Discipleship. Community. Theology. Life.

Last night my small group was at my house until nearly 11 PM, and my co-leader didn't leave until 11:40.  We had wrapped up the group around 9:00, but as people sat around the circle chatting, two of the group members began to talk about a play they had seen over the weekend, "A Bright New Boise."  As they related the story, it paints a picture of Evangelical Christians as people who disengage from the world because they're really only concerned about getting to Heaven.

This began a conversation about how well (or not) this stereotype represents the American Church, role of faith and works, the Church's response to homosexuality, the need to serve the poor, the tendency for a purely social gospel to replace the Gospel, the need to love others, whether ongoing sin will cause someone who believes in Jesus to go to hell, the problems with faith as our parents practiced it, the blind spots of our generation of Christians, and the perception of the Church by those who are not a part of it.

As I sat there listening and participating, there was a moment when I remembered and rediscovered why I do what I do, why I lead small groups, why I help others organize and lead small groups.  I help create environments where conversations like this can happen.  I help create environments where people can wrestle with their faith, where they can figure out what it means to live out their faith, where they can disagree and still walk away as friends.

It was a rich conversation.  It was the sort of conversation that is worth its weight in gold.  The feeling is much the same feeling as giving your all on the soccer field or the basketball court with a team of friends.  It was challenging, draining, and invigorating all at the same time.

It was discipleship.  It was community.  It was theology.

It was life-giving.

The challenge now is to make sure it translates into life-change.

Photo by ElvertBarnes

What are you about?

It's a simple question really, although one that might be difficult to answer:  What are you about?  What defines you?  What is unique about you?  What makes you who you are?

Jamie asked this question of herself on her blog, which got me thinking about what I'm about.

I'm about Jesus, and I'm about helping others follow him.

I'm about my wife.

I'm about the Church and more specifically my church.

I'm about community.

I'm about cities. I live in DC, and my last three trips have been to Seattle, New York City, and Addis Ababa.

I'm about food. I especially love Chicago pizza, hot dogs and beef sandwiches, and if you grill meat I'll like it.

I'm about leadership, learning to lead myself and others well.

I'm about too much TV.

I'm about receiving grace and trying to get better at giving it.

I'm about reading and writing.

I'm about social media.

I'm about driving.

I'm about generosity.

I'm about being stressed and agitated but trying to change that.

I'm about my friends.

I'm about Sabbath.

I'm about poker.

I'm about competition and winning.

I'm about thinking and challenging and stretching my mind (and yours).

I'm about serving the vulnerable, because that's what Jesus is about.

I'm about integrity.

I'm trying to be about joy and intentionality.

I'm about theology.

I'm becoming about artistic expression and travel.

I used to be about politics.

I'm about exercise (sometimes).

What are you about?  Leave a comment below or better yet, write your own post and link back to mine.  I'll be sure to swing by your blog and check it out.

Photo by Flickr User gfpeck

Dave Auda – RightNow 2010 – Radical Community Breakout

Dave Auda is the Pastor of Developers at Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, CA.

This is straight out of our small group leader training bootcamp.

I’ve been a part of this community of faith for 33 years.  Basically, I  grew up in this community.  Mosaic is a place that God did amazing healing and restoration through group life and provided an amazing opportunity for me to turn that blessing around and become a blessing to other people.

I’m going to be talking dominantly about group life and evangelism and how to ignite an apostolic ethos in our community and even among the seekers that are coming.

For the last couple of days of the conference I’ve been talking and texting with a new believer friend of mine who has come from a difficult background.  Even as I get to hang out here with some amazing brothers and sisters, Art asked me to tell you that he is praying for you.

At Mosaic, small groups exist to live out the great commandment and carry out the great commission. As we live out the great commandment in community and carry out the great commission in community, we actually create communities of transformed lives. That’s how you are currently believers in and followers of Jesus Christ because people did this. And now you have the privilege of doing the same for others.

That’s the role of each of us as individual followers of life and in the context of our small groups, ministry teams, and the Church universal.

One of the things I want to push and lean against is this creeping either/or ministry philosophy: Either we are going to focus on living out the great commandment or we’re going to take on the more militant side of seeking and saving the lost.  I don’t know why that dichotomy is there, that we need to either live out the great commandment or be all about carrying out the great commission, because really the great commission is all about leading people to knowing who Jesus is and then teaching them everything he commanded them.  That sounds pretty holistic to me.  Living out the great commandment, loving God with everything and loving neighbor as self is pretty holistic as well.  I don’t know how we can make this either/or distinction.

