The Church of the Future Part 1

The Divine dream is so much greater than the Church.  

Believers of all nations and generations have always known it to be so.  We have this God-honouring, life- stretching desire to see every area of our cities and our cultures infected with His goodness and glory.  We have the insatiable, even inescapable desire to see our families and our community experience the influence of generous hope.  It may seem crazy but changing the world is our family business.

"The Church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the Church. The Church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence." 

  So in the spirit of believing the best and trusting that it is possible for a broken Church to display the wisdom of God in the midst of a fractured culture - and knowing that God is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine - some time ago I endeavoured to describe some shifts we can expect to see in the Church in the coming years. 

The Church of the future will move from missional Church to loving the city: 

   Bringing life to the city is the task of every believing community. the Church has not fulfilled her mandate until the city experiences life.  In the future you can expect to see churches move from focussing on individual transformation to a gospel big enough for the whole city.  The Church of the future will make visible the beauty and glory of God throughout the entire city.  She will do so by moving beyond the building and giving her life compassionately, generously, creatively and resiliently to lead the city into life.  In the future expect to see churches fight for life at the heart of the city.  

 

The Church of the future will move from doing evangelism to leading the city into life.

 Jesus didn’t evangelise the masses, he brought life to cities.  Many times we have confused bringing life to the city with 'taking our cities for God.'  Yet, Churches don’t take their city for God, they lead the city into life through generous hope. They learn how to wash the feet of their city; bending low for fresh grace and finding it in the face of the lost, lowest and least.  The focus of churches in the future will not be to conquer cities, but  to create life-giving environments that love the city back to health.  

Therefore,  expect churches in the future not to focus on winning people FOR Jesus or leading people TO Jesus, instead they will love people WITH Jesus and allow his glorious generous life to spill into them.  'In him is life' and that life lights up our cities causing them to come alive in every way. Expect the Church of the future to learn how to wash the feet of its city!

 

The Church of the future will move from working ON the city to working WITH the city.

 Expect churches of the future to build bridges rather than walls, partnering together with other agencies and churches to supply the destiny of the community.  Expect them to be increasingly connected with the life of the city and increasingly committed to bringing life to the city.  And doing it together!   Expect the Church of the future to throw parties for single parents, tackle domestic violence, be at the centre of adoption, serve schools, provide volunteers for other agencies. Expect them to work with local councillors and politicians, teachers and doctors, people of all faiths and none, in order to create a better city. 

 

The Church of the future will move from ministry centres to compassionate hubs.

 Expect the Church of the future to be known more for compassion towards the stranger than programs for the believer.  They will have a reputation not only of bringing good news to the city but being good news for the city.  It will be deeply messy!   Kingdom compassion leads us beyond ourselves and messes with our heads, our hands, our hearts, our services and our churches.  Yet, the future terrain of compassionate churches includes unfamiliar paths, uncertain outcomes, formidable challenges and uncomfortable members.

While it's easier to have ministry centres, expect the Church of the future to operate more as compassion hubs: Places where, (among other things), the poor are fed and clothed, people receive medical attention, job centres are created and the indebted are released.  Expect compassionate churches to be frequently out of their depth and occasionally somewhat out of control.  They will intentionally and increasingly structure for honour rather than control. They will be known for providing dignity rather than operating efficiently.   

 

The Church of the future will move from ministry activity to spiritual authority thus rewriting the story of the city.

  The Church changes the possibilities for the city because the Church is the ONLY community with ALL authority.  There are other profoundly generous communities in our cities who are doing incredible things.  There are amazing agencies demonstrating wonderful compassion in our cities, however the church is the only community which has received ALL authority.  Jesus didn't commission His Church to increased activity but with increased authority.  The kingdom advances through authority not activity. 

 In the future, expect the authority of believers in the city to change the possibilities for the city.  Expect a fresh capacity to re-write the story of the city.  Expect a shift from ministry activity to kingdom authority.  Whilst ministry activity can keep the church alive, only spiritual/kingdom authority brings life to the entire city.  Expect churches in the future to be marked by greater understanding and use of spiritual authority. Expect them to exercise authority humbly as they tackle impossibility and supply destiny through breaking oppression. Expect things to change as the Church releases what She holds in her hands.

 

The Church of the future will move from renewal, to releasing power on the streets: 

  Expect the inbreaking of the kingdom where people’s hearts are breaking. Expect leaders who frequently encourage folks, "whatever else you do find a way to take it to the streets – to connect the grace that is on you with the people who are around you. Do whatever it takes to get out there among the people and God will keep giving you more. Giving away what God has given you to needy people multiplies what you have been given."  The power was given to the Church for the cities. It wasn’t given so we could have better meetings, or greater experiences, it was given to change the community – the whole community!  Expect churches of the future to embrace Divine initiatives and Divine invitations to testfiy with great power among the people.

  With that in mind, expect the Church in the future to break down the confines that separate much power from broken people.  Expect her to broaden her awareness of who the kingdom is for, and in so doing, become awakened to all those moments when the kingdom might come.  She will carry an awareness that kingdom ministry belongs at the heart of the city, and seek to create environments where life can be returned to people.  She will intentionally create environments where Divine fullness and human brokeness collide; where the desperation of man and the intervention of God meet.  Expect to see churches move on from renewal and begin releasing greater power on the streets.

And finally....

The Church of the future will move on from seeking cultural relevance towards releasing culture.

   The Church of the future won't practice cultural avoidance, or hunger for cultural relevance.  She will no longer be intimidated or impressed by culture.  Instead of harbouring hostility towards the culture she will be anchored to the conviction that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father.  As a result, the Church of the future will recognise and reclaim the good in culture, learning to honour every expression of life.  Cultural avoidance will be seen for what it is - the design of the enemy to separate us from our inheritance.  Similarly, cultural relevance will be considered far too low a goal.  Churches in the future will know that we can’t bring life to the city by avoiding the city, or by becoming the city. 

  Expect the Church of the future to move from trying to be trendy to being authentically innovative.  Expect Her to live with resonance with the culture of heaven.  As this happens, we stop looking at the music charts as the source of our inspiration.  We cease reducing creativity to drama or flag waving - depending on our traditions.  We practice bold creativity because we are unleashing something into the earth that has never existed before - creative resonance; doing what our father is doing, releasing what he is releasing.  God did not give us his Spirit so we could be culturally relevant, but so we could be culture carriers: culture carriers who release captives.

 The saddest aspect of settling for cultural relevance is that our cities are not looking for an echo - they are listening for a sound.  Our cities need us to be the Church with a distinct sound and voice.  As we respond to the Divine sound we release its frequency in the community.  This will change the way we engage with the Arts for example.  We will no longer see our expression or contribution to the arts as limited to singing in our services, or painting prophetically at the front, but rather we will start to understand our role as releasing writers, sculpters, poets, filmmakers into creative engagement that piques curiosity within the wider culture.  There will be a recognition that art fuels culture and the city needs artists. 

 In the future the Church will be at the heart of creativity in the city bringing creative solutions to perennial problems.  She will pulsate with innovative and generative ideas bringing fresh life to the city as she re-sounds with wisdom.  In the future the Church will move from its obsession with Church renewal towards cultural renewal in the city at large and surprisingly - in the process - discover church renewal!

Why?

Because the Divine dream is so much greater than the Church. 

Stand Firm in the day of evil

Unusual warfare around your life is the sign of unusual favour upon your life. 

There is something resting on you that resets the world around you. It has the capacity to change everything. You can't always see it, but principalities and powers can. It upsets the powers. And they seek to sabotage it. The devil’s schemes ALWAYS surround heaven’s dreams.

Every work of God in your life will be resisted and contested. The enemy comes every time you attempt something great for God, every time you seek to live life on a new level, every time you give yourself to something greater than yourself. He hopes that his tactic of intimidation will keep you from a lifestyle of expansion.

Scripture instructs us to stand firm in the day or moment of evil. “Stand your ground, and after you have done everything -  stand.  Stand firm then.” @ Ephesians 6:10-12

The warfare that surrounds your life is seasonal; the favour that is on your life is eternal. Don’t get those two confused. The enemy can hem you in for a while, but he can’t hold you down forever. You have the Spirit of the resurrected Christ in you and while Satan can knock you down, he can’t keep you out of everything that God has for you. He is pushing against you in the hope that you will lose heart and lose hope. His only chance of success is if you quit before your time - if you quit before you receive your inheritance.

