Saturday, December 30, 2006

Coaching: A Discovery Process

Coaching focuses on promoting discovery. A good coach will not tell you what to do, but instead will ask you the right questions to help you discover what you need to do. As Christians we have the added benefit of the Holy Spirit indwelling us to guide us into truth. A skilled coach will help you find untapped potential within yourself. A good coach thinks about you and your needs. He focuses entirely on you.

Jane Creswell (a coaching expert) says "The best image for coaching is a vehicle. The word coach derives from an old British word meaning 'horse-drawn carriage.'" She encourages us to think of the coaching process as a journey, "one in which you are caught up in the process as you move toward a specific, targeted destination." The goal of the coach is to help you find direction and enjoy the ride, while maximizing all the resources at your disposal. The skilled coach helps you be the best you can be.

I said it before, every church planter needs a coach. In fact, I believe that every pastor needs a coach. Do you have one? If not, get one!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Are You Sure You Want to Plant a Church?

Several months back a friend of mine said that half of the church planters he works with in his state quit within 18-24 months of starting their new church. I can only imagine a hundred reasons for this phenomena; one of which is a lack of clarity about one's own calling to church planting - the kind of clarity required to sustain you through the hard times.

People plant churches for a lot of different reasons - some very good, and some probably not so good. The truth is that church planting is HARD WORK and on top of that there will always be spiritual resistance from the evil one. Just before Christmas I was talking with a local church planter who spoke about losing over half of his core team before the church was a year old. (This is not uncommon - again for many reasons.) When the going gets tough, the faint of heart quickly begin to re-assess the risks and commitments required to plant a new church!

Almost every church planter I know experiences some measure of this kind of questioning, including myself. One of the key scriptures that has helped me is found in Psalm 73. Here's what God says to us:

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (73:22-26)

Meditate on these words and let them encourage your heart!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Savior into this world. I am aware that many of my friends are suffering grief or pain as we enter this holiday weekend. Our family has the incredible blessing of getting to be together. We pray for our dear friends and we trust that God will bring peace, comfort, and grace in this time. I am deeply grateful for a wonderful year of coaching many men and women. I am grateful for our NCI staff and many new church plants that we had the privilege of serving. I am grateful for my family and our material and physical blessings. I am most grateful for the opportunity to know many of you who read this and to serve together in God's Kingdom work. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

You Need a Coach

Every church planter needs a coach. However, not just anyone is an effective coach. Granted, some people are good coaches intuitively, and they may not even know that about themselves. However, my experience has been that most pastors are not really very good coaches - although they could be with intentionality. But if it is not a person's passion to coach and help others through coaching, then they are not going to be a very good coach!

When my children were small I use to coach their sports teams - one coach with a dozen kids. However, when they grew older their teams required more coaches than just myself. In fact, when an athlete competes on an olympic level, there may be 4 or 5 coaches for one athlete. Professional golfers all have a coach to help them continue to improve their game. If you want to be the best you can be, you need a coach! If you want to be a good steward of the talents and opportunities God has given you, you need an intentional coach!

One of the things our staff team is intentional about is becoming increasingly highly effective coaches. Do you have a coach? You need one - we can help you! Is God calling you to be a coach? We can help you. I have a couple of coaches myself, do you?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Celebrate Small Wins

Having worked in business and church I can say with conviction that in the church we generally do not know how to measure success.

It’s easy in business, you must make a profit or you will not stay in business. You can celebrate small wins because you know they are the things that move you toward making a profit. However, in ministry “profit” is not the goal. In fact, many churches continue to generate income through tithes and offerings while never accomplishing much toward their mission. This is partly due to the fact that we are not clear on our mission!

In his excellent book 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, Andy Stanley states “It is possible for a church to become very efficient at doing ministry ineffectively.” This is because we do not have a clear picture of the end. We must work with the end in mind, or as Andy says it, we must clarify the win!

Yogi Berra once said “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” That characterizes many (if not most) churches in North America. When we don’t know where we’re going, we never know what or when to celebrate! We don’t know what the “small wins” are if and when they come. Without celebration, people lose vision, hope, and motivation.

In a church plant, we must have a plan of action! That plan must move us toward a clear vision and it must identify small wins along the way. These should be the focus of our intercessors (please tell me you have an intercession team), and they should be markers for celebration. I encourage planters to maintain a 90 Day Plan and to update it monthly. At least monthly you and your team should celebrate the small wins!

Sunday, November 19, 2006


On January 19-20 we are sponsoring an unprecedented event here in Houston. It is called "Accelerate." See for details.

Why is this unprecedented? We are pulling together the major denominational leaders in the area to lock arms to serve the city through church planting. I am deeply appreciative to co-sponsors such as Tom Billings (Union Baptist Association), Bishop Janice Huie (United Methodist Church Conference), Mike Cole (General Presbyter of the Presbytery of New Covenant), Jim Herrington (Mission Houston), and many others who are working together to make this event happen! Ed Stetzer will be our key note speaker and there will be over 20 different workshops (including a Spanish language track).

We will not only be joining all of the major denominations around church planting, we will also be joining all racial/ethnic groups and all church models (brick & mortar churches, cell churches, house churches, etc.) Our vision: unity for the transformation of our city through church multiplication!

Everyone is invited to experience this historic event that I hope will be replicated in cities all across America!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Tell Your Story!

Every church planter needs to write and communicate his/her story!

