places of self-destruction.  Even if you have the feelings - even if they're normal - don't share them.

5 R's for Resisting Temptation

  1. Remember who you are:  pastor, father, husband, child of the King.
  2. Recognize the consequences of your actions.  "Will I feel better after I do this?"  "Will I feel more or less human?"  "Will I be proud or ashamed?"  "Who will be affected by my actions?"  "What will my congregation thing about this?"
  3. Rededicate yourself to God.  In the moment, Stop, Drop, and Pray.
  4. Reveal your struggle to a trusted friend.  When you share it with a friend, it loses its power.
  5. Remove yourself from the situation.  Jesus said, sometimes there are radical things you need to do to avoid sin.

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Leading on the Edge of Hope, Christine Caine

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There is really no way to capture the passion we just heard from Christine Caine in notes on a blog.  This is a woman who, as she said, is still "old-school enough" to truly believe that that Jesus is the hope of the world.  She challenged us to live into this moment - our moment in which there are great needs in the world and to step up and be the church that God longs for.

I was moved when Christine was telling a story in which she was challenged by a woman who was just being rescued from sex trafficking slavery who said, "If what you're saying about your God is true, why didn't you come earlier?"  She said this amazing statement, and one we should all reflect deeply on:

It is not that God did not hear your cry; but I am so sorry that it has taken me so long to hear it.  I honestly cannot think of anything in my life that was so important that I shouldn't have come earlier.

There is a great challenge - not only in terms of human sex trafficking - but in all the ways that God's heart breaks for his world.  Isn't it true that we are so often so busy with so many things that are merely much ado about nothing and are neglecting the very deep things that moved the Father to send Jesus into the world in the first place?

Towards the end of her talk, Christine talked about hope.  She talked about how courageous her little 4 year old becomes in the middle of darkness with a simple flashlight in her hand - with that little light, she'll go in darker.  While they were in Walmart buying a flashlight, her daughter said, "Mommy, can we please go find some darkness?"  It doesn't take much light to dispel the darkness, it simply takes the courage to step in for "Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world."


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Never, Ever, Give Up, Jim Collins

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Jim began with one of his famous phrases, made popular in his excellent book, "Good to Great:  Why some companies make the leap... while others don't":

Good is the enemy of great.

He also said very importantly that "Greatness is largely a matter of choice, not circumstances."  That's a powerful sentence.  Certainly circumstance plays a part, and Jim acknowledged this later saying that pride and hubris shows itself often when leaders don't acknowledge at all the luck and blessings that have come their way without any of their doing.  However, circumstances alone do not move people to become companies that are built to last, that move from good to great, or become the reasons why the might fall.

Jim focused on the 5 stages in his recent book, "How the Mighty Fall and why some companies never give in" dealing with organizations and leaders who lose momentum and fall from a place of strength and greatness.  What's really helpful about these 5 stages is the truth that "You can be sick on the inside, but still look strong on the outside."  It's important to note that these stages are largely self-inflicted.  Unlike disease, organization decline is more about what you do to yourself that what happens to you.  It's also important to note that the fall doesn't come until stage 4, so you're over 50% on the way before you have presenting issues.

Stages of "How The Mighty Fall"

  1. Hubris born of success leading:  The signature of the greatest leaders is their humility.  They had a passionate focus to go after the vision and values with all they have, but remained humble in the process.  Here, Collins spoke of an outrageous  arrogance that does not see the balance between disciplined decisions and the blessings of circumstance and even luck.  Of course, disciplined decision-making is key, but it's also key to be humble about the things that are out of our control that often contribute greatly to our success.
  2. An undisciplined pursuit of more:  More is not bad in itself.  It is the over-reaching, the undisciplined pursuit of more.  Patrick's Law:  if you allow growth to exceed the ability of the fantastic people to execute, you have been undisciplined in your growth.  If you do not have fantastic people in who fit the 4 C's (see Bill Hybels), you have to wait and not go after more until those people are in place.  One challenging thing Jim said (which, I think, is true) is that if you do not have the right people in place with the character, competence, chemistry, and fit to your culture, then you must wait for the more for which they are required for execution.  "Bad decisions with good intentions are still bad decisions."
  1. Denial of risk and peril:   In order to this, the great leaders and organizations have to have faith (optimism, positivity, etc.), but also have to confront the brutal facts (cf. the chapter on this in Good to Great.)  Optimism without the facts is just a wish-dream, and facts without faith alone is less than motivational and won't move anyone forward.  Failing to look at the real risks and assess the situation, and then take the strong leap of faith with a serious understanding of the risks involved is just plain foolish.
  2. Grasping for Salvation:  Disciplined people engaged in disciplined thought and taking disciplined action make deliberate movement in a determined direction move the fly-wheel.  Those who begin to grasp for salvation have lost their intentionality and disciplined approach.  Their energy dissipates and ultimately leads to decline.
  3. Capitulation to irrelevance or death:  Lasting organizations had a reason to go endure that is more than just money or success.  They had an answer to the question, "What would be lost if we ceased to exist?"  They are driven by a reason that goes beyond money and success, Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG's)

