#Incarnational: New Wine Podcast #003

Here’s my latest podcast on following Jesus incarnationally.


You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!






Lessons from My Weight-Loss (Be Intentional)

On April 27th, 2011 I was obese.  According to my Body Mass Index, weighing in at a husky 250 pounds at my height (6’2″) slid me right into the obese category.  Over the next nine months I worked hard, counting every calorie consumed and burned, and lost 65 pounds!  Now, quite a while later, I’ve gained back 5 of those pounds, but I’m convinced that most of that is muscle!

In case you were curious, here’s some pictorial evidence.  On the left is me at 250 pounds and on the right is me at 190 pounds!

The purpose of this post, however, is not just to pat myself on my back for my weight loss.  Instead it’s to share some of the lessons I learned and apply them to being a missionally postured, incarnationally activated follower of Jesus.  This is Part One and there will be more parts to come periodically.

So, what is the first lesson? Be Intentional.

Losing weight, for me at least, did not just happen.  It required a great deal of effort and purposefulness.

Getting to 250 pounds just happened though!  That was easy!  But losing the weight (and keeping it off) has been a process that has been difficult for me at times.  I’m not a person who plans things out carefully by nature.  I prefer to live life by the seat of my pants!  But doing so led me down a path to obesity.

So, with some effort, some support from my amazing wife Alida (along with my family and friends), and some patience, I lost the weight.  I made a plan and I stuck to it.  I knew exactly what I was shooting for and I had figured out the best way for me to reach my goals.

How does this apply to being missional?

I’m so glad you asked!  In the American church we have just been “doing church” now for quite some time.  We figured that discipleship was just going to happen, that evangelism was just going to happen, and that leadership development was just going to happen.

Where has that gotten us?  Well, by almost any standard you’d like to use, we have a great vacuum of actively-growing disciples in the church.  Evangelism for many of us has become something only the very few and very, very brave engage in, since we’ve narrowly defined it as going up to a stranger and trying to reason them or scare them or persuade them into saying the sinner’s prayer.  And we have a great need for more dedicated, trained, and passionate leaders.

In other words, we’re in trouble.

What can we do?  Well, we can start by being intentional!  Just like I had to sit down and come up with a plan in order to lose weight, we need to strategize together about how best to reach this mission field called America.  And whatever our plan is, it can’t be just a repackaging of our old methods.  That’s what I tried when I was 250 pounds.  All it did was keep me fat.

It’s my assertion that if we keep on doing the same things as the church, then we’ll keep getting the same results.  It’s well passed time that we try some new methods of discipling up, reaching out, and worshiping well.  The ramifications of us continuing to waste time are simply too dire.  We must change!

There are a thousand things we could begin to be more intentional about, but here’s an “easy” one.  Let’s stop thinking about and talking about the church as a building where we go to consume religious goods and services and instead let’s start thinking about and talking about being the church among those who need the good news.  This small shift can make a huge difference!

What are some other ways that we could be more intentional as missional followers of Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

5 Ways to Prepare to Be on Mission

Like everything worthwhile in life, becoming more missional requires us to prepare.  Does that mean that we have to be rigid?  Of course not!  But it does mean that we need to be thoughtful as we begin to live like a missionary.

Let me illustrate this:

My parents are visiting us for Thanksgiving.  We’ve had such a great time so far!  I’m so grateful for them and their love for us!  One of the realities when they visit, however, is that we need to prepare; we need to get ready for their arrival if we want to be hospitable.

What does that look like?  Well, this time around it meant Alida (my wife) and I carefully planning out our meals, including our Thanksgiving feast (which was a-ma-zing!).  It also means that we need to plan a few things to do.  We don’t want to fill our schedule up, because we want to have some time to just hang with my parents, but we do want to do a few things.  So this year we planned to go to a stage production and on a movie studio tour.  We’ve already had a blast, and I hope it’s going to continue!  And part of the reason this is true is that Alida and I planned well.

What then does this have to do with being on mission as a follower of Jesus?  Well, in my opinion, being on mission requires intentionality.  We usually won’t just fall into being more missional!  We need to plan for it and then we need to carry out those plans!

