You Can't Throw Stones While Embracing

By: Lauren Mickler

It was easier to throw stones when I was at an arm's length.

As I sat back in my seat and observed the world over the picket fence of my little yard, everything seemed so clear, so cut and dry. Why didn't everyone simply work hard, get a good education, make wise choices, go to church and enjoy a nice little happy life? Why people chose to live their lives so differently than me was beyond my understanding. It was easy to talk about politics, it was easy assess situations, it was easy to know what "they" should do. "They" just didn't work hard enough, "They" just needed to know that their lifestyle choices were wrong, "They" just needed to stop playing the victim. 

It was easy to throw stones when I was at an arm's length. 

But then came the realization that the opinions I threw out with such confidence were not based in any real life experience of actually knowing and living life next to the ones that I so quickly assessed. 

So I moved in closer. 

I began to develop relationships. I stepped out of my fences. I touched lives and skin and hearts that looked different than mine. I listened. I heard stories. I shared meals and laughter and tears. I soaked in a new perspective. 

I found myself moved with feeling for the injustice that my friends had endured. I found myself understanding the chain of events that can transpire to push a person toward the desperation that fuels the choices that I had once looked down upon with exasperation. 

Suddenly, the women in the dirty hoodie asking for help had a name and a story. Suddenly, the young man who was involved in selling drugs was sitting at my table and making me laugh uncontrollably. Suddenly, I realized that just because I had never been victim to racial injustice didn't mean that it wasn't a frequent occurrence... I witnessed it happening to people I loved dearly. 

My perspective had changed drastically. I couldn't lobby judgement and harsh opinions over my nice little fence. I couldn't roll my eyes and wonder why people couldn't get it together. 

Because those that I had once deemed as "they" and "them" became part of me. And I found myself the learner. I found myself the one who's perspective needed to change. I found myself braiding my life and heart with others who's lives and upbringing looked nothing like mine. And it was beautiful. 

It's hard to wind up and throw stones when you're that close to someone. 

There's nothing wrong with right and wrong. There's nothing wrong with convictions and opinions. But before you give them out liberally, with an air of disbelief that anyone could see an issue from any other perspective than your own, I have a challenge for you.

If you're quick to give your opinion on a subject such as racial issues, women's rights, sexual preference, refugees, under-resourced families, the homeless, government policies that might not affect you but might greatly affect someone else, I challenge you to ask yourself this first: 

Do you have intimately close friends who've been directly wounded by racial issues? Are you closely connected to a women who's been treated unfairly? Do you have close friends who's sexual identity is different than your own? Have you invested in learning the stories of those desperately seeking refuge in our country? Do you have a close relationships with the families that live in poor neighborhoods or are homeless? 

Do you regularly share meals and cups of coffee and laughter and stories with the people who are inseparable from the issues you're so quick to post on social media about? 

If the answer is no, I ask you to move in closer. I ask you to breath the same air, to let your skin touch theirs, let their stories and life become part of your own, I ask you to embrace. Because maybe, just maybe, you might see a different perspective. You might move with more compassion. You might approach it all differently. You might be less inclined to generously douse your social media accounts with your staunch positions and unbendable opinions. Maybe your position will change, maybe it won't. But I am willing to bet that your posture towards these subjects will change drastically. 

So often the people that liberally dole out sentiments that sound something like: Get it together or stop whining and playing the victim are the ones who've never walked the road before. Never had first hand experience with the issues that they see so black and white. 

How would your opinions change if it was a close family member or loved one involved in the issues you take a passionate and harsh position on? What if it was your father who'd been treated unfairly because of his skin color? What if your mother had worked her fingers to the bone only to receive significantly lower pay than her male co-worker while being sexually harassed in the work place? What if your sister sits down over coffee to tell you that she identifies as homosexual? What if it was your wife and young children seeking refuge in a safe country because of the peril and danger they faced at home? What if you it was your daughter left homeless on the street, begging for food and shelter? 

What if it was your loved one? 

So make them your loved ones. Make the ones that you see as "them" and "they" your brothers, sisters, daughters, friends, and family. Share meals. Share laughter. Share dreams. Share hopes. Share stories. And then see what you have to say. 

You can't throw stones when you're embracing someone. 

Dear Forge Family....

Dear Forge Family, December 2016

As we near the end of 2016, we have much to be thankful for in our Tribe of Forge America! Our Hubs are going strong! We have grown this year and now stand at 15 Hubs! Our Family is expanding!! We gathered for a cruise in April to build relationships and dream together for our future. We participated at Exponential ’16 in Orlando offering both a pre-conference opportunity and breakouts throughout the event. We participated in numerous One-Day Events around the US and came together at Hub Intensives. We are a Family on the go!

God has blessed us in so many ways as we have endeavored to participate in His Kingdom as Missionaries where we have been sent! Our National Leaders have given much time, effort and prayer to building our Team to both grow our presence as well as facilitate and support our Hub families.

All of this takes more than time, effort and prayer. There is financial expense to continuing to provide the support that is necessary to both continue our current support and to grow us to new horizons. Our Hub contributions help offset some of our expenses, but falls short of what is needed for the daily workings of our Tribe. We have only two National Team Leaders that receive a very small stipend for the many hours they contribute to Forge America each week. All other monies are provided by personal support. There is a need for travel among the National Team from time to time that is not covered by Hub financial support received.

We are blessed that several folks within our Tribe and a small few from outside contribute monthly or regularly to Forge America. This is keeping us afloat - but the waves are visible!

Would you please consider becoming a regular contributor to Forge America? Please know, we are a very frugal bunch! But there are necessary expenses to keep us going and growing!

Please prayerfully consider a monthly gift to Forge America - or perhaps a Year-End gift.

Send your tax-deductible contribution to: Forge America PO Box 708 Frisco, TX 75034

Or visit: http://www.forgeamerica.com/get-involved (you may use PayPal / Credit / Debit) You can also set up your giving through your personal online banking account.

Thank you so much for your consideration and generosity. We love each and all of our tribe and so look forward to all God has in store for us in the months and years ahead! Blessings to you, your family and Hub family! 

On behalf of our Forge America National Team, 

John Taylor (Forge America Finance Team)

• Forge America • PO Box 708, Frisco, TX 75034 • www.forgeamerica.com •

Missional Wind

By: Matthew Chapman, Forge Tyler Hub Director

Living on mission with Jesus is as “real time” as it gets. Each day begins as a blank canvass, and our walking with Him into life and engaging the people and circumstances before us can be as the paintbrush that The Artist uses to define and color a unique daily portrait of what is in His heart.

And so the adventure begins.

Who will we see and run into? What new people will we meet? What needs will present themselves in conversations? How will we answer heartfelt questions that are put to us? What wisdom will be required to convey His good news and grace in a way that truly imparts life and gives real help? In what way do we manage this day’s relationships and responsibilities? How do we fit in spontaneous opportunities with what we already have scheduled & planned? What will we do with the unforeseen curve balls that will inevitably get thrown our way?

Let’s be honest—we have no idea! Yet these are all aspects of being an active and alert follower of Jesus. It’s a lot to juggle and can feel overwhelming, and truthfully, in our own strength, it is. Thankfully, He has a beautiful way in which to walk this out that allows us to handle the outward stress with incredible inward peace and see His kingdom come. The answer?

Flow. Flow with Him.

How many of us think of ourselves as “wind”? For all of the countless sermons, books, seminars, and blog posts that exhort us in the glorious truths about who we are in Christ, this one, unfortunately, seldom ever gets even a blip on the radar screen. But what did Jesus say? “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; SO IS EVERYONE WHO IS BORN OF THE SPIRIT” (John 3:8). Did you get that? Wind is what He is saying we are like! Wind moves and flows. You can’t box it up or package it, and it’s completely now. And as the power behind the movement, we seldom fully know where He is coming from or where this is all going, but we’re made to be there in/with Him, in the moment, flowing with what He has. Do you identify with this reality?

