In a world that thrives on conflict, offense and outrage, a few people are still fighting for peace, trust and faith.This was the case in Rabat, Morocco October 24-26, 2017. The American Peace Caravan—Faith, Trust and the Common Good brought together leaders from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions to not only talk about peace but to work on peace.
Twenty cities were represented in Morocco by their religious leaders who spent the three days working on exercises and experiences designed to cultivate relationships. These relationships will be multiplied back in the United States as each city convenes ten more leaders of each faith tradition to foster conversations, understanding and common good. Meals will be shared. Congregations will come together. Friendships will be built. All for the cause of peace.
On August 27, Hurricane Harvey descended upon Houston, dumping 51 inches of rain in three days. Widespread flooding resulted, and the city was thrown into rescue, relief, and recovery efforts. Somewhat surprisingly, our church (Houston Northwest—HNW.org) received local and national attention for some of our efforts in the immediate aftermath. HNW members were featured on a number of media outlets wearing royal blue t-shirts emblazoned with #WeLoveHOU, serving their neighbors in a number of communities across the city, I was interviewed by some local and national media, and our church experienced an increase in recognition.
Afterwards, as we assessed, we attempted to derive some principles for city engagement that might help others who want to love their city in Jesus’ name. If you’re looking for ways to serve your city, you might enjoy the lessons we learned from a hurricane.
1. Make Serving Central To Your Church Identity
When Hurricane Harvey struck, we began serving immediately because we had already established that serving was part of our DNA. The Kingdom of God is our starting point, and we believe the Kingdom calls all believers to serve their neighbors. We wanted to “wash the feet” of our city, and we did so by going into flooded neighborhoods and ripping out sheetrock, carpet, and removing debris. This wasn’t something we had to debate, but this was the identity we had established over years of continual serving.
In fact, HNW has a slogan we use regarding our love of the city that we turned into a hashtag: #WeLoveHOU. We put it on shirts and stickers, and we live it out. When Harvey hit, we already had the shirts and stickers, because it was already who we were. If you want to capitalize when opportunities arise in your city, you must establish the identity of serving in little ways long before the big opportunity presents itself.
2. Relationships Matter
For years now, our church has been intentionally building relationships with other Kingdom-minded pastors and churches in the area. When Harvey hit, it was a disaster far too large for my congregation to tackle alone. While we certainly did work hard at HNW to provide as many relief services as we could, our true strength came in the relationships we had cultivated over time with other churches, because we could accomplish much more together than alone. As we started sharing resources, people, and ideas, the city was able receive relief much more quickly.
3. Play the Long Game
You may have noticed in the previous two points that we did those things “for years.” Kingdom-minded serving and relationship building is not an initiative or a campaign. It is not something that you do for a few months in conjunction with a sermon series. Too often we move on to the “next thing,” when the best thing is right in front of us—love your city in the name of Jesus and preach Him crucified. You must get a vision for your city that involves you being part of the city for years.
4. Get Prepared–Live Ready
No matter where you live, there are some disaster scenarios that are a bit more likely—forest fires, tornadoes, floods, etc. Take some time to think through the things that may need collaborative relief efforts in your city. Work with your team, other churches, and other organizations. At the same time, look for transferable principles that will allow you to tackle problems that already exist in your city. As you serve in those ways, you will build relationships that will serve you when something big shows up later.
That preparation will then, in turn, allow you to be ready to strike when you need to serve. One of the best things about preparation is that it allows you to act when the moment is right. It is good to get ready. But it is even better to live ready. If you can teach and train your congregation into the mindset, you will more easily engage when the moment arises.
5. Serve Everyone
Why? One of my church members saw a woman wearing a hijab in the grocery store and asked if her family needed any help after flooding. Her response? “No, a group of people from a church called HNW showed up and took over. They ripped up our carpet, carried out the wet sheetrock and insulation, and did everything we needed. I never knew that Christians felt that way about people of other faiths. If everyone knew that Christians loved like that, I think everyone would want to be a Christian.”
