contact ME

I look forward to hearing from you. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, concerns, thoughts, suggestions, speaking requests, writing ideas, good jokes, great quotes, wisdom, or mind-bending puzzles.

Please fill out this form to contact me.

 


Grand Rapids, MI

grand_rapids_through_broken_glass.jpg

Embarking Blog

...on the journey towards restoration of all things

Filtering by Category: Missional

The Pace of Change

Tom Elenbaas

"On almost every important business index, the world is racing ahead. The stakes - the financial, social, environmental, and political consequences - are rising in a similar exponential way." [John Kotter] I have some serious questions rattling around in my own head and heart as I both experience, study, and lead in this rapidly changing world.

Read More
Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email

What if... ?

admin

Was listening to Dr. Simone Ahuja this morning @tedxgrandrapids, and she had a number inspiring or thought provoking ideas. First, was this idea of what she calls, Jugaad Innovation. Jugaad refers to a quick way of solving a problem in a pseudo McGyver sort of way... using the things around you to come up with a solution to a current problem.

Second, she described the "maker revolution" and the DIY movement in the developed world, and the new innovations happening in the developing world where scarcity is a daily reality, and it made me think about those people I've met who are intentionally entering into the developing world and creating unbelievably innovative new ways to approach the world.

This reminded me of a couple of things. First, I think about IDEO, the company born out of Steelcase that observers everyday reality and does rapid prototyping to try to make things better. Second, I was challenged by the idea that scarcity reframed is abundance, and that scarcity can sometimes drive innovation because the imposed limits on resources drive the necessity for innovative thinking. Third, is it possible that we're thinking about poverty inappropriately? What if we approached scarcity in developing countries as an opportunity to encourage and create opportunities for innovation?

What if...

It's the question that drives innovative thinking in a time of need. What if we asked "what if" more often? What if we stopped saying "can't" and "don't" and "that won't work" and we started to dream again? What if we believed that limits were doorways to greater creativity and we started using more our brains more effectively?

What if scarcity really were reframed?

As I prepare to leave for Ethiopia next week, I've obviously been thinking a lot about African. I was privileged to meet with some people a couple of days ago who are running a hospital in worn torn South Sudan, and yesterday I spend some time with an Anglican Bishop from Uganda. I'm getting inundated lately with Africa - a place years ago I swore I would never go. So, I was recently listening to TED Africa: The Next Chapter, and heard one speaker talking about Africa as one of the most resource rich places in the world - from every type or resources you can think of - people, natural, mineral, etc. So many of us think of Africa merely as a place of poverty, need, and struggle. How might we think of Africa as a place of potential?


Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email

Gordon Cosby

admin

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


Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email

David Platt at Urbana 2012

admin

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.


Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email

Leading on the Edge of Hope, Christine Caine

admin

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."


Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email

And: The Gathered and Scattered Church

admin

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.)


Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email

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

admin

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.


Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email

City to City part 1

admin

I spent this past week in Miami a meeting with a number of Church Planting Networks and planters too look at the possibility of beginning a North American Network for city movements.  This gathering was catalyzed by the folks at Redeemer City to City and brought together people from  Renew South Florida, Acts29, the RCA, many from the PCA, the SBC, the GCM Collective, and others.  It was an awesome time to meet other folks who are passionate about reaching North America, particular through cities.  It was great to hear the unique challenges and opportunities that cities bring and present to the church.  The outcome of this gathering was that a group will be formed, likely to be called the City to City Collective for shared resourcing, networking, encouragement, and more.  It'll be great to see what unfolds. Tim Keller of Redeemer in New York was the keynote speaker, and I want to share just a few things.  In the first session, The Challenge of North American Cities, Keller said that the expense of cities, the complexity of cities, and the mobility of cities makes a church plant there very hard.  Knowing that, it's important to see larger trends, and in that vein he spoke about the decline of cities from 1970-1990 in which cities were hollowed out at the core, with suburban flight the order of the day.  This left an urban desolation in many cases, with increased crime rates, devalued properties, and a cultural malaise.  The rich would commute from the suburbs and leave the urban poor in the central city.  From the 1990's to today, there was been an upsurge in cities, a renewal of the urban core.  In many ways this was due to gentrification (young professionals re-locating to urban environments).  Crime went down, cultural productivity increased, and the core of cities have thus seen a resurgence.  However, the poor are also often displaced as property values increase and the city finds cultural and economic renewal.  Each era presents a different kind of opportunity, different needs, and different responses by the church.    The follow up question is, then, what is the future of the city?