Flowing is exactly what Jesus modeled as an example for us as He walked the earth and encountered the people and circumstances of His daily life. He repeatedly said that He “did nothing on His own initiative, but He only did the things He saw, and only spoke the things He heard, from the Father.” How did He know who to approach, how to answer, where to go, when to withdraw, in what way to heal, or what words of life to speak? He “saw” and “heard” these things from the Father. And just where exactly did He hear and see these things? In the kingdom of God—the glorious domain of God in the Spirit that He abided in and spoke of unceasingly as He also walked the earth in a body of flesh.

Look at His approach to the woman caught in adultery, the centurion who came to Him about his sick servant, Zacchaeus, the “rich young ruler,” Mary & Martha, Pontius Pilate, the woman who touched His garment, the man possessed by Legion, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the man born blind, just to name a few. He brought good news and demonstration of the kingdom of God to all of them, but in such amazingly different ways that were perfectly tailored to each of them. How did He know? He flowed with the Father’s leading in the moment.

How does it work for us? The same way! It’s gloriously profound and yet quite simple. Let’s explore “the wind” metaphor in its context…

In a conversation Jesus was having, He said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God,” and then He reiterated, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you are born of water and of the Spirit, you cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:1-12). Now most of us, because of what we’ve been taught, read these words with our Protestant/Evangelical glasses on and this is what we immediately hear in our brain: “unless you’re born again, you won’t go to heaven when you die.”

While there’s certainly truth to that, this is not specifically what Jesus was talking about here. Read it again. There’s no talk of dying or the afterlife here. He was saying that, unless you’re born of the Spirit, you cannot “see” or “enter into” something—namely, the kingdom of God—and it’s something to be seen and entered into here and now, in this life. If you have any doubt on this point, look at verses 9-12 where Jesus said “we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen,” and He referred to this reality as an “earthly thing,” contrasting it with “heavenly things.”

Right now, as I write this, the United States is in the middle of a presidential election season. If we were having a conversation and I said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you are a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age, and registered to vote, you cannot see a voting booth,” and then I said again, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you are a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age, and registered to vote, you cannot enter into a voting booth,” there is absolutely no way you would interpret this as me saying that unless you are a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age, and registered to vote, you will not go to a voting booth when you die. Rather, you would clearly understand that I was communicating what makes you eligible to participate in the election.

It’s no different here. Being born of the Spirit is the prerequisite for seeing and entering into—actively participating in—the kingdom of God. And why is that? Because the new birth fundamentally transforms us, making us “alive together with Christ,” and gives us these innate abilities to see and enter into what He’s doing and move fluidly with the King in the here and now. This is why Jesus immediately goes on to say, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; SO IS EVERYONE WHO IS BORN OF THE SPIRIT” (John 3:8). In Him, we’re made to flow with His Spirit. It’s who we already are. And like everything else, in terms of walking it out, we just have to learn to use what we’ve already been given and develop this capacity over time through real life situations and experiences.

So close is this wind metaphor to the reality we are called to live, the word in the original Greek translated “wind” in this John 3:8 passage—pneuma—is the exact same word that is translated “Spirit” in the very same verse (and the rest of the New Testament for that matter)! The only way you know which way to translate it is by context. With that in mind, consider afresh that “the one who joins himself to the Lord is one Spirit with him” (1 Cor. 6:17). You could translate that as “one wind with Him” but we know by context that Paul was meaning “Spirit,” and yet the reality and the metaphor are still shouting at us, inviting us into movement with Him!

Most of us would prefer to think of ourselves as an inanimate object, like a ship that sits dead in the water until we put up our sails, and then, as the Spirit blows we catch the wind and have movement. But this is not what Jesus said. He said, “The wind blows… so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” We are not separate and inert, we are one with Him!

How did Jesus, who did nothing on His own initiative, model this? He flowed. He “saw” what the Father was doing and He “entered into” it by doing likewise. The same with the things He said and what He shared with people. And this is still His very way He now lives incarnationally in/thru us by the Spirit. Remember, this life that we now live in the flesh, as members of His body… “it’s no longer I who lives, but [this same] Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). He doesn’t even want us to worry about or prepare beforehand what we’re going to say or how we’re going to answer because “it will be given [to us] in that hour what [we] are to say, for it is not [us] who speaks, but the Spirit of [our] Father who speaks in [us]” (Matt. 10:16-20, Luke 21:13-15). In other words, we flow with His Spirit by faith in the moment. As we do, He, in turn, flows through our experience, revelation, knowledge of scripture, personality, resources, weaknesses, etc., in whatever ways He wants. It’s a beautiful dance!

Real Jesus, through real people, in real time! This is the point at which we see His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. This is the power of His life at work in real time to impact those stuck in death with not only the good news of the kingdom but a living demonstration of it. This is where heaven and earth intersect and prisoners get set free, captives released, the blind receive sight, revelation is spawned, hearts are encouraged, fellow believers are built up, enemies are confounded, and the gates of hell cannot withstand the forward motion. We simply have to be willing to learn to walk into life emptied, vulnerable, and available to Him for these customized, unique masterpieces to be sculpted into the conversations and situations that present themselves each day.

So wherever you are, start, or continue as the case may be. As you go about doing daily life, watch for His leading, His impetus, His nudging, His directive, and when you “see” it, “enter into” it by stepping into the flow and acting upon it. Discern His approach and timing. Listen for His words of life, wisdom, and specific things He will give you to share, and as you hear them, speak them in love. Don’t hold back and don’t add to it. Just convey His heart, His truth, His life. This is the reign of the King in motion. This is His kingdom advancing. The “territory” of the hearts and lives that are affected is His kingdom enlarging.

Will you make mistakes? Yes. Will you miss it at times? Yep. Might that cause you embarrassment and messes to clean up? Uh huh. Yet look at the learning experiences of the twelve men Jesus discipled and take comfort, keep at it, and develop the capacity. And consider the outcome—“as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the [mature] sons of God”—and the impact on eternity!

We “enter the kingdom as children,” Jesus said. So have fun, enjoy the adventure, and savor the glory of Jesus being Himself through you, and collectively, through us!

Paradigm Shift... Libby's Story

In Forge, we refer to the “ah­ha” moments of life as paradigm shifts. A few years ago, I began a
rather large paradigm shift and it all started with a simple prayer, “God, please set me free.” I’m
not even sure what I wanted freedom from...my circumstances, the pain of loss, broken dreams,
endless stress at work, all the demands of church, family and ministry. I spent years building a
life that was not what I wanted; instead I was building what I thought I should want, and doing
the “right” things. In 2014, I took a job at a Christian boarding school in India to pursue a lifelong
dream to be a missionary. When that fell through last minute, I found myself homeless, jobless
and sleeping on a hide­a­bed loveseat at my sister’s home in San Antonio. I felt like a failure.

During that time of transition and upheaval, I found Forge Austin and started their 9 month
residency on missional living. It was a critical point in my spiritual formation. God took me away
from what I knew, but gave me friends in Forge who understood my journey. Since I was
already in transition and missed home, I headed back to Colorado to work seasonally at one of
the resorts in the mountains west of Denver ­ a great context for mission. In my new job, I
earned less than I had in almost 20 years. It seemed absolutely crazy at the time, and yet it was
fun to be able to let go of what I should do as a responsible, middle­class, evangelical, and to
instead pursue something adventurous and life­giving again with God. At the end of my work
agreement, I took a year round position in Human Resources and stayed.


While the past year has been very rich, it has not been easy. I am both single and introverted.
The transitional nature of the workforce coupled with the independence and non­committal
attitude of the average person make it incredibly hard to build friendships and authentic
community here. However, God brings Christian community to me in unorthodox ways.
Chaplains Ben and Steve are great friends and leaders and have encouraged me to grow and
flourish in my God­given abilities. We partner in several ways on campus. After years of being
told I could not do certain things in the church as a woman and serving under controlling,
narcissistic ministry leaders, that blesses me.