In order for you to possess what heaven has for you - and not merely occasionally access it - you must learn to stand firm. 

Standing firm in the face of opposition turns occasional breakthrough into sustained inheritance. However, standing firm involves more than holding onto what you have, it’s about holding out for something more. Stand firm today, knowing that God has put something inside you that no circumstance, no event, no relationship can extinguish. It can’t be taken from you. You can only give up on it.

Stand firm!

Divine Assignment

Wherever you work, your presence, your influence is needed.

Sometimes we see our faith and our work in the city as disconnected. Yet, as we work in the city we have the opportunity to release a different design into its very heart. We have the possibility to lead the city into life in a thousand innovative creative ways. Believers not only receive income from work, we inscribe hope through work, and in that process discover our presence and influence is really subversively the kingdom at work.

Our work is a gift: our work is assignment.

As kingdom believers, we are not called to survive the workplace, but to seek its transformation; to see our workplaces alive with beauty, alive with glory, alive with divine generosity, filled with His presence.  As we develop a kingdom mindset, our workplace becomes a thin place… a place where Divine presence and abundance meet us, and spill on those around us.

Kingdom carriers at work discern the active presence of God in companies and industries, in colleagues and challenges. They are those who carry the culture (blueprint) of the kingdom at work, to create shifts in society, to reset and reorder things as God intends. 

As you begin your working week remember, your job is not a place of confinement, it’s a place of divine assignment. God’s presence and power is already at work as you begin yours.

Harnessing our hearts to life giving relationship

A couple of years ago a thought crashed into my world that redefined my relationships. "Look for those who want what is in your heart not those who want what is in your hand." It set me on a journey of harnessing my heart to life-giving friendships.

 Many people stumble into relationships, yet Jesus was incredibly intentional and selective about His. He didn’t become friends with everyone or just anyone. He prayed about the people He was going to pour His life into, the people who would share His greatest joys and heartaches.

Growing friendships harness their hearts to life

One of Jesus’ closest friends, John, reminds us that although Jesus entered the life of many, He didn't entrust His life to them.“Many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people” @ John 2:23-24.  He wasn’t looking for lots of friends, but loyal friends - people who would go with Him and grow with Him. He chose growing friendships with a small inner circle.

Friendship requires wisdom and forethought. We don't normally get married to someone after a few days or dates. Yet many choose friendships after a few casual acquaintances or a handful of life experiences together. Before we can decide whether someone qualifies to be included in our circle of friendships, we have to know what sort of friendship we desire to cultivate in our lives.

Whatever our life-stage, married or single, young or old, it is essential to cultivate growing friendships with people who are growing and committed to their personal growth and the growth of the relationship. None of us want to stagnate, lapsing into self-repeating and self-defeating patterns. None of us want superficial friendships. 

We all want friends whom we can call upon, and friends who call us into more. 

Not everyone is qualified to be in relationship with you. Make the advance decision to be selective in who enters your life and to whom you will entrust your heart. Cultivate growing friendships where you are constantly being stretched, continually being challenged, and frequently having fun. Choose friends who will chase dreams with you, make sacrifices for you, release your destiny, and to whom you can give yourself fully. And then enjoy the freedom and fruitfulness of that life-giving relationship. 

At the same time, remember that some friendships are long haul, and some are seasonal - given by God for a particular moment or time in our lives. While the advent of social media enables us to stay connected and updated with the events of others’ lives on a regular basis, there are times when in order to develop growing life-giving friendships we have to disconnect from old acquaintances. Indeed there are times when God instructs us to do so.

Often when God removes people from your life, it is because there is something they are sabotaging that you cannot see. There is a way that they are perceiving you or presenting you to others that does not promote God’s purpose in your life. When you cling to what He is cutting off, you separate yourself from an area of your future. 

More than once the scriptures state that the disciples left everything to follow Jesus. Presumably this also included some friendships that had been formative in their lives. There are some people  you cannot take into the destiny God has for you. It’s not that they are unhealthy or unhelpful, it’s simply that their particular design and destiny looks different to yours. 

However, there are also relationships that are unhealthy, that hold you back from your design and destiny. Some relationships are not life giving, they damage us, and sabotage the future God has for us. These kinds of relationships don’t lead us towards growth and transformation. Instead they drain life from us. In those moments it’s important to disconnect graciously.

Understand that not every person in your life is sent by God. You may know someone who texts constantly, or demands you immediately respond to their needs or crises. It may be someone who wants you to be exclusively their best friend and becomes jealous or angry when they see you with others. Perhaps it is someone who controls you around their agenda or does not allow you to exercise your opinion.

Recognise the difference between a friendship and a ministry. Ministry can be about helping someone (and there are some very specific boundaries and practices that need to be in place for that to be effective and beneficial), but friendships are always mutual. You can minister to anyone but not just anyone can be your friend. Don’t allow guilt to be the influencing factor in those you choose to spend your heart on.

If any of the above describes your friendships, recognise that you are responsible for your relationships, that there comes a time when you need to disconnect graciously, reset the boundary, and go develop growing friendships that release you and into your destiny, and others into theirs.

One of the best pictures of a growing friendship in scripture is the relationship between prince Jonathan and young David. In David’s darkest moment Jonathan reminded David that God’s purpose would be completed in his life and that he would live to see his dreams mature and his darkness overcome. He declared David’s destiny when all David could see was his enemy. It's what friends do. 

Perhaps reflecting on this moment several years later, David’s son Solomon stated, “though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Growing friendships hold us together when everything seems to be falling apart. They do more than express empathy for our pain and loss, they speak Divine destiny into and over us. Every life needs friends who help them live beyond themselves.

Growing friendships happen when those involved in the relationship are irrevocably committed to their own relationship with God first. Jonathan was so committed to God’s purpose that it didn't matter to him if David surpassed him and eventually became king instead of his own father. All Jonathan wanted to do was to seek first the kingdom of God. It made his friendship unique in David’s lifetime, and it stands as a testimony to us now.

As we invest in our friendships, let’s remember how important our ‘first love’ is - that the way we pour our lives our for Him determines the capacity we bring to our relationships. He sets the pattern. He creates the expansive heart in us. Let’s remember that our friendships are designed by Him so that we can take enemy territory together - so that we can slay the giants facing our culture, our communities, our generation, and leave a legacy of hope long after we’re gone.

 

Embracing the kingdom at work

A couple of years ago, large numbers of people in our community came to faith. Many came as a result of some catalytic evangelists who spent their time on the streets helping people say yes to God. Initially everyone applauded and soon they wanted to be involved too.

What ensued was a wonderful re-orientating of lives ‘beyond ourselves’, but the subtle shift that accompanied was not healthy or helpful at all. People began to believe that the real work of the kingdom was only happening in the streets. It wasn’t long before some began questioning the relevance and significance of their life at work. It felt mundane rather than meaningful. After all, nobody ever tells stories from stages of spreadsheets…of cleaning… of work done well.

Yet, if we are to do more than simply see individuals come to life… if we are to fulfil our mandate of bringing life to everything everywhere, we must see our involvement in institutions and industries and workplaces as kingdom work. As my friend Neil Hudson says, "Work is not only the context of our days, work is the context of His story."

Therefore, embracing the kingdom at work focusses upon reclaiming the workplace as a thin place; encountering God through work, encountering God at work. We do so not merely through occasional gestures such as sharing our faith, praying for colleagues, healing the sick, counselling… good as these are. We do so through cultivating a kingdom posture - a mindset immersed and influenced by the story of God at work.

We do so knowing that the next great move of God is not going to be a movement IN the Church. It's going to be a movement OF the Church INTO society, rewriting the story of education in our cities, of health in our cities, of employment and business in our cities. God is repositioning the Church to reach the whole city; everyone, everywhere, everyday, communicating, demonstrating and celebrating the supremacy of Christ in every corner of culture. 