Keller, then, offered his analysis of what the future holds for American cities.  First, he spoke of the following positive trends:

  • North American churches are globalizing.  This is a positive trend because strong international connections create stability and prestige.  Because the era of America as an economic self-sufficient engine is over, globalization is important.
  • North American churches are urbanizing.  By urbanizing, Keller was particularly speaking to the trend in cities towards smart growth, urban planning of  the New Urbanism kind.  He referenced the return to a walkable, mixed-use human settlement in cities, including places to work, live, shop, play, and learn within 10 minutes as opposed to the suburbanizing affect in which everything is about commuting and doing life with people that are not the same people you live with.  There are lots of great books on this, and I think he's right on about not only emerging urban planning, but also that this is a positive trend not only for cities and human beings in general who live there, but also for the church because it creates a possible parish that is not merely made up of people commuting to their favorite church or speaker.

Secondly, he spoke of negative trends:

  • The rise of great need:  Here, Keller focused on the recent recession and global financial meltdown, particularly in American cities.
  • However, though this is a negative trend in some ways in terms of urban development, Keller rewinded to remind us that through our history lessons we learn that God has often used urban dysfunction to win the hearts of people.  When we are in times of great need, there is also great opportunity for the church to respond.

So, for Keller, the future of urban ministry looks good because of globalization, new urbanism, and increased need.

Lastly, in terms of cities, Keller mentioned the following future trends to expect:

  1. Increasing hostility in the culture wars.  He was particularly on target when he said that we are fighting a Two Front War:  Secularists think Christians are too moralistic.  Muslims and Hindus think we are too permissive.  There will, then, be increasing hostility from secularists and increasing hostility from fundamentalists (of all sorts, including Christians).
  2. More opportunities for justice and mercy.  This is true particularly because of the increasing needs in the global financial meltdown and the increasing gap between the rich and the poort.
  3. Culture-making will be increasingly important, particularly with respect to the integration of faith and work.  People in the city will desire more and more the integration between multifarious worlds.
  4. A new kind of apologetics.  This part was particularly poignant for me.  Back in 2000, I started a class called "Beyond Apologetics" because I was realizing that because of the shifts we are experiencing in late modernity or post-modernity, that a new kind of apologetics is needed.  This doesn't mean that the classic apologetics are wrong or bad, but merely that we need a new apologetic for a new emerging culture.  In Keller's words, "We need to answer questions people are actually asking" or in one of the bylines of my former church in Ann Arbor, "Ask questions worth answering; seek answers worth believing."  Here are some of the points and reasons for a new apologetic:
  • The world essentially says to Christians, “You are not good neighbors.”
  • We need more cogent and powerful answers to questions that people are actually asking.
  • The basic objection alongside of evil & suffering, etc. is that Christians are bad citizens of pluralistic cities because as we grow and if we grow, we will take away people’s rights and freedoms.
  • We are completely outflanked in the public arena.
  • We have to care for the whole parish, including our secular neighbors.
  • The public narrative is that Christians are intolerant, and that is very powerful and makes it extremely hard to enter public discourse.

Keller also spoke about the stages of development of the catachuminate which we need to revisit, and how the church is failing in its response to homosexuality.  That's a long conversation for another time.

I'll blog a bit more on this in the future if I can find the time, including some of his other sessions.


Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email

A New Monasticism

admin

new_monasticismI've had about 10 books going for awhile, and I'm trying of focus on finishing one at a time. I just finished reading The New Monasticism: What it has to say to the church, "an insider's perspective" by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. I've mentioned the new monasticism before, and I have a lot of respect for what they're trying to do. The New Monasticism movement reminds me a little bit of the way George Hunger III described St. Patrick's monastic project in the Celtic Way of Evangelism (a fabulous book, and a must read as far as I'm concerned.)  He talked about how the early missionary monks to the Celts moved into their cities and rural sprawl and created a kind of monastic island in the middle of these people.  These monastic communities had a strict rule of life, served the people in their community, offered hospitality to strangers, and sought to transform a culture from the inside out. I really appreciate the 12 Marks of the New Monasticism.  Hartgrove gives a good basic understanding of how monastics have been a part of renewal in the church throughout various centuries.  He writes about how monastics seek not to separate from the church or become an alternative, but to bring renewal and reformation to the church by returning to some key roots such as hospitality, sharing all things in common, prayer, and serving others.  This is how Hartgrove begins, by sounding the call, "the church in America isn't living up to what it's supposed to be.  Somehow we've lost our way."  The point of monastic movements is to remind the church of its true identity, and that's true for the New Monastics as well.