It’s time to move beyond the hatred, divisiveness, labels and polarization that became the norm during the US election cycle. We were never destined to find our identity or a savior in a candidate or political party and we’re not called to find those things in our president or this current administration now. Some are still mourning while others are continuing to defend and gloat.
We must move on and get to the work we’ve been called to. Our work and calling is not building an empire or personal kingdom in this world by aligning with a political party or worldly ideology, neither is it to condemn and curse this world and hide until Jesus returns. We are here to be a disruptive agent, a refuge and a relevant hope.
As a disruptive agentwe should be decisively and glaringly counter-cultural.To be counter-cultural at its roots means to love and care where our culture hates and demonizes. It means running towards those who the majority says to reject. It means drawing attention to unjust laws, practices and systems that advantage some while disenfranchising others. It means giving voice and value to those who have been silenced and dehumanized. It also means confronting and speaking to power on behalf of those who lack the know-how and access to do so. In doing these things we begin to look and act like a 21st century Jesus.
As a refuge and relevant hope, we’re embracing the reality we’re not here for ourselves but we are here for others. Jesus said the greatest among us must be a servant (Matthew 23:11). We have to embrace a world-view that says, “I am here at this point in time to have my gifts and passions employed by the King of Kings, not a natural king.” For the entrepreneur that means moving towards social entrepreneurship where sustainable enterprise is imagined and created not simply to make money but to reach and transform lives and communities. One example is Becca Stevens and Thistle Farms, who among other things makes natural bath and body products while training, employing and providing housing for a staff which is comprised of women who are former inmates, drug addicts and sex-trafficking victims. For the executive, social-worker, dentist, medical professional, teacher, chef etc., being a refuge and relevant hope means no longer seeing our skills and professions solely and simply as a way to make money, but seeing them as a way to serve others and meet needs through volunteerism and community service.
Being a disruptive agent, refuge and relevant hope means churches must be reimagined. The Church can no longer exist simply as the place to gather a couple of times a week for the purpose of helping us get through the week. The Church must become the missionary. The Church can no longer be the place that exists primarily or exclusively to gather in community and celebration of Christ’s work in “us” but we must be the place where people are trained, equipped and mobilized to engage the culture and society in which they live. The Church must realize its role as the agent and ambassador existing to embrace the most vulnerable and challenge the most powerful on behalf of the King. The Church must release disciples into society rather than existing as a place to hide from society. Throughout history the church has not primarily been just a different kind of place but a different kind of people. May we realize that call and mission now more than ever.
Nothing has changed my life like discovering the Kingdom of God.It’s sad that I didn’t really understand it until I was 33 years of age.I knew what it was to be a good “moral” person and a good Baptist, but I really didn’t get the Kingdom of God.I knew the Gospel of salvation, got my ticket stamped and practiced moral self-improvement – but I knew little of how the Kingdom changes everything. The Kingdom starts from the inside out.The Kingdom is what Jesus came preaching. He didn’t start out by telling everyone exactly who he was, instead he said, “Do you know that you were created for more than you are experiencing and life is supposed to be better than what you see?”
For me, it was on a hill praying one day that I first heard the voice of the uninvited Holy Spirit whisper in my ear, “Bob, when will be Jesus be enough?”Why wasn’t he enough?I accepted Jesus and jumped through all the hoops but still didn’t see like he intended.One day, when I’m very old, and hopefully still sane, a book about the Kingdom of God will be the last book I write – I’m still learning too much and fear writing this one too soon.Here are some things I’ve learned about the Kingdom . . .
#1The Kingdom of God is the internal expression of God within a person and the public expression of God to humanity.The Kingdom has to first start inside of us.It transforms us gradually, it isn’t a quick fix but each step depends on the previous step – it’s all connected.The Kingdom is the present Jesus and his rule lining my life up with all that he teaches, has given me, the identity I have in him, and the freedom I experience.But it cannot stop here! Sadly, this is as far as it gets in those few who become obsessed with the Kingdom.The Kingdom isn’t static and we aren’t containers of the Kingdom but channels of the Kingdom to flow through.The Kingdom is to be present in all things, not just people – as Colossians 1:15-20 says.
