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NOT BETTER … DIFFERENT by Kevin Cox

My wife, Kathy, and I have had the privilege of starting two churches. The first was in the Seattle area. With no assessment, no training, no coaching, and a little funding, we did the only thing we knew to do: knock on doors and send out mailers.  Unbelievably, it worked! We launched with a solid attendance, especially for the Pacific Northwest. We grew in spite of me and my lack of leadership skills. After 9 ½ years we had developed a reputation for loving on the children of our community. However, as I look back so many of our leadership conversations centered around how we could make the Sunday morning experience “better.” The prevailing thought for us, and for most churches in the early 2000’s was, “If we can just make Sunday morning better, people will want to attend.” And truthfully, for many churches, this mode of thinking bore fruit. We sought better performances on stage from the band. Better facilities. Better sermons. Better lighting. Better projectors and screens. Better children’s ministry. We were so worried about making Sunday morning better, mainly to keep up with the church down the street that was making their Sunday morning experience better, that we had forgotten the mission of Jesus to go make disciples capable of changing the world. The Father in his grace blessed our effort, but something seemed amiss.

After our tenure was over in Seattle, I vividly remember driving over the Cascade Mountains with our four kids in tow and turning to Kathy and saying, “We are going to do it differently this time.” I had no idea then the depth of that statement. We started Vista Church with a less than stellar grand opening. In fact, in the eyes of the church planting world it was horrendous. But in our eyes, that was irrelevant. “Butts in the seats” was not our primary goal…the kingdom of God was. We were not starting a better church in our new community. We were starting a different kind of church and the last 10 years have been the ride of our lives! What does this ‘different’ kind of church look like?

There are six characteristics that stand out:

1. Disproportionate influence

We do not ask the question, “How is my church?” Instead, we ask the question, “How is my city?” Since we desire to see our cities blessed, we often collaborate with city leaders and organizations leading to influence in our cities that far exceeds the size of our churches.

2. Start churches for the world

When you start with the world in mind, your church plant will be shaped by the world. And, when you start your church for the world, you will view your church plant as a sending base that affects the world rather than an isolated congregation in a single community.

3. New DNA 

Kingdom, Disciple, Society, Church (KDSC). Cut us and this is what we bleed. This is FAMILY DNA. Like a magnet, this DNA draws church planters and the Family is growing!

4. Public Square

As Paul engaged the city of Athens, we teach church planters how to engage kings, world leaders, city leaders, philosophers, business people and influencers by speaking ‘one message’ both publicly and privately.

5. Multiethnic

Jesus said, “…on earth as it is in heaven.” If we believe that all ethnicities inhabit heaven, then why should the church not look like that now? If we want to have a voice in the racial division of our country, the multiethnic church is the key.

6. Multifaith

Rather than denigrating other religions, we intentionally seek to befriend them for the purpose of building bridges of peace. Unlike the interfaith efforts of the past where “all roads lead to heaven” was the underlying premise, we have honest conversation based on the fact that we disagree theologically but the best of our religions compels us to work together for the betterment of our cities.

As I write this, I am about to participate in day 2 of a pastor/imam retreat in Ft. Worth, TX where we will make plans for our congregations to work together on a project that serves ‘the least’ in our respective cities. Last week I attended Family Gathering where we challenged our Family with a vision for planting 32 GlocalNet church planting centers around the United States and Canada in the next 10 years. I also received a text from the head football coach at our local high school if I would be willing to lead his team in a devotion before their first playoff game this week. This the different church we envisioned. Do we want to offer our best on Sunday mornings? You bet! But we want to offer our best on Sunday mornings to inspire and equip people for ministry. That’s different. If you are looking to plant a different kind of church, then check us out at www.releaseinitiative.com. We would love for you to be a part of the family! It will be the ride of your life!

My Most Important Discipleship Lessons

There is so much about discipleship that I don’t know.  There is a lot I learned that was wrong.  There was a lot I stumbled into that was right.  I went from a discipleship that focused on learn, grow, and go – to hear and obey.   Had the early church made learn, grow, and go disciples it never would have gotten off the ground because at what point did you know enough?  When were you ready to leave?  Who determined all of that?  But, if discipleship is hear and obey, the primary focus is not what I know but instead my ability to hear God’s voice and then follow it.  The most important thing I’m now going to teach someone isn’t a book study, doctrine series, or information – but it’s how to hear God’s voice.  To do that I have to know how to pray, how to hear God speak when I’m reading his word, how to live in community and hear God speak through other disciples.  Spiritual disciplines are everything.  This discipleship goes through a very different door and produces a very different disciple.  It’s a lot easier to read a book and jump through hoops than it is hear God’s voice and follow it. 

First, I’m always being discipled. 

