Who Is On Your Spiritual Mt. Rushmore (Pt. 3)

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SpiritualMtRushmore
Each of us have a spark of identity within our being, placed there by God at the dawn of our existence. We can either smother that spark or gently tend to that spark in such a way that it can catch fire, ultimately expressing the true nature of who we are. I firmly believe that I am who I am because of how others have helped me tend to that spark of identity, expressing well my God given nature and identity.

Part 1 was about the “Founding Fathers” of my faith. In Part 2 was about the “Author” of my faith. Here in Part 3, I want to look at Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt created and set aside a great number of national parks and sacred spaces within our country that were left protected for future generations to explore. On one occasion while camping with the great conservationist John Muir in Yosemite, Roosevelt remarked, “It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.”

There’s a beauty and a connectivity with God that occurs in the wide open spaces. The freedom to wander, unencumbered and explore the vastness of who God is and how He interacts and plays and smiles and truly enjoys our company. There is a real freedom in Christ… and unfortunately we have all too often forgotten this and instead traded our freedom for the chains of legalism or traditionalism or fundamentalism. It’s constraining. It’s a yoke that Jesus never intended (“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”) For many of us, freedom is an afterthought, it is a pipe dream. We’re simply unable to find the wide open spaces, let alone be let loose in there. This is a process. It is a process that requires someone who can guide us and take us into the plains and valleys, someone who knows the terrain and can help us become more and more unencumbered as we go and truly live in the joy of relationship with Jesus–in the vastness of the wide open spaces.

**Just a side note, but an important one I think–the Hebrew word for salvation, which not coincidentally is the root of Jesus’ name, literally means to bring us into wide open spaces. Sort of brings a beautiful new idea to our understanding of Psalm 23 and others like it!

You see, we need someone who can introduce us to the vastness, the space; someone who can guide us and take us into the plains and valleys, the places where true awe occurs. For me, that guide was Dr. John Castelein.

Dr. Castelein was my advisor for my Masters program. We talked a lot about postmodernism, postmodern theology, the Emerging Church, LOST–yeah it was a big deal at the time! He guided my thinking into the vastness of what is and could be possible, never chiding or deriding any thought but encouraging me to think differently, think deeper, to go beyond and think graciously about myself and all that could be possible. Dr. Castelein showed me a different side of God, a God that was free from constraint–and perhaps most importantly that constraint was not synonymous with holiness.

Dr. Castelein sparked within me an insatiable curiosity teaching me that this was okay–and to be gracious in my curiosity with others, something I’m still learning to do well. He showed me that it was okay to ask questions about God–and gave me permission to do so–but even more so to ask questions of God. To talk to Him with doubts, fears, uncertainties, questions, and everything else under the sun. And that this is all okay. And in doing this, Dr. Castelein ushered me into the wide open spaces, far vaster and more beautiful than anything I had ever experienced… and there I saw God.

Who Is On Your Spiritual Mt. Rushmore? (Pt. 2)

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spiritual mt rushmoreEach of us have a spark of identity within our being, placed there by God at the dawn of our existence. We can either smother that spark or gently tend to that spark in such a way that it can catch fire, ultimately expressing the true nature of who we are. I firmly believe that I am who I am because of how others have helped me tend to that spark of identity, expressing well my God given nature and identity.

Part 1 was about the “Founding Fathers” of my faith. Here in Part 2, I want to look at the “Author” of my faith. Etched onto the side of Mt. Rushmore is Thomas Jefferson, who is considered to be the “Author of the country,” the one credited with writing the foundational documents and values our country ascribes to. The one who exposed the values of the gospel to me in a language that impacted my soul was Henri Nouwen.

“The author for my Faith”
I was introduced to Henri Nouwen in college by my professor Neal Windham in one of my final classes of college: Senior Seminar in the Bible. Nouwen’s tiny little book “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership” was one of the key texts we explored in the class…

I hated the book.

