To journal you don’t need to be a good writer. You just need to be still and quiet and write. You aren’t writing for publication or for your English teacher. I would not write a journal for anyone but myself. It’s not history, it’s how you see life, what you are learning, questions you have, and anything you want to write about. Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, and others have used journaling and it was key to their spiritual development. Some of the things they wrote about included personal struggles, frustrations, and even deep questions about God. Some people freaked out over that – I didn’t. We all have those questions and I believe it’s in the slow wrestling of those questions that we find truth, meaning, life and, yes, God. There is NOTHING that has grown me spiritually, emotionally, and relationally – even globally, like journaling. Yet, it’s not journaling – it’s reflecting, remembering, discovering patterns, recording events that were good and bad, and writing down the things God spoke to you about in the middle of the night. If you’ve read my blog you know that around November to December every year I write about journaling. I’m serious about it. There is no greater or formative discipline that intersects all the disciplines and all of life like journaling. It’s not a diary – it’s reflections. I define a journal as “a catalogue of reflections of what God is doing and saying in your life.”
I believe the book of Acts is how God intends for us to walk with him, learn, grow, and experience life. Having read Acts many times, studying it, preaching it – I’m convinced the biggest message of Acts is the unexpected. The Holy Spirit orchestrates everything from relationships, timing, schedule – and none of it comes through orchestrated action plans, goals, systems, and processes. That doesn’t mean those things don’t matter – just that they aren’t primary. I know this, the greatest things in my life that God has done, has had little to do with how I organize but rather how I hear God’s voice or recognize him moving in unexpected circumstances or people. At the moment at which things are taking place I don’t always recognize their significance – but as I journal and see things develop there really is a pattern.
Each year I start a new journal. It has what I learned from the previous year, it has words people give me, verses burned in my heart, goals, people I work with, people I’m praying for, models, tons of stuff – about 30 pages worth, then daily and early in the morning I write.
THUS, this is why I’m promoting the book “Journaling: Catalyzing Spiritual Growth through Reflection” by Adam Feldman. It is simply the best book I’ve ever read on how to journal. I would encourage you to buy it, read it, and use it to begin. Your own style and preferences will takeover, but it will be a fantastic guide to start with. You can read more about his view of journaling at AdamLFeldman.com – I loved the book and was excited when it came out.
In this blog, Pastor Nic Burleson shares three really big lessons Timber Ridge Church has learned through global engagement in Vietnam. This is what can happen to you and your church with intentional and ongoing investment in the world.
We started Timber Ridge back in 2011 and from the very beginning our church has been involved in global engagement, specifically in Vietnam. We’ve mobilized people from our local community to serve in various domains, such as education, medicine & agriculture. Along the way, we’ve learned some great lessons that have been a huge benefit to us as a church. Here are the top 3 takeaways we’ve learned as we’ve engaged globally:
#1: Everyone has a seat at the table.
When a church releases its members to use their careers, jobs & education through the domains of society, it’s a game changer. This means that ministry and global engagement are no longer the sole responsibility of vocational pastors or missionaries, but that every person in the church has skills and knowledge that can be used to impact and serve others in the world. Through engaging in domains as we serve in Vietnam, the people of our church have realized that everyone can be used in God’s Kingdom to make an impact simply by using the trades, skills & vocations God has given them. That means that everyone in the church has a seat at the table when it comes to working toward good in our world and impact in our community.
#2: Love has no borders.
Our world is divided in so many ways. Borders. Languages. Religions. Political ideologies. One thing that transcends every border and every language is the outward practice of truly loving others. When we started to work in the mountains of north Vietnam, one of our biggest concerns were how we would make an impact with the existing language barrier. But we quickly realized that love is a language all its own. As we have learned to serve others and genuinely love people who are different from us – but no less created in the beauty and image of God – we’ve seen that love isn’t confined by borders or boundaries. And that’s not only impacted how our church serves globally, but has affected how we serve and love our own local community as well.
#3: There are lessons to be learned.
