Book Giveaway – the Latest from Andy Stanley

Check out Vessel Project Book Giveaway for a copy of Andy Stanley’s book The Principle of the Path.

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Building Racial Harmony – Who Starts??

Racial harmony isn’t the result of the EEOC, NAACP, diversity policies in hiring practices or affirmative action quotas. Racial harmony is birthed when people of different backgrounds, racial, religious, ethnic, or social learn to respect one another and the differences inherent in those who are raised in significantly different social settings. It can’t be legislated, and won’t grow from seeds of anti-discrimination laws. Racial harmony comes when we choose to make friends across racial / social / economic lines, and walk with each other, in the others shoes as it may be. For this reason, the responsibility and opportunity to build racial harmony belongs to the Church, to followers of Jesus Christ.

Linda Leigh Hargroves has a number of step by step approaches for Christ followers to engage the process of building racial harmony. As a woman of color, her advice is genuine, and comes with the realization that when diverse individuals or groups meet, there are suspicious, assumptions and prejudices on both side of the conversation. As a result, predictable pitfalls lie in the path of both parties.

I recommend you visit Linda’s blog (http://llhargrove.com/), especially if you are a Christ follower. I believe heaven won’t be a segregated place, but will be a wonderful melting pot of cultures, peoples and faith. Our Christian faith isn’t just about what happens after a person dies. We have the opportunity to live a transformed life here, now. Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven is among you. Shouldn’t we be about the business of building a community which will reflect what we will find in heaven. Linda’s advice will help you pursue a colorblind Kingdom.

How this Small Congregation is Both Transformational and Emergent.

Engedi Church is a younger congregation with appx. 330 regular attendees / partners aged 50 and under. Pastor Brian keeps the messages real and funny, and the music is contemporary. His church is made up of “flaming liberals, political right wingers, and others who are apolitical – and they are all friends”

What attracts newcomers to Engedi? He replied “It’s the people. We are warm and friendly, not glitzy”

Brian and I further discussed what he sees as the attraction for those who come to a semi-abandoned strip mall for Sunday services when there is a church on every corner in the small community of Holland, Mi. For believers, a significant attraction is the time and emphasis dedicated to outreach. As is prevalent in many emergent churches, Engedi spends much of its energy making connections with those who are on the edges of their well woven community. Yet Engedi’s message is not typically emergent.

The message presented in some emergent churches is that truth is grayed around the edges. While black and white, right and wrong existed strongly in the past, today we need to wrestle with these issues and come to a mediated, fresh experience of truth.

Pastor Brian disagrees. While they make connections with those investigating Christ, by acknowledging the faith journey, God’s word is still presented as unchanging and all-encompassing truth. People in relationship with their God don’t have to defend his word, or confront others. We are on a journey, and accepting others like Christ did doesn’t mean the message changes. The message is one of hope and transformation, and the reason Engedi meets.

The attraction to those who are still seeking, or investigating the claims of Christ is, foremost that they are accepted. Secondly, those investigating Christ are often attracted to Engedi because of their emphasis on social justice and social outreach. In practice this means that a large number of Engedi partners are committed to and involved in compassion based outreach. Twenty five percent of Engedi’s budget is directed toward local and international outreach. While Engedi partners shy away from political causes, they have worked to expand public transportation in their home town and raise support for African relief projects.

In short, the appeal for those partnering with, and investigating Christ at Engedi is outreach. Pastor Brian believes that this the central issue which makes Engedi a transformational and prevailing church. “We present the clear teaching of scriptures. We don’t dumb down the message. The gospel is radical and demanding, calling people back to Christ. The demands of the gospel call us to create a new community, and God expects us to take action. The purpose of Engedi is to create meaningful change in people lives in that direction.”

Engedi Church – a Small Congregation with Big Ideas.

Engedi Church ( http://www.engedichurch.com ) began meeting in a school cafe on Oct 5, 2005. A daughter of large and successful Central Wesleyan Church (CWC) in Holland Mi., Engedi was birthed by Pastor Brian Aulick and a small group of congregants who wanted to be less anchored in tradition and more freely focused on areas of living in a discipling community and engaging social outreach. This is not to say that Central Wesleyan was not concerned about these issues. As a growing church on Michigan’s west coast, CWC is a traditional Wesleyan church which has a great reputation and impact in the community. Those involved in Engedi simply wanted to shift their focus, not start a new denomination.

In our interview, Pastor Brian Aulick said he never planned on a church plant. Engedi started as a small group within CWC. After 5 years, the senior pastor suggested that Brian plant the unique congregation in order to expand their outreach and impact. Brian and Engedi members are more highly connected to living out their faith every day of the week. The group wanted to be more intentional in helping people serve in the community during the week.