Now you may think “hate” is a strong, over exaggerated word here, but let me assure you that it’s not. I took the professor to task during class when it came to this book thinking it was absolutely ridiculous–I certainly made known my thoughts and feelings on the book. Let me just state here that at this point in my life I was coming from the John Maxwell school of leadership (e.g. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership; 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader; Failing Forward). I had read a few of his books by this point and had found him not only compelling but the “right” way of leadership — in fact Failing Forward is still remains an important leadership concept in my mind. Maxwell and Nouwen’s leadership paradigms stand at odds with one another, which led to a great deal of discomfort and struggle in my mind regarding the very nature of leadership.

While I didn’t resolve the tension that semester–life changing tensions last longer than a few days or even weeks–I did, however, find myself infatuated with the story of Nouwen, of “giving up his life” for the forgotten and the least of these.* I approached my professor about doing an independent study course on the writings of Nouwen seeking to understand him and his leadership. I think Windham was a bit surprised because of how I had responded to Nouwen in class, but he allowed me to and guided me through several of his books.

It changed me.

I see people differently now, not as projects or as objects, but as the very image of God present here and now.
I see love differently now, not as some sort of feel good, mushy gushy emotional expression, but an understanding of the fullness of love; that love is an active expression of peace and grace that works for the betterment of others.
I see grace differently now… and this is perhaps the biggest one. Grace is more than forgiveness, grace is the truest expression of love possible. Grace is costly… and I’m not speaking of the grace of Jesus alone, but the expression of grace that each of us are called to give to others. Grace hurts. And in the pain of grace a beautiful picture of Jesus emerges and reveals the nature of God in the here and now.

I am thankful for Henri’s life and his writings. They have changed me. I am thankful for Neal. I am thankful that he took the time to guide me through some crucial Nouwen texts, for the conversations we had through email and in person about Reaching Out, The Inner Voice of Love and Life of the Beloved. I am thankful for the insight he brought to and through those texts. This course and ultimately these texts changed me. They wrote a new story of the grace of Jesus into my life. They helped me to see who I truly am at the core of my being… and they continue to change me today.

Nouwen helped me to uncover my identity as a child of God, the beloved of Jesus. And that has made all of the difference.

* Nouwen didn’t give up his life… by “giving up his life” he really found his life and true identity… I think Jesus said something similar.

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Prepare for the End… (Pt. 2)

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church planting 10 Be sure to check out Part 1 of this 2 part series.

Save at least 4 months of living expenses
You never know if/when the church you’re planting will shut down. I know it may seem counter-productive to plan for its demise before you’ve even begun, and some church planters would much rather live on the edge believing the lack of a safety net actually gives you a stronger drive to succeed, but that attitude is sort of like playing third base without a cup. I played baseball with a guy that had this same attitude. He refused to wear a cup at third base believing the threat to his manhood gave him a quicker first step… and then one day it didn’t. An unexpected short hop took him down for the count. This is the danger you face as a church planter… you never know when the short hop is coming.

Saving at least 4 months of living expenses is as close as you can get to wearing a cup. I wish that this was something I had done deliberately, that I had the foresight to plan this way. I didn’t. However, my wife and I did sort of stumble into this reality. For some reason or another–perhaps the impending birth of our daughter–we started spending money a little differently and ended up saving several months worth of income. This has helped us in a few different ways on the back side of church planting.*

  1. Time to decompress: I had a few months to simply rest, to be, and not really worry about anything financially–especially as it related to my family’s well being. I wasn’t pressed to get a job or even start looking. Instead I had the time to sit back and reflect on what happened and what I’d learned. This was been an invaluable period of time for me. This was a wonderful gift not only for me but my family.

    In talking with other church planters that have had to deal with the trauma of closing down a church, this is often a luxury they cannot afford. The lack of finances get in the way of properly dealing with this loss, this grief, and most of the time church planters end up completely leaving the ministry. Most do this not because they’ve lost their calling but because they’re pressed financially and ultimately burnt out.

    Here’s a hard truth to consider: When you shut down, you’re not guaranteed severance. I was given a month and a half of pay when we made the decision to shut down. That’s 45 days… which if you’re banking on severance alone to give you the proper space to decompress, it’s not enough.