The next move of God will involve everyone taking their everyday environments, their ordinary moments and placing them before God as an offering.  No more sacred secular. The kingdom is big enough for the whole city. 

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. @ Romans 12:1 The Message. 

The Campaign for Character

The other day I relinquished a role that I loved to embrace a future I cannot see.

Gone from my life is the title of leader, usurped by the thirst of becoming an explorer… an adventurer. During the transition process friends and church members have frequently asked: what will you do next? I have usually offered some generic answer to honour their questions and shield the stirring in my soul.

What I want to say in those moments is this: the next stage of the journey (like each stage of the journey) is not about what I do; it’s about who I become. As a leader of a wonderful local church I had the privilege of embarking on significant visionary campaigns.  Sometimes raising resources towards facilitating greater ministry, other times spearheading initiatives to bring life to the city. Each one had their season and all of them were life giving.

But my continuing campaign - is the campaign for character, character that reflects the story of God and releases the glory of God.

The campaign for character is my personal campaign. The campaign for character cannot be delegated, managed or manufactured. It is a campaign for depth, for honour at the core, for hope. The campaign for character is the hidden campaign. Its primary pursuit is the story of God formed in my innermost being, godliness stamped on the eyeballs of my heart, a longing for purity that I might see God.

As a leader I have often stood on stage and doubtlessly will again in the future. However, as a follower of Jesus I have ever known that life is not found on stages but in small corners. The campaign for character is not waged and won through speeches and raised voices, but in the secret small choices that inch my heart towards the King and His kingdom.

One of my entrustments has been returned to Him who gave it, but my lifelong commitment remains. The platform is different but the passion is undiminished. Failure and success are behind me and purpose lies beyond me. Today the stage is silent yet my soul is strangely stirred.

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond: Life as Usual

Beyond: Life as Usual

Below is taster of our insights from this month's 'Coaching Connect' on the topic: Leading Others into Life. To join us on the journey in February and receive 'Miracle Question' training and other resources, signup today via this link.

If you sign up for an annual premium pass this month, you will receive Mark Marx's book 'Stepping into the Impossible' as a free gift


Beyond: Life as Usual

“I have come that you might have life.” @ John 10:10

The message is that life prevails. Life prevails because of the centrality of Christ and His supremacy in all things. Life prevails because Jesus lived with absolute purity and died in agony, and now reigns in uncontested victory. This ‘Kerygma’ message, this Kingdom message, this message of the resurrection is core to bringing back life to everyone, everywhere, everyday, or what we have termed, evangelism.

Believers don’t do evangelism - winning others to their cause or winning others to their Christ - believers share life. That life is only found in Christ whose life was given for all, the life that transforms our lives, and brings everything and everyone else alive around us.

The message is beyond. It’s beyond what we could ever accomplish for ourselves, through our strength - our works. The message is beyond  repairing our own broken lives, it is for the transformation of the whole of humanity. The message is beyond death. It is beyond the power of the grave. While religion cleans up corpses, God raises the dead!

And what begins in an individual becomes a sign of regeneration for society as a whole, for institutions and industries, for every sphere of culture. “This salvation, this resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant…” @ Romans 8:15. Sharing the kingdom message, bringing life as Jesus intended simply looks like us inviting everyone, everything, every place into an incredible adventure, where lives are restored, where broken systems are renewed, where decay and disease are reversed, where heaven touches earth and the kingdom of God is released.

Remember today that YOU have been invited into friendship and partnership with a God who cannot be tamed, He has made YOU the recipient of a life that must be shared.

“Life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the good news about God’s mighty kindness and love” @ Acts 20:24 The Living Bible


Releasing Catalytic Evangelists

 

As I write, it’s been another exceptional weekend of people coming to faith. On Saturday, our Encounter Students led 27 people to faith on the streets. In total 67 people came to faith throughout the week. Although many of the salvation stories were surprising, perhaps the most revealing was an encounter with the local police.

A policeman stopped some of our students and enquired if they were part of the church who had been supporting one of the guys who has recently come to faith. He told them that the individual’s transformation had caused quite a stir among the police in our region, and they were all talking about the dramatic change. He said, “you guys will be putting us out of a job soon.” He subsequently asked if the police could provide us with a list of names of others we might be able to help.

This shift in the atmosphere is becoming the new normal… but it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t identified catalytic evangelists. 

While our church had experienced a level of evangelistic breakthrough for years, it was only after we invited a catalytic evangelist onto our team that we witnessed significant acceleration in effectiveness and fruitfulness. At the time we had no idea it was unusual for churches to hire evangelists… we simply stepped into our sense of what God was speaking over us next. The results were staggering.

As we shared our stories and experiences, church leaders began pondering whether releasing catalytic evangelists might be a helpful dynamic in their efforts to reach their community. Some didn't stop to ponder; immediately assuming that the key was to hire someone for the streets. Whenever possible we counselled those churches to delay hiring a catalyst until they had a culture in place. As we connected further they asked for other pointers on when it might be the right time to hire an evangelist. 

With that in mind, here are a few brief observations from a fellow explorer on releasing catalytic evangelists…

Are you hiring a catalyst or an evangelist? Both are good and necessary. However, it’s important not to confuse them. An evangelist will lead people to faith, a catalyst will create an atmosphere where people come to faith. A catalytic evangelist will do both. 

Catalytic evangelists come from a climate of evangelism, rather than create it. The best time to bring a catalyst to the table is when you have a community who are already invested. Without this mindset we inadvertently introduce surrogate ministry, where we pay someone to carry what we were supposed to carry as a body. It inflates expectations and sabotages relationship. Initial breakthrough leads to inevitable inertia. If you are thinking of hiring an evangelist, wait until you have heated the value of evangelism across your whole community. 

Catalytic evangelists work best in mess. In my experience, catalytic evangelists carry the culture well but often struggle in structure. Creating space in a staff team means creating freedom for them to be who they are and do what they alone can do. It is often unpredictable and unmanageable. This doesn’t mean they are unsubmitted - our guys are fiercely loyal - it just means they work best in the margins rather than at the centre. 

Catalytic evangelists shift atmospheres. It's more than simply leading people to faith, it's leading places to faith. Catalytic evangelists lead us to new territories and new communities and help us uncover the promises of God for those places. There is a kingdom boldness and faithfulness that marks them… it’s beautiful to behold and it breaks through strongholds. 

Catalytic evangelists wrestle with insecurities around belonging. It's the ‘shadow assignment’ around their gifting. Their gift leads people to the family of God, and so the counter assignment - around their life - is that they often struggle to feel they belong in the family. Therefore, it’s important to value them for who they are, not just what they bring. 

Catalytic evangelists require prophetic insight and leadership. The expansive nature of their calling, without insightful leadership, creates burnout rather than breakthrough. They want to be everywhere, see everyone come to life. It’s a biblical desire that needs a prophetic direction in order to identify the specific wide doors God is opening. 

As you think through the promises written over your city and wonder whether a catalyst might spark forward movement and greater fruitfulness, ensure that you have the capacity to release their destiny, the culture to accelerate what they will bring to the table, and the clarity to position them correctly for future breakthrough. 

And if you sense God is in it… go ahead and release.

Some reflections on where we are currently in stewarding an outpouring.

Over the last twenty months almost 4500 people have come to faith in our community.  Below are some observations and brief reflections on where we are currently in stewarding an outpouring. 

Something shifting in our community: response levels remain high among people far from God.... both among individuals and institutions. We are planting more businesses, partnering with more agencies, placing more children in families. 

Supernatural is accelerating: the number of people coming to faith through words of knowledge, healing, supernatural insights and experiences is increasing significantly. This is surprising because it's not something we have been seeking. 
 
Rate of people coming to faith is slowing but remains consistent: in the early days we experienced between 8-10 people come to faith each day in diverse environments. Now the average is seven people. Those coming to faith through our gathered environments now exceeds the number of people coming to faith through catalytic evangelists. This may be attributable in part to the following:
         evangelists spending more time nurturing new believers.
         evangelists spending less time on the streets.