I think our individual lives, small groups, ministry teams, faith communities have to be a both/and paradigm, not an either/or paradigm.  If we settle for either/or, we settle for so much less than Jesus calls us to.

Luke 9 – Did you know that Jesus’ primary ministry strategy was being a small group leader?  He was a speaker, etc., but the dominant amount of his time & energy was spent investing into a small group.

Jesus sends out the 12 in Luke 9.  They come back with this amazing report.  Then he chooses 72 and sends them on ahead to the towns and villages ahead of him.  And they do the same thing as the 12, they come back with this amazing report.  At the end of Jesus’ ministry on the mount of Ascension, Jesus is speaking to over 500 disciples and makes the great commission statement and then leaves.

We kinda understand the model of how Jesus pulled together the 12, but how from chapter 9 to chapter 10 did he develop 72 others.  I’d propose that at least in part, maybe in large part, the 72 were based on the obedience of the 12.  And where did the 500 come from?  I’d say at least in part because of the 72 obeying him in radical ways.

That’s the story of the Church.  Jesus empowered his disciples in the context of community to transform the world.  That’s what we’re a part of.  It’s a both/and, evangelism and discipleship.  They’re one and the same.  We’re called to make disciples.

So how do we do that?

We have this 20:20 vision that Paul talks about in Acts 20:20.  He never backs off from teaching the Gospel publicly or privately.  Jesus talks about creating the Church to be a growing community.  Acts 2:42-47 describes the believers as amazed and growing in favor with all the people and that God was adding to their number daily those who were being saved.  They were carrying out the great commission and living out the great commandment in their lives.

Jesus gathers together communities of believers to serve one another and reach other people.  It’s pretty straightforward.

God empowers those communities through the presence of the Holy Spirit

How many people in this room have been following Jesus for one year or less?  How may people would you say are in your life who aren’t following Jesus? Both Answers: 50%

How many people in this room have been following Jesus for 20 years or more?  For those of us who aren’t in full-time ministry or the super-volunteer, any of you willing to answer that same question? Answer: They’re not in my inner circle any more.  I have to purposefully find them.

I’m not trying to leverage a point here.  I’m definitely not trying to humiliate anyone.  I’m just trying to illustrate that living out the great commandment and carrying out the great commission, we default to an either/or lifestyle just because of the way life works, even though in our head we still believe in both, but when we look at our lives and relationships, it doesn’t really reflect that.  After about 1.5-2 years of following Jesus, you’ve eradicated intimate relationships in your life of people who don’t know Jesus, unless they’re related to you.  And have we even cut them out?  They’re part of our family, but we don’t want to feel awkward.  It’s just the way that it happens.

I’m not going to spend the rest of our workshop talking about a developmental model.  Most of our churches are good at this.  We know how to grow in Christ-likeness.  I want us to go back to this problem here.

In order for us to be a radical community of faith, it’s a both/and philosophy, and those of us who have been Christians for a long time have to change something in a radical way.

We’re going to focus on this second part because that’s what we need to change.  It’s not more important, but it’s where we need to grow.

Oikos – house or household – Your sphere of influence consisting of friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. Defined relationships in your life that have reciprocity.  Friends choose to be friends with each other.  Family is the sovereignty of God.  If you have issues with them, take it up with God.  Co-workers and neighbors.

I grew up without a father, and the men my mother had around tended to abuse me until I got to an age where I could put a stop to it.  God has placed you strategically and gifted you specifically, even if you come from a messed up relational reality. The body of Christ becomes an amazing family and healing community that people need so desperately.

Who is in your oikos that doesn’t know Jesus.  Figure out who that is and share that list with one or two followers of Christ who are close friends of yours and ask those people to pray with you that God would give you specific ways to influence them.  And you know what will happen when you share your list?  Your friend will probably come up with a list of their own.

Xenos – Stranger, foreigner, or alien – So what responsibilities do we have to them?  This is your expanding sphere of influence created through unplanned encounters and personal initiative with strangers.

We’re among strangers all the time.  How do we become salt and light to them?  How do we even recognize those people?

