This past week I wanted so badly to go to the Kainos Conference in Memphis but simply was not able. Efrem Smith, Mark Deymaz, John Jenkins, Derwin Gray and Brian Loritts have helped me so much the past two years through their lectures, books, and conferences. It’s funny; I didn’t think it would be that hard given how our church reaches other religions and other nations. Man was I wrong. Our church has been in the midst of transition to diversity and it’s been both exciting and difficult. Diversity really is about simply loving people like Jesus does. Do you realize Jesus says we are to love God, love one another, love your neighbors, love your enemies – is there anyone outside of God’s love? I’m learning the more radical we are with the love of God the more people are receptive to the gospel. The biggest challenge is we don’t love like God. Loving gays, Muslims, and different races can get you in trouble with your own religious tribe, not loving them can get you in trouble with Jesus if you are really his! Can you be his and hate others? I don’t think so.
As we began to diversify I was hearing stuff behind the scenes at Northwood so I went out of my way to push things from the pulpit. People would say, “Racial issues are over, don’t say much about it.” Of course, they were all white. The African Americans and Latinos would come up and say, “We love it – keep pushing it – that’s why we’re here.” I assumed this would be a piece of cake for young people given they grew up in desegregated schools. Not so – just having one person around you who is a minority growing up doesn’t get you in their culture – it only lets them in yours! I’ve watched young people grapple with it.
In January 2010, I came on staff at Northwood Church with no clue as to what would be the future of my ministry and family life. I left Detroit where I had a 9 year career in technology and 22 years of history. I gave it all up and came to the strange land they call Texas. You see, I’m Hmong and grew up in the inner-city streets of Detroit. (See Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino.) Texas was a very scary place for me! That year I found myself way outside of my element with people that I would’ve never imagined doing life with. But it was during those years that God began opening my eyes to see that the story of my upbringing as a second generation immigrant whose family landed in the US as refugees was a strength in the Kingdom of God and not a weakness. I’ll never forget having lunch with Bob Roberts and hearing him say, “You were given an advantage to do global ministry because of who you are. But you have to stop thinking like a minority. God made you for the world.”
I don’t think either Bob or I knew how prophetic those words were at the time. Maybe Bob did, but I sure didn’t. Read more
By Kevin Cox, Pastor of Vista Church, Heartland, TX
I first met Bob Roberts at a day and a half Turbo event hosted by NorthWood. The program centered around four values: kingdom, disciple, society and church. The last three values would later shape our fledgling church plant (and continue to do so today), but it was Bob’s teaching on the Kingdom of God that captured my heart. Bob’s teaching answered the all-important “why?” question: Why should we plant churches? Because the Kingdom of God is not about addition but multiplication! Within the Kingdom of God, we have a new set of metrics. We still measure progress through baptisms, finances and, attendance, but now we also measure fruitfulness by church multiplication.
With such a paradigm shift, how does a church start multiplying? Here are some suggestions:
Instill the vision/DNA of multiplication.
With four kids in the house, life is never boring for my wife, Kathy, and I. At some point all four of our kids have exhibited behavior resembIing Kathy’s or mine. Without fail, Kathy and I will glance at each other and say, “I wonder where they got that from? I’ve never done that, so it must be from you!” The hard truth is that the Cox children have both of our DNA’s within them. Good, bad or ugly, they resemble both of us, act like both of us, imitate both of us, and think like us. As our kids have grown, we have attempted to parent and help shape them into the people they’re becoming, instilling our values and beliefs into their minds and hearts.
When we started Vista Church, from day one multiplication was the vision, value and DNA. We would multiply. We could not wait a month, a year, or for a 10-year anniversary to multiply. If it was indeed who we were, then we would vision-cast it on day one, begin financially preparing for it on day one and be prepared when the opportunity arose. Since then, we have instilled who we are into the people of Vista. Because people are inspired by a vision that is bigger than themselves, our church’s vision for multiplication has often been a drawing point for people to join our church. We’ve shared the multiplication DNA with church planters we have partnered with, and they in turn have instilled this same DNA into their church plants from day one, as well.