It's possible to have catalytic evangelists and scattered servants. This was one of my greatest fears and one of the greatest threats to our missional culture. We feared that ordinary believers would place the ministry into the hands of experts. It hasn’t happened. All sorts of people are leading people to faith in all sorts of places. It is increasing and growing. 

Our greatest impact is among those people - and in those areas - that historically have been difficult for churches to reach: the urban poor are most responsive. There seems to be particular favour among those who have never encountered faith, those struggling with addiction, single mothers, long term unemployed, those living on council estates and those wrestling with systems of poverty.  

Disappointing levels of church connection: the miracle question has not led to massive connection. Whilst almost 4500 people have come to faith, we estimate that just under one seventh of those have connected in local churches. This is lower than expected. On the plus side, it's better than it used to be. 

Significant outpouring among children: we are witnessing significant outpouring among children. Our kids are leading their classmates to faith, praying for people in the streets and operating at unusual levels of accuracy in the prophetic. 

Transferrable grace: this has been perhaps one of the most surprising aspects. Other churches are beginning to report similar upsurges in people coming to faith on the streets. Many for the first time. 

Pressure and favour: stewarding unusual favour introduces unique pressure. It has thrown up exceptional challenges... internally and externally. 

Expectation remains high: as a team, we are slightly exhausted and hugely expectant. At times it has been more than we could imagine and more than we could handle. It has stretched our staff, our systems and our structures. Our sense is that we have learned lots of ways 'not to do it' and are beginning to reposition ourselves for yet another new normal. 

 

 

Expansive Spirituality.

 

Preface
What if God was doing more than making everyone nice?

What if He was making ALL things new? 

What if our lives were part of a greater story?

What if character included more than moving away from sinful tendencies and practices? 

What if character unveiled a whole new reality? A hope filled reality.

What if that hope was large enough for nations?

What if it were possible for those nations to be transformed?

Much of modern discipleship has focussed upon making believers strong enough to survive culture rather than bold enough to transform culture. We have excelled in creating disciples, just not the kind that change cities and create shifts in societies - ‘whole world’ disciples fuelled with a passion to see everything everywhere captivated by the beauty of Jesus and living under the supremacy of Christ. We have relentlessly focused on the salvation or transformation of individuals and somehow missed the kingdom invitation that facilitates the alteration of institutions, even whole cities. 

Often we have considered city formation and the discipling of all nations unattainable and have instead focused upon spiritual formation. We have settled for ‘inner world’ disciples. The divine dream is ‘whole world’ disciples.

Yet, there is a dangerous new breed who are committed to investing their lives in the neighbourhood and the nations. They understand that individual discipleship is simply too low a goal. They know that disciples are made in cities, not just in coffee shops. They practice spiritual disciplines, but they do so with a different mindset, one that is expansive rather than introspective. 

They read Scripture to release, meditate to minister, and pray to partner. They know that life lies beyond them and they are willing to boldly go. They refuse to practice great reduction with the Great Commission. They refuse to make discipleship manageable. They are led by life-giving leaders who measure the level of discipleship in the Church by the level of transformation in the city. 

Why? 

Because changed lives change cities.

This booklet is written for them.

 

 


My Journey 

I became a believer aged fifteen. 

By then I had already been a disciple for some time.  

Moments and environments in my life had produced paradigms filled with absence rather than presence; practices rooted in failure rather than favour, pathways that repeated the patterns of the past rather than reached for the abundance of the future. I had been handed a legacy, an empty way of life, and invited to inscribe my own story. So, fighting the baggage of abandonment and abuse, I began the journey of self invention in the hope of discovering a new story. 

I did. 

Rather it disrupted me. It intervened in my invention and invited me into a living story. It’s a story that didn’t start with me. It started way before. By the time it arrested my attention and invaded my loneliness it had been changing nations for generations. 

The story of Jesus Christ filled my heart and fuelled my hunger. I immediately focussed on giving the One who had rescued me my affection, my attention, my devotion. For years I prayed hours each day. Spare moments were given to prayer. I devoured Scripture. It set a foundation in me for which I am deeply grateful. I still feed off it today.

At the same time as being introduced to Christ, I was (probably for the first time) invited into community. I say community. It felt more like a gang. We rubbed each other up the wrong way, and somehow we rubbed off on each other. In the middle of the mess we found grace, in the middle of the grace we found mess. It was broken and beautiful.

Through biblically functioning community I was introduced to writings of depth, and through those writings I was introduced to some amazing mentors. Most were those who have gone before us.  My early heroes were David Brainerd, Brother Lawrence, Thomas A Kempis, Praying Hyde, Edward McKendree Bounds, A.W Tozer.

I loved praying the prayers of these saints and found myself on a relentless quest to get closer to the heart of God. It was wonderful for my spiritual growth yet left me socially isolated. I spent much of my time alone with God and didn't really know how to build or deepen relationships with others. Truth to tell, it still is a struggle in some ways.

Anyway, it was less than ideal preparation for introduction to institutional community and my years at Bible College.  When I went to Bible College I was stunned at the lack of depth, and the lack of fervency around prayer, not to mention the lack of hunger for Scripture. So I did what I always did, I withdrew into my alone time with the one friend who deeply understands. I found new heroes, fresh voices such as Henri Nouwen, Eugene Petersen, Dallas Willard to guide me in the life of the interior. I felt near to the heart of God and came to greatly enjoy days in His presence. 

This was my practice for almost three years.

I say almost, because something happened one day as I was praying. I remember it vividly. I was experimenting with some variations on the Jesus prayer/breath prayer and this particular day I was offering the prayer “...Father I just want to touch your heart, Father I just want to touch your heart.” Clearly I heard my Father's voice speak the words, "Son, people are my heart."

“Son, people are my heart.” 

It was hard to hear. 

Obvious… but still hard to hear.

I knew what He was driving at and I didn’t like it. He had interrupted my devotional time and got me all emotional – the wrong kind of emotional. 

I loved meeting Him away from the crowd. Yet I knew He was inviting me to meet Him among the people. I didn't like it. Mainly I didn't like it because I didn't like people. It always felt awkward, almost unnatural. The rhythms of recreative silence, of solitude, these were my comfort zone. Scripture and prayer were my safe place. I just wanted to be alone with God, to be intimate with Jesus. I hadn't yet learned that intimacy is available in the noise.

“Son, people are my heart.”

In that moment God took my inward journey and turned it outward. I had assumed that intimacy was only available away from people. He invited me into intimacy among the people. From now on I would lean into the largeness of His heart rather than the narrowness of mine. From that moment my Father would train me differently. He would train me to recognise His presence among the people, to pay attention to His voice among the people, to learn a lifestyle of submission (literally coming under His mission) masted to His movements among humanity. 

It is a journey I am still taking and exploring.

I am grateful for that moment, yet there are times when I crave the silence, the solitude, the union… times when I have longed to trade leadership for discipleship. In all honesty, it’s felt like surrender to yield my preference to His purpose. And yet I have watched God recreate. I have watched God use the awkwardness of my story to bring life to the city... I am learning that intimacy with the living God takes us to new places of vulnerability and into the living story of recreating all things.  

I think it will be a lifelong journey. 

Why am I telling you this? 

I see something happening in the church that concerns me.

I see people correctly running from pragmatism to the presence. I hear increasing emphasis on character growth and spiritual depth, a movement away from shallow. I love the emergence of intensive faith. It reminds me a little of my early journey. I love the recovery of prayer and the rediscovery of ancient practices. I am glad we are moving towards substance and presence.

I have been on that pathway. It can be hugely healthy. 

But it can also produce introspective ‘inner world’ disciples rather than expansive ‘whole world’ disciples. It can create experts in the realm of spirituality without any accountability for bringing life to cities. It meets God on our territory and misses His voice at the heart of the city. It allows me to master rather than be mastered. It creates rhythms and practices over which I am in control. At its worst we use God to hide from God.

All of these are concerning, but not my main concern.

I'm concerned that we are choosing between inner world and whole world. 
    
We are reducing His story to our piety.    
    
Introspective spirituality: contemplating our world
My encounter that autumn day demanded a more expansive reality than my own piety. It confronted me with the awareness that God isn't just reordering my private world, He is recreating the entire world. His story is greater than our spirituality. He invites us to journey from our personal piety into His eternal beauty. Whilst His presence is always our delight, it is never our personal property. We find and meet him among the people. If we want His presence we usually have to lay down our preference. 

