UA-40390171-1

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!

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.

A Disruptive Agent of Refuge & Hope

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 agent we 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.

 

 

Hear more from Pastor Kevin Brown at this year’s GlocalNet Family Gathering.

 

 

 

Leadership That Engages The World

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.

[Mitch Jolly will be sharing even more leadership principles at the GlocalNet Family Gathering November 8-9]

Going to the World? Do This First!

You can read other blogs about the work Northwood Church does in Vietnam and around the world.  It has been a wild ride the past 22 years and we hope to have fifteen teams serve there next year!   I am often asked by church planters and pastors about the steps to engage a nation.  How do you pick the country? What should I do first? Can you connect me with a leader there?  Who should go on the first trip? 

These are great and important questions but I have another plan of action for you.

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.  So, for what it’s worth, here’s my plan of action:

  1. Start the day on your knees with God’s Word and don’t get up until you sense God’s presence and you’ve heard from Him.
  2. Tell God whatever He chooses to do with you, you’re okay with it.
  3. View every event as something God has divinely put before you.
  4. Seize the opportunity that no one else has or would do.  Chances are it will come in a phone call, a chance encounter, or some crazy idea that is lodged in your head.
  5. Watch God put stuff together.

That’s just the beginning, but it’s the crucial beginning!  I’ve written much more about this in my book Glocalization–How Followers of Jesus Engage the World in hopes it will help the Body of Christ engage their community and the world. 

GlocalNet Gathering – You’re Invited!

From NorthWood Church and GlocalNet, over 200 churches have been planted.  If you count in other ministries that have been birthed and leaders that have been equipped and sent, we couldn’t begin to count the number of people that are out there walking around with Glocal DNA.  After that,  you could try to count the churches, ministries and disciples that have come from each of those churches and leaders and it just becomes exponential.  It’s quite a big family!

In a little over a month, we are calling the family to come together.  We want to hear the stories of what God is doing around the world. We want to learn about the hard fought victories, the miraculous catches of fish, and the heart-wrenching defeats of these adventures.  We want to think deeply and creatively about loving God and loving people. We want to gather to worship God with great passion. We want to pray together believing for one another. We want to encourage and fuel each other for the next season. We want to hear loving truth and guidance from God. We want to courageously obey Him, together.  As you can see, we’re expecting so, so much from this little family gathering.

So, if you are part of the family, a part of the extended family or a friend of the family…..YOU’RE INVITED! If you are looking for a family, you feel alone, you need some brothers and sisters, YOU”RE INVITED!  If you are looking for a paradigm shift or a change of wineskins…..YOU’RE INVITED!  If you just want to get to know some great people and learn some cool stuff….Yep, we welcome you, as well.  We’d love to see you.  Sign up below!

Click on the 2017 GlocalNet Family Gathering banner below to get more details and to register.

 

The Power of Biblical Connectedness

In 2002 we started an organization called Glocal.net that focused on starting churches. It would change and morph to ultimately what we have become today – but it was a journey. We didn’t plan to start a network organization, we had just started a lot of churches and many of them wanted a way to gather and network. It quickly grew very large and far beyond my administrative ability and became several groups. I had no desire to start or run a “mini-denomination!” As a matter of fact, I did very little with GlocalNet for years. As a church, however, we kept on starting more churches and by default GlocalNet grew.  I could see the value of all of us coming together – but our first response to the way we were relating was very western and industrial.  We came together around three things we all did – and still do:  (1) start churches, (2) work with the poor in our city, and (3) work in hard places in the world.  This brought around all kinds of people from charismatic to reformed to Baptist and even a few Anglicans. We had so many stories. I knew God was doing something different, but I responded the only way I knew how — in an old western, task-driven, organizational wineskins. 

As I began to travel the world I had the extraordinary opportunity to come to know and learn from many global pastors who lead significant movements.  We would call their what they’re a part of “church planting movements” (cpms), but most of them would not be familiar with that kind of language. These leaders taught me a new way of coming together as family.

This doesn’t mean that principles are not real or do not matter. The difference is that in the global church, they don’t start with principles, they start with people.  The people are first.  You can go to many conferences now and hear someone lecture or speak of how to start a movement and what it takes: a catalytic leader, a winsome message, a complimentary team, multiple evangelist to promote the movement – and on and on and on.  Inevitably, people without movements begin to use the language of movements to get people to join a movement that doesn’t exist.  We are missing something.

What we are missing is the Biblical Concept of Family. The global pastors I’ve met do not talk about movements or networks. Instead, when they talk about the church, they speak of their family and of their spiritual sons and daughters.  In many of these places around the world it’s impossible to have big meetings and gather thousands of people to hear your message.  You can only grow through relationships. Here, we often join movements through hearing preachers preach about their networks or movements.  A family requires a lifetime of relationships and a lifetime of relational work, not simply a staff and an organizational chart.  This is much more than a language shift.