My co­worker Mary is my prayer partner and tends to my heart when I am hurting. Those relationships are crucial to the sustainability of my life here. There are definitely days I want to give up and go back to a more comfortable life, but
Paul tells us that “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures
through every circumstance” (1 Cor 13:7 NLT). I have a deep love and affection for the
community in this county. God may ask me to take on new circumstances at some point, but, for
now, my heart is here.


My simple life of missional living isn’t very glamorous, but it is certainly never boring. Each day I
join God in the work he is already doing rather than trying to come up with my own plans to
achieve success. The result is more fruit in 18 months than I saw in 12 years of full­time work in
traditional ministry. Those small victories for the kingdom bring me so much joy. It feels odd to
say I gave up a life of ministry and mission in order to really learn how to minister and live
missionally, but that is exactly what happened. Missional living is a crucial part of becoming like
Christ. This critical paradigm shift has changed my story, and my relationship to Christ will never
be the same.

 

The Glorification of Busyness

As the founder of a public charity, I visit the large offices of wealthy donors, the crowded rooms of social service agencies, and the small houses of the poorest families. Remarkably, within this mosaic there is a universal refrain: I am so busy.” ~ Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives — Wayne Muller

 

I resonate with the words of Wayne Muller, for this too is my experience. We must stop the glorification of busy.

Brene Brown writes, “We wear busyness as a badge of honor. We’d be afraid of what people would say if we weren’t busy.”Rob Bell says, “Busy is a drug that a lot of people are addicted to.”

Now to clarify most, but not all. A single mom shares a window into her world:

“I find statements like this dismissive of many people’s stressful lives…trying to feed, clothe, house and educate our families. As a single mom, providing for 3 children and myself and trying to better my education and income prospects, so we aren’t living the stressful existence of hand to mouth, means I am busy. I don’t glorify it. I don’t like it. But in a capitalist world, it costs to live and raise kids.” 

If that’s your story, you have my admiration and support. I pray as a society we might recognize and assist in your journey.

Now for the rest of us (myself chiefly), I am soberly reminded by David Steindl-Rast that the Chinese pictograph for “busy” is composed of two characters: heart and killing.

This week I begin what has become an annual pilgrimage for me back to the sanity found in rest. For the next two weeks I will sleep, eat all my favorite foods, share in conversation with family and friends, sleep some more, practice slowing, think, write, dream, and walk in the woods. For if I do not, my busyness will make an assault on my heart.

As I am continuing in my apprenticeship of learning to live and love like Jesus, he too spoke of the vital need of rest. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) Jesus frequently withdrew to quiet places to meditate, pray and be renewed.

So for the coming days my prayer and intentionality is to reclaim the freedom found in practicing rest and allowing the sun to rise and set without my work and constant creative energy. To create a space in my life to play and rest, to eat delicious foods, to pray, and to connect with the people I love.

For today, I am choosing to walk away from my addiction to busyness.

Growing older and hopefully wiser,

Jim Mustain: Founder & Executive Director at The Communitatus Group, Inc.; Loving Community

Jeebus Or Jesus?

In a hilarious episode of The Simpsons called “Missionary Impossible,” Homer pledges ten thousand dollars to PBS and is generally credited for saving the television network. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Homer does not have the money, prompting a mob of characters and personalities from various PBS shows to chase him through the streets.

He hides out in the First Church of Springfield and bargains with Reverend Lovejoy who, despite Homer’s obvious lack of Christian faith or understanding, packs him off as a missionary to the South Pacific. Just as the plane is about to take off, Homer shows his utter ignorance when he anxiously exclaims, “Jeebus? Jeebus? But I don’t know Jeebus! Helllp me Jeebus!” Homer arrives on the island where he meets the natives. At first he is so fearful that he’s about to be eaten for dinner, he drops to the ground crying “Oh God!” repeatedly. The natives take him for a religious mystic and so they too fall to the ground crying out to God.

Emboldened by his new status as spiritual guru, Homer begins trying to teach them about religion, but realizing that he knows nothing about it, he tries something new. While the natives were noble savages ignorant of and unspoiled by civilization, Homer decides to build a casino on the island, which he names “The Lucky Savage.” This introduces alcohol, gambling, and violence to the island and totally ruins the natives’ previously virtuous way of life. We start with this story because it highlights the impact of how ignorance of Jesus by those who claim his name is toxic to both the believer as well as those around him or her. Following “Jeebus,” Homer wreaked utter havoc on the population, and we are left wondering if this does not describe large tracts of Christian history equally well.

Now we of all people do not want to say that God doesn’t use the odd Homers of this world (we think the church should be a freak collection and that God does use weirdos of all sorts), but it does highlight the fact that the missional disciple must know God in a real way or else bear false witness. And given our previously mentioned commitment to a distinctly missional form of Christianity, this will highlight some of the ways ignorance of Jesus (willful or otherwise) creates a toxic religion that is not only not worth spreading, but detrimental to the cause of Christ. God Is Like Jesus The first and absolutely most foundational thing we can say about missional discipleship is that it must be based squarely on the founder of the Christian faith—Jesus the Messiah.

And while this might seem obvious, one can easily be excused for not being able to recognize anything approximating Jesus in some of the people who claim his name. This discontinuity between Jesus and the religion that claims his name, what Jacques Ellul calls the “subversion of Christianity,” has led countless people to say with political humorist Bill Maher, “I don’t know anyone less Jesus-like than most Christians.” It also prompted researchers David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons to write a book called unChristian , which is based on what most non-Christian twenty-somethings said about so-called Christians. 1 Jesus is the key not only because Christian discipleship is about becoming more like Jesus but also because it is only in and through Jesus that we can get the proper, truly Christ an understanding of God. In other words, Jesus gets defining rights in relation to life, discipleship, theology, and everything in between.

Not only is he the mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5), he is the prism through which we can and must understand God (Col. 1:9–21, Heb. 1:1–3). New Testament scholar Albert Nolan is quite right when he states, By his words and practice, Jesus himself changed the content of the word “God.” If we do not allow him to change our image of God, we will not be able to say that he is our Lord and our God. To choose him as our God is to make him the source of our information about divinity and to refuse to superimpose upon him our own ideas of divinity.

This is the meaning of the traditional assertion that Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus reveals God to us; God does not reveal Jesus to us. . . . We cannot deduce anything about Jesus from what we think we know about God; we must deduce everything about God from what we do know about Jesus. . . . To say that Jesus is divine does not change our understanding of Jesus; it changes our understanding of divinity. Reclaiming the centrality of Jesus will help us avoid the perennial mistake of superimposing upon the life and personality of Jesus our preconceived ideas of what God is supposed to be like.

N. T. Wright affirms this when he says, "My proposal is not that we know what the word “god” means, and manage somehow to fit Jesus into that. Instead, I suggest that we think historically about a young Jew, possessed of a desperately risky, indeed apparently crazy, vocation, riding into Jerusalem in tears, denouncing the Temple, and dying on a Roman cross—and we somehow allow our meaning for the word “god” to be recentered around that point."

Jesus is, and must be, the central reference point for the Christian because God looks like Jesus and Jesus does what God wants to do! (See John 10:38, 12:49–50.) We love Greg Boyd’s wonderful description of this: Jesus spent his ministry freeing people from evil and misery. This is what God seeks to do . Jesus wars against spiritual forces that oppress people and resist God’s good purposes.

This is what God does . Jesus loved people others rejected—even people who rejected him. This is how God loves . Jesus had nothing but compassion for people who were afflicted by sin, disease, and tragedy. This is how God feels . And Jesus died on the cross of Calvary, suffering in the place of sinful humanity, defeating sin and the devil, because he passionately loves people and wants to reconcile them to God. This is how God saves . It is true that Jesus is like God, but the greater truth, one closer to the revelation of God that Jesus ushers in, is that God is like Jesus!