I was a UPS driver for 19 years. Every day I would park in an alley and had to unload the truck in an alley every day. There was a guy named Ron who worked at a gas station near there. He would come talk at me every day as I loaded up the hand truck. One day he hands me a white envelope and says, "I hope you can come." It was a beautiful wedding invitation. I didn’t even know the guy was dating anyone. He asked me if I could come. I told him I’d check my schedule. He asked me every day for three weeks. It turns out I have a leadership development training I have to teach that day and can’t make it. I look at him to say I can’t make it, but the words, "Of course I’ll be there" come out. I wanted to pull them back. He didn’t say another word, he almost danced back to the gas station. On the day of the wedding I realized I didn’t buy a wedding gift, so I grab my video camera and everything and figure I’ll video the beginning of the ceremony. I get there and ask the coordinator which side is for the groom. The bride’s side fills up. No one is on the groom’s side. I’m planning to leave right after the wedding, but he asks me if I’m coming to the reception. Of course, the words come out, "Of course I’ll come." At the reception, he thanks his best friend for coming. It was me. I felt like a germ on a flea on a tick on a… All of these people looked at me. Afterwards he came up to me and thanked me. He said that he sent over 100 invitations to my family and co-workers, and you were the only one who showed up. You have no idea how important you could be in somebody’s life. Shame on me. You have no idea who God has divinely appointed you to touch.

Unplanned encounters, strategic intersections is how you develop your oikos and xenos.

Developing Meaningful Relationships

Leadership Lesson #18: It’s hard to let people into your life and develop meaningful relationships.

I have dozens of friends and hundreds of acquaintances, but I still don’t think I’m as close to anyone I’ve met in DC as I was my college buddies.  We lived near each other.  We challenged each other.  They’re the guys who developed my concern for the poor.  They were my brothers in life, and now some of them are my brothers in ministry.

I’ve certainly made a lot of friends in DC, some I would even call very good friends, but I’ve never quite replicated those college relationships. I’m five years in and just now feeling like I’m even getting close.  I think this is because it’s hard to live life with people day in and day out. It’s easy enough to open up about problems, feelings, etc., but it’s difficult to replicate is the amount of time I spent with the guys who lived on my floor in Fisher Hall, especially now that I’m married.

One of those guys actually moved to DC about a year ago.  It’s great to have him here, but schedules make it difficult for us to connect as often as I’d like.  Working full time really puts a damper on hanging out time.

In spite of this, I’m not giving up.  Deep, significant relationships are essential for any Christ follower, even more so for those of us who are pastors/leaders. God provided Adam with Eve.  He gave Timothy to Paul.  Elijah had Elisha.  We need people who care for us, challenge us, shape us, and stretch us. We need community.

Developing Relationships

Undoubtedly my most important relationship (other than my relationship with Christ) is my relationship with my wife, Rachel. One of my goals for our relationship is that I would work on my temper. This is something that I have had a problem with in the past but had seemingly dealt with. It seems to have come back in the past few weeks, and so my goal for our relationship in the beginning of 2009 is that I would crucify this. I don’t want to just suppress my temper; I want to avoid letting things bother me in the first place.

Other people with whom I want to continue to foster deeper relationships this year include Dan Kyser, Jeff Johnson, Darren Cogan, and Tony K.

Who are you building relationships with this year?

Online Community, A Case Study: WithoutWax.tv

A few weeks ago I came across a blog called Without Wax. While Without Wax is written by a pastor, Pete Wilson of of Cross Point Church in Tennessee, I think that all Internet marketers, social media gurus, etc. could learn a lesson from Pete.

The thing that’s so amazing about Without Wax are its comments. It’s updated an average of once per day and has 585 subscribers in Google Reader (GR).

By contrast FireDogLake, a liberal political blog with 1,449 GR subscribers (2.5x as many) and a significantly higher Alexa ranking, receives roughly the same number of comments as Without Wax.

Here’s another comparison point. Matt Cutts’ personal blog has 14,887 GR subscribers and has an Alexa ranking between FireDogLake and Without Wax. He posts 2.8 times per week and actually gets fewer comments than Pete does. While the following information isn’t super-helpful for comparison purposes because we don’t have it for any other blogs listed here, I can tell you that during 2007, Matt had 2.27 million visits and 31,373 RSS subscribers.