People are drawn to passion and they are moved by stories. Every church planter has a story and they should be communicating that story with passion. To get focused and clear on it, you MUST write it down!

What is your story? Your story should answer the questions:
• Why are you planting a church instead of doing something else?
• Why are you planting in the location that you’re planting?
• What has led you to this place?
• What do you hope for/dream of?

Your story should define your calling. It should express your passion. It should articulate your dream. You must understand that stories touch the hearts of people. When you touch the heart, people will join with you to make this new church a reality.

To succeed as a church planter, your new church must have at its foundation a story that drives and directs it day by day. And that story begins with God’s story and your story! A compelling story will answer the “Why?” questions and cause others to want to become a part of that story.

Have you written your story? You should be able to do this in one page. Have you communicated your story? You should be writing letters, articles, blogs, etc. every week. Have you engaged others with your story? You should have 10 face to face appointments every week sharing your story with someone new!

You are not ready to plant a church until you have written and begun articulating your story!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Confusing God

Our God is both terrifying and tender, compex and simple. He is holy yet accepting, just but merciful, majestic and personal. His a God of wrath and a God of compassion. He is a God who stretches us way out of our comfort zones and the God who provides for every need. He is the God who puts us in the middle of the fray, yet who is our refuge and deliverer.

As church planters we are walking hand in hand with Him. He typically will not let us forget that. We must never fear. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging (Ps 46:1-3).

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Ride: Hal's Reflections on the Past 10 Years

I asked my friend Hal Haller from Daytona, FL to share some thoughts on my blog. Hal is now in his third church plant, so here are his reflections on his last 10 years of planting:

Jubilation. Disappointment.
Victory. Defeat.
Energy. Exhaustion.
Spiritual Transformation. Spiritual Casualties.
Faith. Hopelessness.
Provision. Poverty.
Delight. Disappointment.
Freedom. Pressure.
Hopeful. Helpless.
Success. Failure.
Possibilities. Dead Ends.

I have experienced all of these emotions and experiences and more. I have ridden the rollercoaster of highs and lows in church planting. What’s been wild for me to think lately is that I’m glad I’m on the rollercoaster. The ride is a confirmation that I am following God and an affirmation that he is with me on this life jolting adventure.

The Apostle Paul, church planter extraordinaire, experienced severe hardships and disappointments. Shipwrecked, jailed, beaten, broke and abandoned. Yet Paul also experienced great joy – people’s lives changed and churches multiplied.

I know the Lord takes us through the highs and lows to remind us that we must be completely dependant on Him. Don’t lose sight of what God has called you to do. Be at peace that God is taking you for an unpredictable ride. It will be scary, difficult and yet exhilarating all at the same time. As a close friend always says to me, ‘Enjoy the Ride’.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

God's Working On the Problem

I’m currently coaching about 20 church planters. I love these people – they are my heroes! Their’s is a challenging task. Like me, they often struggle with anxiety – Is anyone going to show up at our meeting? Will we have the money we need to pay bills, to pay me? Will my leaders hang with me? Am I really making a difference? Are we going to make it?

As I read Psalm 44 this morning I realized that God is always faithful, but sometimes He takes us through difficult or uncertain times. This is our call to seek Him more intensely and to trust Him more deeply, and to listen to Him more carefully. We must guard our hearts and minds so that we do not become pessimistic or defeated. We must guard against negative or limiting beliefs.

If we believe Romans 8:28 we will know that there is no problem in our life or ministry that God is not aware of and that He is not using for His purposes. I love Isaiah 64:4, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him.” Amazing, God is at work for us in every problem we encounter. As church planters, we must remember this. We must seek Him earnestly. We must maintain hope and confidence in Him. God's working on the problem!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Will I Ever Escape Anxiety?

God has always - without exception - been faithful to me! He has been faithful through all generations. I know this and have experienced this. I have no experiential reason to doubt this. Yet I still feel anxiety almost daily. WHY?

I read the Psalms daily and everyday God comforts and reassures me. Again, He is so faithful. So why do I keep feeling this way? Why can't I trust Him? Why can't I abide in Him? Why can't I rest in Him?

Honestly, I love living on the edge to some degree. I love taking calculated risks. That's part of why I love church planting. Sometimes I think I torture myself. I guess I have a love-hate relationship with myself. Church planters are my heros! They are missional entrepreneurs. They are risk takers. The one thing I know is that God is faithful and He continues to be faithful. Maybe my human condition is simply to keep me on my knees.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Coaching Moment

Today was one of those highlights in coaching church planters. One of my planters has been struggling to gather a following and achieve a critical mass to begin his new church. Today he shared with me that the past month has been a time of soul-searching. Some major breakthroughs have been occurring in his heart and mind.

For example, he realized that passionate prayer had been absent from his last several months of work. He realized that he had not seen any significant spiritual breakthroughs or answers to prayer. Over the past two weeks he has devoted himself to intensive prayer, seeking God’s direction and provision. He reported to me today that he has just experienced two very significant “God-things”. He has clearly seen God at work in his efforts. More importantly, he shared with me how God has been changing him!

