The “Missional” Trap

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“Missional” seems to have become yet another buzz word used by gifted leaders to rally God’s people around their own callings and motivations.

It all sounds so good, but it becomes a trap when the Great Commission is reduced to one man’s vision and mission – especially if all the other gifts, callings and Kingdom imperatives in the New Testament then get pushed aside or made to play second fiddle.

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The Many Languages of God

diverse-groupGod is a polyglot: He speaks to different people different ways.

Some primarily hear Him through the language of their heart and feelings, some analytically through their mind, some through the dynamics of action, some through the identity of relationships, and some through the passion of mercy and justice – among other ways.

Problems often arise among His people, however, when we think that our primary language for hearing God is His only language, or is superior to other languages He uses with others.

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Pursuing Love and Spiritual Gifts

Tim Day, a fellow elder here in Virginia, is co-teaching a Biblical Foundations discipleship class with Sheri Warren and me on Sunday evenings.

That class pulls together folks from indigenous, participatory fellowships that are relating together in our county. Through it, the three of us – with help from other local elders – are helping to lay a foundation of sound doctrine in those churches through their emerging leaders.

Over the last few weeks we have focused on spiritual gifts, and the importance of everyone being able to encourage and minister to one another in our local fellowships as we each use the gifts God gives us for our mutual benefit.

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Glasses

In this journey of faith and fellowship, I keep coming across books and blogs by authors who decry this or that perspective in the Body of Christ, while then arguing that we must see things through the glasses of their own unique perspective – often under very enticing rhetoric.

diversity-clipartIn essence, their books and blogs express unrealistic aspirations – as they promote some theoretical concept of church and community that looks, thinks and acts just like them.

If truth be told, we’re all guilty – to some extent – of trying to do the same thing.

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I Confess: I Killed Ekklesia

Yup. It’s true. I killed ekklesia (the Greek word often translated in the New Testament to mean a local “church”). Now, several years later, it’s time to finally come clean and confess.

my_confessionAlthough we all love the “glory stories”, we also need to tell of our failures – because it’s our failures which often teach the most.

So here’s my sorry story of having killed a fellowship.

Maybe, by owning up to my failures, it will help others trying to form an organic fellowship, home group, simple church – or whatever you want to call an open, participatory gathering of believers ministering one to another in smaller, relational fellowships.

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The Delusion of Organic Intensity

Have you ever noticed how those who heavily promote organic food and natural health with the most enthusiasm and sincerity, sometimes look the most sickly and anemic and seem to have the most health problems?

They are reacting to real problems, but have turned their idealistic and seemingly good-sounding concepts into an all consuming idol – to the exclusion of real health which comes from a balanced life.

I’ve also see this among some who are the most ardent proponents of organic church. They’ve fallen prey to unbalanced reactions and aspirations which prevent authentic life and sustainable, healthy fellowships.

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Authentic Discipleship

A newly-wed couple in our fellowship invited Marianne and me to a Super Bowl party at their apartment last night.

True Discipleship!

True Discipleship!

Marianne couldn’t make it because she needed to finish her lesson plans for the week (she’s an elementary school teacher), so I went.

When I showed up, I was blessed to see some old friends – including guys I knew from the surrounding woods. That evening, we enjoyed lots of good food and good times as we hung out and watched the game together.

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Myopic Ekklesia

In Romans 12, Paul lists what Biblical scholars often call the seven “motivational gifts”.

Promoting Our Own Core Motivations

I like that description. After years of pastoral counseling with hundreds of people, I’ve come to deeply respect how God creates each of us with different core motivations. Furthermore, among Christians, those seven core motivational gifts often correspond to God’s unique calling for each believer.

When we tend to elevate our own gift, motivation and calling above all others, however, and think the Church and God’s people need to do the same, our “gift” becomes oppressive.

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Organic Worship

Lately, I’ve been contemplating what worship is, and looks like, when God’s people authentically gather together as His “ekklesia”.

In the Bible, “ekklesia” is the Greek word often translated “church”. But it means far more than what most “churches” have become.

For Christians, the New Testament concept of ekklesia involves God’s people actively forming community, including meeting together. As a community, and in our gatherings, we then participate – each and every one – in expressing the life of Christ in us, among us, and through us. These days, that ideal is often called “organic” church.

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Balance

The greatest challenge facing the Church today are those who promote truth out of balance:

  • Those who think the Person of Christ can be fractured from His concurrent propositional truths, moral precepts and commands;
     
  • Those who want the vibrancy of the internal Living Word, without submitting all things to the authority and discipline of His written external Word;
     
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The Power of God

We don’t go looking for or emphasize miracles, but in our fellowships we’ve been seeing the miraculous happen time and again.

We had one man collapse and then die right in front of the paramedics and the fellowship he had been helping to start in the jail – and then come back to life shortly thereafter on the gurney in the jail infirmary after brothers gathered together to pray for him.