Here are a few ways to prepare to be on mission:

  1. Seek the Lord’s Guidance: The centrality of prayer can’t be focused upon enough!  We must connect with God and ask him how and where he wants us to be on mission.  If we go out in our own power, then we are setting up a situation where we are the ones who will get all the praise.  Instead, let’s ask the Lord in prayer what he wants for us, and then let’s follow through with our actions.
  2. Build a Support Base: Before going out on mission it’s important to have a solid team of folks who are behind you and with you.  These can be obvious people, like your friends and family, or you could reach out and ask a missional person whom you respect but don’t know all that well to mentor you through this process.  Whichever way you go, hear this: Don’t go alone!
  3. Seek Guidance: There’s an old adage that applies here: Don’t try to reinvent the wheel!  There are tons of people who have walked down this path before you.  Read books by missional thinkers (I suggest the following to start: Tangible Kingdom, AND, and The Forgotten Ways.  Another thing to do is to ask missionary-minded people whom you know what their lives look like on a day-to-day basis.  Don’t be shy to ask this!  You’d be surprised how willing people are to share and how honored they’ll be that you asked!
  4. Read about Jesus Constantly: Our best example of living missionally is in the life of Jesus himself.  So, read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John often.  Read them however makes sense to you.  Here’s what I’ve been doing lately: I read one story at a time (you can cheat and use the headings in your Bible!) and then I write down any insights that I feel the Spirit speaking into my life about how to be on mission with the risen Jesus in my own life.  This is a simple method, but it has proven very effective!
  5. Assess Your Circles: Who are you connected to?  Who are your friends?  If you’re like me, then you might find yourself completely encircled by followers of Jesus.  This is a great thing!  But it makes it a bit hard to be on mission if everyone around you already knows Jesus!  So, think carefully about how you might inject yourself into different contexts in order to become friends with those who don’t yet know Jesus.  One way that I’ve been experimenting with lately is playing pick-up basketball at a local gym.  There are hundreds of other ways.  Be creative!

There are lots of other ways to prepare to be on mission.  Can you think of any?  Let me know in the comments below!

What We Can Learn from Mormons (and Derwin Gray!)

A book that I read almost a decade ago has had a lasting impact on my understanding of religion, the early history of Christianity, and how and why people choose which religious tradition to follow.  The book’s title is The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries by Rodney Stark, the Co-Director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.  I really can’t recommend this book highly enough!

Interestingly, writing Rise began a journey for Dr. Stark that would lead him to study Christianity more and more.  And after some time devoted to looking into Christian history specifically, to paraphrase his own words, he found one day that he himself was a Christian!  Dr. Stark has written many other books as well, including another one about early Christianity that I love called Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome.

I wanted to introduce you to Dr. Stark and his work for one reason: He shared something in Rise about Mormons that changed the way that I have thought about evangelism.  He begins his book by discussing, from a sociological perspective, how people convert from one religious tradition to another.  In that line of thinking, he shared the following paragraph:

“Data based on records kept by a Mormon mission president give powerful support to this proposition [that people convert based on established social networks],  When missionaries make cold calls, knock on the doors of strangers, this eventually leads to a conversion once out of a thousand calls.  However, when missionaries make their first contact with a person in the home of a Mormon friend or relative of that person, this results in conversion 50 percent of the time” (Rise, 18).

Did you catch that?  The Mormons, who are famous for their data collecting, say when their missionaries go up to a stranger to share the “good news,” that works once out of a thousand times!  But when they take advantage of the existing social networks of their rank-and-file members, it works 50 percent of the time!  That’s just amazing!

Maybe you’re like me and you grew up in the church and were taught how to do cold-call evangelism.  You may still remember your parts of the rehearsed “if you died tonight” conversation or maybe you’re been trained in Evangelism Explosion.  Well, according to Dr. Stark, these methods simply aren’t all that successful.  We’d be better served to look into our circles of friends and family to find potential new followers of Jesus.

But how do we do this?  How do we live our lives in such a way that our friends and family will be interested in following Jesus?  In other words, how can we be more missional?

Derwin Gray is helpful here.  At the church where he is the pastor followers of Jesus who are missional, whom they call “Transformers”, are marked by five characteristics.  The last of these is what he calls “Inviting.”  Just to be clear, Derwin doesn’t mean that they invite people to church!  Instead, what he means is that missional followers of Jesus live an inviting life, the kind of life that leads other people to ask them what they are all about.

