Category: leadership

Get Out and Vote!

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On the eve of Super Tuesday, I have only one message for you… get off your butt and vote! Sure, there’s plenty of reasons as to why not vote, but I’ll give you three compelling reasons to go out and vote.

I know. I know that you’re feeling disenfranchised about the whole electoral process and I’m with you on that. It’s a broken system run by broken people… but the same could be said for the institutionalized church. A handful of you show up a few Sundays a month to waste an hour of your time, so I digress. Here are my 3 main reasons to get out and vote.

Here are my 3 main reasons to get out and vote:
  1. It’s your minimum, basic, civic duty as a citizen of this country. Voting is like paying for parking tickets, watering your lawn or being picked for jury duty. No one enjoys it, but it’s kind of like the kale…  we know in the long run that it’s part of the greater good. So hold your nose and enter the voting booth.
  2. There are other issues and candidates at stake. I hear your pain, no one wants to go on a double date with the Orange Don or Crooked Hillary. I completely understand. They’re like that couple that keeps texting you to hang out. When it comes to voting, there are more pressing issues on the ballot than those dysfunctional two with power issues. I voted early and there were 26 other issues on the ballot. If you can’t stomach the options for commander and chief, just remember that there are other things going on in the country and your local community. Let your voice be heard.
  3. If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain for the next four years. Yes, I know that harping and complaining about politics is an American pastime, but if you don’t go and vote I’m not going to let you have that right. You’ve been revoked. If you can’t bother to get up off your butt and vote… you just need to remain silent for the next four years in regards to politics. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Shush.

Needless to say, voting often doesn’t make a huge difference in the big races, but in the smaller local races, it can be a big deal. Complain all you want about so many things… but just complain to yourself as you wait in line on Super Tuesday to vote.

 

TIMS, F*CK the Poor and the Messed Up Way We Selfishly Help

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I love this satire on the way we look at missions and relief work. It’s so easy for us to look at the world through our consumeristic western eyes. Yet, we rarely bother to ask the right questions and simply just assume we have the answers. Asking the right questions typically starts with asking others what they need; not what we think they need. Furthermore, products like Toms are simply more about us than actually doing good in the world. Let me be clear, I’m not ripping on Toms,  but our motivation towards products like Toms. Toms aren’t about giving shoes to the needy. If we’re really honest, it’s about my need for trendy shoes that make me feel socially conscious. If I really cared about giving shoes to the needy, then I should just buy shoes for the needy.

[youtube http://youtu.be/5jx0ZjAXWwQ]

We live in such a culture of good intentions. What I’ve begun to realize, though, is that there’s a big difference between passion and action. Now onto F*ck the Poor, a campaign run in the UK to create awareness of the poor.

[youtube http://youtu.be/eBuC_0-d-9Y]

It’s amazing how shocked, outraged and offended people react. We are uncomfortable with being overtly callous, but when challenged with an opportunity for action we to balk, because it requires something of ourselves. We’re often a callous people, but don’t like to think of ourselves that way. Most people, if asked, would say that they consider themselves to be a ‘good person.’ I live in a town that loves to pride themselves with being socially conscious and enlightened. We love to talk about causes, outrage and injustice, but rarely does it move beyond mere cocktail party conversation. It’s more about social posturing than it is about social justice or change. We’re passionate about being passionate. Talking about things in an ideological sense is easy, but doesn’t translate into action.

Actual change in the world begins when we place our own needs aside, step outside of our comfort zones and willingly get our hands dirty helping others. You don’t have to travel overseas to serve. Just begin to open your eyes to needs of our own community. Simply start there and you’ll be surprised at all the work that needs to be done. Change may begin with you, but it never ends there. It always leads to helping and serving those around you.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
    -Gandhi

What about you? How do you think change is possible?

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Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 10

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{continued from part 9 or start at the beginning}

Survival Lesson #10: ZOMBIE MAYBE GONE, BUT THE THREAT LIVES ON…
(Conclusions)

 “The walking dead attack churches for one good reason: It’s where the food is. Despite their education, technical savvy, and professed disinterest in the spiritual world, urban Americans run, screaming to their gods, at the first sight of zombies. These places of worship, crammed with people loudly praying for their souls, have always served as beacons for the undead.”

 – Brooks (p.82)

Learning to live in a new environment, whether post-apocalyptic or post-Christian, you must first survive before you can expect to thrive. As I stand, miles down the road looking back, I am surprised at where the past two years have taken me. I owe much credit to these changes also to my fellow classmates and professors in the MAGL program. They have been better traveling companions that I could have ever asked for, and many will be lifelong friends. Dallas Willard referred to personal development and inner transformation as a “spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself” (Willard Renovation of the Heart p. 22). This spirit-driven process has turned a cynical and jaded pastor with a profound distrust and distain for the institutional church into a new church planter. I have been refined, cultivated and developed as a leader walking humbly towards this new endeavor. In the next few months, I will be moving across the country and planting a church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I would have never found myself in this position if it were not for the MAGL program; these past two years have been revolutionary in my life.