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Barbeque for Jesus

This picture has great significance for me. It is from one of our fellowships – this one meets in my home on Sundays.

Yesterday, as we gathered together, we prayed and give prophetic words of encouragement over Oscar, a close friend who is moving forward with his road-side pit barbeque business by signing a contract to have a mobile food service trailer built for him (Oscar’s Barbeque). He has worked faithfully towards this moment – as unto the Lord – for two years.

I’ve watched and walked with Oscar as he’s progressed over time, step by step, in growing, proving and succeeding in his business model as part of God’s call on his life.

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Finding Ekklesia

Several weeks ago, I was asked how to find “ekklesia” (the Greek word in the New Testament often translated as “church”).

Many today are frustrated because they can’t seem to find authentic fellowship, or feel stuck in the “wilderness” after leaving the institutional church.

As I’ve thought about this, it’s been hard for me to know how to respond. The last thing anyone needs is another “program”, “method” or “three easy steps” to find something that God designed to be authentically birthed, and sustained, organically.

You see, God intends that life reproduce life. That principle is built into the very fabric of creation. Like all things that impart life, real ekklesia is organic, through and through.

And by “organic”, I mean simply this: The authentic and diverse life of Christ in me, which is then expressed among us and through us as we become the wonderful, dynamic, multi-gifted and participatory Body of Christ.

The key to finding this, I think, is found in those two words: authentic and diverse.

So here’s my response on how to find ekklesia, rooted in my own experience of finding, and then helping others find, real life and real fellowship – not as one who’s arrived, but simply as one who has been on the path maybe a little longer.

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Going and Owning – And Knowing the Difference

One of my strongest beliefs is that God calls us for a purpose – and gives us individual grace and gifts to match.

As Christ in us is expressed through us, we expand His Kingdom for the blessing of all – wherever He calls us.

Different Grace, Different Gifts, Different Callings

Where He bids us go, and what He bids us do, is different for each – and I have also learned that it often changes with the seasons of our lives.

For some, at this time in their life, it is to go and raise Godly families. For others, it is in the business realm as they create resources and opportunities. For some, it is going out to the fringes of their communities and ministering to those in need.

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Ekklesia: A Modest Manifesto

Ekklesia: A Modest Manifesto

Wherever he went, the Apostle Paul always sparked either revival or riot.

Does our age, and our culture, deserve any less?

Let’s boldly smash our boxes of insular spirituality and cultural lethargy by confidently proclaiming that Jesus is Lord of all.

Let’s reject narcissist Christianity by allowing Jesus in me to be more than about me – and my sensibilities.

Let’s stop foisting our own grace, gifts, callings and motivations on God’s people as normative for all.

Let’s embrace the diversity of His grace, gifts, callings and motivations in the context of true ekklesia – local authentic community where Jesus in us is expressed through us as His multifaceted and participatory Body.

Let’s stop saying everything is about my relationship with Jesus while discounting his Kingship – including His commands and His precepts.

Let’s stop saying I only do what I hear Jesus subjectively tell me, while denying the power and authority of what He also says in His written Word.

Let’s stop proclaiming “Christ is all” while minimizing all that Christ has given for knowing more of Him – including not only His presence in us, but also the plenary authority of Scripture to guide us in sound doctrine, balanced community that affirms objective standards, holy lives that please Him, engaging our culture, and wise counsel from mature believers who model His precepts.

Let’s reject gnostic tendencies that seek to separate the spiritual and the material world of our everyday existence by denying the authority and relevance of Christ – and His body – regarding all of creation.

Let’s stop discounting those who went before us, and their creeds and experiences, by humbly learning what they have to teach us despite the reality that we all have flaws.

Let’s affirm God’s continual sovereign advance through history and reject the spirit of our age and its myopic, isolationist pessimism.

Let’s be discerning about self-proclaimed apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers or other itinerant ministries – and their writings – when they are not themselves presently rooted in, accountable to, coming from, or even able to demonstrate a history of integration into actual, functional, local ekklesia.

Let’s reject the voices of those who try to separate the centrality of Christ from the Great Commission, mission and discipleship.

Let’s unleash God’s people to be fruitful at all stages of their growth, as Christ enables, and stop burdening them with the bondage of our preconceived preconditions of “root before fruit”.

Let’s start embracing balance and maturity – as together we become His disciples through functional, participatory ekklesia that reflects the life of Christ but is also rooted in the authority of His written Word.

Let’s be mighty men and women of God, who once again spark revival or riot as we proclaim the fulness of Christ as merciful Savior, gracious Lord, sovereign King and ultimate Judge to a desperate world.

As such, may we be life-transforming, culture-changing ekklesia once again – the visible Body of Christ which doesn’t merely say come, but goes forth into all the world.