To Do List:

  1. Take a team/ organizational diagnostic.  Check out http://www.goodtogreat.com for 3 free diagnostic tools for your teams and organizations.
  2. Count and account for blessings. When we forget to count all the good things that happen to us, we're on our way to the first stage.
  3. What is your questions to statements ratio, and can you double it in this next year?
  4. How many key seats do you have on your bus?  How many of the seats are filled with the right people?  What are your plans to get the right people in the right seats?  Are you on the way up as a team, or on the way down?
  5. (missed it... but so did everyone else it appears)
  6. With your team of the right people, create an inventory of the brutal facts.
  7. What are we disciplined to stop doing?
  8. Define results and show clicks/ milestones on the fly wheel.
  9. Double your reach to young people by changing your practices without changing your core values.
  10. Set a BHAG rooted in your purpose to reinforce that your work is never done.

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Willow Creek Leadership Summit, Opening Session

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Bill Hybels had a great opening session.  He started with a simple leadership principle from his journal:  Leaders move people from here to there.  It's not anything new.  It's the vision piece, the picture of the preferred future.  It's the thing you get excited about and say, "It will be bliss on a stick when we get there."  It was a really helpful reminder that "The first play is not to make there sound wonderful.  It's to make here sound awful."  That the preferred future begins with a "holy discontent" as Hybels has said in the past.

"Long before MLK gave his "I have a dream speech," he gave hundreds of "We Can't Stay Here" speeches."

He used some great examples, including moving Willow's food pantry onsite:  "Imagine if at the end of our weekend services... I could say, go right over there and we'll give you groceries for the week."  The reality is, though, that there are many people who say, "there, shmere, what's wrong with here?"  They don't want to move.  Hybels has given a number of good talks (I have several in my own journals) on the change process and important steps along the way, and this is another.

One of the other important pieces of leadership is hiring fantastic people.  Bill reminded us that hiring fantastic people requires Character, Competence, Chemistry (cf. Bill's book Axiom).  He added a new C, that he calls Culture.  Understanding the culture of the organization and the culture of leadership is key to moving from here to there, and is as important at Character, Competence, and Chemistry.

I love Hybels focus on his staff.  Here are a couple thing he said:

"We don't offer potential staff persons a tidy career opportunity, we offer them a mission they can lay their lives down for."

"Building teams of fantastic people who fit our culture is one of the joys of leadership."

"Do you view the assembling of fantastic people as a privilege, as a leadership essential?"

He also said that there are usually 3 reactions when a person resigns.  Bill invited us to imagine that as we sit here we get a text from someone or an email saying they've resigned.  Here are the 3 normal reactions:

  • Phew
  • Aaugh... I feel bad about that, but we're going to be ok.
  • Read the text.  Read it again.  Run into the lobby and vomit because you've lost someone who feels irreplacable.

I love the questions that arise out of this for any leader:  what would be your reaction for each person on your staff?  Do you have a staff that you would be in the 3rd category for every single one?  Which of the 3 reactions would your boss have if he or she received the text from you?

So, if you do have some of these fantastic people, how to keep them on your staff, excited, passionate, and engaged?  Here are some things Bill suggested:

  • Regularly refill the vision bucket.  With his typical phrase, "vision leaks," Bill reminded us again that we have to continue to refill the vision bucket with our staff.
  • Put mile markers along the way, and celebrate.  What keeps people on the journey is a sense of hope that they're going to get there someday.  And it's important to celebrate along the way, not just at the end, even if you have to make up mile-markers.  When is the last time you had a party for progress along the way, not just the destination?