As Michael Ramsey, the former Anglican archbishop, noted, “God is Christlike and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all.” Or as Jesus says when asked to show his credentials, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” and “I and the Father are one” (John 14:9; 10:30). We Become What We Worship Focusing our discipleship on Jesus forces us to take seriously the implications of following him, of becoming like him . . . like God. The spiritual agenda for discipleship is thus set: Jesus is our primary model, teacher, guide, savior, and Lord. He is the standard by which we assess discipleship and spirituality. And we must become living versions of him—little Jesuses. So, if we want to know what God is like, we need to look no further than the person of Jesus Christ.

Now while this may seem like an incredibly obvious thing to say, it is staggering how few of us really integrate this most fundamental of truths into our lives. Recently one of us was reminded of this reality when attending a local Bible study. The group was studying a book on the character and attributes of God. The leader of the group was asking whether God was knowable, and if so, how we can really know him. The participants were caught up by the “otherness” and “awesomeness” of God experienced in worship, and seemed to sit more comfortably talking about this.

When the leader pushed for more specifics, one person mentioned creation and then another the Scriptures, but no one seemed to be able to go further. It wasn’t until the study leader stated that it was Jesus who shows us who God is, and that we know God in and through him, that the people seemed to make the connection. What is interesting is that these highly intelligent, mature men and women had been going to church most of their lives, and yet they missed this primary fact—the Jesus factor. That there is a radical disconnect between God and Jesus for many believers, as illustrated in the story above, shouldn’t surprise us. For most people it is far easier to sit with the “otherness” of God—we prefer our divinity at a safe distance.

But while God’s transcendence does, and should, instill feelings of awe and a desire to worship within us, it does not immediately show us a way to follow . We see God or read about him and stand in awe. But what then are we supposed to do besides worship and adore him? When confronted with the reality of God in Jesus, God in human flesh, God is no longer beyond and unfathomable, but immediate and present. He has come close to us, and his claim on our lives becomes somewhat more unavoidable.

And that.... was the whole point of the incarnation.

- Excerpt from Untamed by Alan and Debra Hirsch

The Box or The Basilica?

I rounded the corner and caught my breath. I knew that it was going to be big, but I didn't know that it was going to be this gargantuan. My eyes hardly knew where to look first, the extensive grandeur and ornate intricacies pulled my attention one way and then another, up and then down. 

St. Peter's Basilica. 

I don't know exactly what I had expected, but all pre-existing notions of what it would be like were blown out of the water. I walked through the doors and beheld the massive expanse all around me - decorated lavishly, no corner left untouched by deep color, ornate pattern and curve, and elaborate carvings. 

I wound through the crowds, my eyes catching candlelight and glimpses of statues as I approached the statue of Jesus. And suddenly there it was. So beautiful, so pale, so sad, so ethereal. 

Here I stood in what many consider the perfect place to feel the presence of God, a breathtakingly beautiful church, surrounded by statues and depictions of The Christ and those considered heroes of our faith. But the thing that struck me the most was how far removed I felt from any hint real, gritty life in that moment. In the place God seemed majestic but unreachable, untouchable, and miles away from the daily life of our humanity. It was overwhelming and beautiful, but I left with an empty ache. 

A few weeks later after returning from Italy, I again walked through the entrance of a building. It wasn't beautiful and nothing about it looked noteworthy or majestic. Simple walls, a couch, an air hockey table, and a desk greeted me. I walked through the hallway into the main entrance. My eyes took in the tall ceilings, still open like a warehouse. Rough, thick ropes hung from the ceiling and black mats covered the floor. The air was warm and left untouched by an air conditioner. 

Our CrossFit Box. 

Here is a place where everything of what it means to be human is alive. The weakness, the strength, the effort of movement, the lifting, pulling, pushing, squatting, and the sweat. CrossFit is all about functional fitness… So everything is based on the movements that people have been doing throughout time that we have somehow lost in our modern society. 

The sound of barbells thudding on the turf, loud music, and heavy breathing surrounded me. 

It seemed that this moment could not be more unlike and opposite in every way to the moment that I stood in St. Peter's Basilica. Far from the pristine statues, shining surfaces, and ornate moldings. Far from the grandeur. 

But then I saw the face of man in his young twenties who grew up in a part of town that I have rarely been to, who's mother was a prostitute, and who's father left without warning one day is his teens. The one who we sat down beside when he began to weep one day, after class, pouring sweat and tears on the black gym floor as he confessed that he was struggling to make money and had turned to selling drugs. He was the one we prayed over, who went to the authorities ready to face whatever came his way to get his life on track and who was met with great mercy. He's the one who lived with one of our trainers through transition, who was baptized, and who now has a job and loves my Jesus. He still says that he's never felt so much love, and he'd never felt God's presence like he did when he came through these doors. 

I saw the face of the woman who's wedding I recently attended, an event that some of my friends might not have "baked the cake" for who says that she didn't know Christians could actually be so loving. 

Then I saw the face of the woman who you might never guess spent fifteen years dealing with multiple addictions, who latched onto CrossFit as a lifeline to put herself back together. Through the community, the structure, and the exercise she found her way and has never been the same. She asked questions about God and heaven and wondered if it would be okay to go to church with us one day. 

Then I see the youth pastor and the faithful baptist church member who say that they've learned more about discipleship on these floors than inside the walls of their church. 

Mingling together….  The wealthy, the successful, and even the famous sweating next to a struggling single mom and the young man who's home would hardly be considered suitable to live in. The leader of Vacation Bible School and a pastor laying on the floor doing push-ups next to the former exotic dancer, the hardened military man who's seen more than any of us can imagine, and a young woman who's choices in lifestyle and sexuality drastically differ, but who's hunger for Jesus is tangible. 

Equalized by nylon shorts, tank-tops, athletic shirts, and tennis shoes, the first thing that people find is not their differences in status, occupation, lifestyle, race, or religion. You simply know them as the person who shouted out when you stood up the heavy squat, the person who kept telling you that you are stronger than you believe and pushed you to get a few more reps before time was called, the person who ran back outside after they had completed their own workout just to run that last 200 meters with you. Brought close and united, finding community and camaraderie. 

Common place and interest. Love. Community. 

And then after hours, there's dinners out on the huge patio of the restaurant nearby, there's the birthday parties, there's the competitions where everyone piles in vehicles and caravans to watch and cheer on fellow members. And then we talk about life, about relationships, about spiritually. About God. And He's real, tangible, touchable, and present in that context. 

So as I stood there taking it all in… The diaphragms rising and falling heavily with the exertion of exercise, the weight-lifting chalk peppering the floor and smearing on the legs of those working out, the high-fives, the smiles, and the community I was struck… 

… Suddenly I felt more of Jesus in that place than when I stood on the gleaming floors of St. Peter's Basilica. 

This is what it means to live in a incarnational, missional way. To embrace the idea of sentness, to love humanity like Jesus did. 

And you may think I'm crazy, but somehow I think if Jesus walked the earth today, he might just spend the afternoon in the CrossFit gym working out, listening, and talking to people rather than admiring a shiny white statue of himself in a great cathedral. 

Just maybe. 

Sentralized: WHY ANOTHER CONFERENCE?

So why attend another conference? Two reasons. First, we believe there is a need to continue to bring clarity to the missional conversation. Unfortunately, the use of missional terminology has become confusing in many circles. Some view “missional” as the latest church growth strategy, or a better way of doing church evangelism. Others see missional as a means to mobilize church members to do missions more effectively. While still others believe missional is simply the latest Christian buzz word that will soon pass when the next trendy topic comes along.