Sooner or later our inner journey must become an outer journey, or we run the risk of compartmentalizing our world. 

While the joys of contemplative spirituality are many, there are inherent dangers hidden within it.  The dangers that concern me are twofold: it compartmentalises our faith and confuses our worldview. We speak of depth in a desire to avoid superficiality, but often, with more than a hint of inverted pride, as though depth were better than breadth, as though intensive were greater than comprehensive. Yet the divine dream is that the whole world be filled and fuelled with the knowledge of the glory of God. 

This is comprehensive in its scope, breathtaking in its depth.

At its best, inner world discipleship creates connection. At its worst it creates a form of mysticism divorced from reality, and self affirming/referencing in its pursuit. Intimacy with Jesus becomes the watchword and yet intimacy was never intended to be separated from life. It is the greatest gift in life that, when naturally occurring and intentionally pursued, creates life.  

While we want at all costs to avoid impact without intimacy, it is impossible to have intimacy without impact. Everything connected with God bears MUCH fruit. This ‘Much fruit’ is the evidence of substance. Much fruit is the evidence of connection to the Presence. Much fruit is the test of our discipleship. It is impossible to be connected to Jesus and not bear much fruit. The text demands more than the mysticism of inner world discipleship. 


Active Spirituality: conquering our world.
Dismissing the contemplative approach, active spirituality engages intentionally with the world and understands the power of sacrament. When practiced well it is rooted in compassion, gives itself in intercession and works tirelessly for the re-formation of dehumanising structures. It recognises that the story of God invites active participation, and that God has prepared good works in advance to do. 

Not sponsor. Not admire. Do. 

I love the pathos of active spirituality. I love its rugged refusal to relinquish justice on the altar of personal growth. I love its conviction that God inhabits structures and stories... I love its redemptive pursuit of all things. Pursued well it brings life to all. Yet all too often, we seek to bring deliverance whilst being personally devoid of presence. Unwittingly our cause becomes our Christ, and our Christ becomes our cause. 

It reminds me of Moses, intent on bringing deliverance without experiencing God’s presence. Poor Moses, reaching out to others in an effort to remove oppression and rewrite their story, only to discover his own brokenness overwhelming his efforts and intentions. Moses had a compassionate heart and a desire to see the marginalised included. Yet his early efforts to accomplish this in his own strength and power led to fatigue and brokenness in his own soul.  

Only in the place of solitude does Moses re-enter the living story. 

In that place, God re-initiates Moses’ calling to engage with suffering humanity, but this time to do so with the power of love. This time there would be signs and wonders accompanying the message of deliverance and expansive hope. In this way, prevailing love would conquer injustice. Moses eventually reluctantly realised that doing justice and loving mercy doesn’t work without walking humbly. 

Active spirituality is an inferior story. A greater story must overshadow. 

It is always insufficient - dare I say inhumane - to engage the cause and miss the Christ. Attempting justice without the Spirit of God at the centre is unsustainable, incapable of bringing life. It eventually depletes us, leaving us like Moses, alone, afraid and angry. 

I’ve been down that road. 

Our early days as community in Glasgow were marked by authentic movement; immersed in the recognition that we had been rescued and therein commissioned to bring freedom to others. It was not something into which the church was speaking. We didn’t know it was trendy.  Freely we had received, so we freely gave. All we knew was freedom. And freedom is a very contagious thing. 
 
I wanted to learn more about it so I went to college.  

And I did. I learned that what we were doing was called ‘Incarnational Ministry’. All along I had thought it was loving Jesus and living in a housing estate. No. It was incarnational ministry. So I returned from college eager to practice this incarnational ministry. I was ready to practice the Presence among the people. The slight problem was that people did not recognise their moment of deliverance and I ended up depressed. It didn’t feel very incarnational, more like incarceration. 

My efforts at active spirituality left me bruised and broken.


Expansive Spirituality: changing our world
Expansive spirituality extends us beyond the borders of what we know, what we have, and what we have seen. It enlarges us as it takes us beyond ourselves, frees us from measuring moral muscle and encapsulates us in the consuming mission of leading others into life.  Expansive spirituality leads us somewhere new. It leads us to the living story.  

As for me, I continue on my outward journey. Not simply contemplating God, but celebrating God in all things; seeking to demonstrate His rule and reign in all things. Not because ‘missional’ is the best approach to Church, not out of some sort of pragmatic desire to see church grow, (although, I’m a pastor, I love it when the church grows), not even really to lead people into life, but simply because that is where my Father called me to meet him. 

It is what followers do. 

It is my way of touching his heart.

Questioning Faith

Recently the Father invited me into a journey that would turn my world upside down and throw up all manner of questions. Once again He was drawing me away from the world where I am in control into the world beyond my comfort zone. It's a world for curious rather than certain faith; a world framed not by absolutes but by adventure.

It's a world made for questions.

I love that adventurous faith has questions. 

Somehow, we have made questioning faith the domain of doubters rather than the lifestyle of lovers. Unwittingly, we have divorced questions from obsession. Believers should have questions because lovers have questions. The questions of a believing heart spring from curious abandonment rather than criticism.  We must never come to a place of unquestioning faith because love always asks questions.

The questions of love are rooted in trust. 

What moves your heart?

How do I learn to become like you?  

Father what have you hidden for me?  

What innovations are just around the corner?  

What aspects of your beauty are being made known throughout the earth?  

Where is your generosity breaking down walls of poverty?

How can I begin to release and reveal your goodness?  

Our questions ought to be triggered by His goodness more than our brokenness; His beauty more than our barrenness.  Trusted rulers ask different questions and they ask them in a different place because they dwell in His presence.

We ask our questions not to increase knowledge but to deepen love.

We ask hard questions not to live more certain but to live more abandoned. 

A heart surrendered leads to a mind engaged.  And an enquiring mind is a gift best exercised and most satisfied in His presence.  Consider David in Psalm 24:7, "One thing I ask...that I may dwell...so that I behold the beauty...and enquire in his presence."

It's as if David is saying, "I am going to ask questions because life throws up questions. However, I have made it my desire to ask those questions in the presence of generous beauty. I have determined that the framework for my questioning heart will be the glory of God.  Each question will be asked from the perspective of His presence. I will have an enquiring heart all my days, knowing that life is filled with mystery and uncertainty. My questions will bring me to His presence and increase/fuel my hunger for Him. I won't be one whose enquiries cause him to stray from the presence. I won't allow questions to become confusion. Instead my questions will always come from the place of beholding his beauty, the place from which glorious change is possible." 

We read this verse and rarely think of what it means to have curiosity in the presence of God. Yet it is impossible to be surrounded by such stunning beauty and not find ourselves enveloped in curiosity; creatively longing and learning to think His thoughts after Him. We enquire of Him so that we can desire what He desires, and so that we can think His thoughts after Him.  Love always asks questions because love always wants to go deeper into the heart and mind of the beloved. Any questions that fail to deepen love are irrelevant.  

Again and again the Bible says David enquired of the Lord.  

David's questions arose out of Divine presence not Divine absence. Those who see God clearest, question Him most. Clarity increases rather than diminishes questions. The more I see Him, the more questions I have, not because of what's going on in my life, but because of what is going on in His life. Imagine being surrounded by the greatness of God and being bereft of questions. Unthinkable!  

So, to my friends who relentlessly question... keep questioning - learning to ask those questions from a heart that only wants His glory; from a life already abandoned to His beauty. 

Creating whole world disciples

We can no longer disciple people along lines of preference. We can no longer separate what God has joined together. Disciples speak His word, do His works, follow His ways and share His wounds. Scripture, Salvation, Signs & Wonders and Social Justice belong together in the life of God and His people. It's time to bring the four corners together. 

How reading scripture transforms culture

When I became a believer I loved reading scripture yet somehow missed the adventure of discipling an entire community. It never really crossed my mind that scripture reading and culture forming were connected. It was as though scripture was useful in developing piety but not in changing cities; essential for character formation, less so for city formation. I'm embarrassed to say that I used scripture to escape the story of culture. Somehow, the way I read scripture afforded the luxury of ignoring culture. 