That’s significant, because God is more concerned with what happens in US than what happens in our church. Why? Because little will change in our church (or our church planting efforts) unless something significant changes in us. My dear brother is now beginning to experience God in powerful ways.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Future Church Planter

Well, I just can't help myself. I'm a proud grandfather. If you didn't meet her a couple of blogs back, this is my granddaughter Sydnie. She's an easy baby and full of life. Very curious about everything. Maybe one day she'll be a church planter! Who knows.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

My Personal Mission in Life

I feel like God has called me to love Him with passion & devotion, to love & shepherd my family, and to advance His Kingdom on earth through personal disciple-making and church planting. I believe that God is calling individuals into relationship with Himself and onto mission with Him. This calling is both individual and collective.

I believe the church was the NT strategy, the vehicle for the continuing mission of Jesus. Definition: The church is a community of Christ-followers who are continuing the mission of Jesus. However, new churches may not fit our institutional mental models of church.

The church is a lighthouse in a dark world. The church is an outpost or beachhead for the Kingdom in the midst of a cultural struggle. God's Kingdom is not a political or governmental or military kingdom. Instead it is a grassroots movement of the love and grace of Jesus Christ, fueled by the Holy Spirit, transforming its followers, their faith community, and the world.

However, the world/culture is always going to decay and deteriorate faster than transformation will come. But where sin abounds, grace does much more. As the culture deteriorates we will see greater and greater expressions of God's transforming grace.

We must be faithful to be the "salt" and "light" of the world even though we see more darkness, knowing that one day Jesus will return, sin will be ultimately defeated, and He will create a new heaven and new earth - He will make all things right. (Remember the power and promise of the resurrection!)

My responsibility is not to turn the world into a utopia - that will never happen. My responsibility is to faithfully express His love and grace in a darkening world, to be a faithful messenger of the good news of the Kingdom among people whose lives are being ravished by this increasing darkness, and (with other Christ-followers) be an agent of hope and transformation in a dark place. Every church we plant must become this kind of outpost for the Kingdom by making transforming, missional disciples.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Meet Sydnie Rae!

This is Sydnie, our first grandchild. She is now 10 months old and she occupies much of our attention. As I think about planting churches, I want to see more churches that will be relevant to my kids and grandchildren. Western society is moving further away from Christ. We desperately need more churches to reach the emerging generations.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Missional Church and Mass Marketing

Church marketing is a debated topic. I have to confess that some of the church marketing I've seen has not been helpful in sharing the gospel with some of the skeptics that I talk to. In fact, they either ignore it, make fun of it, or are antagonistic toward it. My question is, can marketing be an effective tool of a missional church?

Eddie Gibbs in his book Church Next talks about how we need to make a shift from being market-driven to mission oriented. Does that mean we should not use marketing as a tool if we are missional? I think Eddie raises a good point stating "Our post-Christian, neopagan, pluralistic North American context presents crosscultural missionary challenges every bit as daunting as those we would face on any other continent."

He suggests that there are some faulty assumptions inherent in the marketing mentality of the North American church. He goes on to say "Most pastors and church leaders have no missiological training. Consequently they resort to marketing strategies in place of missionary insights in their attempts to reach out to a population that is becoming increasingly distanced from the church.

Eddie doesn't totally dismiss marketing; however, he suggests that most of our church marketing is rooted in a weak ecclesiology. He continues saying "marketing insights and tools will prove increasingly inadequate as North America moves still further into its postmodern, post-Christian and neopagan phase." What do you think?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Gospel: United in His Resurrection

The gospel is about being united with Christ in His resurrection - but what does that mean? For me, in the past it has meant that I will experience life after death, I will see my loved ones in Christ, and I probably have power available to me that goes beyond any human power. But in the book Stormfront, the authors said "The resurrection is all about whether God can be trusted, even though God's faithfulness and justice may not always appear in this life, and God's sovereignty may seem utterly absent."

The resurrection of Jesus is our ground for hope and confidence. The resurrection affirms that God is faithful to all His covenant promises. It affirms that there will be justice in the end because He has power over death - it demonstrates His sovereignty.

In light of this, we as a community of faith must be faithful to one another and to our Lord. We should not fear death nor be anxious about its reality. We can also stand with confidence in the face of opposing powers, whether they be human or spiritual. To me, to be united with Him in His resurrection is to live with confidence, peace, and hope.

I should be celebrating Easter everyday! Whenever I'm down emotionally, I live as if the resurrection never happened. To be united with Him inHis resurrection is to live with a confidence and security that transcends normal humanity. I think I'm just beginning to understand the gospel.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

An Invitation Into Communion - "Fellowship of His Suffering"

The gospel is an invitation to participate in God's kingdom activity, but it is more. It is also an invitation into communion with Him (Ph. 3:10). Specifically, it is an invitation to unite with Jesus in His way of life - particularly His death and resurrection. This has always been a hard concept for me to grasp. Participation in God's kingdom activity is much more than joining a religious organization. We are invited to unite with Him in His death; but what does that mean?

Jesus' experience of death was probably the most humiliating and torturous means of death known to man. The methodology of the cross was offensive and repulsive, yet it speaks powerfully of radical love and radical trust. It is the example of sacrifice that Jesus calls us to - "take up your cross and follow me."

When I reflect on passages like this I feel uncomfortable. What do I have to give up? What will I lose? In my humanness I will never get beyond these hang-ups. However, this is where the promise and help of the Holy Spirit become reality in my life. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms me and forms Jesus in me. I would have no hope of this kind of identification or communion apart from the Holy Spirit. It is so not-human!