The last thing Bill talked about was hearing from God.  He passionately talked about the whispers of God in his own call to faith, to plant a church, and to serve other pastors.  He spoke about hearing from God through the word, lowering the ambient noise, repairing our antennas, and listening and obeying the whispers deep in our hearts.  Bill was right on when he said, "I don't think you get from here to there without hearing from God in the process."  This gets at, in my opinion, one of the great failures of many of us who are leaders.  Too often we merely see the picture of the preferred future in the beginning, but we don't listen to God and his ever-present whispers along the way.  Too often, the initial picture is fuzzy and we don't fully understand it, and God continues to lead all the way to the end, all long the way.

Some Whispers:

  • Step Up
  • Take the Risk
  • Stand Firm
  • Start a Church
  • Apologize Now
  • Admit Your Mistake
  • Make The Tough Decision
  • Get Help
  • Stop Running From God
  • Slow Down (for some of us, velocity is killing our soul)
  • Show Your Heart
  • Let Others Lead
  • Feed Your Soul
  • Bless The Team
  • Make the Ask (some of you know here "there" is, but you're just chicken to make the ask)  Courageous
  • Do Something Impactful (some of you have been pounding the same nail your whole life)
  • Come Clean
  • Embody the Vision
  • Celebrate the Victories
  • Speak the Truth
  • Pay the Price
  • Count Your Blessings
  • End the Secret
  • Check Your Motives
  • Set the Pace
  • Give God Your Best
  • Get Physically Fit
  • Serve Your Spouse and Kids
  • Pray
  • Humble Yourselve

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And: The Gathered and Scattered Church

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Last week I read And: The Gathered and Scattered Church by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, and am finally blogging a few of my thoughts.

I had heard of this book initially after a few friends were at Exponential this year.  I couldn't go because I'd just been at the Q Conference in Chicago.  However, I probably should have been there because I'm in the throes of planting Fair Haven's first multi-site right now called South Harbor Church (a week and a half from the first preview, with launch on 10.10.10.), but I couldn't give up the Q experience.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and will recommend it to several people - particularly certain chapters.  Let me begin with a critique, and end with some things I liked.

The premise of the book is basically to stop fighting over different models of the church and honor one another in our differences but seek to use whatever models work in seeking the kingdom.  The book talks often of mega and mini churches, and of missional and attractional.  These are important dichotomies on the one hand - and ones I've struggled with myself.  On the other hand, it's too easy a division to hang a hat on and there are deeper issues than the book goes into.  Ultimately, I love title, but think the book got into too much about Adullam (Halter and Smay's church), and only scratched the surface of these deeply ecclesiological issues of our time.

"And" does a good job of articulating the need for working together through various models with the same ends in mind, but in my estimation never gets to some of the deeper issues about how much a model influences the end goals.  For instance, Halter does a good job talking about moving people out of consumerism and into transformation and into dying to oneself for Christ.  He nails the issue that disciples are not consumers (chapter 3), but then never really deals with models of doing church these days that promote consumerism of a Christian sort.  In an effort to be unifying, Halter sometimes borders on not being critical enough where healthy critique is necessary.  Other times, though he says that both types of models are helpful, but then tends to tip towards favoring the missional impulse.  One question that would be more helpful to me would be around how the mega church can remain missional enough to be Christian and how does the missional church become attractional enough to stay alive and have an influence beyond a small group.  Overall, I think he tries to be balanced between multiple models, but speaks only out of the Adullum experience.  It would've been nice to see a balanced approach in this book with multiple models all expressing the unifying aspects of the gathered and scattered church.

Where "And" does hit the nail on the head in terms of what's necessary for both the scattered and gathered, missional and attractional, mega and mini is the incarnational community.  Here is how it's put on page 66:

"Whether you're starting from scratch and moving down the missional flow or starting from an existing structure and moving up, you'll notice that the center of the process is 'incarnational community.'"

By incarnational community, they mean here bands of people with the missional heart of God integrating their lives with those who don't know Him and are doing something intentional about.  Simplistic, yes, but true none-the-less.  Too many churches lose the core mission of God to reach his people far and wide and lose their very nature as church altogether.

