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Global Pastors Speak About Global Trends

 

Every year global leaders meet somewhere in the world to build relationships, learn from each other and leverage what God has given each leader. This group consist of about 20 global leader which represent approximately 11 million followers including their networks. In December 2017 this group met in Bethlehem to share what God is doing in their part of the world. One of the question we asked all of them was “What were the 10 top global trends which they thought will significantly influence the coming years?” Here is the list of trends they selected.

Media/Social/Tech

The Church has unprecedented opportunities to enhance social connectivity, influence right social action, and extend its evangelism and discipleship efforts by utilizing these rapidly emerging technologies. New possibilities will exist to employ aggressive strategies to reach people broadly or in a specific way through technology. This will allow continued and expanded communication into difficult-to-access countries or people groups. It will be important that new models are researched and best practices are shared broadly. More than ever, Global South partners can and should participate in these wide-reaching conversations as equals.

Rise of Radicalism & Grassroots Religious Persecution

A continuing rise in radicalism, especially in failed states, will be a consequence of disillusionment and anger over lack of economic opportunities and of ideologies that emphasize ethnic, tribal and religious differences. Christ’s call is higher than mere tolerance – it is to show love and respect in a language that is understood. Following Christ’s teaching to be peacemakers would call for appealing to common values and reducing antagonistic rhetoric. The global Church has the opportunity to set an example in respect-based diplomacy.

Growth in Islam & Christianity

Both Islam and Christianity will continue to see rapid but uneven growth. Islam’s growth will be fueled by high birth rates in some traditionally Muslim countries, coupled with immigration to Europe and aggressive expansion in other regions. Christianity will grow in the Global South, primarily driven by Pentecostalism and indigenous mission movements. Conflicts will intensify between these two major religions in many parts of the world.
The global Church’s challenge can be summed up as learning how to love one’s Muslim neighbor in the name of Christ while seeking respect and reciprocity. Both Islam and Christianity will face challenges from the tendency to see the other as a monolith. Both will have trouble dealing with extremism and theological shallowness from within. Conflict management and peacemaking initiatives will be needed, as will increased levels of advocacy and dialogue on the issue of religious freedom.

Young People

There is a crying need for role models for youth, from elders and peers. Traditional structures, often bound by the culture of an older generation, are seldom appealing to younger generations. By dealing with institutionalized issues of hierarchy, the Church could empower youth to get involved, take initiative at a much younger age, and offer fresh thinking to aging organizations.  The global Church can equip youth to become prepared for all spheres of society by providing discipleship and leadership training, recognizing the practical need for employment and livelihood, and developing and practicing an “integral theology” through education and skills training. It will take an openness to significant change while not losing a biblical center.

Broken Families

Since the 1960s the family has undergone significant transformation. In many countries, the extended family has all but disappeared, and the traditional family consisting of a married couple with children has become much less widespread as divorce rates, cohabitation, couples “living together apart”, single parenthood and same-sex partnerships have all increased. A rise in migration has made cultures and values more diverse. Families have seen more mothers take up work in the labor market.  Adolescents spend longer and longer alone and the elderly members of the family live longer. This disintegration and reshaping of the family unit is creating massive social problems around the world. This environment puts a demand on the global church for holistic, multi-generational, multi ethnic and multi-cultural approaches to ministries.

Nationalism/Tribalism

There is a resurgence of tribalism and identification with religious factions. Identity conflicts are, and will remain, the most important source of international violence and war in the world. Nationalism is on the rise, the belief that your own country is healthier when it returns to its ethnic and historical roots.  This rise is due in part to globalization and the sense of rootlessness that it has caused.  Sometimes nationalism makes people not want to work with other countries to solve shared problems and isolate itself from the world. It is important not to confuse nationalism with patriotism. Patriotism is a healthy pride in your country that brings about feelings of loyalty and a desire to help other citizens.  The challenge for the global church is to rise above the politics of the day and call people to a higher standard of living and relating to this world where its identity is rooted in Christ and not some temporal entity, where people are called to live as kingdom citizens in this world.