When I sacrifice things that I humanly desire (and could have) for the sake of others, I am participating in His death. And no matter how great my sacrifice might be, it will never be greater than His! I want my life to be increasingly characterized by this "fellowship of His suffering" (Ph. 3:10).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

What's the Gospel About?

If you've been reading my blogs you know I believe that Western culture has skewed our view of the gospel. As Western Christians we tend to place ourselves at the center of the world and then try to make God and church fit around us. We tend to do the same thing with the gospel. Thus the gospel has degenerated to something that is about me, about meeting my needs.

I'm realizing in a new way that the gospel is not about me, but about God! The gospel is about God's presence and power breaking into the world of sinful humanity in a new and dynamic way. Jesus speaks about the gospel in terms of the kingdom of God or the reign of God. The other New Testament writers speak about the gospel in terms of what God has done in Jesus! The gospel is not a commodity to meet our needs. Instead it is an invitation to participate in God's gracious action in the world. Of course we benefit as humans from the gospel but it is not about us. It is about God, His power, and His presence in the world.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Gospel of Meeting My Needs

I'm wrestling with the question "What is the gospel?" I realize that I have been shaped dramatically by my Western culture. We have been deeply embedded in the thinking of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. In our prosperous land I'm not sure we know the difference between a "need" and a normal (but mostly inconsequential) human desire. For many Westerners, everything becomes a "need."

Maslow is quoted as saying "Life acquires its energy and dynamism from our relentless attempts to meet these needs." In other words, whatever we define as our "need" becomes the thing that we live for. Meeting our needs becomes the central purpose of life. Thus the gospel for many (if not most) Westerners is the "good news that Jesus will meet your needs."

Now it is biblically true that Jesus meets needs (Phil. 4:19). Our God is "Jehovah Jirah," the God who provides (Gen. 22:14). However, I believe that the problem is that in our intensely marketed, consumeristic culture, we do not know how to define "need." It seems like whatever we desire, it becomes a "need" and God must provide it!

The result is self-absorbtion and narcissism. Salvation and spiritual growth becomes all about meeting my needs - e.g. serving me. I am the center of my world. Could it be that the gospel is much more about the redemption of the world (including creation) than about me and my needs? I'm still wrestling with "What is the REAL good news?"

Friday, June 23, 2006

What is the Good News of the Gospel?

The gospel is good news. But what is the good news in North American culture? Is it different in African culture? Latin culture? Asian culture? What is the good news in an oppressed country like Sudan? How about a communist country like Vietnam or China? How about the impoverished regions of India?

In the West we quickly think like consumers - e.g. how will this improve my quality of life? We see ourselves as consumers whose sole purpose in life is to satify our "needs." This cultural mindset permeates the church in such deep and unconscious ways that we are oftentimes unable to distinguish and accurately reflect the gospel.

In our culture (Western) the gospel becomes all about serving me, helping me, and making my life better (e.g. meeting my needs.) When many churches talk about "meeting needs" what they are really talking about is "satisfying the customer." Is that what the gospel is about and for? James V. Brownson in his book Stormfront says "It is almost impossible for most people in North America even to imagine any other way of living."

This runs so deep in us that we have difficulty seeing that this contradicts biblical faith. The gospel is not "good news that Jesus will make you happy, healthy, wealthy, and without need." The gospel is not "good news that you can be self-actualized and independently satisfied." I want to think much more deeply about this. I plan to blog about this in the coming weeks. What do you think about my observation?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Faithful and Compelling Performance of the Gospel

I just finished reading an interesting book in which the authors state that there should be (as they describe it) “a faithful and compelling performance of the gospel.” I immediately reacted thinking “What is that?”

This phrase struck me because I have never thought in those terms (e.g. a “performance” of the gospel.) The authors were quick to point out that their usage of this term is not in the sense of entertainment. Nevertheless, it was both engaging and almost sacrilege for me to think of a “performance” of the gospel.

As I reflected on this, Romans 1:16 quickly came to mind, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” The gospel does perform, and it should perform powerfully! But how is this power manifest? Would that be the gospel’s performance? What does it look like for us to live the gospel? What does a faithful and compelling performance of the gospel look like? Does anyone know?

Maybe if we could answer these questions we might also be able to state what the “good news” really is. What is the gospel? What do you think?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The World Is Flat

One of the most intriguing books I've read lately is Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat. Friedman (who also did an excellent job with his previous book The Lexus and the Olive Tree) powerfully illustrates the reality of globalization. He identifies 10 "flatteners" that have connected us to the entire world, as well as important implications of this reality.

His first flattener is 11/9/89. That was one of the most significant dates of my lifetime - it was the day the Berlin wall was first breached which led to the fall of the Iron Curtain. That was the beginning of globalization.

Friedman points out that some thought that Ronald Reagan brought down the wall by bankrupting the Soviet Union through an arms race; others thought IBM, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates brought down the wall by empowering individuals with information. But a world away, in Muslim lands, many thought Osama bin Laden and his comrades brought down the Soviet Empire by their victory against the Russians in Afghanistan. Everyone was empowered by this - the good and the bad!

It was strange to me at times to experience the freedom I felt on my recent trip to Russia, with memories of the cold war in the back of my mind. For many, 11/9 marked the end of the 20th century, while 9/11 marked the beginning of the 21st century. The world is now flat, almost seamless! It will never be the same again, though I sometimes miss Mayberry!