Teach the kingdom of God.
Admittedly, I’m a pragmatic person. Show me the blueprint and then let me run with it. My introduction to the teaching of the Kingdom of God was literally a fresh beat of the Holy Spirit in my heart. The Kingdom of God is His rule or reign in my life. The Kingdom of God demands surrender, reminding me that church multiplication is not my idea but flows from the heart of the Father.
Why do we sacrifice money that could easily be used for a “good” event or a staff position in Vista Church? The Kingdom of God. Why do we invest in church planters, their wives and their families? The Kingdom of God. Why do we give away sound equipment to church plants rather than selling it for our own use? The Kingdom of God. Why did a godly and generous family in our church build a training facility on their property so that we could increase the amount of church planters we equip? The Kingdom of God.
When we started teaching the Kingdom of God, multiplication took off.
Learn from others.
There’s something to be said for heeding the advice of those who have traveled the road before you. Church multiplication is indeed an exciting adventure, but it also comes with its own set of pitfalls and tensions. Vista Church was fortunate that God blessed us with many pioneering friends along the way who instilled in us a vision for multiplication, shared strategy and were always available for advice on next steps.
We inquired early and often from people like Bob and Omar Reyes at Northwood and Brian Hook at Hope Church in Las Vegas who had traveled the road of multiplication before us. We learned from some seasoned multipliers. Through their advice and guidance, we avoided many pitfalls along the way and have witnessed God’s favor.
Develop a system that fits your context.
My youngest son, Walker, utterly idolizes his older brother, Jackson. Walker is 9 years old while Jackson is 16. In Walker’s mind, he, too, is 16. Jackson plays high school basketball and baseball, and Walker believes he can do anything Jackson can do. Sadly for Walker, this lack of self-awareness usually ends up with him getting frustrated or worse, hurt.
Unlike Walker, our church has a better grasp on who we are. We are not a megachurch. We are not even a midsize church at the moment. For us to multiply, we need to know who we are and what we’re capable of doing. We don’t pretend to be something we’re not, and we only offer what we can do. Furthermore, we have grown into the system that we’re currently using for church multiplication.
Our initial system of church multiplication was simply committing monthly financial assistance to a church plant in Seattle. From that simple step of obedience, God opened the door for informal training of a church planting couple that joined Vista Church. For a year, he and his wife learned different aspects of church planting while starting a small group in our community. After he graduated from seminary, we had the honor of sending them off to plant in upstate New York. We committed to monthly support, as well as ongoing communication and coaching. Simultaneously, we committed to partner with church plants in Chicago and Ft. Worth. This last year, we added the last piece of our church multiplication system: formalized training. We trained five church planting teams that are planting or will be planting in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Seattle. With each new church planting partnership, another piece of our church multiplication system emerged.
Seven years later, our system is comprised of four components: assessment, training, funding and coaching. We have a training facility built on their own property by a generous and Kingdom-minded couple in Vista Church, Gary and Joyce Moore. We affectionately call it, “The Barn.” Our church planters can use it anytime for retreats or trainings. Joyce and my mother, Paula Cox, did something as simple as hold babies at our Release church planter training so that the wives could participate with their husbands. We have developed a system that fits us. As our church has grown and matured, we have quite literally grown into our church multiplication system.
We have a saying in our church that undergirds our church multiplication: Size does not determine impact. Numerically, Vista Church is not big, but Vista’s impact on lives and families extends far beyond our own community because of the churches we have helped start. Big in the kingdom is the ability to multiply. Any size church can multiply multiple churches. Will your church answer the call?
As we prepare for our sixth trip to the West Bank in October, I’m sure some are still wondering why we would continue to invest time and resources to go work on someone else’s problems. We have plenty of problems right here in our own communities! Truth be told I fought through the same thoughts as I sat in my West Bank hotel room 37 months ago sensing God’s call to “become the help” in that part of the world Quite a few people suggested, “you should go later”, “you’re such a young church”, “you don’t even have a building.” But those thoughts were like the ones the disciples had when the woman poured the expensive oil on Jesus, washing His feet with her hair. Who are we to determine which need in the world is greater? The priority and timing as well as our time and resources are His.