However, we are convinced that those who believe missional is merely an add-on to current church activities, or perhaps even a passing fad prevalent only among church leaders, have simply not fully grasped the magnitude of the missional conversation. While it may sound like hyperbole; the move towards missional involves no less than a complete and thorough recalibration of the form and function of the church of Jesus. By bringing together some of today’s best missional thinkers; we desire to assist God’s people in thinking deeply about God’s mission in the world.

Second, we want to ensure the missional conversation moves beyond theory. We want to inspire and propel the church to engage in God’s mission in life changing ways. That is why a significant feature of the conference will focus on practical engagement; through the stories and personal examples of some of the best missional practitioners around.

If you desire to gain a clearer, deeper understanding of the missional conversation, but would also benefit from knowing how to engage your local context, then join us for a Sentralized regional event!

WHO SHOULD COME?

Sentralized is designed for anyone who calls him or her self a Christ follower. It's the perfect learning opportunity for pastors, church planters, individuals, and teams of church members that are working through the issues and ideas of missional living, learning, and leading.

For more details go to: http://www.sentralized.com. 

Safety – Good for the Swedes, NOT for the Saints

By: Jim Mustain 

Swedish car manufacturer Volvo has built its reputation on safety. Want a safe car, drive a Volvo. Car enthusiasts typecast Volvo’s conservative and uninspiring cars by saying, “Volvo sells school teachers cars shaped like bricks”. Ouch!

Playing it safe has resulted in Volvo being far from the “top ten list” when it comes to car sales in the US. Truth is they own less than 1% of the car sales market.

Is merely “playing it safe” an overall good strategy for doing life?

Empirically speaking it doesn’t seem to be a stellar marketing genius for the Swedes. But changing gears and more to my point, what about for the “saints”? Is a risk averse posture, “playing it safe”, what God is calling us to be and do? I think NOT!

Some of us equate playing it safe with being sensible and prudent. But here’s my two cents. Most of the time, it’s something else all together. The real problem isn’t safety or risk at all. The real problem is fear.

What if I were to tell you that there was a little tiny part of your brain that pre-wires you to avoid risk and play it safe? Well, there actually is. It’s called the amygdala and it plays a big part in what motivates us to behave the way we do.

One of the functions of the amygdala is processing emotions – particularly those associated with survival. Like the emotion of fear for instance. When you are in a familiar situation that you know to be safe, your amygdala is happy and secure – and so are you. But when something new or seemingly risky comes along, the amygdala kicks into high gear. It lets you know, “Hey, we’re outside our comfort zone here. Retreat! Withdrawal!” Sometimes that reaction can save your life. Other times it can hold you back from a more fulfilling life.

The Scriptures teach that Jesus came to give us a full life, not a safe life. (John 10:10). We see where risk and investment are rewarded, not safety. (Matt. 25:14) Our invitation is not to the familiar or comfortable, but to the unfamiliar and outcast (Luke 14:12)

A quote I ran across from my recent readings has fueled my God imaginations and encouraged my inner risk taker. It is attributed to John A. Shedd in his book Salt From My Attic and says,

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

What are we built for? Safety? Or risking it all for the better good…for the Kingdom…for the King?

See you out at sea!

Jipped

DO YOU REMEMBER THE WORD jipped? It’s not in my dictionary, but I think it’s one of the best words I’ve ever heard, kind of like ubiquitous, caveat, or robust—words that not only feel good rolling off your tongue but that carry a lot of meaning. To me, jipped means to get short-sheeted, shortchanged, ripped off, dissed, deceived, or intentionally screwed. I remember the first time I got jipped. I was seven, and I was at a local ice cream shop in Chicago. I had ordered one scoop of chocolate ice cream on a waffle cone. When the lady handed it to me, I remember having to stick my head all the way down into the waffle cone to find my ice cream.

My friend yelled, “Man, you got jipped.” It was the first time I’d heard the word, and I immediately forgot about my lack of ice cream and just sat there basking in how cool the word sounded. I recall riding my bike all the way home, saying “jipped” about forty times. After that, I started to say it to everyone. My mom grounded me because I used it so much around the house. “Hugh Tom, clean your room.” “Oh, man, that’s jipped.” After she scooped me some dinner, I’d yell, “Man, I got jipped,” just to get to use the word. This went on for few months, until I discovered the word chick. Jipped went on vacation until my freshman year in college.

It made its return when I was visiting a charismatic church by our campus. I remember being floored as the pastor talked about the Holy Spirit and its active working in our lives. While walking back to the campus, my friend, concerned about how I would process my first charismatic church experience, asked, “What did you think?” I’m sure he wanted me to comment on the old farmer dancing in the aisles and the lady singing a prophecy about “eagles and vipers” in the middle of the offertory. I didn’t comment on that. I said, “I got jipped.” “What do you mean?” he asked. 

I went on to tell him that in twelve years of being a Christian, I had never heard one person or pastor mention anything about this Holy Spirit guy or his pet bird. Seriously, I had never been taught about one of the primary aspects of God! I just kept mumbling, “I got jipped.” The next time I remember being jipped was in 2002. I was reading Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy. In this great work, Dallas cracks wide open the concept of the gospel and reminds us that it was never just “the gospel.” It is the “Gospel of the Kingdom of God.” That is, the gospel was about something really big, something different, and something that is to be experienced, not just spoken about.

This gospel, according to Dallas, is about an aspect of God’s divine life that is available to us now, not just after death. After reading and seeing the gospel in an entirely new light, my heart started to race, and I sprang out of my chair and yelled, “Dog gonnit . . . I got jipped again!” The Short-Sheeted Gospel Do you think it might be possible that the primary reason Christianity in the West is in such marked decline is simply due to the fact that we don’t know what the gospel is?

I know that sounds akin to telling professional basketball players that they don’t know how to dribble, or a librarian that he doesn’t read very well. But the church’s results of getting positive responses out of our gospel presentations begs the question, “Do we actually know what the gospel is?” About five years ago, I was in Sydney, Australia, working with about twelve young church planting teams. These were very bright, attractive, nontraditional-looking leaders. The first thing I asked was, “Why are you planting your church?”

I gave them a couple of minutes to think and write down their responses. When we came back together, I asked them to share. Their unanimous response was, “So that people will go to heaven.” “Fine,” I said. “Now describe how people are going to get to heaven.” After some debate, they all agreed that people would get to heaven by hearing the gospel and then responding appropriately. My next question was, “How are people going to hear the gospel?” Their response: “Through our preaching.” “Fine,” I said. “And what will their appropriate response be and how will you know they made that response?” Answer: “They will pray a prayer to receive God into their hearts.” “Where will this transaction take place?” I asked.

They all liked the idea that it could happen anywhere, but after a little prodding, they admitted that they see most of this happening after a sermon in their church. After getting their responses, I gave them one more opportunity to change or adjust their answers, but they decided to stick with what they had. We then took a Sanka instant coffee and Vegemite toast break (something I hope never to relive), and when we came back together I summarized their idea of the gospel. “So let me play back what you said was the reason and the means of planting this church. You are going to start a church so that you can preach the gospel, hope they believe your message, pray a prayer, and go to heaven. Correct?”

They smiled and sheepishly nodded in unison. I pushed a bit more and asked, “What is the gospel?” Their response: “The message of God’s love and forgiveness of our sins and the hope of eternal life.” “So let me keep going,” I said. “The gospel is a systematic set of beliefs or doctrines about God, sin, heaven, and hell that you try to get someone to buy into?” Crowd still nodding. “So salvation is viewed as a gift you get when you . . . pray a prayer?” They nodded like a bunch of puppies watching a yoyo. “So a Christian is someone who has prayed a prayer, and a good Christian is someone who has prayed a prayer and consistently comes to your church, gives money, and generally stops doing all the ‘biggie’ sins.” They still nodded. “So a non-Christian, someone who is doomed to hell for eternity, is someone who hasn’t . . . prayed the prayer?” All of a sudden it got a bit quiet. I kept going. “Evangelism, then, must be the process of trying to get someone to pray a prayer.