  2. Time to reshape your rhythms: I have found that on the other side of church planting/pastoring, many of the daily rhythms in my life were completely out of whack. (It took me at least 45 days to simply rest and get back on some sort of normal sleep schedule.) After exiting the decompression phase, I spent a great deal of time allowing life to settle into new rhythms, paying attention to those rhythms, honing those rhythms, and realizing what’s been missing and what’s still missing. For me there are 7 daily and 3 weekly rhythms that I am working on to make sure are present because they are vital not only to my well being but to my family… what I’m finding is that they’re pretty simple when you have the time to pay attention to them.

    My daily rhythms: running, lectionary, journaling, reading, a walk with my daughter, time with my wife, and writing.
    My weekly rhythms: church, group-life, family day.

    These aren’t rocket science. I have to diligently work to re-make these as fixtures in my normal rhythm of life. I wouldn’t have the space to do this if I had had to jump straight back into the job market. This is necessary on the back end of church planting and I believe it helps you move back towards a healthy view of reality.

  3. Time to dream again: When the church closes down, the greatest dreams you’ve ever had go down with it. It’s hard to give yourself permission to dream. It’s made exponentially more difficult when you field the barrage of questions from well meaning friends and family, “What’s next?!” To get to this place once again is no easy task, and it takes time. If you have prepared your family financially for a period of time post church plant, you have given yourself an amazing gift: the ability and space to begin dreaming again. To give yourself the permission to dream once again, however, will not come easy–it certainly wasn’t for me. But you have given yourself the space, and the more space you afford yourself, the better off you will be.

Saving 4 months worth of income sounds like an impossible task for some, however I would like to remind you that it is possible. I lived in the second most expensive city in the country and was able to make this a possibility. If I can do it, so can you.

My hope and prayer is that you never have to go through the trauma of closing down a church, but if you do I hope these few learnings can help ease a bit of the trauma and help you walk well into what’s next.

* It also helped that my wife is a working professional, and helped in great ways to support our family during this time.

Who Is On Your Spiritual Mt Rushmore? (Pt. 1)

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my spiritual mt rushmore
Earlier this year the question was posed to me, “Who have been the most influential spiritual leaders in your life? Who is on your ‘Spiritual Mt. Rushmore?'”

Such a great question!

There have been many influential people in my life, helping me become who I am today. They have helped me see in different ways the person God created me to be, pushing me and challenging me, caring for me and loving me well. And so to answer that question felt like an impossible proposition! To help me identify those people, I decided to answer the question based around who is actually on Mt. Rushmore (history nerd alert!).

Etched into the stone of Mt. Rushmore is George Washington, the “Father of the country”, Thomas Jefferson, the “Author of the country,” Theodore Roosevelt, the “Explorer of the country”, and Abraham Lincoln, “The Great Emancipator.” Each of these designations translate well into the life of faith and speak volumes into how we are shaped and molded into the image of Jesus.

Each of us have a spark of identity within our being, placed there by God at the dawn of our existence. We can either smother that spark or gently tend the spark so that it can catch fire, ultimately expressing the true nature of who we are. I firmly believe that I am who I am because of how others have helped me tend to that spark of identity, expressing well my God given nature and identity.

“The Father(s) of my Faith”
I want to start off by breaking my self-imposed rules just a bit and etch two faces into the stone: my dad and my grandpa. My grandpa has always modeled for me a silent faithfulness, modeling a posture that is quick to listen and slow to speak. I’ll never forget the moment he pulled me aside one day to tell me, “Aaron, I just want you to know that I pray for you every single day.” That was all he said. No explanation, no indication of what he prays for me about, just consistent, faithful prayer.

This was a foundational moment in my life, leaving an indelible imprint on me that expanded my understanding of the spiritual life: We are not in this alone, we should not be in this alone. The spiritual life was never meant to be a solo act, a private event reserved only for the self. Rather, the spiritual life must be done in community because we cannot do this alone. That simple sentence, marked by a life of consistent and faithful prayer, opened my eyes to this new reality and revolutionized my worldview. It revealed to this hyper-independent person that even when I don’t think I need anyone else, there are people surrounding me and doing work for me and my soul that I don’t recognize. It revealed to me that I have never done anything independently, I have never been alone. As the patriarch of our family, my grandpa has faithfully modeled a beautiful faith in Jesus to us all.