The missional church must have a global vision! We must not just plant churches for a local community, but we must plant churches to reach the world. These are more exciting days and more dangerous days. There is great opportunity before us but it requires courage! Globalization is a reality that is here to stay. We must be global pastors, global church planters, and global disciples! I highly recommend Friedman's book to help us gain that perspective.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Reflections on Training in Russia

What a wonderful experience it was to be with the Russian people last week. I worked with over 70 pastors and church planting leaders in 2 days of intensive training. I then preached in one of the Russian churches.

One of the pastors in the training commented that he had been talking to his associate about aggressively planting churches. However, as he and his associate talked to others they said he was crazy. He told me "This training is confirming what I believe God has been telling me to do, even though others have been telling me I'm crazy. It also gives me some tools to obey God and move in this direction."

The pastor who hosted our training event told us that this was confirmation to him that God wanted his church to plant 100 churches. Many other comments like these affirmed that we were doing what God wanted us to do.

We now have our training material "The Essentials for Starting a Missional Church" de-Westernized and translated into Russian. Before we left, there were 3 new invitations to come back and offer this training to Russian leaders. God's church is alive and well all over the world. What a blessing and priviledge to fellowship with and serve His Body from other parts of the world!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Missional Church Planting in Eastern Europe

This coming week I will be in Nizhny Novgorod (Russia) leading a national church planting conference. I’ve been researching the situation in these former Communist cities and my heart breaks for the people. There appears to be great need and great spiritual hunger. There appears to be significant leadership needs in the churches. There is great oppression from the Orthodox Church toward all evangelicals and most of the evangelical churches are struggling greatly. There is enormous social need.

One of the most striking things to me is that it appears (in my pre-trip research) that the evangelical churches are trying to be more “Western” than relevant in their culture. It reminds me of Sherwood Lingenfelter’s book Transforming Culture. Lingenfelter made this observation:

A few years ago some missionary colleagues and I attended a Sunday morning worship service in a large evangelical church in Cameroon’s capital city of Yaounde. The African pastors led us in a familiar service, selecting songs from a standard evangelical hymnbook and preaching an inspiring, doctrinally sound message, given in English and translated into French. We missionaries, a few white faces in a sea of black believers, enjoyed the service thoroughly.

As I walked away praising God, it suddenly occurred to me that this service was almost identical to those I had experienced in North America. Momentarily stunned, I wondered why I should feel as comfortable in Africa as if I were at home.

Lingenfelter goes on to raise some important questions. He says, Why is it that in the process of establishing churches in non-Western nations we transfer our culture of the church? Are missionaries planting biblically founded indigenous churches, or are they transferring their culture of Christianity to every nation of the world?

He concludes, It is difficult to find in the two-thirds world a truly indigenous church. Most churches reflect more the culture of the missionaries who planted them than they do the culture of the new believers. Missionaries have succeeded in bringing a biblically informed worldview, but one that is thoroughly contaminated by their culture. Is it possible to bring a truly transforming gospel, or are we always limited to reproducing our own cultural reflection of Christianity wherever we carry the message?

As I prepare to train these Russian pastors I’m asking the question, “What does a missional church look like in their context?” It certainly should be grounded in Scripture but how can I present the Word without my Western spin? Is that even possible?

This week I was at the GlocalNet Conference and one of my friends said that when he started working around the world and studying other cultures he began to discover and underline different portions of the Bible. He said that he realized that reading the Scriptures through Western lenses caused certain passages and teachings to stand out to him more than others. However, when he began to read the Word in other cultures, with lenses influenced by other cultures, different passages and teachings began to stand out. He concluded that we need believers from “all nations” and all cultures to help us truly comprehend the full counsel of God. We need the whole Body of Christ to inform our hermeneutic.

My conclusion is this. Missional churches must be global – they must be engaging the world as much for their benefit as others. Missional churches must be indigenous and contextual, but in order to do this we must increasingly realize how our immediate culture contaminates our understanding of the gospel. Only then will we be faithful to the gospel and culturally relevant too!

Finally, missional churches should have a noticeable transformational presence in society. There appears to be a resurgence of interest in communist socialism in some sectors of Eastern Europe because the influx of Western culture and Christianity is not necessarily making the world a better place for these struggling people. What would it look like for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done among these people?

Global, contextual, and transformational, by being faithful to the gospel. That’s my understanding of a missional church. What do you think?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Any Models Out There?

The questions from last week's post are very good! Are there any missional disciple-making models? Are there any historical models?

I think the closest thing I've seen is the "T-Life" model that Bob Roberts talks about in his book Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World. Most disciple-making models focus on "knowledge" instead of transformation. What I like about the "T-Life" model is that it is about a "culture" of transformation. It mobilizes people immediately into action. Most Western models sit people in classrooms or small groups for a season before they are "equipped" to do anything. Bob disagrees with that. He thinks people can be mobilized immediately. I agree. In fact, I think they can start being mobilized before they even cross the line of salvation.

Bob's is an action-based model. It reminds me of the old book by Douglas Hyde Dedication and Leadership. I think a vision for kingdom transformation and action-based disciple-making is key to making missional disciples. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Making Missional Disciples

"The missional church is a community where all members are learning what it means to be disciples of Jesus." (Guder)

I have come to the conviction that we will not have a missional church unless we are intentional about making missional disciples. A missional church is one where its members are serious about following Jesus. Dallas Willard has said that our churches are full of converts who do not intend to become disciples. This is not a missional church.