Naturally this idea of the inviting life leads to some obvious questions: Is my life inviting?  As I do life among my friends and family do I look more like Jesus (communal, sacrificial, and giving) or a standard American (individualistic, conumeristic, and materialistic)?  How can I shift my life to be more and more inviting?  How can I better use my life and my circles of influence to participate in the making of new disciples?

I don’t have all the answers.  Heck, I’m just starting out on this journey myself!  But here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. We need to have a missional posture: It’s important to view ourselves as missionaries in our neighborhood.  This subtle shift can change everything!
  2. We need to focus on relationships: As Evangelicals we sometimes get fixated on having a conversation with someone that ends with them praying the sinners prayer and we miss the fact that it’s relationships that matter!  Look at how Jesus led people into discipleship — he didn’t reason them in; he was their friend and lived life with them, slowly revealing himself to them.
  3. We must be intentional: Living an attractive life, an inviting life, isn’t just going to happen.  We have to strategize!  That means that we need to purposefully place ourselves in places where we can begin and deepen relationships with people who don’t follow Jesus yet.
  4. We can’t be judgmental: If we want to be inviting to those who don’t follow Jesus yet, the fastest way to throw a monkey wrench into the whole situation is by being judgmental!  Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5.12 are helpful here: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?”  I’m pretty sure that we Evangelicals tend to skip that little gem!
  5. We need to think incarnationally: Jesus came to earth and lived among us and made disciples.  Then, as he was leaving his disciples he asked them to make disciples of all the nations.  How though?  Well, follow Jesus’ example.  Invite people into your life and let them live life with you.  There’s a danger here though and Tim Keller captured it well in a video that was played during Exponential West.  To paraphrase, he said, “If we aren’t living holy lives, then discipleship will be impossible.”  So, if we want to make disciples, new ones or deepening old ones, then we must make every effort, with the power of the Spirit, to live followable lives.
  6. We should build belonging before believing: Historically Evangelicals have done just the opposite; we have called people to believe, then, once they do, we enter into relationship with them.  That’s simply not the picture we get from Jesus’ life.  He created space for people to belong and gave them time to grow into believing.

There are a thousand other ways to be more missional but these six are a start!

What are some other ways that we can be more missional as followers of Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

Failing at the Elevator Pitch

Nemo / Pixabay

Nemo / Pixabay

So yesterday was a big day!  My wife and I were hosting a team of six folks at our place to chat about the mid-sized community that we all help lead.  My goal at this meeting was to cast the missional/incarnational vision very clearly so that the six of us could dream together about how to shift our group from away from being attractional.

So I had been praying and preparing for several days.  I had a solid feel for what I would say and how I would say it.  Then I checked my email and I noticed a message from the Michael Hyatt newsletter.  If you don’t know, Michael Hyatt is a publisher, author, blogger, and leadership coach and consultant.  There’s a bunch of stuff on his blog about leadership, personal development, developing your brand, etc.  He’s really great!

Well the email from his newsletter linked to a really interesting article called “Why You Need an Elevator Pitch (and How to Create One)”  An elevator pitch is a short but effective way to tell someone about your idea in a limited amount of time, say the amount of time you have in an elevator with someone.  Michael Hyatt gave four pieces of advice:

  1. Describe your idea.
  2. Talk about the problem.
  3. How can your idea help solve the problem.
  4. What’s the key benefit of your idea.

I wrote these four phrases on a piece of paper and stuck it in my pocket.  My plan was that all throughout the day I would use the elevator pitch idea to think more carefully about how to cast vision with the team that evening.  I practiced while driving, in my mind while hanging out with friends, while in the shower, before leading a devotional, while at an immigration-reform rally, and then while cleaning the house.

I had honed the pitch down to two sentences: “My hope is for us to view ourselves as missionaries where we work, play, and live because the “if you build it, they will come” version of church just isn’t working anymore.  We can accomplish this by being more intentional about our up (connection with God), our in (community), and our out (service) and in so doing we can begin to express tangibly God’s love in our world.”

Saying those two sentences takes no more than thirty seconds.  That’s it.  Thirty seconds.

Why, then, in the moment with the team in our living room, did I spend twenty minutes explaining the vision!  Ugh.  I really blew it.  Luckily the team knows me pretty well and each of them has extended grace to me before.  And, despite my inadequacies, they all seemed to understand what I was talking about to some degree.

It wasn’t a total loss.  But as an elevator pitch it was an epic failure!

Has something like this ever happened to you?  Tell me about it in the comments.

Here’s book I recommend by Michael Hyatt about developing your brand: Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.

Missional Beginnings

How did this all start for me?  How did the passion for having a missional posture and incarnational habits begin in me?

Well, it all started for me just about a month ago at Exponential West.  Exponential is a church-planting network that hosts conferences during which folks from all over the world come to get inspired and to learn.  This year the theme was “Discipleshift” — helping churches make disciples.  I was asked to go by Lake Avenue Church, where I am a member, congregational leader, and a part-time, temporary staff member.  The work that I do at Lake is specifically connected with discipleship and my role as a congregational leader is as part of a leadership team for a diverse group of young adults called Crossroads.  In other words, I am fully invested in discipleship at Lake.

So I went to the conference with some other folks from Lake, both staff and non-staff members.  From the very first session that I attended to the last I was blown away!  A simple and basic theme ran through everything — we need to get back to what’s centrally important: making disciples.  Sounds pretty simple and I think that almost all of us would agree with that basic premise.

But our churches just aren’t doing a good job of making disciples anymore. I talked about this some in a previous blog entitled New Wine?. But to reiterate, basically the churches in the U.S. that are growing are growing thanks to transfer growth and most churches in the U.S. aren’t baptizing any new believers who don’t have familial connections with the church already.

But making disciples is more than just making new disciples; it also involves helping those who are already following the risen Jesus follow him better. Our primary means of facilitating this growth in most churches in the U.S. has been through cognitive learning done at the church. Now there’s nothing wrong with cognitive learning!  But the truth is that it simply is not enough on its own. Why not? Because there are different types of learners. Because cognitive learning does not always lead to different behavioral habits. Because some people who want to follow Jesus need to learn within intimate community and/or in experiential, hands-on kind of ways.

Also, a second common theme at Exponential West was that being a disciple means at least two things: 1) A disciple’s life shows growth in fulfilling the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22.37-39: Love God and love your neighbor); and 2) A disciple’s life shows growth in helping to fulfill with others the Great Commission (Matthew 28.19-20: Go and make disciples).  So, to put it more simply, a disciple is a follower of Jesus who loves God, loves his neighbor, and seeks to make disciples of others.

What does this look like?  Well, this is where a third theme emerged, which I have given a shorthand: Up, In, and Out.  This Up-In-and-Out language came to me from the mission statement at Transformation Church in Rock Hill, SC, which is pastored by Derwin Gray.  But here’s the point, a disciple has a strong relationship with God (Up), fosters authentic and fun community (In), and cares about living out the gospel in the world (Out).  My understanding of this concept grew thanks to the book by Hugh Halter called The Tangible Kingdom.  Hugh calls these three ways a disciple lives communion (Up), community (In), and mission (Out).

After taking in all of this on the first day of the conference, I was lying on the hotel-room bed staring at the darkened ceiling asking myself how I had missed all of this.  How could I have so contrived what it means to follow Jesus that I’ve missed the simplicity of growing in fulfillment of the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission?  Up, In, and Out is so simple and so straightforward.  And yet for most of my life as a follower of Jesus I’ve focused almost solely on Up, some on In, and very little on Out.

As I stared at the ceiling I felt a growing sense of excitement that some of the things that I had been learning about could be implemented in my life and into the life of the community of which I am a part.  I started dreaming about ways to change some of what I do to become more missional.  I started thinking about how to tweak a few things in Crossroads so that we could better encourage one another to fulfill the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission.  I started to get a vision for how things could be different.

Upon returning home I started sharing this vision with my wife, Alida.  She loved it!  Immediately she and I began discussing some new difficulties that might arise as a result of doing church differently.  We also started thinking about how our lives as a couple could change if we adopted a missional posture and began forming incarnational habits.  We both got really excited about this idea!  Alida is also part of the six-person leadership team of Crossroads and she thought that it would be wise and fair to share the vision with the rest of the team as well.  So, over the next few weeks I met with each of the other leaders in Crossroads to share with them what I had been learning.  To a person, everyone was excited!

Fast forward a bit and we come to last night.  Since we have a leadership meeting coming up on Monday night, I thought it would be good to remind our team of what we had chatted about.  So I sent them all an email that had a list of talking points for Monday.  The goal was for us to all be thinking about how focusing on discipleship from a missional/incarnational perspective might change how we do things in Crossroads.  With that meeting just a few days away now, my excitement is growing as I think about what dreaming together with our leadership team might look like!

What impact might this new wine have?  Only time will tell!

If you are interested in some helpful tools, I highly recommend the following two books, both by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay: The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community and AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church.

New Wine?

Why have I decided to call this blog “New Wine”?

I’m glad you asked!

new wine

In the last six weeks or so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what it means to follow Jesus more intentionally. In pursuit of this I’ve been ingesting lots of stuff about how to follow Jesus purposefully. One group of people who have quite a bit to say on this topic are church planters.

A church planter is someone who sees a need for the gospel in an area and starts a church there. While there are several different ways that folks go about this, one of the more recent trends is to start out with a missional posture while living incarnationally.

What does that mean? Well, basically some church planters view themselves as missionaries instead of professional, paid staff members. Thus, this sort of church planter spends quite a bit of time with people who haven’t met Jesus — living with them, eating with them, caring for them, serving with them, and advocating for them.

The goal, of course, of the church planter is to fulfill Matthew 28.19-20, which is better known as the Great Commission. There Jesus challenges his disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations…” Thus, the sort of church planter I’m talking about is interested in leading someone into being a disciple, which is just a fancy way of saying they want to help someone learn how to follow Jesus well.

Not only that, but church planters of this ilk are not as interested in attracting people to come to church. They say this model, which is called the attractional model, isn’t working all that well. Another way of thinking about the attractional model is with the phrase “if you build it, they will come” (apologies to Field of Dreams!). So a church that is attractional will spend lots of time, money, and energy on their weekend services and programs, in hopes of making an excellent product that will attract people to come to church.

The reality seems to be that this way of doing church is not attracting as many people as it once did. You can find the statistics by Googling on your own, so I won’t bore you with them. But fewer and fewer people are coming to church and more and more churches aren’t seeing any new disciples being made who don’t have family in the church already. And, according to research done over the last decade or so, it seems that the churches that are growing (meaning that the number of people that they count during their weekend services has gone up) are doing so based on transfer growth, that is, they’re growing because they are attracting people from other churches. In other words, the attractional model isn’t working like we had hoped.

So the brand of church planters that I was talking about before insist that the best way to reach the un-churched, de-churched, etc. is to plant new churches. But not new attractional churches! Instead many of these church planters say that the way to go is to foster missional and incarnational communities in which those who don’t follow Jesus can see the good news of the kingdom of God being lived out in their midst. To put it differently, instead of asking people to come to church, these church planters are trying to be the church among those who don’t follow Jesus.

What do these church planters think about traditional, attractional churches? You may have guessed that most of them point to the evidence that I’ve noted above. Some of them are aggressively negative, while others see some benefit in the old ways. But almost to a person, these church planters are convinced that it’s incredibly difficult to retrain an attractional church to become missional and incarnational. Thus, a lot of them suggest that people should start form scratch (that is, plant a new church), rather than try to change a traditional church. Even the ones who try to give some tools to help transition attractional churches admit that the process is super-duper slow and often very painful.

And in these same contexts folks often quote the words from Jesus’ mouth in Matthew 9.17: “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Their implication is that the new wine of thinking missionally and living incarnationally is simply incompatible with the old wineskin of the attractional church model. While most of them wouldn’t actually say this, it certainly seems that many of them believe that changing an attractional church is simply impossible.

Well, it is in the context of a traditional, attractional church where I find myself. I’m a part-time staff member (for six more weeks!) and a adult community leader. Our church is old (115 or so years old), pretty big, and clearly geared toward getting people to come to our campus to do church. Lots of our folks, however, understand that this isn’t as effective as we would like and we’ve been thinking and strategizing about how to change.

So, what do I hope to do? Well, I want to attempt to pour some new wine into this old wineskin! I’m curious to see if Jesus’ words in Matthew 9.17 apply to this setting or not. What I’m hoping will happen is that the community I’m a part of, which is called Crossroads, can be shifted from being attractional to missional/incarnational. And I want to document parts of that journey here!

So, if you’re interested, check back and see what we’re up to!