Terrorism/Violence

Terrorism and Violence is on the rise in the world. So, what does this all mean for the world today? If massively destructive terror attacks continue, terror management theory predicts that societies will grow exponentially more chaotic and divided. Heightened aggression towards dissimilar others produces a tendency to favor war over peace. Right-wing nationalism will thrive along with prejudice and intolerance. Islamic fundamentalism will flourish while terror attacks grow more frequent. Raised tensions between nations, ethnicities and political groups will lead to further conflict, creating a devastating feedback loop of suspicion and violence. The Challenge to the global church is live out the mandate of being peacemakers, to be reconcilers and not dividers. To love our enemies and bless those who curse us.

Refugees

Every minute, 24 people around the world are forced to flee their homes. That’s 34,000 people a day who leave everything behind in the hope of finding safety and a better tomorrow. THERE ARE 65 MILLION REFUGEES IN THE WORLD TODAY. A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries. Right now, nearly 5 million people have fled the conflict in Syria, and there is no end to the crisis in sight. The global church must see this as an opportunity and not a problem. We must welcome the stranger in our home. Let the government entities deal with the geopolitics of this issue. Our role is to love and take care of people when they knock on our doors. 

Decline of Religion

Modernity will be expressed differently across generational lines. One common face, however, will be materialism and a move towards religious nominalism. Traditional religious institutions will be eroded. Developed nations will see a growing worldliness in their religious congregations. Some developing nations will follow the same trend, as modernization leads people to lose a living sense of the supernatural. The Church’s greatest challenge in this area may well be to interpret culture in light of the Gospel rather than reading the Gospel in light of culture. Diversity not secularization is to be celebrated. Our Christian distinctive should remain unambiguous. We are to be relevant but not relativistic, proclaim absolute truth and provide a contrast for people who are hungry for a Kingdom reality. The need for investments in leadership development has never been clearer.

Sex/LGBTQ

The relationship between religion and the LGBTQ community is a complicated one and everyone experiences it differently. It all depends on how you feel and what you choose. Historically many orthodox religions have treated LGBTQ people harshly. However, within nearly every religious denomination there are now supportive groups that have adopted different interpretations about LGBTQ people. Some denominations, such as Reform Judaism and the Episcopalian church, are openly supportive of LGBTQ members. As society shifts to be more accepting of LGBTQ people, many other denominations are starting to grapple with this issue. The question is how will the global church communicate its conviction on this issue without alienating people who are part of this community. How do we speak the truth in love?

 

(Thank you to First Fruit Global Trends and www.care.org for some of the data included in this blog)

Religious Leaders As Prophets

[THE SECOND POST IN A BLOG SERIES ON RELIGION & GOVERNMENT BY BOB ROBERTS]

We need really good prophets who are religious leaders today.  Nathan, whom David loves and listens to, stands before him and calls him out for sleeping with Bathsheba and having Uriah, her husband, killed. He says that famous line to David, “Thou art the man.”  Jeremiah is thrown into a muddy cistern for prophesying against the King of Israel and warning of impending judgment.  Jeremiah also had to stand up to false prophets like Hananiah when they said only what the King wanted to hear.  There are manhy prophets in the Old Testament, but few really speak for God.  Most are enamored by access, power, authority, and privilege.  It’s the same today.  1 Kings 18 is a powerful chapter where Obadiah is hiding 100 prophets from King Ahab for challenging him.  It’s here, when Elijah is going to meet King Ahab, that Ahab’s responds, “It is you, you troubler of Israel.”  1 Kings 22 is rather funny – when Ahab is seeking a word about going to war, his 400 prophets say do it and you will win.   He’s asked by King Jehosaphat of Judah if there are any other prophets who have anything else to say.  King Ahab says, “There is yet one man . . Micaiah. . . but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.”  Ahab should have listened to Micaiah. 