#2The Kingdom of God transcends every life plan and preconceived notion of what God is going to do.I knew how to grow the church, and frankly I did it quite well.I just didn’t know how to be the church.Dealing with people of other religions? Only a realization of the Kingdom of God would lead someone like me into that.God loves all and wants all to hear. The Kingdom leads us to ask, “how do we speak publicly about Jesus?” And even more importantly, “How do others see our love for them?”Only God could take someone like me and lead our church to become multi-ethnic.Only God could make me love the crazy people I love – because he first loved Crazy Bob.
#3The Kingdom of God is present at all times in all places.I’m not taking the Kingdom anywhere – it’s already everywhere.How do I flow with the Kingdom where it has a stronger presence?How do people feel blessed from the presence of Kingdom citizens?My job is not to be God. My job is to abide in God so he can do through me what his glory creates and not fulfill my little dreams of self.Modern Christianity is living according to your dreams for God, ancient present Christianity is living for the glory of God. These two aspects are radically different.Most books for pastors are written to help you with your dream – which is fleeting.Only the Glory of God is eternal.Live for that reality young pastor and God will take you so far beyond your dreams and you’ll thank him for it.
#4The message of Jesus is the Kingdom of God is here, now, and within you.My question is not what will God do in the future but how am I letting the Kingdom live in this moment as I meet this person, as invitations come.I’ve learned that the invitations God gives us are often not the ones we would choose for ourselves and even can be costly – but they are the ones that matter the most. God will never be experienced inside the lines we draw and the structures of religion.
#5The Kingdom of God cannot be stopped by men without God or forced by men who think they speak for God.The nations figure so prominently in the Scriptures.My ancestors have fought in the American Revolution, the Alamo, the Civil War, and WWII – but NO NATION can ever be confused or equal with the Kingdom of God be it the United States or Israel.He loves all nations – and his people are to be lights in all nations of an eternal kingdom that transcends nations.Some Christians believe in something called “dominion” theology – they are going to take over things for Jesus. When we have to stoop to the methods of the world to bring about the Kingdom of God – no doubt we have brought a kingdom – but not the one of God.The reconciling, peacemaking nature of Jesus, the Sovereignty of Father God, and the power of the Holy Spirit really is sufficient for transformation.Will it be complete in my life?No, but may I be totally transformed in him more and more day by day to bring that Kingdom everywhere I live.
People always want to know “how’ to do city engagement and global engagement. I get it. Folks want to know the steps to take to do what’s in their heart to do or to replicate something they have witnessed in others.
Bob Roberts said it best a few days ago in a blog he wrote when he said, “Everyone wants a five-step plan to engage the nations.I resist doing it that way.Detailed plans and programs may initialize some good stuff, but they get in the way of the awesome and radical work that God really wants to do.” – Bob Roberts
It’s difficult to capture in a “how to” manual what God has done through Three Rivers Church in our city and the world. What I have been able to capture are some principles of leadership for the person who wants to engage their city and their world. I’d like to share three principles with you that have been a great help to me in our local and global work.
First, the leader has to be restless over sin and its effects on people and created order.
If the only thing that moves a person is the potential to do something significant, they will fail when hard times come. In other words, we can’t seek to engage simply because we want significance. What has to move a leader is the effects of sin on people and in creation.
Our church started and leads Global Impact, an NGO that works in our town and in some hard places around the world. Locally, we have worked for years with the local and state government in foster care and adoption. That work has led to the city of Rome partnering with us to help alleviate this crisis by giving us one of it’s elementary schools to operate in as a hub for foster care and adoption services. We don’t own a building to meet in as a church, but the city has given us an entire elementary school to operate our NGO out of. How did that happen? A desire to do something significant? No.