Whilst it violated the text, it was common practice among my peers.

Perhaps in reaction to this mindset some have re-interpreted scripture in efforts to relate to culture. Sadly, it has caused us to create a text in our own image. Sad because in the beginning humanity came to life through His breath and voice. It still does. When we dilute confidence in scripture it robs us of authentic encounter with the Father and causes us to lose our inheritance in culture.

However, we can't retreat to an introspective spirituality that reads scripture simply for increasing personal piety, neither can we embrace an active spirituality that imposes scripture upon society. We need an expansive spirituality that recognises the voice of God written over and rewriting culture. We need, more than ever, to hear the voice of God in scripture and the promises of God over culture.  So here, in no particular order, are my current musings on the joy and importance of reading scripture.

 

We read scripture to steep our souls in the story of God. 
The story of scripture is the story of presence (nearness reaching for us) and voice (revelation recreating us).  Reading scripture trains us to recognise the presence and voice of our Father. We can never separate scripture from presence. Scripture confronts us with the presence and scripture IMMERSES us in the VOICE of God. Through the discipline of reading we learn that our voice is never first. As we read we are…

hearing the thoughts of our Father
learning the voice of our Father
allowing His voice to be formed in us

Somewhat surprisingly, we begin to hear His voice even when we're not reading Scripture. We pay attention to the story as it surrounds us in nature, as it unfolds in culture. We hear it in the grocery store, at the ocean, among our neighbours, in the quietness and busyness of life. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.  Those who live under His voice have the privilege of unveiling the beauty and describing His story already active in our communities. 

 

We read scripture to learn to speak the words of God after Him. 
All scripture is God breathed. All Scripture welcomes us to the world of INSPIRED speech.

Inspired speech is the sign of the Spirit moving among and upon a people. Eventually His speech over us becomes His speech in us. Those immersed in the Spirit begin speaking words from the Spirit: story, poetry, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, revelation, song, tongues - all indicative of immersion in His voice. All representative of the new covenant. 
 
‘“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.’ @ Isaiah 59:21

My words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips... His word on our lips, in our mouths. This is why scripture should be read aloud. In so doing, we become familiar with our voice speaking His words in every environment. As we read Scripture, we learn to speak like our Father, to speak His word after Him. The privilege of reading the text includes the responsibility of releasing the promise within its pages. Only as scripture is released are lives transformed.

 

We read Scripture to release culture.
Therefore, we read scripture not only for the purpose of sin avoidance but also to release kingdom abundance; not to escape culture but to release culture. We read to protect our heart (an excellent reason for bible reading) AND to unleash His heart; His expansive word in the world that - as Walter Brueggemann reminds us - realigns and redefines our world. In reading scripture to release culture, we expand our view of the voice of God over all things. First word in everything… 

first word in Business, first word in Family, first word in University. 

First word.

God has spoken and is speaking over culture; over every industry, every economy, every family, everybody. He has purposes for business, destinies for universities, promises over cities. And those who immerse themselves in His voice find their lives impressed with His hope. They enter communities armed with the understanding that God’s voice holds the key to the identity and destiny of that community. The declaration of divine design is all over our cities. 

Our task is to humble ourselves to hear from heaven so we discern divine design for our neighbourhoods and nations. Our task is to recognise the story of God in the lives of men and call it to the surface... 

to the one who is an addict
to the one who is abused
to the one who is abandoned
to the one who is lonely
to the one who is lost

speak His word…

reset the story… 

drag the promise to the surface.

And then wait (actively contend) for it to flourish. Release the promises of heaven into the earth in a way that rewrites the story of our cities and the landscape of society. And do it all with a soul steeped in the living story of the living God. 

Some thoughts on stewarding an outpouring

Something has shifted in the atmosphere of our community. 

In the last six months almost 2000 people have come to faith; some in our services, more in gathered environments such as schools, and lots in ordinary everyday moments. Somewhat surprisingly more than 60 percent of those coming to faith have surrendered their yes to Jesus on the streets of our town and surrounding area. The move of God we are experiencing is happening beyond the building. It is not a movement IN the church, it is a movement OF the church. 

Like every pastor, I have often dreamt and prayed for such moments, yet stewarding unusual favour introduces unique pressure. It has thrown up exceptional challenges.  When the outpouring began we made some intentional decisions simply because we want what happens to bring legacy that lasts.  So here, in no particular order, is what we have deliberately chosen to do for now...

(1) resist the temptation to host nightly services. With so many people coming to faith each day and the interest in the community, (not to mention the wider Christian community), it could have been tempting to hold nightly gatherings.  We decided not to.  

We did so for three reasons: 

Firstly, we are modelling something to our families - they are more important than ministry. We don't want brilliant meetings and broken families. 

Secondly, we want it to be sustainable.  We want leaders with longevity in outpouring. We don't want brilliant meetings and burnt out leaders.

Thirdly, we want this to be about a movement of the Church not just a moment in the Church.  We want it to belong to the servants and not the experts.  We want scattered servants who are bringing life in their everyday ordinary moments and not special events. With that in mind, we chose not to hold revival meetings. 


(2) preach at every service. We want to continue to hold up the importance of Scripture as a value. When things began to shift it was tempting to talk more about what was happening; to share our experiences, tell our stories. The sheer number of people coming to faith meant a larger part of our services needed to be devoted to explanation of what was unfolding around us. I felt the tension of speaking to those who had come to Christ that week, updating our church family on what was happening and how they could engage, and teaching scripture. Fitting it all in to a service was and is challenging.  It's why I am so glad we committed in advance to teach Scripture no matter what.


(3) connect individual conversion with city formation. What God does in the regeneration of an individual is the sign and the symbol of the recreation of all things.

As people become more excited about salvation springing up on the streets, there is a danger that leading people to Jesus is perceived  to be the real work, or the only meaningful work. We are trying to focus them on how their story, lived locally (in business and relationship among other things) is rewriting the story of our city. We can't all quit our jobs to be out on the streets; nor should we. Through our regular work we are inscribing a story of hope in a broken city. 

We want to connect the story of individuals with the story of institutions and industries, economies and families, businesses and colleges; everything, everywhere experiencing infectious life. We want to reach lost people AND lost places. Each individual story of personal surrender points towards the greater story of God making ALL things new.


(4) downplay revival rhetoric. One of the questions I am asked most frequently is ’is this revival?’ We don't think so.  It's the entirely predictable outcome of relentlessly showing up in the community over years.  Our town experienced revival before in 1859. It was amazing and changed everything as tens of thousands of people responded. Crime was reduced, hope was restored. Everything was different....for a while. Revival is wonderful and we want it with all of our hearts....but we want something more. We want something more sustainable than revival; something our children can carry as a legacy. 

We want a story. A living story.  A story of how our generation witnessed God at work in our everyday ordinary in exceptional ways.  A story that transcends a moment in time and creates a movement of people in all times.  A story that does not limit the Kingdom to exceptional moments or religious environments but unleashes holy hope through everyone, on everything, everywhere.

We hope we can steward it; that it grows on our watch and that the grace of God reaching more and more people overflows to the thanksgiving of many. 

We are losing a generation

"We are losing a generation."

It's a refrain I hear again and again.  It saddens me. 

"We are losing a generation", they say.  And they wage their culture wars, fighting for the attention of an age group that they fear are disconnected and disillusioned. 

All the while ignoring another generation; a generation living with intense loneliness and emptiness.

While we increasingly accomodate ourselves to the demands of an emerging generation, agonising over how to reach them and connect with their worldview, we readily ignore the elders; those who have gone before us, and yet have never found the reason for their race. 

Over the years I have been in countless gatherings where those under 25 or 30 have been called forward.  We have prayed our best prayers, trusting Father to do something amazing in their generation.  Rarely have I been in a gathering where those over 55 are called forward. 

We are losing a generation not because we do not know how to connect, but simply because we do not care to connect.  They have become the disposable generation. Those whom we used to set us up in life, yet God's heart aches for that generation.