The prophetic isn’t limited to the Old Testament.  Though not exactly the same, it is actually a ministry and gift of the church.  Stephen spoke prophetically at his martyrdom to Jews who had become hard-hearted.  In Acts 21 Agabus prophesies Paul will be imprisoned to which Paul’s response was “let the Lord’s will be done.”  Church history is so filled with prophetic ministry.  Look at St. Francis of Assisi challenging the church and kings of the day against war and the crusades.  Look at Martin Luther challenging the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope.  Look at Roger Williams challenging England and the early American Colonies on religious freedom.  Look at Wilberforce and Livingstone challenging slavery.  Look at Charles Finney challenging the government in the 1800’s on child labor laws.  Look at Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenging Hitler, Germany and the Nazi’s.  Look at Mother Teresa challenging Bill Clinton on abortion at the National Prayer Breakfast.  THESE are the stories that lead to biographies that people devour. These are the examples that people long to emulate, not hob-nobbers and pundits and would-be prophets who are soon forgotten as kings rise and fall.  These are the prophets that change the world – the ones who fear God more than the King.

I hear the prophets all around us today – do you?  Beth Moore, Kevin Kelly, Derwin Gray, David Brooks, Mary Demuth, John Jenkins, Jim Mather, Chris Seiple, Tim Scott, Lecrae, Rich Nathan, Leonard Sweet, Brian Zahnd, Eddie Leo, Gabe Lyons, Ed Stetzer, Eugene Cho, Oscar Muriu, David Devonish . . . and I could go on and on and on and on.  They are with us.  No one really wants to be a prophet, at least not a real one.  You go through a lot of trials.  Your own tribe judges you harshly.  It’s not going to make you popular, if anything just the opposite.  The majority of the prophetic ministry is aimed not outside your tribe but inside it!  A prophet lives for eternity and truth.  A prophet isn’t looking for reward or recognition in this life.  A prophet has to have incredible strength and endurance and resilience when they get knocked down and trashed by others.  Prophets aren’t necessarily mean and harsh, they are just used to getting hit a lot!  We should all strive to be “happy” prophets.

Prophets speak about truth and injustice and how nations are treating others.  They see the big picture.  It’s always been fascinating to me that Matthew 25 is the judgment of NATIONS!  People are gathered as and by nations. This is profound.  God loves nations.  God has established nations.  Nations are not done away with throughout eternity.  God wants his will on earth to be done today and here are a few metrics he will hold all nations and all people accountable for.  Nations will be judged by God, and notice, according to Jesus, what they are judged on . . feeding, giving water, refugees, clothing, how we treat prisoners, health, how you treat “the least.”    These are the literal words of Jesus.  We can’t ignore them, soften them, spin them, side step them.  Morality and character and integrity have always been things that prophets have spoken to but now Jesus shows the fruit of real character, integrity, and morality.   These things cannot be ignored.  People can be very moral externally but unloving.  You are going to care about these things because you radically love all people just like Jesus.  Therefore, as faith leaders, if we would practice prophetic ministry and spare our nations God’s judgement, then these are the issues that we must be speaking to.  Thus today, as faith leaders have in the past, we must have a prophetic ministry. 

Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I teach our young pastors that there are two reasons you stand before a King or leader.  The first reason is that you know someone.  The second is that you have earned credibility from your work and service to others and the King wants to see you.  Those are two very, very different meetings.  The first is a hand shake, a picture, a few statements of niceness.  The second, is a conversation filled with questions and a search for understanding.  I’ve learned it’s better to not meet a King at all than meet a King with a pundit.  You will forever be labeled by that King by how you met them.   Not only the King, but the company you are with before the King labels you by others as well. 

The goal of the prophet is not to win the favor of the King but to speak on behalf of God and truth.  Obviously there is no point in being antagonistic to a king.  When God opens the door, challenge them – but not in a mean and hateful way – rather, in an affirming and hopeful way.  Smile a lot.  Use laugher and self-deprication.  It goes a long way and may help you keep your head a little longer!  Pray for them, know all you can about them, be respectful and never underestimate why God might have you in front of a King.  I’ve been in situations where I wound up talking about my faith and what it means to follow Jesus that NOT IN A MILLION YEARS would I ever have expected.  I remember the first time someone labeled by the world as “significant” began to ask me about Jesus, what I believed about him, and what the cross was such a big deal.  I’ll never forget another leader asking me, “Why do you evangelicals believe we are the anti-Christ.”  Oohhh, the stupid, stupid, things we say that hinders the gospel.  That one took me a couple of hours. 