Engedi was named after the small oasis which hid David from King Saul during the years he evaded Saul in wilderness. Engedi is a small valley, just off the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. In a parched region void of vegetation, a small stream breaks across the rocks, and falls down in the Engedi Valley, creating a cool lush retreat of green plants and animal life. The Engedi oasis was often a place where weary travelers stopped for refreshment and refueling. In this image Pastor Brian fashions this growing congregation.

Those who make Engedi their church home are called partners, not members. Each partner is called to, and willingly agrees to pursue a more deliberate, intentional Christian life. This paradigm is also promoted by Dr. Randy Carlson, speaker, writer and radio host with Family Life Communications. (www.theintentionallife.com) Partners commit to core practices, each of which linked to core values. The practical emphasis placed on these 5 core values make Engedi unique, and transformational for both partners and the community around them.

CABLE – A Means to Tie It All Together. Built on the acronym CABLE, the Engedi partners agree to practice the following.

C: To Care for others needs. The first core value is not restricted to those who come to church with you, or those you know. Each CABLE group is asked to have a community outreach project, such as collecting food for the local food bank, or mentoring local students.
A: To Acknowledge the journey with others regularly. Living your faith isn’t just a Sunday thing, and partners of Engedi intentionally seek out time to fellowship with others, and as Paul wrote: “Build up each other in the faith”
B: To Bless others weekly. “If the gospel is hidden, it is hidden to those who are perishing” Engedi partners seek to communicate, bless and give to others in some way that reflects the way Jesus would.
L: To Learn God’s word and to Listen to God’s voice. Being led by God’s spirit is, or should be an every day thing. By purposefully practicing God’s presence, Engedi partners seek to be an active partner with God’s work in everyday life.
E: To Eat with others. Jesus practiced what may sound simple – He slowed down to eat with those who knew him, and those who didn’t. Fellowship that happens over a meal can open doors to share more than just food. Relationships are built, and partners use relational evangelism to draw those who don’t know Christ a step or two nearer.

A Personal Mega-Church

By the numbers, Trinity Church in Lansing, Mi would be considered a ‘Mega-church.’ With 3 services each weekend, an average 2700 adults attend pulling behind them 500 to 700 children.  However, if you were standing on the balcony between services, you would experience a unique culture within the congregation.  A large atrium stretches across the back of the auditorium, with light flooding in from a three story window wall. Before, after and between services, Trinity member and guests pause over coffee to genuinely partake of each other’s lives.  The attendance numbers haven’t pushed aside real relationships, genuine caring, and time taken to build lasting friendships.

Trinity started in 1952 as a home fellowship.  Students and adults associated with Michigan State University wanted a personal, relationally connected church fellowship. The congregation is still strongly composed of professionals from the East Lansing university and business community. However, since moving to Lansing’s south side, the congregation has grown in numbers, and diversity.

For the next couple weeks I will be highlighting Lansing Trinity for this reason: although the numbers are large, the relationships are intimate and those at the church’s core continually reach outward.  While a member there, I couldn’t walk through the atrium without a number of genuine friends finding me, and asking meaningful questions.  So often I hear/read complaints about how larger churches loose the personal touch.  Trinity is an exception.  As such, those of us in ministry can learn from their spiritual, relational, and community successes.

I spoke with the Director of Connection ministries, Jeff Schneider, and asked about this personal and genuine organizational culture that is at Trinity’s core.  As we discussed what the church practiced in the way of supporting practices, Jeff told me that 70% – 75% of the congregation is regularly involved in small group communities.  Most meet in homes during the week, and gather multiple times a month, with a few meeting in the church building

I asked Jeff to what he attributed this high percentage of small groups.  He replied these three points:

1.    The church leadership models small groups.  The church leadership, from the head pastor to children’s church teachers are committed to “doing life together.”
2.    Small group ministry as a model for Christian growth is supported from the pulpit.  Christian growth and disciple building is understood and taught as necessary fruit in a Christian’s life. Small groups are a consistent vehicle to bring about that deep, abiding growth.
3.   Each year, the church holds 2 connection events. In the worship program each week is an opportunity to indicate interest in small groups for the outgoing. What Trinity has found more effective is biannual connection events. Jeff related that face to face events, where those who are not involved in small groups can meet leaders and build relational bridges, are the most effective means to get a new person to take the risk of engaging deliberate Christian community.

Read more about Trinity Church, Lansing Michigan here.