I had a fabulous conversation with a gentleman from my church recently who's feeling the same way.  He loves the church, and yet he feels like the church in America missing the point of the mission at so many levels by putting money and energy into too many things that are not the heart of the reasons for the church in the world on God's mission.  In his words, "We've so boughten into the American dream, that we've forgotten what the church is supposed to be."  Hartgrove writes about this very thing.

What's unique about this movement is that it takes seriously the renewal of the church and the ancient practices of monasticism in a way that is both inclusive of married couples and families and is also deeply embedded within the cultures of this world, particularly urban settings.  These settings are often referred these days by many of us as "abandoned places of the empire," referring to those places, particularly urban, that have been deeply affected by the contemporary empire's of consumerism and progress.  I've appreciated everything I've read and heard from the many in this movement and am already seeing how they are affecting the church in dramatic ways, Shane Claiborne being one of the key players here.

The New Monastics have also, like many people I respect, been deeply influenced by John Perkins.  Years ago, I sent some students to learn from Perkins and his community, and it was a life-changing experience for many of them.  Particularly, his 3 R's are foundational (Relocation, Redistribution, and Reconciliation) for only only the New Monastic movement, but for other renewal thinkers in the urban settings as well (ie. Christian Community Development Association).  The other thing I deeply value is people like this who are able to speak intelligently and passionately about justice issues, poverty, and concern for the least of these while also maintaining some of the evangelical commitments of the Scripture.  More and more voices are emerging that are neither conservative nor liberal, fundamentalist nor mainline, republican nor democrat but hold together the biblical truths which cross such narrow, dualistic, and truncated views of the Scripture.

Good read for anyone who is thinking about the emerging church, renewal of the church and culture, poverty, urban ministry, community, and what some consider a more "radical" Christianity, which I think is probably closer to the identity of the early church than many of the churches in America today.


Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email

Dave Gibbons: Thinking Forward - Third Culture Leadership #tls09

admin

These are some of my notes from the first part of the fifth session of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.  Thanks to Louis who helped me with this session while I answered a pager call.

Sometimes things aren't quite the way the appear to be.

Third culture is about adaptation.  Third culture is pain and discomfort because we interact with those who are different.  The Great Commandments are about third culture.

Third culture leaders go after the misfits more than the masses.

  • FAILURE IS SUCCESS to God
  • Your failure, your pain, is your platform to humanity, it is what the World connects to you on it is what gives quality to your voice for the generation to connect to you
  • Most of the world doesn’t understand America’s success, but they will understand suffering, maybe suffering is success
  • Do we set aside time to listen to people’s story?
  • Gifts are important and skills, but our narrative is key
  • Walk slowly, see the people
  • Do I see them?  Do I have the eyes of a follower?
  • Weakness will guide us more than our strengths
  • We often worry about how to quantify a vision... DON’T we already have a vision?  LOVE GOD LOVE NEIGHBOR
  • RELATIONSHIPS TRUMP VISION!
  • You can’t have great vision without a great relationship with God
  • Jesus only did what he saw his father doing (JOHN 5)
  • We need more relationaries not visionaries
  • People to walk for a while people to talk for a while, where you feel the vibe
  • Best discipleship happens with life on life not a process or program

Third culture leaders have a different set of metrics.

  • CHANGE PRIORITIES
  • Hang out with people different than us
  • Read people different than us

Third culture leaders know that obedience is more important than passion.

4 Acts of Obedience of a Third Culture Leader

  1. Deeper Collaboration
  2. Communal LIving
  3. Prayer
  4. Radical sacrifice for the outsider

Subscribe to Embarking Blog by Email