I wrote and posted this on the morning of my birthday, when I officially became a “senior citizen”. It summarizes a lifetime of experience serving the King of Kings. May it be both a present and a challenge to my passion: the wonderful, multifaceted, participatory Body of Christ.

God in a Box

We all tend to put God in a box bounded by our own biases, giftings and sensibilities.

I do it. You do it. We all relate to Jesus within the confines of our own God-given (and sometimes not so God-given) attributes. And we all tend to think our own box defines, or should define, the totality of life, reality and even Jesus Himself.

Maturity, however, is recognizing and affirming Christ – often in others (including their warts and shortcomings) – outside our box.

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“Us” and “Them”

Exactly. This video captures my passion and expresses my life.

Jesus is not about “us” ministering to “them”, or “us” creating cocoons of shared sensibilities as though we are “Beyond” everyone else.

God help us – institutional and organic churches alike.

Hear me on this: God may not call all of us individually to this or to that, but He does call all His people to a big “us” – also known as His Church, the multifaceted Body of Christ.

And in His Church there is no “them” when it comes to His life being expressed in us, among us and through us.

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Beyond Evangelical? – A Follow Up

Two days after I posted my series “Beyond Evangelical?“, Milt Rodriguez  – who I took to task in my series – wrote a blog which helps close the gap, so to speak, that I was addressing.

I urge everyone to read Milt’s new blog. It really is very good, and is at http://miltrodriguez.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/10-myths-about-organic-church-part-9/.

But the gap still exists so long as he continues to have a very limited view of the “objective” aspect of his “holistic approach” (as he discusses in his blog).

Specifically, does he still discredit, as he’s done in other blogs, those who (to quote him directly) engage in “praying and working toward … bringing this nation back to God” because political and civic engagement “is just another distraction from the person of Christ Himself” (emphasis added)?

Helping the poor and needy – as Milt’s blog urges – is not just doing charity and personal ministry (it certainly can include that, and I’m active in those areas), but also can legitimately include dealing with systemic social and political issues. It also can include those who labor in economics, law, politics, media, the arts, education, and all other spheres of life – not as “distractions” from Jesus but as expressions of the love of Jesus which is alive in them.

I have no idea if God has called Milt to those larger arenas, but my plea is that he expand his vision to embrace those who are called – and rethink some of his very harsh prior rhetoric against other brothers and sisters whose holistic approach may be broader than his own.

As a fellow church planter, I think it is best that we avoid imposing our own gifts, callings and sensibilities (including our political likes and dislikes and maybe our natural tendency to discount those things that we don’t necessarily personally grasp) on God’s people as somehow normative. That is so limiting to those who have God-given abilities and motivations which may exceed or differ from our own.

As I state in my Beyond Evangelical? series, and it bears repeating: Jesus is subjective, personal and relational. But He is also objective, cultural and propositional. And true fellowship – organic, missional, or whatever – must permit folks to express all of Jesus, no matter what our gifts, our callings, or our sensibilities.

Again, though, I think Milt Rodriguez’s latest blog is excellent and I applaud him for it.

Beyond Evangelical? (Part 3)

Post-Modernity

The “You Can’t” Crowd

What I find most bizarre among emerging “Beyond Evangelical” authors is how vocal they are in telling Christians what we can’t do – we can’t be engaged in cultural or civic reform, we can’t go and disciple the nations, we can’t be engaged in politics, we can’t ever take a social position that offends, we can’t this, and we can’t that.

Sometimes, it gets so bad that you can only laugh.

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Understanding the Seven Motivational Gifts

This PowerPoint presentation looks at the seven gifts listed in Romans 12, and the motivations and ways that different people use those differing gifts. More significantly, what is the resulting fruit when your church allows those seven gifts to be fully expressed in its structure, ministries, leadership, meetings and day-to-day fellowship?

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A Tale of Two Ministries

In nature, there’s a word for a place with inflow but no outflow: It’s called a swamp. God’s people are not called to be dead, stagnant swamps, but to offer living water: Cool, fresh, flowing and life giving.

Unfortunately, too many church gatherings are about inflow and not outflow. Churches today are focused on meetings and programs where people receive ministry, rather than places where we can minister one to another — as Scripture commands — according to our differing gifts. Getting people out of the familiar, traditional swamp of going to church to receive ministry, rather than the Biblical mandate to be the church where everyone ministers, is very daunting!

This dichotomy is amply illustrated by two ministries I’m involved with in the local jail. One is a highly structured, thirteen week program that provides intense teaching and scripted study materials to about thirty men who live together in a low-security, faith-based dorm. In that program, some of the strongest pulpit ministries in the county come to teach and minister to the men. With two meetings each weekday, they receive the best preaching and teaching imaginable. It’s like “podium church” on steroids.

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