By God’s providential grace, I heard a statistic about our town regarding the number of kids in foster care. Our little northwest Georgia county rivaled metro Atlanta counties in number of kids in the care of the state. At the time, we had over 500 children in our county in care with less than 10 approved homes to keep them in. That meant that the great majority of our babies, and teens and children we being shipped all over the state of Georgia to temporary beds until they could be placed permanently or reunified with biological parents. That is crazy traumatic. Can you imagine a child being taken overnight from their home, school and familiarity to some place totally unfamiliar?
I began to make this information known, began recruiting foster parents and adoptive parents, and soon I found myself appointed by our city to the Department of Family and Children Services Board of Directors for Rome/Floyd County (I continue to serve that Board as the Chairman for Rome/Floyd County).
Then the unthinkable happened…The Spirit spoke James 1:27 to me personally. “Don’t call yourself mine when you don’t obey my word.” Our passion led to our personal involvement. Long, complicated and hard story short — our third child was fostered and adopted out of the neighborhood that our elementary school is located in. We had to get our skin in the game. It’s one thing to talk about engagement. It’s another thing to get in at the hard level.
All of this led to many years of blood, sweat and tears and then success. The job is not done, we are only beginning to be super effective 10 years into the work, but it started by being bothered by the problem and then moved to action.
So, what is a challenge you need to address personally? Get after it, and watch God do his work with you as an instrument and ambassador.
Next, the leader has to set the example in domain engagement.
I recognize that this point represents somewhat of a paradigm shift for many thinking about ministry and pastoring and church planting. Since the church is not a domain of society, but rather should be manifest in every domain of society as the gospel of the kingdom makes disciples, should the leader not lead in domain engagement?
Our strategy dictated that our pastors work jobs. I am an educator. I love teaching. Three Rivers Church is 15 years old. I taught for 10 of those years. In my profession, I had the honor of teaching foster kids and adoptive kids. I learned about the effects of trauma on a child’s ability to learn. I learned how to adjust to those kid’s learning styles. I learned that great work needs to be done in education, law enforcement and medicine to learn how to serve children who have been traumatized. Those guys simply don’t learn the same way, respond to stimulus the same way or receive correction the same way. These things radically shaped the manifestation of our church and has made us lean and effective in our town and around the world. I now am “full-time” in our church, but the growth and reputation for such a ministry was pounded out by working in my domain.
There are many implications here, but what I’m saying is that we have to lead by example. Our leadership has to be more than words. If we will do these simple things, it’s astounding what the Lord will do with that sacrifice. He takes little and makes much with it. Focus on being a change agent, and the Lord will work that into city and global significance.
Finally, we have to be and do what God puts in front of us and be satisfied with it.
Honest and gut level truth: I find myself looking at what Bob gets to do and wonder what I’m doing wrong. Bob is in nice suits, meeting with well-educated people, hanging with prominent folks, changing the world. I find myself in the back of diesel Toyotas in a war zones (with no planning for this on my own simply what got handed to me trying to survive and getting in the first cab that looked like it didn’t want to kill me) with a pastor who is asking me what I do and if I can help him, in tents in the African bush dodging black mambas and hail storms and witch doctors and overt demonic attacks, altitude sick at 17k feet with no shred of civilization in sight and nothing but a Buddhist temple and a squatty potty for relief. I have health challenges that will be with me forever due to some of the places I’ve been and results of the work. What did I do wrong? Is Jesus punishing me for that thing I did when I was 15? No.
Seriously though, nothing I find myself doing looks anything like anybody else’s work. I’ve tried to conform, but it won’t happen. I’m the guy who gets to be sick, nearly die and live to tell about it, and see little fruit. You know what? That’s ok. I’m living the dream.
All that to say, don’t try to be someone else. Be who God created you to be, stay hidden if you can, and enjoy the ride he’s created for you to take. Ephesians 2:10 is a great help to me, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
I didn’t get to pick my good works. Jesus prepared them for me, and I get the joy of discovering them and joyfully doing them. I’m thankful for that.