Heaven, this beautiful eternal wildly awesome place, is only for those who have prayed a prayer. And hell, the fire, gnashing of teeth, eternal torment, is for everyone who didn’t come to your church, hear your sermon, and pray the prayer?” By now, I was visibly emotional, as was the wife of one of the church planters. Many of the other leaders were looking down at their feet. Some had put their hands over their faces, and we just sat there quietly. “I have to be honest.” I said after collecting myself. “I would not be interested in coming to your church if that is all you’ve got going.” I was saddened but not surprised, as we have heard the same anemic version of the gospel story for so long here in United States. Jipped again!

The good news is now bad news . . . or no news. Jesus knew that the only people who would find his news to be bad news would be the people who didn’t want to lose control of their lives or “come to the light,” as he put it. Everyone else would view his gospel as an attractive alternative to the life they were experiencing. There will always be people who are, at a heart level, completely resistant to Christ. But this book isn’t about them. This book is about the millions of people who are openhearted and curious about life and God but who are honestly not finding goodness in the good news that we talk about and that, at times, has been forced down their collective throats.

We have to be honest with ourselves and realize that if the message isn’t attractive, and the people of God aren’t attractive, then we must not be telling the story right, or we aren’t living the story correctly. Maybe we forgot the story, or even worse, maybe no one ever told us the whole story. Maybe you got jipped, too. If so, you may also have jipped others. 

Excerpt from Tangible Kingdom - By Hugh Halter

Jesus - The Original Barista

It was displayed in plain sight. I’m sure I must have seen it before. However on this particular evening while waiting on my next appointment, it caught both my attention and curiosity. Three short phrases carefully crafted together. One empowering mantra displayed in over 21,000 community gathering places worldwide— one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

What corporate citizen aspires to the lofty dreams of, “… inspiring and nurturing the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Starbucks of course! (check out their really cool mission video https://vimeo.com/62275792)

In the #1 New York Times bestselling book Onward: How Starbucks Fought For It’s Life Without Losing Its Soul, Howard Schultz the CEO of Starbucks recounts the story and leadership lessons behind the global coffee company’s comeback.

In 2008, Schultz decided to return as the CEO of Starbucks to help restore its financial health and bring the company back to its core values. In Onward, he shares this remarkable story, revealing how, during one of the most tumultuous economic periods in American history, Starbucks again achieved profitability and sustainability without sacrificing humanity.

Living out the below core values, the Starbucks green and white logo is known worldwide.

  • Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
  • Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
  • Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
  • Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
  • We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.

My reflections are two — Wow and Whoa!

Wow! — Regardless of person or product, I love dreamers and doers and those determined to develop something of value and worth. Way to go Starbucks! I will gladly continue to leverage your free space and great coffee and welcoming environment as I strategize kingdom plans, disciple followers of Jesus, and engage in gospel conversations. Really, thanks!

Whoa! — As in “let’s stop or slow down” for a minute to get our bearings. IS THIS NOT what the church is supposed to be about? Swap out a few words, church for company, and people for performance, and I could easily adopt Starbucks values for my own.

I love, and believe Jesus loves words like, warmth and welcoming, and connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.

Could it be that Jesus was the original barista? Get that picture in your mind next time you walk up to a Starbucks counter!

But seriously, was it not Jesus who modeled offering a “cup” of cold water in His name? (Mark 9:41) Was is not Jesus who showed “dignity and respect” for the woman at the well? (John 4) Was it not Jesus who moved into (and loved) His “neighborhood”. (John 1:14)

In an unprecedented era of downturn in church engagement, in an effort to move “Onward: fighting for its life, without loosing its soul” — perhaps the church could reflect, repent, and return to the model of Jesus. Thanks Starbucks for the reminder. I think “I’ll see you and raise you” (and keep using your free wifi)! 

Be blessed,

Jim

A Community Pastor

What Is Missional?

By: Brad Brisco

For nine years I taught a course on evangelism at a small Christian college. There was an exercise I would do every year to illustrate to the students just how inwardly focused most churches are. I would divide the white board into two large columns. I asked the class to list all of the programs and ministries that their church had for those inside the church. In other words, activities just for church members. They would quickly create a very long list of things like Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, small groups, prayer groups, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, sports leagues, special fellowships—you get the picture. Occasionally a student might argue that some of the activities were open to those outside the church, but inevitably they agreed that each of the activities was tailored with church people in mind.

The next step was to list the ministries that their church had exclusively for those outside the church family. Beyond that, I would ask them to consider any training that the church provided for members to equip them to engage those outside the church. The contrast was striking. In more than one case a student couldn’t name a single activity that his or her church had for those outside the church walls. All of the church’s planning, finances and energy were spent exclusively on church members.

The vast majority of churches in America are not missional. Despite this reality, some people believe using the phrase “missional church” is redundant. “Of course the church is missional,” they quip. The truth is that it should be redundant, but it isn’t. The church in North America, generally speaking, is clearly not missional. Both individually and collectively, it simply does not consistently live out of its missional identity. Please don’t say that missional church language is redundant. It is not.

So how are we to best understand the language of missional church? Unfortunately the word missional today seems to be connected to just about everything in the church world. Missional leadership. Missional evangelism. Missional youth ministry. Missional parenting. Missional denominations. Even missional clothing! Moreover, people are using the word missional to describe “new” ways to think about church growth, outreach, social justice and discipleship.

But if we reject this overuse, what then does the word missional mean? Moving forward, how are we to best understand it? I usually respond by saying that I have a short answer and a long answer to this question.

The short answer is that missional is simply the adjective form of the noun missionary. Therefore when we use the language of “missional church,” the word missional is used to describe the church as a missionary entity. The church doesn’t just send missionaries; the church is the missionary.

Now for the long answer. When considering a more theologically rooted definition of the word missional we need to examine three chief distinctions. These are the theological foundations of a missional approach, which I believe must serve as the starting point for the journey. Each point deliberately confronts long-held assumptions most Christians have about God, the church and mission. Without serious attention to each of these three points, the missional journey will inevitably end prematurely.

So what are those three foundations, or paradigm shifts that need to be considered? They include:

  1. Recapturing the missionary nature of God and the church
  2. Engaging in the posture of incarnational presence
  3. Understanding the why and how of participating in the Missio Dei.

If you and your church would like to process, not only these three keys paradigm shifts, but also learn practical steps to move a church into engaging God’s mission more fully, then consider joining the Forge tribe for a missional pre-conference at this year’s Exponential East event.

 

Forge Pre-conference At Exponential

Join us this April for the Forge Pre-conference at Exponential with Alan Hirsch, Brad Brisco, Deb Hirsch, Hugh Halter, Lance Forge & Rob Wegner! The pre-con will not only be a great time of training, but it will provide a wonderful opportunity to to get to know who Forge is. 

This Missional Precon will provide a comprehensive overview of missional DNA, practices, missional community, and resources you will need to move people back into a genuine engagement with the mission of God. If you are planting this is a must orientation based on the American missionary context, but we will also be contextualizing the missional paradigm for pastors hoping to transition existing congregations. Our team includes Alan & Deb Hirsch, Hugh Halter, Brad Brisco, Lance Ford and Rob Wegner who heads up our Future Travelers process for existing churches. 

Discount available! Use code: forge16

What Is Missional - Part 2

In part one I explained that when I am asked to define the word “missional” I usually say that I have a short answer, and a long answer. The short answer is that the word missional is simply the adjective form of the noun missionary. The long answer involves considering three theological distinctions that I believe are at the core of understanding the idea of missional church. 

The first shift in thinking that must take place relates to our understanding of the missionary nature of God and the church. When we think of the attributes of God, we most often think of characteristics such as holiness, sovereignty, wisdom, justice, love and so on. Rarely do we think of God’s missionary nature. But Scripture teaches that God is a missionary God—a sending God.