As I have worked with pastors over the years, I’ve discovered they join groups for the purpose of identity or mission.  You can tell the identity groups because they have robust statements of beliefs, certain teachings, and doctrine you must agree on.  Teaching, for them, is huge because it’s critical to make sure everyone is on the same page.  With mission groups, story is the critical factor.  This is so and so and this is what happened . . . God opened this door, etc.  All organizations and tribes have a certain measure of doctrine and story but each will lean stronger in one way or the other.  This distinction is important to know and understand because it will give you the ethos and direction and values of a particular network, tribe or organization.

But here is what I’ve learned.  Most young pastors join a group because they are really looking for family.  They don’t want organizational ladders or organizational stats – they want family and they need Fathers.  This is very hard for us as Americans. Our history as a nation, our culture, our rugged (if not sinful) individualism makes family hard – but make no mistake about it – we all long for and need family.

Here’s something else that’s important to consider as a leader in this shift, people want to touch people, not worship a new king.  I’m always amazed by how these global movement leaders are so  accessible to the people.  They are not like American mega-church pastors at all.  They are humble, they are normal, you couldn’t pick them out of the crowd.  Often their clothes don’t match and they’re missing teeth! 

Finally, a family has a certain DNA – ours is Kingdom/Disciple/Society/Church.  We all share that same DNA.  It’s in our blood. We believe Jesus is leader of the Kingdom and his teachings are foundational on the Kingdom.  We define disciple as hear and obey.  We believe the grid we engage is our society through domains in the public square.  We believe the church isn’t just a worship service but a small group, a congregation, and a global church.  We build our everything around those four strands. 

When you start operating as family everything changes.  I’m having more fun in ministry today than ever before because pretty much everything I do, I do it with young people alongside of me. I’m trying to raise up a family.  I love working with world leaders at this stage in my life, but I don’t do it alone any more.  I often take a young pastor beside me, mentoring them in diplomacy, protocol, culture, or whatever is necessary at that moment. From the credibility we’ve earned over our lives we gain far more access than we had when we were young which leads to many more opportunities.  As we get older it is critical that we share our access and opportunities as we mentor young sons and daughters so when we’re gone the family and the ministry continue. 

If you want to know what our family is like, you’re welcome to join us at our Family Gathering.

 

Unleashing Vocational Influence

If you grew up in church, you heard many religious phrases that subconsciously shaped your thinking, such as “born again,” “decisions for Jesus,” or “joining the church.”  One of these is is “called into the ministry,” a phrase which I now find highly misleading.  I am convinced that God has called the entire body of Christ to ministry, nor just the few whose talents lead them to be pastors.  Some followers of Christ are called to various specialized functions, but every one of us has a responsibility to edge with God’s work in the world.  There is within each of us a longing, a deep inside that calls us to something unknown.  Throughout our lives, we may get glimpses of it, and it draws us forward to an undefined goal.  C.S. Lewis attempted to describe this longing when he first experienced it as a child:

‘It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation that came over me; Milton’s “enormous bliss” of Eden…comes somewhere near it.  It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?…Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased.’

For most of us, calling is something like this – a deep, private, personal longing that bring everything together in a single experience of great significance.  God calls every one of us in many ways, often using these undefined longing we tend to ignore or pass over as mere feelings of the moment.  Those who wish to follow God must learn to develop sensitivity to these moments, and when they come, to tune their ears to God for his call. 

When you are seeking God’s call, your skill, vocation, and passion are critical.  But undergirding all of this are four things that are essential to hearing God’s “full counsel” for your life.

 

1) The Importance of Prayer

Prayer is where it all starts.  When our hearts are clean and our lives are an open book before God, He will often speak things in our heart that give us a sense of where he is leading us. 

 

2) The Guidance of God’s Word

Scripture is indispensable.  For most major decisions, God will often give me a verse or a particular passage of Scripture to meditate on.

 

3) The Council of Other People

Proverbs says that there is safety in the presence of many counselors (Proverbs 11:14; 24:6).  This isn’t to say that God won’t call you to do something that goes against the counsel of other people.  But a wise disciple of Christ will often seek counsel from people they know and love.

 

4) Divine Intersections

Finally, I frequently keep my eyes open for God’s mysterious work – those divine intersections.  Sometimes God has place something on my heart, something I can’t let go of, but I have no ability to do anything about it.  The next thing I knew there are people, resources, and situations emerging, beyond my control that are causing significant changes.

 

What is God calling you to do?   Specifically, what is God calling you to do TODAY?  Be obedient and let God fulfill the longings you have.  

 

Discover more about unleashing  vocational influence in the book: 

Real Time Connections by Bob Roberts Jr.