We can also look at another blog in the same genre as Pete’s. Evotional is written by Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church (where I attend/work). Mark has 1,114 GR subscribers, posts at a similar rate as Pete does (10x per week), and has a similar Alexa ranking. He receives far fewer comments than Pete.

What’s my point? Well, Pete Wilson, author of Without Wax, has the highest level of community engagement that I’ve ever seen on a blog. Sure, some blogs get more comments, but they’re huge. The mighty TechCrunch with its nearly 1 million RSS subscribers and 3 million daily visits doesn’t get that many more comments. The number of comments on Pete’s blog simply blows me away.

While I’m not sure exactly why Pete gets so many comments, here’s my thought. He writes relatively short posts, not Mark Batterson short but still short, and at the end of many of them he asks readers a question that they can answer in the comments. This question is written in red to make it stand out.

Maybe we can get Pete to drop by and give us some more insight. You can always ask him on Twitter. UPDATE: Pete said he’d drop by and comment later, so no need to bug him on Twitter, although feel free to follow him!

Do you have any insight into this?

Group Life 2008 – John Burke – Why Community is Essential

Main Session 1

Description: Water and oxygen we understand, but why is community so essential to the human heart? In a brand-new talk, John Burke digs into the theological underpinnings of group life to help you rediscover your passion for planting, cultivating, and nurturing community.

Speaker Bio: John Burke serves as lead pastor at Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas, a congregation dedicated to helping unchurched people become a unified community of growing Christ-followers, no matter what their background or past. He is also the president of Emerging Leadership Initiative (ELI), a non-profit organization founded to help establish a multiplying network of missional churches that envision, equip, and empower young emerging leaders to plant innovative churches. Before starting Gateway, John was the executive director of ministries at Willow Creek Community Church. He and Kathy are the parents of two children, Ashley and Justin.

Notes:

I’ve led small groups for 20 years now, and sometimes you feel like you’re leading a circus. Sometimes you feel like you’re not powerful, prepared, smart enough. You throw your hands in the air and ask God how He got you into this, and then God shows up and does something amazing.

What are we supposed to be? Bible study leaders, gurus, missions directors, the church’s answer to speed dating? What are we trying to do, and what is God trying to do among us. Is this community thing just a side salad or the central thing God is trying to do among us?

What is the center line off which we need to be building community? What is essential, what is central for us as small group leaders according to the Architect Himself.

One time Jesus was meeting with His small group of about 15. Martha was serving, doing a good thing, and she was upset at Mary because Mary wasn’t “helping,” so she goes to Jesus. Jesus’ answer (Luke 10), only one thing is necessary: listening. The way we love God is listening to Him. This is the central line off of which we build everything else.

My father died of cancer when he was very young. He was financially successful, but he said he would give it all back if he could have his health and family. His last words stuck, last words stick. They are important.

What were Jesus’ last words, “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15). What was important to Jesus, relationship.

We love God by listening to, responding to, and obeying His Spirit. Jesus knows that we are bad at listening, so on his way to Gethsemane, he said you’re like this branch, all a branch has to do is stay connected to the vine in order to bear fruit (John 15:5). If you can do nothing apart from Jesus, then staying connected to Him must be central.

We can spend our whole lives “do gooding” like Martha, but not be connected to Jesus. This must be the center line off which we build community to Jesus. Stay connected, listening and responding to God’s Spirit. We’ve made Christianity too complicated and complex. It’s simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. All of the other things are good things, but if they don’t help them stay connected, then we’re accomplishing nothing. That’s when it gets frustratingly impossible; that’s when you burn out.

If you stay connected, fruit happens.

That’s the only thing we must do personally, and it’s what we must strategize to help others do it as well.

This is so freeing for you as a leader because you don’t feel the pressure to fix or change people. That’s not your job or mine. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

No matter what the brokenness, struggle, or addiction, if you do this, you will see God do things in your life and the lives others that you could never imagine.

You have to teach people to stay connected, because this does not come naturally to us. Romans 7:15 – I do what I hate and not the good I want to do. Romans 8: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is the whole point of grace, it was not given just to one day get us into Heaven, but to get Heaven down into us. Grace makes this moment by moment connection to God’s Spirit possible. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

When sailing, you have to keep adjusting your sails to stay in the groove of the wind. This is what Paul is saying we must do. This is only thing you have to do, but it is the hardest thing to remember to do.