Far too many times, it seems that the only posture the Western Church has taken in regards to the rest of the world is the posture of teacher. But what we’ve experienced at Timber Ridge is that there are countless lessons to be learned from our friends all around the world if we’ll simply take the posture of the learner. One of the things that our church has become known for is hospitality. We didn’t discover that on our own. We learned it from our friends in Vietnam. The Vietnamese people are some of the most welcoming, hospitable people I’ve ever encountered. And as we learned what it meant to truly welcome and embrace strangers and guests, it’s had a huge impact on the culture and influence our church has had in our local community.
Global engagement isn’t a good idea or program for the church. It’s what Jesus has called his disciples to do. And as we engage globally, not only do we show and share the gospel of the Kingdom of God, we grow in that gospel as well. So get out there…it’s a beautiful world that we get to learn from!
TODAY IS GIVING TUESDAY! You are going to get many appeals and many of them will be worthy. We would like you to consider GlocalNet as one of the charities you give to today. Why?
We are all about building bridges and promoting peace in the public square. Whether we are starting churches, gathering Pastors/Imams/Rabbis, doing conferences on community development around the world, engaging nations with volunteers in all the domains of society, training churches, consulting with governments – some of which are very sensitive places, or convening the global church – it’s all geared toward how do we live and communicate our faith in a positive way in the 21st century that glorifies God and brings value to humanity.
Last year through our training and family of churches we helped over 65 churches get started in the United States. We have a special DNA we call KDSC. K is for God’s Kingdom and the foundation of everything for us as we read in the Sermon on the Mount and all the teachings of Jesus. D is for disciples that hear and obey. S is for society and the 8 domains that everyone has a job in. C is for the church as the body of Christ built around the mission of Jesus, not just a Sunday event. This year we will move from 5 church planting centers to 8 across the country.
We gather yearly 20 major global evangelical pastors annually from all over the world – India, China, Brazil, U.S., Bangladesh, Kenya, South Africa, Middle-East, and other countries. We all have started our own churches and we all have multiplied churches out of our church. We teach one another what we are learning and we serve one another.
We teach churches how to work in hard nations of the world by being transparent and going through the front door. Each church is encouraged to adopt a nation to be there long term, not just take a trip there. The key for us is to mobilize everyday followers of Jesus to serve nations through their vocations in the 8 domains education, business, health, government, agriculture, communications, civil society, science/technology. We do the exact same thing with pastors and church planters in teaching them how to engage their own local cities in the domains.
We have been blessed with the ability to convene significant Evangelical Pastors, Muslim Imams, and Rabbis to connect churches, mosques, synagogues to address islamophobia, anti-semitism, and global persecution of Christians and other religions as well. It has opened doors to nations and platforms that most evangelicals historically have had little or no access to. We practice Multi-faith engagement globally and it his having a very significant impact. We partner with Imam Mohammed Magid of International Interfaith Peace Corps here in the U.S. and more recently the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. has come beside us to help incubate our process called “My Neighbor’s Keeper.” No one has helped us more or been a better partner than the Peace Forum with Shayk Bin Bayyah as we have taken the retreats to Abu Dhabi and Morocco with the Peace Forum. It’s one thing to be with your tribe telling others how to treat you, quite another thing to do that collaboratively and globally with other religions and top religious and government leaders.
Most of our churches are multi-ethnic. Sermons and conferences on race relations have done little the past 100 years – the answer is the Church – but a biblical church with all tongues, tribes, and peoples present. There is only the Church – not a black church, white church, Hispanic church. When you work with the city, your church will be far more integrated because sadly, the city reflects the make up of communities more than the church.
Our dream is to redefine how churches engage the world in the 21st century. Our Truth has not changed – our context to communicate that Truth has. To not be relevant and clear to the time in which we live – is a sin. Join us in this adventure! Click here to support GlocalNet.
In my last blog I spoke of discipleship and what it looks like to produce a really mature follower of Jesus. There were three things I addressed in that blog that are very present in spiritual fathering and mothering. 1) Parenting is about providing a model of life that others can imitate. 2) Being present IS discipleship. 3) Finally, and this is so important – not merely telling a young disciple what to do, but teaching them to think. For spiritual fathering and mothering as discipleship to occur there are several things that have to happen.