Recently, one of the churches in our family of churches, took center stage in the natural disaster of Hurricane Harvey. Houston Northwest Church and its pastor, Steve Bezner, found themselves facing a legacy-defining moment: do they focus their energies on their building that had been flooded and the people within their church or do they turn their attention to the neighborhoods surrounding their building and the thousands of people hopelessly watching the floodwaters inundate their homes, destroying all of their earthly belongings? For five years Steve had been exhorting his 40-year old congregation to engage and serve and love the people of northwest Houston regardless of their race or religion. So, when the God-moment arrived in Harvey, there was no decision to be made. Houston Northwest would don their #WELOVEHOU t-shirts and head to the neighborhoods. As a result of their response, they have raised over $400,000 to help in relief, mudded out hundreds of homes, provided essentials to thousands, Steve has been on local television and Headline News, established a partnership with WorldVision, and last but certainly not least, received several shout outs through Twitter from none other than Beth Moore herself!
Why would Steve lead his church to begin with serving its community? Because he has taught his church the four values of our family of churches: Kingdom, Disciple, Society, Church. It is these four values that we instill in our church planters through our Release training for church planters with the hope that they will start right—that they will start a church for the world.
Without divulging too much from our Release training, what do we mean when we desire to start a church for the world and not just for a community? Here are a few thoughts:
Starting a church for the world means serving the poor around us.
This was Jesus’ calling. It is a Kingdom calling. It is our calling.
17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:17-19 (ESV)
Starting a church for the world means planting churches locally and globally at the same time.
However, to accomplish this, planting methodologies and approaches need to be driven from the field—not from the West! Frankly, we have more to learn from the church in the East than they do from us in the West. The popular statistic is that only 4% of churches in the US ever help start another church. We challenge our church planters through our Release training to help another church start within their first 12 months of existence.
Starting a church for the world means working in a “hard place” in the world.
We challenge our church planters to go where no one else dares to go. We train them to go to a “hard place” in the world and make a long-term transformational commitment to that place in the world until that specific place also becomes a sending place. It will take courage and wisdom to engage in hard places, but we will never fulfill the Great Commission if we don’t.
We fully recognize that this type of church planter training is not for everyone. But, if it is speaking your language, then you have two options. One, join us November 8-9, 2017 for our first-ever GlocalNet Family Gathering. At this gathering, you will learn in greater detail why starting churches for the world is such an integral part of who we are as a family of churches. You can register here:GlocalNet Family Gathering Registration. We would love to have you join us. Or, join us at our next Release training near you. You can find out the one nearest you here:Release Initiative.
You may never have to lead a relief effort after a hurricane, but if you start a church that serves the poor, multiplies churches and engages in a hard place in the world, you will find yourself on the adventure of a lifetime. Oh, by the way, you will not be doing this alone. You will have a family beside you, so go start a church for the world!
The Lodge is a retreat center nestled among beautiful pine trees. It sits right on the edge of Lake Huron in Detroit, Michigan. It is in this setting that a group of Pastors and Imams met to build relationships that were real, transparent and forward thinking.
Over two days, these faith leaders heard each other’s stories, discussed their irreconcilable differences, and asked hard questions of each other. They also ate together, sat around a campfire and created moments of inspiration, “aha” moments and lots of laughter. The leaders arrived with suspicions and some trepidation as to what would happen but left as friends.
GlocalNet Multi Faith Retreats are catalysts for relationships that leads to action. There are 5 objectives that move the conversation from words to intentional actions steps. Each faith leader worked on a strategic plan together which includes family meals, bringing their constituencies together for an event, working on projects for the good of the city, standing up for each other and bringing other leaders along on this peacemaking journey.
It is simply amazing what happens when we sit across from each other face to face and seek to understand the other. Everything changes! One Imam stopped me during the retreat and said, “Omar, we have no choice but to do these things. The alternative is not good.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.” The key word is maker. Jesus did not say peace-keepers. Peace-makingtakes sacrifice, intentionality and giving up focused time to building these relationships. There’s no doubt that the leaders gathered in Detroit this week are peacemakers!