I remember one person who was encouraging us to follow God. It was the same person who had brought me on the trip and introduced me to people he knew in that part of the world. In fact The Perfecting Church had a shining example of what a group of disciples could do in a hard part of the world. Northwood and my Pastor Bob Roberts had been doing this for decades. They had been and still are a key part of transforming Vietnam, among others, a place that was once totally closed to Christian efforts. However by giving their time and talents to meet unmet needs they found themselves welcome in Vietnam. Through its small, consistent, acts of service NorthWood was ultimately invited to be a part of the process of change in that part of the world. Teachers and educators from their church ultimately wrote and helped implement the curriculum for special education that’s now used throughout Vietnam.
I’ve read Acts 1:8 and even preached and taught from it many times. I’ve always seen this text as the foundation of the early church. My focus in these passages had always been the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the church. I had never given much thought to the charge Jesus was giving His soon to be formed church — “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They understood it though and from its inception the church has always been glocal (existing locally and globally). The apostles traveled to the uttermost parts of the world, preaching and living out the gospel of the Kingdom of God. My thought had always been someone else will go — that’s not my call. God’s thought for us has always been, “You go.” I’m not saying every person must go (although I can’t see why they wouldn’t) but I am saying every local church should be going. Jesus didn’t tell them when you get everything up and running go. When you get established go. When you have buildings with steeples go. It was clear that His vision for the church was for it to exist and reach beyond its local address. This changed me and it changed The Perfecting Church. My entire picture of the church, its role and function, were all based on my local experience and trying to make “our little familiar world better”. Jesus knew how weak, judgmental and limited a gathering of disciples focused only locally and on themselves would become. We’re all missionaries because this earth is not our home. Getting out of our familiar context to serve others supernaturally plants this truth deep in our hearts.
The “ends of the earth” represents “other countries”. Many of us send money abroad. We may even support a local missionary effort. Some of us may even have missionaries in our local church. But Jesus told His disciples to be the witnesses to the ends of the earth or “other countries”. I have learned personally that obeying this command develops a Kingdom mentality in the one who obeys. It brings about a new found sensitivity to the fact that Jesus loves and died for all nations. It delivers us from thinking that those of us in the USA are the “end all-be all” and everyone must think like us. Being a witness in “other countries” puts a demand on our relationship with Christ that is entirely transforming. They don’t speak the same language. They don’t think the same way. They don’t live the same way. They don’t do things the way we think they should be done. This total lack of familiarity creates the need for a child-like dependence on God that is life changing.
This idea of using our gifts, talents, time and passions to reach out beyond ourselves has become the DNA and culture of our church. What others had warned was happening too early actually saved us from it being too late. Most of our churches today get so busy constructing and sustaining internal programs they never make it out of the four-walls to actually impact their cities and the world. We learned it’s not about how many we can jam into a building, but how many we can love like Jesus.
Engaging globally has informed our work here locally. This week alone members of our church will be working with unwed mothers who need help in learning effective child care methods and in becoming self-sustaining adults; women who have suffered from depression or cared for someone who has are conducting a workshop in town with other women who are facing the same thing; our church band will be hosting the finale of its 28-week free music program, which has taught percussion, basic music theory, harmony and melody. Being the church instead of just going to church has literally begun somewhat of a movement here in our region. It’s amazing how attractive the life of Jesus becomes when we live it out beyond the Sunday gathering. We still don’t have a building! But our nearly 1,300 members and the Mayor in our neighboring town would like us to get one. He wants to make sure we don’t leave and we feel we simply need a place to plan and pray for the next time we go.
by Mitch Jolly, Pastor of Three Rivers Community Church, Rome, Georgia
One of my first memories of Bob Roberts and Northwood Church was a conference I was attending while a graduate student in Fort Worth. Bob told us about the local and the global and how they are not separate realities but that the local and the global are connected and that it’s not the professional ministry people who will be key in getting the work done, but the key would be those who engage their domains of society as agents of God’s kingdom. As a student I wanted to be one who engaged my domain of society, mobilized others to do the same and equip them for the work. I was a student being infected with the DNA of the kingdom at Northwood. It was not long until Bob and Northwood accepted me into the church-planting program and the infusion of the Northwood DNA began, and that DNA would be transferred to students like me all the way in Rome, Georgia.