Most of us have heard the "toms" story; a young entrepreneur had a dream to awaken social conscience through the brilliant business idea of "toms" shoes, one for one, where people in underdeveloped countries can have free shoes.  It caught our imagination and fuelled great compassion and innovation.  It justifiably gains attention. It's a brilliant story/movement. 

I also love the other Tom's story.  I am talking about Tom in our community who came to faith less than two years ago.  He encountered the Kingdom as God healed his body.  It was enough to recalibrate his heart, and at the age of 81, Tom believed.

A year later Tom applied for our Encounter school of mission.  When I heard he had applied I was surprised. The course is specifically designed to create a climate of risk.  Upon reflection I realised that although it was a little late for a gap year, Tom was perfectly positioned to live a life of risk.  Aged 81 there weren't many people who didn't know Tom in our town. He had already established a fine reputation. He had a lot to lose.  Yet he embraced the risk and at 82 years old stepped into learning again.

He started the course in September with one goal: to lead someone to Jesus. 

In February 2014 God granted Tom the desire of his heart.  As I write, Tom has now led 11 people to Jesus, many of whom are part of the emerging generation who we are desperately creating programs and tinkering with theology in an effort to reach.  And I wonder if while we keep searching for methods to engage a generation, God might have His women and men, like Tom, already in place to bring life across all generations.

I can't help wondering whether the young are tired of the advertisers and the media, tuning out the voice of their fathers, but still open to the voice of grandfathers like Tom.  It may well be a romantic notion, yet what if God wanted to use those who are elderly to reach those who are emerging?  What if God was turning the hearts of the Fathers towards the children?  What if those who have gone before us are carrying something for those who come after us?

There is simply no way to create a future for the next generation without receiving favour from the previous generation.  Living long in the 'land' is not about making sure we have done everything to reach our youth (who incidentally are flocking into the kingdom all over the world) it's about ensuring we have positioned and conditioned our hearts to help and honour those who have gone before us.

So for my friends and colleagues doing a remarkable job developing life giving churches that lead their cities into life....

Please don't run after the emerging generation as though young people were more vital to our communities than the elderly; as though God had intense interest and preferential treatment in mind only for the young.

Please remember that you have nothing to offer the next generation until you learn to care for the previous generation.  You can only give them favour when you learn to honour.

Please don't reduce intergenerational worship to an all age service.  Instead intentionally unleash the redemptive power of the elderly; release them into greater expansion and effectiveness.

And to my friends and mentors who are journeying faith in their old age... 

Please don't pass on the baton just yet.  Your race is not yet run and we need your voice now more than ever.   You are alive at a time of unprecedented amounts of people living longer because God wants to reveal his salvation to the old as well as the young. 

Please don't bury your promise with you. 

We are losing a generation but we don't have to, and it was never meant to be that way.

An apology

I recently read this pastoral apology.  It humbled me and resonated with our desire to create innovative, expansive whole world disciples. 

"As pastors and ministry leaders within the local church, we have believed and operated with the mindset that all ministries were church related and that they were to be under its government and control.  As a result we have used people to build our churches and ministries. 

In doing so we have not honoured those called by God to minister in business, media, arts, government, social services, and most other occupations outside the influence of the organised church.  If individuals could not or would not serve our vision for our churches, we undervalued them as less important but accepted them as sources of income. 

As pastors and ministry leaders, we want to tell you that we have been wrong. 

What we have talked and demonstrated for generations within the church has been shallow and selfish.  We are sincerely sorry, and we come in repentance for our bad attitudes, wrong beliefs, and our poor behaviour towards you. 

Please forgive us. 

We honour you as kingdom people, called by God to supply the destiny of a community. We believe you are ordained by God to transform the area of culture to which you have been called. We release honour, blessing, and favour on your life and personal calling to bring life. 

We as pastors and ministry leaders are prepared to stand with you and support you in your God-given ministries.  You have dreams ordained by God. It is our privilege and hearts desire to call them forth and to see you fully established in the destiny of your life."

It represents a small but significant step in moving beyond building churches to leading the whole community into life.  It moves us beyond recruiting volunteers for our thing and towards releasing the divine dream over everything.

I, for one,  am grateful for their humility, example and belief that we were made for more. 

Creating disciples that change communities

In the last month more than two hundred and fifty people have come to Christ in our town.  Some of this has happened in our gathered environments, mostly though, it's been through scattered servants.  It has led to inevitable questions arising from both within our community and beyond.  The most commonly asked/heard is, "how do you disciple those who are coming to faith and connect them into your church?"  It’s a good question.

It’s among the questions we are asking but it’s not the main question. In truth, it doesn't make our top five. 

It’s a good question because part of the discipleship process involves connecting people to life giving churches.  However, since we want to do more than connect new believers with churches, (we want to create a movement of disciples that change communities), we keep returning to another set of questions: "How does living in Christ and living by the Spirit alter everything; what changes enter cities because disciples are present; how do we create the kind of disciples that change communities?  Why are there so few of those around?"

Instead of asking, “how do we disciple those who are coming to faith”, we are asking, “how do we create more of the kind of disciple who relentlessly, repeatedly leads individuals and institutions into faith?”  We call them disciples who change communities. 

Disciples who change communities emphasise impossibility:

Discipleship is an exercise in self invention unless it is firmly rooted in the intervention of God.  This is one of the key differences in Jesus’ approach to discipleship.  All the other Rabbi's taught morality, Jesus trained people in impossibility.  He did so intentionally, systemically and disruptively.  He did so knowing that impossibility is the framework of the life of God.  It's what He does.  This is why the supernatural is not optional to the discipleship process, it is absolutely central to a faith founded upon the resurrection.  Without emphasising impossibility we reduce discipleship to individuals instead of whole cities.  Disciples who change communities emphasise impossibility. 

Disciples that change communities speak the language of spiritual authority:

Spiritual maturity is inseparable from spiritual authority.  It is impossible for individuals and industries to be introduced to their destiny without spiritual authority.  Spiritual authority allows us to move beyond inner transformation to the journey towards the recreation of all things.  This journey is essential to the discipleship mandate, "all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all NATIONS."

Without such authority we practice introspective rather than expansive discipleship.  Without authority we make discipleship about our journey rather than His story.  Without authority we fail to re-write the story of the city.  All too often our methods of discipleship have practiced accountability without imparting spiritual authority. 

Accountability is necessary but it’s a poor substitute for spiritual authority.  If we endeavour to make disciples using the vehicle of accountability alone, (without authority), we convert people to our systems/structures but deny them access to life.  Disciples who change communities know who they are and know what they carry.  Disciples who change communities also know that without spiritual authority there can be no effective discipleship.  Simply put, life in the Spirit cannot be accessed through systems and structures. 

Disciples who change communities refuse to trade kingdom reality for human morality (frequently interpreted and defined through the lens of middle class Christianity): 

 Behavioural modification misses Jesus by too much.  Discipleship is about kingdom abundance more than it is sin avoidance.  As Dallas Willard wonderfully reminds us, "the gospel is not concerned with sin management."  All have sinned and, as a result, fall short of the glory of God.  God's goal for our lives is so much greater than morality.  It’s a different story;  a story that involves the restoration of glory.  Jesus didn't die so that we could be moral, He died so that we could be His, filled with His glory.  Morality is a poor substitute for glory, and disciples who change communities are those who resist the temptation to use discipleship as a mechanism to develop morality.  Instead they press into kingdom reality, large enough to rewrite the story for the whole of humanity.  We become fully His and in the process become fully Human.

Disciples who change communities embrace CONTEXT and content with a primary emphasis on the former:

The context of discipleship is vital to the quality of disciple.  Sadly, much of modern discipleship emphasises the content of discipleship and ignores the context.  However, throughout the pages of the New Testament, disciples are made among the people.    Disciples are made in cities, not churches, or classes, or courses.  We learn discipleship not through conference notes, or authors’ quotes, but in everyday, ordinary places where intervention is possible. Everyday, ordinary moments among the people.  These everyday, ordinary moments are what make it possible to have an ordinary, everyday discipleship movement that disciples people anywhere and everywhere. It allows discipleship to happen as we go to others rather than others having to come to us. 

