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.

Even a Broken Clock is Right Twice a Day.

As my wife and I settled in for movie night, the romantic comedy He’s Just Not That into You unfolded on the flat screen. We followed the somewhat interconnected relational missteps of nine people for 129 minutes. As the credits neared, the narrator, or narratress as the case may be, finally divulged the movie’s thesis.

Finding true love is the exception to the rule, the unexpected twist in life’s third act” It seemed that this romantic tragedy which have been theatrically reproduced is the norm, or so we were told. “Maybe we are so focused on finding a happy ending, we can’t learn how to read the signs. How to tell those who want us from those who don’t, the ones who will stay from the ones who will leave. Maybe a happy ending doesn’t include a wonderful guy. Maybe it’s you, on your own, picking up the pieces and starting over . . . maybe it’s just moving on.

Or maybe the happy ending is this. . . knowing that through all the unreturned phone calls, broken hearts, blunders and misread signals, pain and embarrassment, you never gave up hope” With the narratress’ final thought ringing in my ears, the music score surfaced and ended poignantly.

Save me”

How does this statement on 21st century love and life fit on a ministry blog? Glad you asked. This picture of dysfunctional love and life is on daily display, front and center in the main gallery of our culture’s lifeflow. To a great extent, what Christian’s would call broken life has become normal life of the dominant, post-Christian, post-modern social order we call contemporary. This new normal is the culture we, as Christ followers, are called to engage.

As Christ follows we are called to disciple the nations, not to separate ourselves from this emotionally damaged generation. For when we do, we thereby communicate that we are somehow better, and by comparison the hurting person is somehow less. This isn’t the way Christ interacted with his world . . . the woman at the well in Samaria, Mary Magdalene, Simon the outcast tax collector.

Yet even in the movie’s sadly narcissistic and slightly damaged conclusion, the writer sowed a small seed of truth. Life isn’t about the happy ending, or about what you get out of a relationship. Life is about finding wholeness. After that pearl of great price is unearthed and understood, a person is ready to share that life, and his or her own, with another. Thereby we become a blessing, instead of demanding to be somehow fulfilled and completed by another. Before we can give we have to receive.

As Christ followers, we know, and have the source of that blessing in our midst. We know personally the One who will genuinely love and never leave. We meet in closed circles to discuss Him, learn about Him, and make sure we are really part of His group.

Yet the world is still wondering, wandering, lost and needing to be saved.

Will we break out of our comfort zones? When will those outside the walls of our churches hear that real love is not the exception th the rule. When will they see? When will we go and tell them . . . with our lives, our actions and our words?

A New Year – A Renewed Focus

I grew up spiritually in a coffeehouse. We didn’t have the recourses of the typical local church, nor were we focused on duplicating what hundreds of other churches in our city did on a daily basis. We lived close to the inner city neighborhood in which we opened our doors, and as a result our ministry was directly shaped by the needs of those who wandered in the door on any given weekend.

When I left for college, I found another coffee house drop in ministry, and made it my part time home. Spending time in the Para church organization didn’t replace my home church membership. Each Sunday and many Wednesday’s I attended traditional service and bible study. But again, spending time in the evangelism-focused outlet of a coffee house ministry shaped my personal born again views. AT the heart of my new life in Christ, I was called to find unique gifts Christ had put in my heart and use them to build the Kingdom in what ever way God brought before me.

Last year, I did a series of articles on Trinity Church in Lansing, Mi. If you check their website (www.trinitywired.com) you will find this perspective distilled into 3 words. Discover – Develop – Deploy.

I love the graphics Trinity has used to illustrate this kingdom principle. A seek planted in the ground discovers its purpose as it spouts roots and pushes a tender leaf into the sky. As the plant develops, it finds both strength and resources to become that for which God created it. Finally, the plant drops its own seed, fruit, or flower as it deploys that which it has collected, duplicating itself for the blessing of others.

These three words capture the heart of this blog. We are new creatures in Christ, and in that new creation we have a new purpose to discover.

God calls each member of the body to contribute from the gifts God has given them, and in doing so we mature from spiritual seedlings into a vineyard from which God expects a harvest.

God has given us the ministry of reconciliation, to carry his redemptive message and revolutionary lifestyle to a dying world.

In this simple description are these quiet questions –

Have you discovered God’s new life?

What are you proactively, intentionally pursuing to develop his life and gifts within yourself?

Where are you called to deploy? Are you following, and obeying his call on your life?

Jesus said in John 17.3: Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

This is our gift as we receive new life in Christ Jesus. This is our call to bring the knowledge of Christ to the world.

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.