Many people feel bad that no one ever “discipled” them – but I’m not sure this is as true as it sounds.  One of my Spiritual Fathers, Doug Coe, said that we first have to disciple ourselves.  What he meant by that is that we have to love Jesus so much that we do whatever he says.  No amount of classes or courses can make us do that.  He was right.  Every time I’m in a worship service, I’m being discipled.  Every time I’m listening to someone teach I’m being discipled.  Every time I’m following the Holy Spirit I’m being discipled.  Every time I’m in a prayer meeting I’m being discipled.  For the follower of Jesus all of life is discipleship.  When I’m reading a biography on Washington to learn how he led – Washington is discipling me.  When I’m reading Fareed Zacharias to understand the world, he’s discipling me.  When I read a Rabbi Jonathan Sacks book on relating to other religions – he’s discipling me.  YES, non-Chrisitans can disciple us, too, and often even better than Christians.  When I watch someone serve Jesus like Dan Dubois or Bryan Stockton who worked beside me at Steve Bezner’s church after Hurricane Harvey or watch them at an inner-city festival for poor children  – I’m being discipled by those that I would disciple.  If you see life as one big discipleship opportunity you’ll grow a lot more.  If you see it as a single person pouring into you, you’ll be a spiritual shrimp.  YES, it’s great to have some one on one, but it isn’t the end of the world.  After all, the goal of discipleship is to be a self-feeder that follows Jesus.

Second, the best disciplers in my life don’t give me information but provide me a model. 

A man named Jim Hylton has impacted my life profoundly.  He’s in his 80’s.  Yes, he’s taught me a lot of stuff – but it’s his model of life that has taught me the most.  I’m watching him, a strong follower of Jesus, so I can know how to grow old in grace and bless others.  He models how to stay tender as you get older.  He’s not perfect – he has his flaws and I’ve seen them.  I’m not looking for someone to be Jesus, I’m looking for someone to let Jesus be Jesus in them in spite of their faults. 

Third, the best disciplers walk through tough times with you. 

They listen, they pray, they challenge you, they love you regardless.  Who ever thinks of discipleship as presence?  But you can’t be to others  what someone hasn’t first been to you.  Everyone hurts, everyone hits walls, everyone has struggles, everyone wants to hang it up at times – Jim has sat patiently with me at times and listened to me and loved me.  I’m often asked how did I handle the stress and not give up from taking a white church and transitioning it to multi-ethnic and also a church that has reached deep into other religions to build bridges.  We love everybody at Northwood and that makes for some challenging things at times.  Jim is one of those key reasons I haven’t quit.  I told him one day “maybe I just need to get out of the way” and let someone else do this.  He said “Bob, I want to ask you a question Jesus asked.”  Okay Jim.  “Bob, will you leave me too.”  That question convicted me and bought me another six months!  It took another conversation to make it another 6 months! 

Fourth, the best disciplers make you think for yourself and cause you to learn for yourself. 

Jim has never taken me through a book study – but he’s told me about this book or that book that I’ve read that has caused us to have some deep conversations.  I love the fact he doesn’t just read “religious” books but many kinds of books be they science, psychology, or philosophy.  If he was just teaching me “his” stuff then my growth would be limited to him – but he models learning which enables me to travel my own unique paths of learning and growth.

Fifth, the most important discipleship lesson I can provide is . . . . well, I’ve said enough – I’ll save that for another blog – but it’s really really really BIG!   

Leadership From the Inside Out

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”  Oliver Wendell Holmes

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life – Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Leadership has been a topic discussed since the beginning of time. We humans intuitively know that everything rises and falls on leadership. Yet, we live in extraordinary times where the turn of the millennium has brought the realization that we need a new kind of leader to help navigate us through a new world. We have never been here before, therefore a different paradigm of leadership is required. We need leaders that can innovate and create–that can adapt to changing environments. However, all the special gifts and skills needed are still informed and directed by what lies inside a leader. At the core of this leadership issue must be the awareness that the business of leadership starts and ends at the heart level. The soul of a leaders determines the direction and the course of life no matter the context. Techniques, skills and natural talents are not enough to create a society that flourishes. Extraordinary leaders are those who transcend the work at hand and create change not only in the material world but leave behind people who are changed by their character and ethics for the better.  They leave themselves in others.  Here are 4 characteristics that define extraordinary leaders.

Extraordinary leaders are reflective leaders. These leaders listen carefully to others to understand before trying to be understood. They refuse to pass quick judgement or make hasty decisions without considering the impact it will have on others. They don’t sacrifice great and deliberate decision on the altar of immediacy. Reflective leaders take responsibility for their decision and don’t spend their time blaming everybody else for their lack of progress or mistakes. They always plan time, days and even seasons of reflection. Their lives are not  reactive but proactive.

Extraordinary leaders are present in the moment. These leaders are always in the present now with you. They don’t have shifty eyes always thinking about themselves or something else while you talk. They make you feel like you are the most important person at that moment. They focus on you and make you feel listened to. They are so secure in who they are and are quite content in their personhood that criticism or flattery does not move them. They exude kindness and friendliness to everyone.

Extraordinary leaders are authentic. These leaders are very honest about themselves and their deficiencies. They are people of integrity; or wholeness. They celebrate their imperfections in the context of needing others. They understand that our deficiencies are simply an invitation to participate in our collective humanity to create a better world together. Authentic leaders are really happy in their skins and celebrate other’s gifts and success. They are mostly called real when you meet them. People feel comfortable and at peace in their presence.