When I’ve stood before leaders, and I have young leaders with me – which I often do because I’m always mentoring – I have to talk to them about how to enter a room.  When to speak and when to be silent.  I tell them we aren’t tourist so don’t ask for pictures.  If they want a picture we will oblige, but don’t ask.  I tell them when we eat a meal with a leader, it’s not about the meal – don’t focus on the food, focus on the leader and listen to what is said and what is not said and how it’s said.  I could go on and on and on.  I’ve become friends with leaders by keeping confidences, saying little, challenging privately – and sometimes only when absolutely necessary, publicly.

Prophetic leadership challenges wrongs and promotes right.  The danger of being too public with a public figure is when they do wrong, and you remain silent – you loose your own credibility.  The quieter you are publicly about your relationships, the more you will have, as well as far more latitude to operate in.  No leader wants to be a sermon illustration, a photo opp, or news story.  Kings and Presidents come and go, truth remains and God is eternal. 

By the way, these principles are not just good for Kings & President but for how you treat everyone, and also how you want to be treated. 

Why You Should Give on Giving Tuesday

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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 toWe 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.
  6. 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.

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.

Lessons From a Hurricane: Learning to Love Our City

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.”

I think she’s on to something.

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.

 

 

 

BRINGING THE KINGDOM OF GOD

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 . . .

#1  The 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. 

#2  The 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.

#3  The 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. 

#4  The 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.

#5  The 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. 

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]

START FOR THE WORLD

Recently, one of the churches in our family of churches, took center stage in the natural disaster of Hurricane Harvey. Houston Northwest Church and its pastor, Steve Bezner, found themselves facing a legacy-defining moment: do they focus their energies on their building that had been flooded and the people within their church or do they turn their attention to the neighborhoods surrounding their building and the thousands of people hopelessly watching the floodwaters inundate their homes, destroying all of their earthly belongings? For five years Steve had been exhorting his 40-year old congregation to engage and serve and love the people of northwest Houston regardless of their race or religion. So, when the God-moment arrived in Harvey, there was no decision to be made. Houston Northwest would don their #WELOVEHOU t-shirts and head to the neighborhoods. As a result of their response, they have raised over $400,000 to help in relief, mudded out hundreds of homes, provided essentials to thousands, Steve has been on local television and Headline News, established a partnership with WorldVision, and last but certainly not least, received several shout outs through Twitter from none other than Beth Moore herself!

Why would Steve lead his church to begin with serving its community? Because he has taught his church the four values of our family of churches: Kingdom, Disciple, Society, Church. It is these four values that we instill in our church planters through our Release training for church planters with the hope that they will start right—that they will start a church for the world.

Without divulging too much from our Release training, what do we mean when we desire to start a church for the world and not just for a community? Here are a few thoughts:

Starting a church for the world means serving the poor around us.

This was Jesus’ calling. It is a Kingdom calling. It is our calling.

17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:17-19 (ESV)

Starting a church for the world means planting churches locally and globally at the same time.

However, to accomplish this, planting methodologies and approaches need to be driven from the field—not from the West! Frankly, we have more to learn from the church in the East than they do from us in the West. The popular statistic is that only 4% of churches in the US ever help start another church. We challenge our church planters through our Release training to help another church start within their first 12 months of existence.

Starting a church for the world means working in a “hard place” in the world.

We challenge our church planters to go where no one else dares to go. We train them to go to a “hard place” in the world and make a long-term transformational commitment to that place in the world until that specific place also becomes a sending place. It will take courage and wisdom to engage in hard places, but we will never fulfill the Great Commission if we don’t.

We fully recognize that this type of church planter training is not for everyone. But, if it is speaking your language, then you have two options. One, join us November 8-9, 2017 for our first-ever GlocalNet Family Gathering. At this gathering, you will learn in greater detail why starting churches for the world is such an integral part of who we are as a family of churches. You can register here:  GlocalNet Family Gathering Registration. We would love to have you join us. Or, join us at our next Release training near you. You can find out the one nearest you here:  Release Initiative.

You may never have to lead a relief effort after a hurricane, but if you start a church that serves the poor, multiplies churches and engages in a hard place in the world, you will find yourself on the adventure of a lifetime. Oh, by the way, you will not be doing this alone. You will have a family beside you, so go start a church for the world!