As a graduate student Northwood was catching me at a prime time for harnessing one of God’s greatest seasons of life.
College students have long been catalysts for local and global good. Dwight L. Moody saw the fruit of college students when in 1886 his series of meetings led to one hundred college students pledging themselves to the local going global. Numerous examples like this are scattered across history. Some of the best, however, are right under our noses in our colleges and tech schools.
Three Rivers Community Church is settled in Rome, Georgia. Rome has 3 colleges and a technical school. Students from all over the southeast and even a few Yankees find their way to Rome for higher education. Due to the DNA of our fellowship, we get the honor of shaping many college students’ values and infecting their spiritual DNA with the kingdom.
Without a doubt, the local and global work of the kingdom is impacted with these amazing people seeking to advance the kingdom of God.
Over 12 years we have sent countless college students on summer assignments from across town to West Africa to Nepal to South Asia to North Africa and a host of places in-between in spite of our focus on one particular place. As a side note, the more we focus on one place the more students are raised up to engage other places. It seems to be a trend, but that is for another post.
Many students have tasted these summer adventures and decided to invest their lives in hard places, and some are currently still in those hard places bringing the healing power of the kingdom to bear in their domains of society.
We have watched our students spend summers sampling the world. Those students complete their degrees with a vision. Those students graduate and invest their lives all over the world building hospitals and teaching in schools doing some of the most incredible kingdom work imaginable. We are currently preparing to send one who graduates this May to our global work to be a teacher with a partner organization.
Students who have a global perspective also find their niche in the local domains of society as well. Just this past Sunday I had three young men who have been part of Three Rivers for several years volunteer their services in doing maintenance for a foster home we will be staffing and operating beginning this summer. These guys, as resident assistants in their dorms, pledged the dorms they oversee to the work as well. We have countless stories like these students engaging the local and global domains of society.
Perhaps our college students are our most ready human resource available.
What is it about college students that make them this powerful?
Here are some of my observations.
1. Principled Energy
I’ve been privileged to get to know an increasing number of students whose purpose was to give themselves to something they perceived to be more meaningful as opposed to a job that may net them more money but may also net them less joy.
Couple a principled end with the vigor that comes from being in one’s early twenty’s and the sky is the limit. These guys and gals need very little sleep, they heal fast, they need fewer resources to thrive and they are productive.
I love the word Oomph. It is another way of saying “full of life”. College students are bubbling with life. They bring life to the party. College students bring joy where circumstances may have done a beat-down on some of us dudes getting weathered a bit. College students can bring Oomph to us pastors and our churches.
College students worship with more vigor. College students volunteer faster. College students are hungry to know God. These things lead to an infusion of life.
College students are able to do just about anything at just about any time. Most of them are not married yet. Not all, but many have more financial resource that I’ve anticipated they would have. Many are learning the necessity of a value-laden degree not a debt-laden degree, and they are financially able to let go of trappings that can hinder their local and global service. This is a highly agile and mobile group of difference makers that can make a difference.
College students are still learning what singularly makes them passionate. So, they have many passions and they can flex to each one and be solid help in multiple domains.
4. Visionary Sacrifice
The college students involved in our work in Rome have been able to see to an end that they are not the center of, and they are willing to sacrifice the American Dream in order to have it. That kind of visionary sacrifice shows God to be bigger than other petty ends, and it inspires others to imitate their example.
What is the power of working with college students?
The past and the present tell us that this kind of principled energy, oomph, flexibility and sacrificial giving of oneself for a end higher than themselves not only achieves great kingdom gain, but it inspires others in the kingdom to do the same. College students are, arguably, the most powerful human force for good on the face of the planet. And this collegiate human force for good has historically been used by God to begin movements that have had ripple effects for decades. I’d call that powerful.