In our training we ask the question "How will we measure success?" The institutional church measures success with the 3 "B's": bodies, budgets, and buildings. The missional church measures success by how well we are making and sending real disciples! The missional church does not measure success by its capacity to retain, but by its capacity to release. Are we developing mature disciples who can be released to impact their world in real ways?

Most evangelical churches take the Bible somewhat seriously. But not all Bible study is missional! In fact, it is possible to be biblically centered, to expect and to experience biblical preaching, and not to be a church that acknowledges, much less practices, its missional calling. (Guder) Discipling in the North American church is rarely focused on mission.

For most Western Christians the church is a "free-time activity." It exists to serve its members, so members come and go as they "have need." Even when we attend Bible studies, we usually approach them with a self-gratifying agenda. The missional formation of a congregation is directly related to the value they place on the Bible AND the way in which the Bible shapes the community of faith.

How do we read and hear the Bible? Our engagement with it is always defined by the questions we bring to it. For most Western Christians the question we bring is "What can I get out of this?"

Where missional development is happening, different kinds of questions are brought to the Bible. Congregations are open to being challenged, to looking hard at their deeply ingrained attitudes and expectations. The missional disciple asks "How does God's Word call, shape, transform, and send me/us?" Missional formation results as we allow the Bible to transform and send us! That's how we must measure success. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Missional Church: A New Mental Model

“Missional Church” is truly the buzz today. I hear more and more people talking about the “missional church.” However, it is clear to me that not everyone means the same thing. This makes me think about the power of mental models.

All of us have our own mental models of church. Peter Senge defines a mental model like this: “Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. Very often, we are not consciously aware of our mental models or the effects they have on our behavior.”

Many of the people I hear talking about “missional church” still have an old mental model of something that I would not really consider missional. It is often more like an old “church growth” mental model.

One of our colleagues, Robert Westheimer, defines missional as “a state of being sent or called into action, e.g. ‘on mission.’” I like that! However, just being on mission to grow your church is not what I believe a missional church to be. As I’ve mentioned before, a missional church is one where every member is a missionary, following God’s calling into the world, whether it be your workplace, a neglected area of the city, a global focus, or all of the above.

What does a new mental model of “missional church” look like? Do I really have a new mental model of “missional church?” Do you? Are we aware enough of our mental models that we can see where they are and are not missional? What do you think?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Mission of NCI: Missional Churches

As we continue to sharpen our focus at NCI around this idea of missional churches, I would welcome your feedback and thoughts on the following -

NCI exists to produce Missional Churches! We believe that by producing truly missional churches we can mobilize the church to transform the world!

NCI is a not-for-profit, 501 (c) 3 organization that partners with individuals, churches, denominations, and missional organizations that want to multiply and mobilize churches. We look for strategic, ministry partners who we can come alongside in order to help them accelerate the development and multiplication of missional churches.

NCI’s core focus is consulting, training, and coaching for missional church multiplication and missional church development. NCI is a hands-on, “grassroots” ministry that provides missiological insight and guidance for a wide range of church models in a wide range of cultural contexts.

NCI is a team of coaches, missiologists, and practitioners who seek to develop church planting and missional church leaders who are capable of multiplying and mobilizing the church. NCI is an aggressive learning organization, making us a thought leader who can provide new understanding, new processes, and improved results.

NCI seeks to establish reproducing churches and church multiplication centers that are contextually appropriate. We hope to leave behind a church planting movement everywhere we serve. We hope to see the church mobilized in new ways to transform the world.

NCI adds value to the Body of Christ by:
1. Developing pastors, business professionals, and university students to be missional leaders who will start and/or lead missional faith communities – we do this primarily through training and coaching.
2. Consulting with churches and missional organizations to enable them to start more and better churches.
3. Consulting with churches to help them become missional churches that reproduce missional disciples and new missional churches.
4. Research and learning is central at NCI – we serve the Body through training and sharing our new learning.
Our core contribution (business) is consulting, coaching, and training others to start and develop missional churches (both conventional congregations as well as alternative expressions of church).

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
Psalm 67:1-2

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Missional Church: Outposts of the Kingdom

If we believe that the kingdom of God is “advancing forcefully” (Mt 11:12), and that we have the invitation, the privilege to take hold of it and be a part of what God is doing to transform individuals and communities (see last blog), then we will have a much clearer understanding of what a missional church really is!

Jesus’ message about the Kingdom was a message about transformation. Dallas Willard calls this “the revolution of Jesus” (Renovation of the Heart, p.14). He says that Jesus set in motion a “perpetual world revolution” that is still in process and will continue until God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

It seems that Jesus was not trying to establish a governmental, political, or even an institutional power base. Instead, he created the church to be His missional vehicle to announce and represent the kingdom of God on earth. Through the church His plan was to establish beachheads of His person, word, and power in the midst of a failing and futile humanity. The church was to bring the presence of the kingdom and its King into every corner of human life simply by a community of believers fully engaged as heirs of this kingdom. This type of church is transformational.

Willard sums it up this way. “Churches are not the kingdom of God, but are primary and inevitable expressions, outposts, and instrumentalities of the presence of the kingdom among us. They are “societies” of Jesus, springing up in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the furthest points on earth (Acts 1:8), as the reality of Christ is brought to bear on ordinary human life.” (p. 16).

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Kingdom Is Advancing Forcefully!

Erin raised a good question in the last blog when she said “Do you think the kingdom in any way depends on our obedience?”