The second etching belongs to my dad. I remember thumbing through my dad’s Bible which was always full of fresh new highlights and perfectly underlined passages and verses (he had to have used a ruler, no one can make lines that straight!–Which goes to show the deliberate nature of his study and reading.) My dad is the one who talked with me about Jesus and about baptism. The one who encouraged me to go to Bible college–“Just try it for a year,” he said–and ultimately my decision to join the ministry. Even to this day he encourages me to simply, “follow God wherever he leads.” (Which is a big part of why we moved to Seattle. There is a great freedom in that, a freedom to pursue God no matter the cost. This has led to great joy in my life, and even some great pain–none of which I would trade for anything because through it all I have seen the faithfulness of God played out in great ways throughout my life.

These two men are the Founding Fathers of my faith without them I would not be the person I am today, nor would I be where I am today. It is because of them that I am who I am.

There have been a lot of people who have influenced my faith journey in ways both great and small, and so I will be starting a new series called “Thank You Notes” to express my gratitude to the many who have played a part in shaping me and my faith.

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Prepare for the End… (Pt. 1)

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church planting 10I never thought I would be one of “those” people: a “failed church planter.” I was certain that within 2 years we’d have this large church with an amazing, large staff doing tremendous things that make a huge difference in the city. Bigger! Better! Faster! Those idealistic dreams were almost an after-thought. I had built the church’s success in my mind before the church had actually come to fruition!

And if you’re honest, you know exactly what I’m talking about. We all go into church planting with these grand dreams and visions, with idealism oozing from our being, all the while stuffing realism into the trunk! This isn’t always a bad thing… in fact, it’s what makes us the crazy ones with a sort of entrepreneurial spirit that drives us to try, experiment, and start new things! This is one of the ingredients of a church planter: an unshakable desire to pioneer and start something new with Jesus at the center. (Alan Hirsch calls this the “Apostolic Genius”.)

All of this idealism we experience at the beginning doesn’t always come to fruition at the end. Inevitably, some of us will walk down a road we never thought possible staring at the difficult and gut wrenching decision to close the doors of the plant for good. I never thought that would be me… and some of you, right now think the exact same thing: “That will never be me.” (I want to take a sidestep for a moment and recommend a podcast called Start Up. It’s a great podcast about the ups and downs of starting a company, documentary style. The similarities between their experiences and the experience of a church planter are startling. Give it a listen!)

While my hope and prayer is that you would never have to join the fraternity/sorority of the “failed” church planter—honestly it feels too much like a secret society filled with shame, but that’s a different post for a different time—I do, however think there are some things one can do to prepare on the front side for what may become a reality. I believe this series of posts (Prepare for the end) are vitally important for the church planter. Too often I have seen church planters leave ministry after the closing of a church plant and I’m tired of seeing that happen. I want to help mitigate some of that by getting us thinking and preparing for that possibility. Over the next couple of posts I want share some of these ways. These posts aren’t comprehensive and so I want to invite you to add to them as well–especially if you’re a “failed” church planter like me.

Live with the fragile nature of the church.
As with any start-up (again check out the Start Up Podcast!), it doesn’t take a lot to see it all come crumbling down. We typically hear the stories of moral failure bringing down a church plant, and usually when a church shuts down we’ve been conditioned to think: “Oh, he must have been caught with hookers while snorting coke!” And yes, unfortunately these stories do happen–perhaps too frequently–but I’ve been surprised at just how little it can take to end the life of a church.

In my case it was burnout. Burnout led the dominoes to start falling. It led to how I treated my staff, how I treated my leaders, my volunteers, how I treated people within the congregation. My burnout led to me placing greater and greater expectations on everyone that they simply could not meet–and then I’d get angry at what I perceived as their lack of commitment. It was a vicious cycle that continued until I had dug a hole so deep, I couldn’t get out of by myself. Other stories of “failure” have been purely financial: the new church simply could not support itself independently. Others revolve around an inability for the new church to gain any traction with the vision and values. Regardless, there are a myriad of ways in which a new church does not make it. New churches are fragile.

It is important for you, as a church planter, to live with the understanding that the new church is fragile. This brings about a greater sense of perspective, a perspective of appreciation, a healthy temperance to taking ill advised risk, a greater appreciation for the work you are engaging in, and ultimately a perspective that helps you realize that this is Jesus’ church, not yours. Remember, this can all be gone in an instant. Own the fragility of the church.