Extraordinary leaders live from a higher calling. These leaders live above just the mundane acts or doing. They are driven by a higher calling than just making money of having the biggest church or wanting to make a name for themselves. There is a sense of deep abiding rest in the midst of the work. They are not workaholics, yet they work hard.  They know when to play and are at peace in the times of rest and play. These leaders live from a sense of calling not competition. Usually, their vision transcends time and space knowing they are here for a season and they are simply playing a small part in the story of humanity. They prefer to leave a legacy and not just make history.

The displacement of jobs is upon us as machines take over many of the high skilled knowledge base jobs. The need for extraordinary leaders will be in high demand because machines are not reflective, are not present in the now, are definitely not authentic and have no sense of a higher calling. Their souls are animated by a power cord with a 220v plug. They will never be like like human being who are created in the image of God and whose souls are animated by the spirit of God. This new world of great advances in every domain of society has created a demand for extraordinary leaders who are built from the inside out.

Bless the World & the World will Bless You

In this blog, Pastor Mitch Jolly of Three Rivers Church in Rome, Georgia shares five ways the world has impacted him and his church through years of global engagement and blessing.  It really is true — if you bless the world, the world will bless you!  This is what can happen with you and your church. Read on!

A Deeper Discipleship

A focus on the world delineates between the cross and the consumer. He who loses his life for my sake finds it. Losing my life could be actually dying. Losing my life could also mean giving up “stuff” I think is important but actually is not all that important. Here’s the good news, Jesus’ promise is that in the Kingdom when we lose for his sake we actually gain. That’s a whole different level of following Jesus. We have found that walking with Jesus as we engage globally is the most rewarding and joyful experience we’ve experienced. We get to walk with God as sons and daughters. We get to know God and be known by God. We get real supernatural life. That’s even better than Georgia football in the fall.

 

An increased desire for God’s glory globally through domains

As we’ve focused on the world, we’ve come to see that the best way to do this work is through God’s created domains of society. As we have learned that our vocations are holy and that our skill sets have been given by God to bring all things back under Christ’s rule through the gospel, we have seen more people willing to engage globally. The more we teach the concept of domains, the more the world opens up to us. We have people serving and blessing others from Brazil to India. Those are our people. Our collective work allows us to see God’s glory everywhere.

One important question to consider: “How do you care for your people all over the world?” Good question!  We have to be intentional about life in the body of Christ. Our small groups have to care for their members. So, we have small groups that take the lead in caring for their people who they send all over the world. Therefore, our people know, care for and serve each other. They are aware of the work, they pray for the work and they look for ways to go and serve alongside their friends using their domain. It is a constant work to keep these relationships going, but you must care for them.  This is also for the glory of God.

 

A Greater Output

The harder we try to “focus” the more God opens opportunities with our people everywhere. We used to think one single location. The harder we tried to do that the more world opened up. Why? Because domains are global and not isolated to one location. If the world is the goal, then the whole church is likely to be mobilized to the whole world. Domains are about every Christian everywhere all the time. That is a huge paradigm shift, and we are simply figuring it out as we go. We can’t answer many “how” questions as static realities, but that’s simply what we are doing. 

 

World Class Leadership

The more we focus on the world, better leadership is required. The better the leadership required the better leaders we raise up and attract. This allows us to release to the world the very best people. This also weeds out hirelings who just want to be known or get a job. We have world class doctors, restaurant owners, business leaders, farmers and teachers who lead local and global work. That does not happen by simply being a local church that tries to attract people to a Sunday service. The challenge of the world being our end brings out the best and attracts the best. To tell the truth, it also repels some. That’s not all bad. 

 

Holy Busy-ness

As I’m writing this, I’m chatting on line with two workers from our church simultaneously. Neither of them know that the other is talking with me. At the same time, I’m coordinating with our administrative assistant on travel for our teams going to visit one of these people I’m chatting with…via text. At the same time, I’m coordinating with our global engagement pastor about changing travel dates for one of our teams due to the reality of working half way around the world…via text. At the same time, I’m chatting…via text… with one of our spiritual sons who is part of one of our church plants who is coming to the GlocalNet Family Gathering next week since he works for Enterprise and is setting up our rentals for next week. At the same time, I’m chatting with a ministry leader, Jeff, who runs Restoration Rome (our work in foster care/adoption) about staying in Fort Worth after the GlocalNet Family Gathering to visit with his daughter as he’s leading a movement that’s changing the way the state of Georgia does foster/adoptive care and which leads to our NGO’s emphasis on the global orphan crisis. At the same time, I’m trying to write a biography sermon on Martin Luther and Romans 1:17. WHEW!!! But then again, how awesome is that?! That’s busy, but it’s a holy busy. It’s us (the church) together engaging the world and telling Jesus’ message. Nothing is more fun!

The world has changed me and my church and I could never go back to “normal” church. We are ruined for the ordinary.