My immediate response was “yes” and “no.” Yes in the sense that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Mt. 6:33). Yes in the sense that the kingdom of God is “within you” (Lk. 17:21) and we determine whether the “King” rules us or we rule ourselves. Yes in the sense that we can chose to be a part of God’s kingdom purposes and thus be agents of the kingdom on earth; yet “no” in the sense that we cannot stop the purposes of God on earth.

Matthew 11:12 (NIV) tells us “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” Now the meaning of this verse has been somewhat debated. I have studied the arguments and I am most in agreement with William Hendriksen on this one!

The argument is around the phrase “forcefully advancing.” It can be interpreted as either the passive voice (where the subject receives the action), or the middle voice (where the subject is usually active.) The first interpretation would suggest that the kingdom of God is suffering from violent men (which does not seem consistent with the rest of scripture or the immediate context.) The second interpretation would suggest that the kingdom of God is being seized eagerly and that forceful men (e.g. men of courage, fortitude, determination) are embracing it. I think the second interpretation makes more sense and is more contextually appropriate.

Hendriksen says that ever since the days of John the Baptist the kingdom, “has been pressing forward vigorously, forcefully. It is doing so now, as is clear from the fact that sick are being healed, lepers cleansed, the dead raised, sinners converted to everlasting life, all this now as never before. Still, by no means everybody is entering. Many, very many, even now are refusing and resisting. But vigorous or forceful men, people who dare to break away from faulty human tradition and to return to the Word in all its purity, no matter what be the cost to themselves, such individuals are eagerly taking possession of the kingdom; that is, in their hearts and lives that kingship or reign of God and of Christ is being established.” (New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. 1973).

So the bottomline is that we do not “stroll” into the kingdom of God! We must be strong and courageous, resisting the forces of darkness in order to take possession of the kingdom. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we submit and take hold! So to answer Erin’s question, yes, it does to some degree depend on our obedience. However, God will always have a people who will submit to His rule and take hold – so no, our disobedience will never thwart God’s larger kingdom plan. What do you think?

Monday, February 27, 2006

An Actionary View of the Kingdom

In my faith tradition we did not talk much about the Kingdom of God. When the topic came up it was usually in passing as we discussed eschatology (the doctrine of the end times.) For most of my Christian life the Kingdom of God was purely a theological concept that had little or no bearing on my life today.

A few years ago I decided to read the book of Acts in my devotional time. As a trainer of church planters I thought this would be a good book to gain a fresh perspective on. Little did I know how much the first chapter would change everything for me!

As I began to read Acts 1 the question that stood out in my mind was “How did Jesus train the first church planters?” I immediately began to think about all the things I train folks in (e.g. calling, mission, vision, values, strategy, evangelism, etc.) But what did Jesus talk about? What did He think was important?

As I reflected on Acts 1 I quickly realized that the Scriptures did not record Jesus talking about anything that I talk about! All it said was (v.3), “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the Kingdom of God.” Here is how Jesus trained the first church planters! He spent the forty days prior to His ascension talking to them about the Kingdom of God! That’s all the Bible indicates is important! It dawned on me immediately that (at that time) I never talked about the Kingdom of God! I was obviously missing something very significant!

That led me to go back and survey the gospels to study more carefully the teachings of Jesus. What I soon discovered was that only twice in the gospels is it recorded that Jesus used the word “church.” However, He talked about the Kingdom of God constantly! It was as if He was obsessed with this topic! Look at it yourself!

Frequently we see verses like Luke 4:43 where he says, “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” His longest discourse (the Sermon on the Mount) is all about Kingdom living. Most of the parables are Kingdom parables. Jesus was a one-sermon preacher. It was always about the Kingdom of God.

The passage that tipped me over the edge was the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6. Jesus instructed us to pray like this, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (6:9-10). Could Jesus be suggesting that the Kingdom of God becoming manifest on earth was central to the mission of the church? What was Jesus trying to teach us in Acts 1:3? Could it be that the church will only be what He desires it to be if we understand His view of the Kingdom? And could it be that the Kingdom of God is not just a theological concept about end times, but a practical, actionable reality today?

That’s exactly what I’ve come to believe! Our mission as a church is to become apprentices of Jesus who continue His ministry of proclaiming and revealing His Kingdom on earth! That’s what Jesus did – that’s what we’re to do! We must have a practical, here and now theology of the Kingdom of God. We will never have a missional church without a proper understanding of the Kingdom of God!

Let me conclude with this. I do believe that there is a future reality to the Kingdom of God (see Rev. 11:15). But it is becoming increasingly clear to me that while the Kingdom of God has always existed, Jesus introduced a new manifestation of His Kingdom (Lk 17:20-21). I believe that Jesus expects His church to be an agent or instrument of the Kingdom that overcomes the power of sin, culture, and evil. The Kingdom of God will never be consummated on earth until Jesus returns. But in the meantime His church should be a spiritual force present today transforming individuals, communities, and the world. Only with that understanding will the church truly be missional! (For more on this see

What do you think?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Missional Church and the Kingdom of God

When I was 10 years old I attended a series of “revival services” with a neighbor. The evangelist preached on hell several nights in a row. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and I responded to the altar call. That night I accepted Christ as my savior, mainly because he scared the hell out of me! I was baptized and then asked the deacon who led me in the sinner’s prayer “What’s next?” “Nothing,” he replied. “It’s all over now.” That was the gospel of conversion.