For me, chapter 4, "Spiritual Formation for Missional Churches" was the best chapter in the book.   This chapter really deals with how to move someone from being far from God through the discipleship and growth process to the place of mobilization in ministry (in their words from Observance to Preparation to Participation to Partnership).  This is such a key issue, and one that churches tend not to do well.  We call it a "people pathway" or a "people process" - but who wants processed people!  However, churches today desperately need a pathway of discipleship that includes evangelism, grounds people in the basics, and moves them towards influential leadership in the use of their gifts.  With studies like Reveal and churches realizing their lack of depth, discipleship pathways are getting popular.  Chapter 4 is all about how to go about that, focusing on the transitions in stages, and developing a clear pathway.  I like it. This chapter is one that I will recommend several people read.

Chapter 5 is also very helpful in describing the difference between modalities (structures focused on caring for those already in the church) and sodalities (those that push toward those on the outside).  This is a helpful chapter, finding its roots in the missiology of Ralph Winter.  This is where the book gets closer to living up to its name.  I think if the book had moved this chapter earlier (after the biblical foundation of Chapter 1) and then built upon it, dealing with the centripetal and centrifugal forces necessary for the gathered and scattered church to remain in balance, it would've felt more balanced and helpful.  This chapter is one that I will recommend several people read (like church planting interns, student and children's ministries staff, seminarians, etc.)


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Exponential: how you and your friends can start a missional church movement

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I mentioned in an earlier post on the book "Multi-Site Road Trip" that I had the opportunity to meet Dave and Jon Ferguson several years back.  I remember meeting with them, and Dave Dummit, as they were considering a site in Brighton, Michigan.  They had graciously met with Dan Reeves and myself to share their wisdom then on multi-site and the Big Idea in a time when very few people were talking about it.  I later was able to hear from them again at Third Reformed in Kalamazoo (now CenterPoint), and also had a chance to visit the Big Yellow Box and bring some friends along while I was in Chicago back in 2005.  What's been really cool is to see these guys stay so focused on the mission that God called them to long ago to reach the city of Chicago, and to do it consistently and yet creatively.  So much has changed in their movement in terms of the creative energy and leadership they've brought to multi-site, and yet in some ways, so little has changed.  The heart of the message to see people find their way back to God is consistent, persistent, and powerful. All that to say that I've just finished reading Exponential:  How you and your friends can start a missional movement.

This was a fabulous read for me.  First, something personal.  I'm embarking right now on Fair Haven Ministries' first site called South Harbor Church that will launch on 10.10.10 in Byron Township in south Grand Rapids, Michigan(along with many others in the 10.10.10 Initiative).   In fact, this morning I'm headed to hand out free cookies and lemonade at a local Little League to meet people and learn about the community.  Anyway, this book right now for me is a God-send in the sense that it affirms so many things that God is doing out of our church right now and also gives incredibly practical handles for being lead by Jesus, leading and reproducing leaders, tribes, communities, and movements.  What I love about how Dave and Jon wrote the book, was that it's written with deeply biblical values, immensely practical, tested, and proven in the trenches of missional multi-siting.  I also love the real-life stories of real people and real churches.  The story of Community Christian (and all it's sites) and many of its leaders is woven throughout the pages and gives you a sense of the messy reality of a true movement as well as the powerful stories. This isn't just ideas... it's the real deal.

For the past 5 years, a couple of my responsibilities as a spiritual formation pastor at Fair Haven have been leadership development and small groups.  I've been to many conferences and read many books and tried to implement many theories and ideas in both of these areas.  What's awesome in this book as well to see is how small group life really works in this church, and especially how the leadership development pathway is integrated with not only small groups, but also with missional communities and in the raising up of artists.

This is probably one of the best books I've read on the practical side of the church multiplication movement.  It's a must read for any church that is serious about multiplying leaders, churches, sites, disciples, and influence.   This summer, we took on 4 interns in church planting and we also have an on-site venue with a Campus Pastor.  We just talked this past week about all of them reading this, and I hope we can make that a reality.

Here are a couple of great tid-bits you'll find:

  • Real practical help on the leadership development people pathway and the importance of apprenticeship.
  • Great illustrations of vision and strategy on napkins!
  • A wonderful passage on scripture reading and journaling and how it affects leadership and vision for Dave Ferguson (see my recent post on YouVersion and LifeJournals)
  • A great chapter on coaching, its importance in leadership development, and practical questions and a format for coaching.
  • Encouragement that you, too, can really be used by God to multiply disciples, leaders, teams, sites, and churches.
  • A focus not just on church growth, but on being missional.
  • Much more.

Loved the book, and look forward to re-reading it and reviewing it with more care for some direct implementation in our new site.  I'll let you know how it goes.


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