(At the risk of sounding contradictory, I also want to say a new church is also rather resilient. One or two, even 10 missteps will not doom a church. You’d be amazed at what it can handle.)

Owning the fragility of the church is a way of preparing you for the end. This nugget helps to bring about a sense of perspective not only in the throws of planting, but on the other side of “failure” as well. This perspective helps to create space in your heart and mind so that you can get back up, heal, and continue in ministry in some capacity. It also gives you the head and heart space to effectively evaluate what went wrong on the other side. (In all honesty, that is the space from where all of these posts–10 of them now–have been borne.)

[In the next edition of “Prepare for the end” I want to talk about having a financial contingency plan.]

Three: A Dad Reflects On His Daughter’s Third Year of Life

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THREEI stood in her doorway to watch her sleep. She was bigger now and yet somehow just as tiny as the day we brought her home from the hospital. Her sweet and mischievous attitude painted all over her tiny little face, and her adventurous/daredevil-ish spirit marked up and down her legs from leaping off the furniture, rolling around and tumbling outside in the grass, and sprinting through the house with a carefree spirit squealing like a banshee. That’s my little girl: my silly, crazy, bright, joyous, wonderful little girl. I stood there silently in her doorway mourning the passing of her “two’s.”

That moment sunk in heavy…

That’s the strange thing about time, it passes along slowly, rhythmically, regularly, always rolling, always ticking, always moving, and yet the milestones that arise with the passing of time always sneak up on you. Time seems to lull us into a sense of security, a sense that nothing will ever change… and yet the reality is: with the passing of time, nothing will ever be the same.

I stood there in the doorway and smiled as tears welled up in my eyes. I love this little girl more and more every day. I love reading stories to her at night—which is more about her making up stories about the stories we’re reading than actually reading the stories right there in front of us. I love praying with her as we tuck her in—you get a beautiful glimpse into her sweet and tender heart, the love that she has for people and the astute awareness she possesses for what is actually going on beneath the surface of people’s lives. I love her carefree spirit and her fearlessness—unless it involves eating meat, she just won’t eat meat (“papa, I just don’t like it!”), and somehow that makes me feel like I’ve failed her as a father. I love who she is and I love who she is becoming; which inevitably involves change.

Oh change.

She is changing right before my very eyes and I don’t want to blink!

I love fatherhood. I love the ability, the opportunity, the responsibility you have to shape and mold a little person, but it’s also a delicate balancing act: molding her into who you want her to be versus who she really is. I am learning more and more about the delicate nature of these scales: to not impose who you want her to be or think she ought to be, but instead to help her steward the life she has been given, to help her see who it is that God has created her to be, to help her listen to the inner voice of love that permeates her being, and let her life speak. Because when it happens, when you actually let her life speak, you begin to see just how special a gift she is to the world. It’s a big responsibility as a parent to help your little one learn how to steward their life and at the same time it’s a huge honor. I love this honor, I love helping her steward her life, and I love helping her be the person she was created to be.

I stood there silently in her doorway as she slept. I mourned the passing of her “two’s” and I welcomed in a new chapter of change: my little girl is three-years old.

Currently » 07

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currently
Reading | That moment you finish all of the core courses in your PhD program and submit your candidacy paper for review is an amazing feeling, and at the same time it is the first time you don’t have any assigned reading! This means you get to look through the stack of books you’ve been holding onto and pick one… but oh man, that’s some pressure. You don’t want to blow it! So, I picked up Robert Capon’s book “The Mystery of Christ… & Why we don’t get it.” From the outset it’s a challenging book on grace that really pushes your ideas to the limit. I’ve loved it so far. You can also check out what I’ve been reading lately over on Goodreads if you’re curious.

Loving | A few weeks of free brain space! Since I submitted my candidacy paper for review (entitled: “The Negro and the Imago Christi: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Souls of Black Folk“) I have a few weeks of a break ahead of me, providing me the opportunity to rest a bit and enjoy a small intermission!

Looking Forward To | My daughter is turning three, and this coming weekend is her “My Little Pony, Purple Unicorn” birthday party. (I can’t believe she’s turning three already! Whoa.)