Disciples that change communities resist the temptation to create scaffolding through structure that prevents people personally taking responsibility for their ongoing discernment of and immersion in the work of the Spirit of God:  

After the outpouring of the Spirit in the book of Acts the first disciples devoted themselves.  If I need someone in my life to help me stay connected to Jesus, then I have, in all probability, usurped the role of the Holy Spirit.  My faith rests on others and I have inadvertently created an idol.  Disciples who change communities deliberately practice intentional absence, ensuring that others’ faith rests on 'God's empowering presence' and not on their programs.  “Lo, I am with you always unto the end of the age.” 

Disciples who change communities have a vision for the whole community and proclaim a hope big enough to transform the city: 

They do not separate spiritual formation from city formation.  They love individual transformation and institutional transformation.  They regularly practice being among the people and bringing life in a thousand small ways.  They have a gospel of the kingdom FOR the world, understanding that Christ’s ascension means that everything, everywhere must be filled with His glory, majesty and beauty.  

Disciples who change communities know that this is impossible, it cannot be learned in a classroom, it cannot be measured by morality, it’s more than numbers of converts, it’s rooted in the words and works of Jesus and the knowledge that He must have the supremacy in ALL things, in all nations and throughout all generations.

What if we did more than connect people with churches...

What if we created disciples that change communities. 

Moving from pastoral visitation to pastoral vision

Jesus was an excellent pastor of people who didn’t gather in Church.

 It's somewhat surprising therefore that as those who claim to pattern their life according to the ministry of Jesus (as outlined in the gospels) we have largely come to understand our pastoral role as operating within the church rather than outside, among the people.  All the more so when we consider that Jesus' parables, teaching, and kingdom emphasis (not to mention commissioning) revolved around those not yet gathered.  Jesus' approach to pastoral care invites us to journey beyond pastoral visits and have a pastoral vision for the whole community.

 It's not that pastoral visitation is wrong.

 The roots of pastoral visitation flourished as a missional mindset among Puritan pastors to help them reach their community for Christ. They would often visit those in their community investigating the claims of Christ. These pastors would show up among the people and begin the process of leading them towards life change. They would do this throughout the entire village or community. Gradually the village would become saturated with a Gospel awareness.

Through the years we continued their practice while missing the ethos. 

The missional element became reduced and diluted. 

Pastoral visitation replaced pastoral vision.

We continued showing up in homes...but increasingly it became the homes of the churched.  Somehow, accidentally, inadvertently we introduced and cultivated the false expectation that the minister should focus on the found and should spend their time as a minister of the church rather than a minister to the city.  And yet...

pastoring the city is what the Puritans did...

pastoring the city is what Jesus did...

and pastoring the city is what the church does among the people.

Since the city is so large, it's impossible for one individual to personally attend to everyone.  So we must courageously and intentionally distance ourselves from pseudo-community where the minister visits everyone, counsels everyone, prays for everyone, cares for everyone.  Instead, in the words of Rick Warren, we nurture and create authentic community where everyone cares, everyone counsels, everyone prays and everyone visits. We must unleash the power of everyone. 

Everyone is called to bear one another’s burdens, submit to one another, love one another, serve one another, pray for one another.  Fifty-Eight times the ancient Scriptures invite us into a movement beyond ourselves (and our needs) and into the lives of others through these 'one another' statements. 

The broken are not excluded from this responsibility, neither are the bereaved; neither are the destitute nor disadvantaged.  Everyone has something to give and the community comes alive as this model (of pastoral share) permeates.  As we reclaim a biblical understanding of pastoral care we cease viewing others as pastoral projects (people who need what we have) and begin to see them as pastoral partners (people with the capacity to lead the city into life, often particularly when wrestling with personal difficulty or tragedy).

This enables us to live with the dreams of the city and the community on our hearts, not simply the needs of the church.  Perhaps it is time to move from pastoral visitation to a pastoral vision for the whole city. 

In the future your church won't need volunteers

Every church knows the value of volunteers.

Volunteers are skilled supportive servants who help improve the structure of the Church.

Yet churches that increase in favour and change the future of the city are thinking differently about volunteers. The Church of the future will move from recruiting volunteers to releasing trusted rulers. Volunteers meet the needs of the church. Trusted rulers serve/fuel the dreams of the city. Trusted rulers know their identity, understand their spiritual authority and introduce life to the city.  According to scripture every believer is a trusted ruler, called by God to lead the earth into life. This is the original mandate that has never been rescinded (Genesis 2).

Volunteers work for the church. Trusted rulers work for the city.  

Trusted rulers embrace their God-given capacity and responsibility for influencing the city towards its God-given destiny.  As trusted rulers we recognise that God wants more for us than simply fulfilling a function in Church.  We have a role to play in cultural and city formation as we live our ordinary everyday lives. 

In the future expect to see the emergence of trusted rulers led through honour and marked by favour. Prayerfully, (and hopefully), pastoral leaders will stop trying to get people to 'buy into their vision' and begin releasing people to run with the vision God has given them.  

As churches move from recruiting volunteers to releasing trusted rulers....

...expect to see less volunteer involvement in projects dreamed up by staff and more involvement of paid staff in everyday activity of believers who are already changing the community one life at a time.  In this way the Church will continue to move forward: everyone, everyday, everywhere - leading the city into faith, hope and love in a thousand different small ways.  

As churches move from recruiting volunteers to releasing trusted rulers....

 ...the Church will no longer be run as a business.  Instead you might just find her increasingly spending herself building local businesses that supply the destiny of the whole community, likewise in media and other areas of society. Watch as what God incubates in the hearts of trusted rulers resonates with the dreams and needs of the city. 

As churches move from recruiting volunteers to releasing trusted rulers....

...expect to see ordination of film-makers and poets, lawyers and teachers. Expect to see people specifically anointed not only to teach in church but to teach in schools. Expect prayers to be offered not simply for the young person heading to Bible College but for the young person heading to university to study journalism. Expect increased recognition that there is more power in the pews than there is on the platform.

In the future your church won't need volunteers.  In the future your church will raise up and release trusted rulers. 

Humility holds the key to the city

 

Without humility we never embrace impossibility.  We live with limitations, sometimes imposed, often chosen.  Without humility our lives drift towards mediocrity.  Without humility we hide our light under a bushel and our cities never understand the uniqueness of their design or their significance in bringing life. 

Humility holds the key to the city.

This is not the humility of inferiority.  Not the humility of timidity.  Not the humility that looks like and lives under oppression.  Not the humility of insecurity that causes us to hide our solutions.  No.  None of those great pretenders offer life to their bearers or bring light to their nations.

We seek a different humility.

We seek an alternative pathway from the false humility that mars identity and leaves cities estranged from divine reality.  We seek the humility of heaven; the humility that courageously embraces the view from heaven and relentlessly postures its life and work to see that reality expressed locally. 

There is a fresh humility engulfing the church.  Hopefully it will swallow her whole.

It is the humility secure in its identity, awakened to its authority; humility that has clarity about its assignment to awaken humanity, families and cities to their Father's joy.

Yes there is a fresh humility engulfing the church.

It leads her to move beyond the building and embrace the movement of God in the city. It is the humility of walking in uncertain pathways for the sake of the city.  It is the humility that is clothed with vulnerability as we embrace the vulnerable and operate outside our expertise, in the uncertainty of compassionate terrain.

It is the humility of the slaughtered Lamb. 

Aslan is on the move but he looks like a slaughtered Lamb. 

 "See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne."  @ Revelation 5:5-6

Authority and humility are intermingled, indistinguishable. 

Both together, always together.  What God has joined together let no man separate.

When the Church practices humility without authority the city can never enter its destiny. But the Lion roars over such a community reminding her of her image, her authority. 

When the Church practices authority without humility the city lives in slavery.  But the Lamb comes to such a Church and reminds her of her image as freedom bearer - a life restorer through laying down her own life. 

When the Church practices authority with humility the city experiences fresh capacity and true prosperity.  And the King comes speaking, 'arise shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord is rising upon you.'  

I looked into the face of humility and the face of courage and saw that they look the same, indistinguishable but clearly identifiable as the image of the Lion and the Lamb.

Humility holds the key to the city.