What’s more, the Bible is a missionary book. Scripture is generated by and is all about God’s mission activity. The word mission is derived from the Latin missio, meaning “sending.” And it is the central theme describing God’s activity throughout all of history to restore creation. While often overlooked, one remarkable illustration in Scripture of God’s missionary nature is found in the “sending language” that is prominent throughout the Bible.

From God’s sending of Abram in Genesis 12 to the sending of his angel in Revelation 22, there are literally hundreds of examples that portray God as a missionary, sending God. In the Old Testament God is presented as the sovereign Lord who sends in order to express and complete his redemptive mission. The Hebrew verb “to send,” shelach, is found nearly eight hundred times. While it is most often used in a variety of non-theological sayings and phrases, it is employed more than two hundred times with God as the subject of the verb. In other words, it is God who commissions and it is God who sends.

Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of sending in the Old Testament is found in Isaiah 6. In this passage we catch a glimpse of God’s sending nature: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’” To this Isaiah responds, “Here am I! Send me!” (Is 6:8). Further, in the prophetic books it is interesting to note that the Old Testament ends with God promising through the words of the prophet Malachi to send a special messenger as the forerunner of the Messiah: “I will send my messenger” (Mal 3:1). Then the New Testament begins with the arrival of that messenger in the person of John the Baptist, described in the Gospels as a man sent by God (John 1:6).

In the New Testament, sending language is found not only in the Gospels but also throughout the book of Acts and each of the Epistles. The most comprehensive collection of sending language, however, is found in the Gospel of John, where the word send or sent is used nearly sixty times. The majority of uses refer to the title of God as “one who sends” and of Jesus as the “one who is sent.” All the way through John’s Gospel we see God the Father sending the Son. God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit. And God the Father, Son and Spirit sending the church. In the final climactic sending passage in John’s Gospel, Jesus makes clear that he is not only sent by the Father, but now he is the sender, as he sends the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn 20:21).

With this sentence Jesus is doing much more than drawing a vague parallel between his mission and ours. Deliberately and precisely he is making his mission the model for ours. Our understanding of the church’s mission must flow from our understanding of Jesus’ mission as reflected in the Gospels. Geoffrey Harris states it this way:

The Gospels reflect the fact that mission is the essence of the Church’s life and not just an aspect of it. The life of Jesus is invariably represented as being enacted in the world at large (and not in religious settings), among ordinary people of all sorts (and not just among believers) and, in particular, as reaching out to those beyond the normal scope and influence of the religious establishment Jesus’ early nickname, “friend of sinners,” is transformed in the Gospels from a term of abuse into a badge of honour and respect.

The sending language in Scripture not only emphasizes the missionary nature of God, but it also stresses the importance of understanding the church as a sent, missionary body. God is a missionary God who sends a missionary church. As Jesus was sent into the world, we too are sent into the world.

At the core of the missional conversation is the idea that a genuine missional posture is a sending rather than an attractional one. My friend Linda Burgquist likes to point out that Jesus did not assign the seventy to become a core group that would function as a new “come-to” structure; he instead sent them out by twos to engage the surrounding towns and villages. Likewise, we should be sending the people in the church out among the people of the world, rather than attempting to attract the people of the world in among the people of the church. This is a crucial distinction because most people in the church today do not think of their congregation in a sending, missionary manner.

The church is to see itself as a people called and sent by God to participate in his redemptive mission for the world. The nature of the church—rooted in the very nature of God—is missionary. Rather than seeing ourselves primarily as a sending body, we must see ourselves as a body that is sent. The church still gathers, but the difference is that we gather not for our own sake, but for the sake of others. Or better yet, for the sake of God’s mission. We come together regularly as a collective body to be equipped through teaching, prayer, worship, and study and then to be sent back out into the world as an agent of the King. 

What Is Missional - Part 1

For nine years I taught a course on evangelism at a small Christian college. There was an exercise I would do every year to illustrate to the students just how inwardly focused most churches are. I would divide the white board into two large columns. I asked the class to list all of the programs and ministries that their church had for those inside the church. In other words, activities just for church members. They would quickly create a very long list of things like Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, small groups, prayer groups, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, sports leagues, special fellowships—you get the picture. Occasionally a student might argue that some of the activities were open to those outside the church, but inevitably they agreed that each of the activities was tailored with church people in mind.

The next step was to list the ministries that their church had exclusively for those outside the church family. Beyond that, I would ask them to consider any training that the church provided for members to equip them to engage those outside the church. The contrast was striking. In more than one case a student couldn’t name a single activity that his or her church had for those outside the church walls. All of the church’s planning, finances and energy were spent exclusively on church members.

The vast majority of churches in America are not missional. But despite this reality, some people believe using the phrase “missional church” is redundant. “Of course the church is missional,” they quip. The truth is that it should be redundant, but it isn’t. The church in North America, generally speaking, is clearly not missional. Both individually and collectively, it simply does not consistently live out of its missional identity. Please don’t say that missional church language is redundant. It is not.

So how are we to best understand the language of missional church? Unfortunately the wordmissional today seems to be connected to just about everything in the church world. Missional leadership. Missional evangelism. Missional youth ministry. Missional parenting. Missional denominations. Even missional clothing! Moreover, people are using the word missional to describe “new” ways to think about church growth, outreach, social justice and discipleship. My friend Lance Ford likes to refer to this crazy use of terminology as “applying missional paint.” Buy a can of missional paint and brush it on to whatever the church is already doing. Just like that, it’s missional!

But if we reject this overuse, what then does the word missional mean? Moving forward, how are we to best understand it? I usually respond by saying that I have a short answer and a long answer to this question.

The short answer is that missional is simply the adjective form of the noun missionary. Therefore when we use the language of “missional church,” the word missional is used to describe the church as a missionary entity. The church doesn’t just send missionaries; the church is the missionary.

Now for the long answer. When considering a more theologically rooted definition of the wordmissional we need to examine at least three chief distinctions. These are the theological foundations of a missional approach, which I believe must serve as the starting line to our journey. Each point deliberately confronts long-held assumptions most Christians have about God, the church and mission. Without serious attention to each of these three points, the missional journey will inevitably end prematurely.

Over the next few days I want to share what I believe we need to consider when fully understanding the idea of missional church. I hope you join the discussion.

What Is A Third Place?

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the phrase “Third Place” in his 1989 bookThe Great Good Place. The extended sub-title of the book helps to clarify the concept; Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community.” 

But what exactly is a Third Place? According to Oldenburg the first place is our home and the people with whom we live. The second place is where we work and the place we spend the majority of our waking hours. A Third Place is a public setting that hosts regular, voluntary, and informal gatherings of people. It is a place to relax and have the opportunity to know and be known by others. It is a place people like to “hang out.” Oldenburg identifies eight characteristics that Third Places share:

  • Neutral Ground. People are free to come and go as they please. There are no time requirements or invitations needed. Much of our lives in first places and second places are structured, but not so in Third Places.
  • Act as a Leveler. People from all walks of life gather in Third Places. There are no social or economic status barriers.
  • Conversation is the Main Activity. The talk is lively, stimulating, colorful, and engaging.
  • Assessable and Accommodating. They tend to be conveniently located, often within walking distance of one’s home.
  • There are Regulars. It is easy to recognize that many patrons are regulars at the establishment. But unlike other places, newcomers are welcomed into the group.
  • Low Profile. As a physical structure, they are typically plain and unimpressive in appearance.
  • Mood is Playful. With food, drink, games, and conversation present, the mood is light and playful. The mood encourages people to stay longer and to come back repeatedly.
  • A Home Away From Home. At their core they are places where people feel at home. They feel like they belong there, and typically have a sense of ownership.