Challenged By | They say that if you’re not being challenged by something, you’re not really growing. In this season of life I have been challenged by a lot, slowing down to take notice and reflect on those challenges is where the growth begins… That’s what I’m being challenged with at the moment, slowing down long enough to take notice and reflect, to actually create intentional spaces of reflection. I journal infrequently, not because I don’t like it but because as a daily discipline it gets really dry for me. Perhaps an intentional weekly rhythm is more suited? We shall see.

Two: A Dad Reflects on His Daughter’s Second Year of Life

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Two Year Old
Two. Years. Old.

Seriously. My little Elliot Grace is two years old.

It seems like only yesterday that we brought her home from the hospital. Only yesterday that we wondered why on earth the nurses were okay with letting two completely inexperienced parents leave the hospital with a brand new baby girl. “All they made us do was sign a paper? That’s it?! What are they thinking?! Why, oh why didn’t we take those parenting classes?! Now what do we do? What’s next?” Only yesterday that our eyes were opened wide with fear to the realization that we were on our own now. The fear of newly minted parents had grabbed us with a force beyond recognition as we gingerly walked away from the safety of the hospital and into the waiting world of possibility.

My little girl is two years old and I can’t believe how much she has changed in the past year. She doesn’t walk and stumble along anymore, she runs. She doesn’t string together a few random words and sounds expecting us to understand exactly what she means, she weaves together stories. She can count to 20, she knows her ABC’s, loves the “Happy Meal Song”, can sing most of the Frozen soundtrack a capella from memory, and even has a couple of her books memorized so when we skip pages to expedite putting her to bed, she calls us out on it. It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating her first year of life, that I was reflecting on this newly minted state of fatherhood, and now we have a toddler.

We have a toddler who loves being around people, who continually asks to go outside so she can “go make friends”. We have a toddler with such an adventurous spirit that she always climbs up and conquers the biggest slide on the playground, always demands to be pushed “higher papa!” in the swing, and loves to ride the rides at the county fair. We have a toddler whose smile can light up a room and whose giggle is contagious. We have a toddler.

Becoming a first-time father in your 30’s, after 10 years of marriage, isn’t the easiest change one can go through. Rhythms are set, life has a routine about it, you have become comfortable and certain degrees of selfishness are easily overlooked. Elliot Grace has changed all of that for me. She has forced me to confront my selfishness, confront my unhealthy rhythms of life, confront my self. Elliot Grace has made me a better person. And that may sound strange to hear, but this I believe, is one of the great gifts she brings to the world.

This little girl is growing up, and with each passing day she captures a new part of my heart that I didn’t even know existed. I am blessed beyond belief to be her “papa” and I look forward to watching her grow into the little girl God made her to be.

Missing the Point 01: Discipleship

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discipleshipThis post has been republished by the Exponential Network
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Over the past couple of years discipleship has become all the rage within the Christian, pastoral realm. Everywhere you look pastors are talking about exciting new programs being released, books being published, conferences are being themed around discipleship as a new initiative that will enliven the body of Christ, and pastors are reintroducing the importance of discipleship through sermons and series. Have we really rediscovered the missing piece of the Great Commission? (“Therefore, go and make disciples…”) Are we finally beginning to understand that “evangelism” is really about making disciples?

Not to burst your bubble, but no.
At least not yet.

This emphasis around discipleship and disciple-making still has one fatal flaw: It is still about dispensing information as the means of transformation.

Over the years we have done a really good job of perfecting discipleship as a streamlined, packaged content system. We have retread old systems of discipleship into shiny new packages with slick new logos. But this slick delivery system still doesn’t speak to the whole of human existence. It focuses solely on the intellect, about dispensing information as a means of transformation. You see, we have continually bought into the Enlightenment principle that if you can change someone’s mind you can change someone’s life. Time and again this has proven to be a faulty principle that misses the point.

Is it any wonder we’re not seeing more radical transformation occurring in the lives of people?