First, there must be a deep relational connection to the person that you are pouring into. It has to work both ways for it to work. It isn’t enough that the spiritual “parent” is willing to pour into a young Jesus follower, the follower must be willing to receive. The great tragedy is that there is an “orphan” spirit in the church today. It’s very individualistic and autocratic. Sadly, ministry has become a place of self and personal significance and self-fulfillment more than it is about security as a child of God and extending his glory and not our own. We come into spiritual parenting generally by brokenness or a deep desire of intimacy with God. We see that intimacy in someone else filled with a credible walk with God in life.
Second, the goal of a spiritual parent isn’t a new way to build your own kingdom, it’s the biblical way of deploying people in God’s Kingdom and releasing them. You see in biological families the challenge some parents have is letting go of their children. They want them to fulfill their own unfulfilled desires and dreams. This is never healthy. Conversations with grown children and directives for toddlers and adolescents are very different. This discipleship that I write about is that which is done with grown children. I have several spiritual fathers – I go to get their advice, counsel, and prayer. I don’t always go to get their approval. I’m sad because many of my spiritual fathers are in their 70’s and 80’s now and they won’t be around forever. Each one of them give me something different. We cannot expect our spiritual fathers to be everything for us – they can only be what they are and what God has given them. It involves listening and understanding the follower of Jesus – not making them in your image. They have a divine destiny – your goal is not to make them into your image but help them grow in the image of Jesus.
Third, every child needs a father and a mother. A single parent child needs aunts, uncles, grandparents, and close family friends to help fill in those gaps when both parents are not present. Many would balk at this but I believe it’s psychologically core to why the Catholic Church views Mary as it does. We all need a father, and we all need a mother. I believe the father/mother characteristics are present not in merely male and female designations but in the Trinity. When you read about the Holy Spirit, and the God of all comfort, the Spirit living in us, and so many other metaphors – as well as Jesus and how he loves you cannot escape it. Paul writes clearly neither male nor female. Sometimes I need to hear my mom’s voice. If all we ever hear is the masculine side of God, we will wind up lop-sided.
Fourth, spiritual parenting involves spiritual sons and daughters being with you in your context so they can watch you. All of us have things we do effectively without thinking, these actions are second nature to us – but not to others. I read a lot of books, but I’m not an academic. I have to put my hands on something and do it to understand it. So much of my learning has been reverse engineering. I would start doing something, it would work enough that I knew I was on to something – then I read like crazy. Having your spiritual children present in all kinds of circumstances teaches them all kinds of things.
Fifth, spiritual fathering and mothering means giving young followers some responsibility and watching them. Help them do it – allow for them to mess up. Nothing, and I mean nothing – gives me joy like watching my spiritual children teach, lead, execute things that they’ve seen in me. Recently, I was at various meetings where several of the young men I disciple were speaking – I heard so much at what I’ve taught them it simply freaked me out. I realized that what I taught them had gone deep inside of them and had became a part of them as it had me. I listened to one talk about church planting, another at a secular event on the public square, another at a multi-faith event – I was simply blown away. I hadn’t realized how much I had shared they had taken hold of. It was perhaps the happiest day of my ministry. I don’t worry what happens when I’m gone. They’ll take it all to a new level before I’m gone and I’m truly blessed!
Finally, spiritual parenting involves affirming and correcting without stifling. People are desperate for affirmation. They don’t always get it from their fathers and mothers. A little affirmation publicly – but all correction privately. When something is done or said publicly it sometimes demands a public response. I’ve learned to say, “I love you but I disagree here, and this is why . . .” I have been corrected publicly and that isn’t always fun. But sometimes, it’s good for all of us as long as it’s done in a positive manner.
There is one very serious note of caution on spiritual fathering . . . but I’ll save that for another blog!
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.
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.
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!
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!
“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 notreactive 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.
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.”
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.