A few years later my church disintegrated in its spiritual immaturity and I dropped out for a while. In retrospect, I believe I was truly born again at age 10. When I was a junior in high school a friend started taking me to Bible studies and church with him. I experienced a spiritual renewal. There I received the gospel of Christian education (you might say the gospel of discipleship, but it was really much more about knowledge than behavioral or heart change.)

A few years ago I was studying the gospels and it struck me that when Jesus talked about the gospel (the “good news”) He always talked about the “gospel of the kingdom.” He seemed to shy away from our modern gospel of conversion and our gospel of Christian education. He constantly talked about the gospel of the kingdom. In fact, He seemed obsessed by this message of the kingdom. It was all He proclaimed!

I have come to understand that the gospel of the kingdom is the gospel of transformation! (I am deeply indebted to George Ladd’s The Gospel of the Kingdom and Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy to guide me in my understanding.) The gospel that Jesus preached was about transformation. He expected people’s live to be changed and he expected His disciples to be agents of change in their world in such a way that God’s kingdom would come and His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10.)

What does this have to do with the missional church? Everything! The church is to be God’s representative and agent of the kingdom! We represent his rule and reign on earth, and we are His instruments (agents) to proclaim His rule and reign on earth! Darrell Guder in Missional Church says that the church is to be:
The Community of the Kingdom,
The Servants of the Kingdom, and
The Messengers of the Kingdom!

A missional church has an actionary view of the kingdom! Missional churches see themselves as agents of the Kingdom, and they see the Kingdom as a practical reality that is breaking into the world all around us (cf. Matthew 11:12). We will never have missional churches unless we have this understanding of the Kingdom of God! Ours is the gospel of transformation!

We are Kingdom mobilizers and multipliers! Missional churches mobilize their community of faith into action both locally and globally to change the world! Missional churches also multiply communities of faith everywhere they see people who are unreached by the gospel! Bottomline: missional churches must have an actionary view of the Kingdom! What do you think?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Does Anybody Really Know What A Missional Church Is?

I was talking with Dian Kidd from UBA (one of our church planting leaders in Houston) yesterday, and mentioned that our team/ministry was very intentional about planting “missional” churches. I told her that this was a “distinctive” of NCI. She raised a very good question with me – she stated that almost everybody today considers their model to be “missional” (i.e. Willow models, Saddleback models, Acts 29 models, GlocalNet, Organic models, denominational models, etc.) She was right! So the question is “What do we believe a missional church really is?” I’m convinced that not every model that claims to be “missional” is.

I’ve recently begun consulting relationships with a couple of new church plants and the leadership teams all claimed to be “missional.” As I asked them questions to understand their visions and their mental models of church, I realized very quickly that they were much more “consumer-driven” than missional. In fact, I’m coming to believe that North American “consumerism” is the biggest barrier to churches being missional. To plant or lead a missional church you have to begin with a core principle that I first learned from Fenton Moorhead, and that is “the church does not exist for itself!” Charles Van Engen in an excellent book entitle God’s Missionary People explains this in more detail. I commonly see American Christians nodding their heads in ascent, but then without realizing it, immediate start asking the “what’s in it for me/us” questions.

In its essence, the church is a community of faith! It’s not a building, a place, an event, a program, or just an organization. It is a community! Having just returned from Southeast Asia I’m reminded again (from the church in the east) that Western Christians don’t do “community” very well. That’s not a slam, just a reality that we must work with. If you don’t do “community” well, you will not do “church” well! The best analogy for community is family, and the family has been weakening in the U.S. for several decades. Thus, we are loosing our grip not only on family, but also community. Now here’s my main point: as a community of faith we do not exist to consume ourselves, we exist to be on mission in the world as a community! In my mind this is a huge issue, a critical paradigm that most Western Christians do not get (even though we say we do!) Why do I say that? Because it shows in how we start and lead our churches! It shows in how we allocate our resources! It shows in how we measure success!

Jesus did not end His ministry with His crucifixion, resurrection, or ascension. His plan was (and still is) to continue His ministry through this vehicle the Bible calls “the church.” The church exists to continue doing the work that Jesus did. It does not exist to provide programs for our children, great music for our worship times, meaningful Bible studies or a myriad of other programs and activities (although those things are not bad!) Ultimately the church exists to proclaim and represent the good news of the Kingdom! That was Jesus’ ministry! That’s basically all He did! He proclaimed the Kingdom, He taught about the Kingdom, and He demonstrated the power of the Kingdom to change lives and society. To have a Biblical view of church, we must understand the ministry of Jesus and the centrality of the Kingdom of God. That’s what we will discuss in the days ahead.

But for now, let me conclude my ranting with this. On a continuum of 1 to 10, 1 being a consumer and 10 being a missionary, where are you? Where are the people you lead? Are we feeding consumerism or are we calling out missionaries? Are we planting churches to just attract consumers, or to produce disciples who do the work of Jesus collectively (as a community)?

The past couple of weeks I hung out with Steve Chin, a Chinese pastor from Taiwan. When I used the term “missional church” he looked at me rather odd. He said, “I would never use that term. To our people it’s like saying educational teacher.” (See his post on my last blog.) Because of their understanding of the church, the term “missional church” doesn’t make sense! Of course the church is missional! This terminology will only make sense in Western societies and societies that have been deeply influenced by Western consumerism. So lets be aware of that as we use the terminology.

What do you think?