Do you, in fact, live your life this way? Do you stay in this constant conversation with your Heavenly Father? As you lead others, as you prepare to lead others, as anger is welling up with you in a conflict with a spouse or coworker?

How do we do this? How do we re-train ourselves?

The more we stay connected, the more we live the abundant life promised us.

How do we get people to do this? I felt the Spirit moving me to try a 60 day experiment with our groups. We got everyone a watch that beeps every 60 minutes. The idea being that every hour you would stop and remember that the Lord was with you.

The first time we did this we had 2000 people do it, and the people who committed to it had dramatic results.

Of course, it wasn’t always easy. I got an e-mail from a guy two days in saying that I am never where I want to be when this thing goes off.

There were even amazing results from people who were seekers. God’s promises will prove true even to those who don’t believe.

We put together a website where people could read what God is doing in people’s lives: soulrevolution.net

All of our Bible study, prayer, sharing, caring, and serving must be built around this central thing, staying connected to God’s Spirit. God will then build an unbelievable community among us. What you are doing as a leader is cetnral to what God is building. I believe community is the central thing God is trying to build among us.

We get so caught up in evolution/creation debates that we miss what Genesis 1 and 2 is about. Genesis 2 “It is not good for the man to be alone.” He wasn’t just talking about marriage, Jesus was single. People were created to live together in community, not disconnected from God and others.

How many Christ followers to have this “lone ranger” mentality? I’ve got God, and I don’t need anyone else.

Why is this so important to God? “Let us create man in our image.” Right here we see this mystery, a community within the oneness of God. (Ed. Note: While I certainly believe in the Trinity, there are other possible explanations for this passage.) God is this perfect community of living and serving the other, and this is what God wants us to do as well.

Image bearers were created initially to be one with God, others, and creation. Then why is it so difficult? Genesis 3: Sin enters the world. It separates us from God, from the very source of life and light. The first impact of this separation from God is alienation of self. Our identity gets darkened. Genesis 3: They made coverings for themselves and hid from the LORD God. They begin to feel shame and condemnation?

It’s like children, first they try to hide, but their faces show it all. Then, they try to blame others. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent.

First we feel alienated, so we wear masks, and then we blame others and take it out on them.

Now you understand why it is so difficult and challenging to lead human beings?

The only thing that make it easier is when you realize it’s not up to you. God is doing the building.

As you read the story of Scripture from Genesis on and you read the story of Israel you realize something is wrong. Sometimes they get it right, but most of the time not. Deep within the fabric of this story is that Israel will not get the job done until it gets done for them, until the Messiah comes and brings oneness. Without God’s help we just keep dividing and destroying because that is what we learn from an early age.

Tony Campolo said there really is a place called purgatory between earth and heaven where we are made to go to pay for everything we do wrong: It’s called junior high.

I was lucky to be part of a group of friends in junior high. One of the things I was most ashamed of is the way that we treated a boy named Griff who became one of our friends. Griff couldn’t control his bowels, and at first we befriended him, but as the rumors spread and the mocking increased and began to be pointed toward us, one of our friends ridiculed him and told him we didn’t want him. I felt this pain in my gut that said don’t let this happen, but I was afraid of the way I would be treated.

Jesus takes all of the shame and pain on himself to restore us to the Father. That’s the whole story of God.

That’s why Jesus prayed this during his last day on Earth, that the church would be one so that the world would believe that Jesus was sent from God.

Galatians 3:28 – There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

God heals our brokenness and brings us toward oneness in Christ.

One willing life at a time, and then one willing community at a time, one neighborhood, and one community.

My friend Kim who had ridiculed Griff went and made amends with him later in life and it made a huge change in Griff’s life.

Spiritual growth is relational. It’s all about loving God and loving others. You can’t say “I follow Christ” and remain isolated from community.

As you lead your community to help people build off this center line, He begins to lead us all to find wholeness and healing from this self-consumed, self-destroying living. We begin to find community where we can know and be known, love and be loved, serve and be served.

During our June baptism I saw this picture. Bob (not real name) is a 65 year-old man who I baptized along with his brother a few years ago. Bob hated his next-door neighbor who was a mean, abusive drunk. One day Bob was out doing the yard and felt a prompting in his spirit to take a meal to take it to his neighbor who he hates. That changed everything in their relationship. His neighbor’s wife got baptized. In June, Bob baptized his neighbor.

What God is building through you is essential.