Discipleship cannot discipleship unless the whole of the human self is involved, unless it takes into account the mind, the heart, the soul, and the body: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Now, I’m sure some would say, “Well this is an unfair argument. You’re simplifying what we do with discipleship.” And sure, there is an argument to be made there because there are all sorts of ways outside the Sunday expression that contribute to discipleship. But are they “creating” the types of disciples you expect? Are your programs focused in on changing people’s minds leading to a high success rate of transformation?

I’m going to guess “no” based upon nation-wide church statistics.

So what’s the answer?
In my experiences and through many conversations, the common consensus is no greater transformation of the disciple occurs than in those who return home from a short-term missions trip. Now, while it is completely impractical and perhaps not very beneficial to send hundreds of people each year from your congregation on short-term missions trips, it does say something about the total immersion into discipleship that occurs. It is an active engagement of the mind, the heart, the body, the soul. Sure, some of the transformation wears off once the person returns home and some time has elapsed, but is there not something important to take away from this experience?

The core of a short-term missions experience from a discipleship standpoint is that of the active-reflective environment in which the person is immersed. We have become really good at creating environments where one or the other are present–action without reflection or reflection without action. Active-reflective discipleship is the key to unlocking not only discipleship, but the true heart of missional discipleship: a discipleship that takes an active role in the Missio Dei (Mission of God).

Active-reflective discipleship resides outside the confines of what we already know about “how to do church”. It will require a great deal of imagination and creativity that will push us outside of our contexts and beyond the limits of our comfortability. However, it will create the types of disciples we long for, the types of disciples the church needs, and the types of disciples Jesus expected.

The question is how do we create these active-reflective environments?
It all depends on your context. Not your church context, but your city context. What are ways in which you can engage with your city, with the place you live, with your neighbors, co-workers, or strangers? Again, this requires creativity and imagination, not a retread of old systems packaged in shiny new boxes. I wonder, if you had a “Research and Development” wing in your church, what kinds of active-reflective discipleship environments would you experiment with creating?

What I Learned as a Church Planter: Be Yourself.

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Be Yourself

This post has been republished by the Exponential Network.
——

Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said,
“In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’
They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”
– Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim

Who do you think you are?
I mean that as a serious question: Who do you think you are?
At the very core of your being who is it that God has uniquely created you to be?

Each and every one of us has an identity, a unique being that rests deep within our core waiting to emerge. Too often however, instead of listening to the gift of our true identity we spend our lives trying on the identities of others. Like a pile of clothes in the fitting room we see the characteristics or mannerisms of others and we put them on. We become mere imitations rather than living into our true selves. Your True Self, according to Richard Rohr, is who you objectively are from the very beginning of your life. It is your substantial self, your absolute identity.

I spent a good portion of time as a church planter engaged in a hard battle with my identity. I listened intently to people who tried to mold me into who it was they wanted me to be, who they needed me to be, who they thought I was supposed to be. I imbibed the criticisms of others when it struck against my True Self. I recoiled from my True Self turning towards the encouragment I received when I fitted myself with a new False Identity. I rejected my passions and exchanged them for the passions of others. I rejected my interests and exchanged them for the interests of others. I rejected my voice and exchanged it for the muddled voice of others. I had become an enigma.

You see, you cannot be an authentic person when you continually try on the identities of others. Trying to live into someone else’s identity will inevitably fail. It will do great damage to your church and it will do great damage to your soul. As church planters, it is easy to see other pastors and church planters we admire and begin incorporating the best of them into our selves. We drink deeply from their identity and slip into theirs trying it on for size. But it doesn’t work. It never provides us the fulfillment or the acceptance we’re so desperately looking for. Why?

Because,
You are not Rob Bell.
You are not Jon Tyson.
You are not Erwin McManus.
You are not ______________.

You must be yourself. You must be the person that God has created you to be. You must be “Zusya”. Which means you have to drink deeply from the well of God, for our True Self comes from God.

You must be yourself because here’s the thing: We need you. We need the real you, the true, authentic you. We don’t need more imitations in the church. We need your unique giftings and personality, the combination of your passions and your interests, your true voice.

It is a process. It takes time to listen to your voice as it calls out from within your being.
But it is worth it.

Parker Palmer writes in his book Let Your Life Speak:
“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought [or think we ought] to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service to the world.”

Let us live more and more into the person God has created us to be.