I’ve always enjoyed reading biographies. I guess I’m like other people asking the question what makes exceptional people tick. I’ve read several biographies on Jefferson, several on Washington, several on Lincoln – obviously I’ve read biographies of great preachers like Luther, Wesley, Calvin, Spurgeon, Whitfield, Moody, and I just bought one another biography on Livingstone. I’ve enjoyed biographies on Caesar, Alexander the Great, Ho Chi Minh, Alfred the Great, Peter the Great, and I’m about to read a biography on Saladin. MLK, JFK, RFK, Jobs, Tolstoy, Gandhi, are all people that I’ve learned from their lives in biographies. All of these were great leaders; I’m convinced none come close to Moses. He’s head and shoulders above them all – even Abraham, David, Isaiah, the brilliant hard headed Paul and the passionate impulsive Peter. Read more
I sat in a room of Ayatollahs, pastors, diplomats, and professors –primarily Iranians, but also some from the States – about 30 of us in total. The Iranian Muslim two seats down from me made an unexpected and startling statement. He said, “We say religion is about peace. Islam means peace. Jesus was to have brought peace – every religion says it’s about peace, but religion by nature is not peaceful but violent.” Immediately it went from an inter-faith discussion of faith and violence to an intra-faith discussion among the Muslims. He was being challenged, but he pushed back. For about 45 minutes they spoke in Farsi and we couldn’t understand what was being said. The longer I reflected on what he said, I began to think he was right. Read more
This morning I was tweeting some encouragement to young pastors and faith leaders and strongly sensed God telling me to stop tweeting, and write a blog for you. I know many of you and have been with many of you in your 20’s and early 30’s a lot the past few weeks and I am so encouraged by what I see in you. I know you have a lot of questions as you move forward. The church is at a major shift and everyone is saying it’s this way or that, this model or that, this theological framework or that – but let me remind you, first and foremost – it is just as you began your walk with Jesus – it is Jesus at the crux of it all. If Jesus is not at the crux of all you see and do, then you’ll become bitter, angry, throwing stones, trashing others, building your kingdom, and missing all that God has for. By the way, you can grow a big “ministry” and it not be God’s. Business and marketing techniques are such that you really do not need the Holy Spirit anymore, let alone preach the cross. Learn from the business books along with sociology, history, trends, literature, you need to be sharp – but you’re a part of something supernatural and eternal, not mechanical and merely organizational.
Don’t be discouraged by people saying the world is messed up – when has it not been? What a time of adventure to live! Many who say this have not lived through the times prior to the global shifts like the American and ultimately many global revolutions, the Civil War, WWI, and WWII. I believe we are living in a time like that right now. Read more
The racial issues that divide us, and the hate that pervades us based on race and religion will be our downfall – not because it’s new – but because we as evangelicals are denying the very Gospel we say that we believe in. While global followers of Jesus are going to prison and losing their lives for their love of Jesus and the ability to spread the Good News, we are filled with hate, just like those that persecute Jesus followers around the world. Isn’t the Gospel (Good news of Jesus) different? Aren’t we supposed to be different? For a man without Jesus to act in hate and fear is nothing new nor unexpected, but the power of the Gospel (good news of Jesus) is that we as evangelicals (we believe in the complete authority and inspiration of the Bible and the humanity and divinity of Jesus) are not driven by that – if anything we are freed from that. If the Gospel truly is our only hope, then we need to let it work and be out front driving hate and fear back, instead of the broader society in front of the church challenging her to catch up. Read more
1. Not knowing what’s going on in the world and how it affects you and those you love. Terrorism, economics, cyberspace all have the ability to disrupt our lives dramatically. Staying informed in the news and from multiple news sources is critical. Each news outlet has its own bias for reporting, not having a broad and clear understanding of issues is also dangerous.
2. Not knowing how to apply God’s Word to everyday life and situations. I’ve heard Len Sweet in the past talk about not just exegeting the Scriptures, but exegeting the culture. The Bible is so much more than a history book – how does it apply to the various situations we experience? How do we teach it where it’s alive and changing lives and confronting lives with the truth? Read more