Why is it so important for Christ followers to understand the concept of Third Places? Because the vast majority of people in the United States are living isolated, relationally impoverished lives. And Third Places offer an opportunity for missionally minded people to do life in proximity to others. We must take the time to identify where the Third Places are in our setting. Where do people gather to spend time with others? Where are the coffee houses, cafes, pubs and other hangouts?

But in addition to the typical Third Places as described by Oldenburg, what are some “atypical” places where people congregate? Think of places such as libraries, parks, farmer’s markets, workout centers, etc. We may need to “think outside the box” when identifying where people gather. But once identified we must seek ways to engage those places. This will involve embedding our lives incarnationally into Third Places, listening and learning where God is at work, and asking how we can participate in what God is doing. 

Where do you recognize a sense of isolation or loneliness in your neighborhood? Do you yourself experience feelings of isolation from your neighbors? How does the Gospel, the good news of the Kingdom, address the issue of isolation? Do you believe the sense of community is increasing or decreasing in your neighborhood? Why? What are the easily identified Third Places in your neighborhood?

Adapted from Missional Essentials

Dangerous Living: How are you living dangerously for God?

There are Forge Hubs all over the country and world that are on the edge of the what's next for the church. "Reaching the 60% is something that is needed, but who is actually out there doing it? Where do you start? Start, with a walk in your neighborhood. Be open to who God brings into your path and meet them right where they are.  It is really that simple." Jeri Lewis, Hub Director, Middletown, Ohio and Forge National Team, Story Teller

RELATIONSHIPS HAPPEN IN THE MARGINS

The importance of presence is a common theme that runs throughout the culture of Forge. We strive to understand the necessity of spending time with people. One practical expression of presence involves the simple act of neighboring. When we carve out time and space to get to know our neighbors – know them by name, eat and drink with them, listen to their stories and tell our own – we are practicing the ministry of presence. But why is it so often difficult to spend time with people that live in close proximity? What gets in the way of sharing life with those that live on the same street as we do? What keeps us from being radically hospitable?

While there are multiple reasons behind the lack of relational vitality in our neighborhoods, I believe one of the most prominent issues has to do with the lack of margin in our lives. In the book titled Margins: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, author Richard Swenson uses the illustration of the margin found on the pages of a book as a metaphor for the way our lives should be organized. You never see the words on a page run to the very edge of the paper. Neither should we live our lives constantly pushed to the very edge. In other words, there must be space, or margin, around our lives where we not only experience rest and be refreshment, but where relationships can be birthed and cultivated. Swenson writes:

Margin is like oxygen— everybody needs some. If we have too little, we suffer from the shortage. If we have too much, the excess will not benefit us additionally. But having the right amount permits us to breathe freely.

Margin is a space, specifically the space between our load and our limits. It is this space that enhances vitality and resilience. It is this space that guarantees sustainability. It is in this space where healing occurs, where our batteries are recharged, where our relationships are nourished, and where wisdom is found. Without margin, both rest and contemplation are but theoretical concepts, unaffordable and unrealistic.

We do not follow two inches behind the next car on the interstate— that would leave no margin for error. We do not allow only two minutes to change planes in Chicago— that would be foolish in the extreme. We do not load boats until they are nearly submerged— that would invite disaster. Why then do we insist on leaving no buffer, no space, no reserves in our day-to-day? 

Why then is creating and maintaining margin so important? As Swenson states, margin provides sustainability for the hard work of mission. But equally important, margin creates space for the ministry of presence to occur. Truly loving our neighbors cannot be added to overburdened lives. I like to say that relationships happen in the margins. So where do you need to cultivate margin? What might you need to stop doing to create margin in your life? 

- Brad Brisco

Whisperers and Storytellers Part - 2

From Whispers and Storytellers Part 1: "The traditional method of reaching not-yet-Christians has been to bludgeon them into a recognition of how broken they are. To crush their spirit. To tear them down and bring them to their knees. There’s very little genuine friendship happening. When churches do befriend unbelievers it’s often so that they might become Christians. And it’s assumed that the way to become Christian is for them to see how truly bad they are. Surely, not-yet-Christians see how disingenuous this is." 

So how can we whisper into the deepest longings of not-yet-christains?

We can do this by exciting curiosity through storytelling…. 

In Jesus's parables he didn’t seek to explain the words of previous prophets or teachers. There was often no reference to Yahweh. What kind of biblical teaching was this! Stories about a father who welcomes his wayward son back, a woman who turns her home upside down looking for a lost coin, references to shrewd business managers, foolish farmers, and wise investors.

The parables were very surprising forms of religious communication indeed. So surprising were they, in fact, that their meaning was often lost on many, especially those schooled in traditional religious speech. In Matthew 13, his disciples approached Jesus after he had told a story about sowing seed. They asked him, not the meaning of the story, but why he used these quaint stories at all. Jesus replied, “This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing they do not hear or understand’” (Matt. 13:13). In other words, he used parables to veil his meaning, not to make it clearer! Jesus understood that his ministry was fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah 6:9 that foretold of a time when Israel’s heart would be calloused and her ears clogged and her eyes closed to the truth of God’s grace.

Jesus’ teaching ministry was purposefully cryptic, allowing those who sought answers, rather than those who “had all the answers,” to access the surprising truth of grace. So then he went on to explain the parable of the seed and the sower. By outlining the different types of soil that the seed fell on (the path, the rocky places, the thorny soil, the good soil) he demonstrated something about the different ways people would access his stories. Some would openly dismiss them as silly children’s stories (particularly the Pharisees and scribes), others would be slightly interested for a while, and still others would be tantalized by these strange but wonderful tales.

They would be so intrigued that they would have to enquire further. And as Jesus had already told his disciples earlier, it was this kind of genuine enquiry he was seeking to evoke: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). In our attempts to make the gospel clear, we have often squeezed all the life out of it. Jesus’ parables were intriguing, open to interpretation, playful, interesting.

They provoked people to search further for the truth. Elie Wiesel tells about an editor who once told him, “If you want to hold the reader’s attention, your sentence must be clear enough to be understood and enigmatic enough to pique curiosity. A good piece combines style and substance. It must not say everything—never say everything—while nevertheless suggesting there is an everything.”  

Parables, stories, will be more likely to excite curiosity than propositionally presented outlines of the gospel. In Faith in a Changing Culture , John Drane outlines the importance of storytelling in this day and age. He proposes the importance of using three kinds of stories. First, God’s story. He claims that God is present and actively involved in our world and we should be prepared to tell such stories about him. By this, we take him to mean God’s prevenient grace. Tell your friends about a film you’ve seen where God’s truth was revealed in a particular scene or character. Tell your friends about sunsets, items in the newspaper, and so-called coincidences.

As Drane says, The Bible unhesitatingly affirms that God is constantly at work in the world in many ways, times and places. Evangelism is not about Christians working on God’s behalf because God is powerless without them. Effective evangelism must start with recognizing where God is already at work, and getting alongside God in what is going on there. God’s story, not ours, is the authentic starting point. Second, Drane recommends the use of Bible stories. This might sound like the ultimate conversation stopper, but we have found that at the right time and place, within the context of a strong friendship, the retelling of an ancient biblical story can evoke a great deal of curiosity. And third, he advocates the use of personal stories on the basis of 1 Peter 3:15, “Be prepared to give an answer . . . for the hope that you have.”

While propositions about Jesus are words on a page, stories are events in a life. Drane puts it well: Telling stories demands personal honesty, accepting our weaknesses as well as our strengths. It is only when we reveal ourselves as weak and vulnerable that others will readily identify with us and be able to hear the invitation to join us in following Jesus. Too often, Christian proclamation sounds like a patronizing sermon, in which we, the Christians, are the experts and all others are ignorant. As Karl Barth put it, “When we speak of our virtues we are competitors, when we confess our sins we become brothers.”  - Excerpt from The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch