Saturday, April 20, 2013

Planting a Missional Church in Jupiter, Florida

Palm Beach County, Florida is typical of American culture in the early 21st century:  a widening gap between rich and poor, a challenging economy, distracted and consumed with entertainment, polarizing opinions about politics, and an increasing resistance towards God and spirituality.  This is not what the church expected 20 years ago.  At the height of the church growth movement, there appeared to be no ceiling to reaching Americans and getting them “plugged into” church.  However, post-modernity has changed the landscape of American culture and left the church struggling to find a new voice.

My wife Amber and I have spent the last eleven years as missionaries to this emerging, post-modern culture in Palm Beach County.  We have started several small communities of faith as a means to understand more about this culture and as a prophetic statement that the Kingdom of God really is like a mustard seed.  We have been tempted many times to plant a church with all the traditional trappings, but keep getting drawn back to a simple, prophetic calling: to call together a movement of the Kingdom.

We have discovered that amazing things can be accomplished if we learn how to work with the Holy Spirit and rely on his resources, not our own.  In fact, there is no back up plan, because there is no need for a back up plan.  He is the only well that never runs dry.  Along the way, we have discovered that there are a few things that really make the Holy Spirit happy:

1.  When people learn how to love and serve Jesus with their whole lives and become his Apprentices.
2.   When those apprentices join God's Mission and find ways to love and serve their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and community in which they live.
3.  When room is made for each other as friends, comrades, and companions in spiritual family - what the Bible calls Oikos.
4.  When those oikoi live in Unity and understand that they are part of God's Big Bride, the Church.

We are looking for individuals who believe in Kingdom come, have a desire to cultivate spiritual families, and want to be a part of a missional movement in northern Palm Beach County.  Specifically, we are in the process of calling together a core team who will meet together for a few months to lay the foundation for what is to come.  Later this year, we will begin following the Holy Spirit into our social networks proclaiming the Kingdom and looking for people of peace (Luke 10).  Once this first oikos reaches maturity, the process will begin again.  We will also be establishing a larger, public worship gathering and continue to provide opportunities for growth through Everyday Mission.

If you want a title or recognition as a leader, this will not be a place for you.  We are looking for people who want to see God's Kingdom made known in their own lives and in the lives of others and are willing to get dirty along the way.  There will be conflict, failures, set-backs, opposition, and a lot of need for prayer.  But oh, are we going to have a lot of fun.  We routinely say that we live in paradise.  Jupiter and the Palm Beaches is an incredibly desirable place to live and raise a family.  But it is also a place of huge contrasts - between rich and poor, powerful and helpless, and young and old.  Like so much of America, deep change is occurring, which is prime soil to sow and reap a harvest.

The faith community we have been a part of for the past six years, The Well, will remain and will be a sister church and ally.  Making the decision to leave The Well and establish a new foundation was very difficult.  But without their support and encouragement, none of this would be possible.

If joining our core team interests you, or you would like to be kept informed of our plans later in the year, please contact me.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Beginning with the End in Mind

I grew up in a church where the belief was, quite literally, Jesus could float down from the clouds unannounced and snatch away us believers. For a young child, this was not good news. First, there was the fear of the unknown. Children need to feel safe, and even though all the images I had been presented with of Jesus were safe (holding lambs, looking serene in a meadow,) the images of returning Jesus felt scary and confusing. (For example, I really hope the artist who painted the image above was either joking or 12.) Also confusing was hearing adults discuss how they couldn't wait for Jesus to return. As a 40 year old adult, I can appreciate the notion of escaping from the grind of life, but this was incredibly difficult to reconcile as a child. I loved God and hated evil. But I just couldn't understand why Jesus wanted to take us away from our home and burn it up!

Perhaps you had a similar experience, or still share those beliefs. This is not meant to argue end times theology, but rather to argue that how the end of God's story is framed has an enormous impact on the Church's mission now.

Planting a church is a sociological experiment. The society that develops is dependent on the founder's theology, psychology, personality, politics, and even what could be considered benign personal preferences. But most important to the church's formation is the story that is told from the beginning. What is the purpose for this new church? Why should it exist and where is it going? The driving force behind the story told should be The story - God's story - from Genesis to Revelation. This is the foundation for everything a church is and does as God's people in a place, so having your story straight is pretty important.

God's story is about redemption, renewal, and ultimately hope. If an atheist were to ask me, "Why do you believe in God?" my answer would be, "Because God's story has a hopeful ending." One of the dominate worldviews of our time - scientific rationalism - has only one possible ending: The world is destroyed in a fireball a few billion years from now when the sun burns out…and you won't be around to see it because you'll be dead.  I can't debate the science behind that ending. But I can talk about an alternative ending where the returning Jesus brings together heaven and earth in a cosmic act of healing, the dead are raised to new and brighter life, and hope shines out like the newborn sun.

This ending to the story is found in the same scriptures of the floating on clouds Jesus. It doesn't negate the fact that, yes, Jesus will return - actually reappear - one day. Believe me, when that happens, it will feel like the world is ending. But there is nothing to fear and I think he will find a way to comfort his children. N.T. Wright likens this to seeing a lamppost in a dense fog. You can tell that there is light ahead and just make out the shape of a lamppost, but the surrounding details are fuzzy. The important thing is that God will make things right. He can be trusted.

I hope you can see that it won't do to sit around waiting for signs of the end. The healing and reconciling mission of God should be the hopeful, passionate pursuit of every follower of Jesus. With this as the foundation, any faith community can truly begin with the end in mind.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Jesus es mi Pastor

A few years ago I was invited by a friend to attend and speak at a conference in Peru he was organizing for local pastors and church leaders.  It was a sweet time of fellowship and many challenging ideas were shared and discussed.  One of the ideas was that in God's Kingdom, there is no special, professional class of Christian that does all the ministry while the rest sit back and receive.  This idea was particularly liberating to one young woman who began proclaiming in a loud voice during the break, "Up with the Kingdom, down with the pastors!"

The truth is, the idea of "the priesthood of all believers" has been notoriously difficult to implement.  On the whole, the Church loves its pastors and ministers and is perfectly content to allow them to do most of the work.  After all, who has time to visit an elderly shut-in, counsel a depressed soul, or actually pray?  There is a long Christian tradition of paying pastors to do the hard stuff no one else likes to do.  The very pastors who, according to Paul, exist to "equip the saints for the work of ministry."  

But let's think about that for a moment.  What does it mean to "equip" someone for ministry?  And what "ministry" are we talking about?  These are good questions to ask, because the answers might deeply challenge the core of the pastor / flock relationship.

John Wimber famously said that in the Kingdom of God, "Everyone gets to play." No follower of Jesus is exempt from being able to participate in the life of the kingdom.  Ministry - speaking Jesus words and doing Jesus acts - is free, public, requires no special degree or license, and is no respecter of age, sex, or even faith!  The scriptures are full of stories of unqualified, broken, unexpected souls simply responding to the love of God and in turn, loving others.  

So it might be possible that the metrics for who should be "in ministry" are flawed.  Perhaps the most qualified ministers are simply the ones who make themselves available to God and respond with "Yes!" when he calls.  Therefore, equipping someone could be as simple as teaching them the "See and Do" model of Jesus.  As in, "the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." - John 5:19. 

Here is a modest proposal for helping pastors and other "equippers" actually equip people to do real ministry in their real lives:

1.  Help people create space in their lives for solitude and silence, to learn how to hear God's voice, and how to pray.
2.  Teach people how to understand and interpret their place in God's Story.
3.  Create opportunities for people to be with "the least of these" - the poor, lonely, broken, imprisoned, wounded, and sick.

By doing these things often (and lots of other things - use your imagination - not as often), I bet there is a good chance Kingdom stories will abound!