Moving forward, I see that planting a church in a post-Christian and globalized world is not without its difficulties. Becoming an intentional and incarnational leader that equips a community living in the shadow of these new realities requires rethinking church in terms of diversity, hierarchy, and spirituality. If we are truly to become a church that is both missional and transformational, then we must become incarnational at all costs. Christian ministry in the 21st century is much like surviving a zombie apocalypse. We are not called to be safe; we are called to be survivors that live on mission under the auspice of Christ. “The Christian… does not claim that the world is safe, but only that it is under God’s lordship” (Newbigin A Community of Character p.101). Lastly, “no matter what happens to the surviving humans, there will always be the walking dead,” (Brooks p.157) we just don’t have to be one of them.

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 9

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{continued from part 8 or start at the beginning}

Survival Lesson #9: GET OUT OF THE CAR, GET ONTO THE BIKE.
(New Spirituality) 

“Joy, sadness, confidence, anxiety, love, hatred, fear-all of these feelings and thousands more that make up the human “heart” are as useless to the living dead as the organ of the same name. Who knows if this is humanity’s greatest weakness or strength? The debate continues, and probably will forever.”

– Brooks (p.15)

When living at the end of the world, context is everything. With most decisions seeming like life and death, having the correct perspective is always key. Remember that danger is real, but fear is a choice. Knowing this distinction makes all the difference and will keep you focused in the moment. As with church, a shift towards centered living needs to happen. After rethinking diversity and hierarchy, we must lastly, rethink our approach to spirituality.  “In our busy, noisy world silence is essential to providing a space so that we might notice and pause long enough to hear God speak(Schwanda The Transforming Power of Silence in Personal Prayer and Public Worship). Church in the west has become either about ritual or production; one focuses on tradition, the other entertainment. They both incorporate Christ, but neither does so as a focal point. We need a return to the monastic way of being. By monastic, I mean a communal existence exemplified by prayful, contemplation and intentional living that is centered on the teaching of Christ.

The church must return to the heart of the gospel. In this monastic approach, the spiritual disciplines of Christianity have to be revisited: prayer, meditation, fasting, and living communally with one another. Embracing these practices moves the church from being an institution into being a social movement. It also clears space in our lives for God to speak and move. Living in the post-Christian nation, we are called to live intentionally and act different. “This new way embodies “the never-ending interplay of repentance and remembrance, condemnation and celebration, proclamation and practice” (Ramachandra Faiths in Conflict?  p. 171).

As we look at the beginnings of our church plant, all of our actions will be grounded in these disciplines. It is in this place where we submit ourselves to the Lord and commit our lives to one another in community. It is in this place where we will live out the incarnational reality of Christ. I believe that this is a starting place for transformation. “We need to become people who work as if it all depends of God – because it does, and because that is the best possible news” (Crouch Culture Making p.99).

{continued in part 10}

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 4

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{continued from part 3 or start at the beginning}

THE SOLUTIONS:

Survival Lesson #4: KEEP MOVING, KEEP LOW, KEEP QUIET, KEEP ALERT!
(Learning to be Transformational)

“Do not investigate any strange noises or lights in the distance. Just get out. Every side trip, every pause in the journey, increases the odds of being found and devoured.”  Brooks (p. 95)

Striving to remain alive in the face of a zombie outbreak is difficult, but it also brings with it clarity and a glorious simplicity to your everyday existence. Faced with a struggle to live a prioritized life in a way where survival is paramount. There is no tomorrow unless you live well today. You learn to become truly alive and cherish every moment when death is possibly around the corner. It brings about an incredible amount of focus to your world.

In our times as well, this new reality is bringing about a wave of clarity to our existence as Christians living in the shadow of an empire. It is in this place of simplicity that transformation is possible. “The Christian movement must be the living, breathing promise to society that it is possible to live out the values of Christ – that is, to be a radical, troubling alternative to the power imbalances in the empire” (Frost Exiles p. 15). Armed with only the power of the Gospel, we are called to engage in the work of the incarnational way of Christ.

Transformation becomes possible when we let go of our past assumptions of church. Old symbols of power, like big buildings or elaborate services belong in the past age. New movements involve community and helping the marginalized in society. Demonstrations of money or power no longer impress this new culture. Power comes through influence, and influences are only brokered through acts of redemption. “Redemption is the beginning of our participation in God’s work of restoration in our lives and the world. Understanding that one idea literally changes everything” (Lyons The New Christians p.53).

Taking a page from our brothers and sisters in the south, we are seeking to embody a faith that is “marked by a culture of poverty, an oral liturgy, narrative preaching, uninhibited emotionalism, maximum participation in prayer and worship, dreams and visions, faith healing, and an intense search for community and belonging” (Escobar The New Global Mission p.15). We are called to exude imagination as a church that tells new stories and reveals new narratives. Our faith is grounded in the past, but it is also unfolding in the present. In our new faith community, it is our call “for Christians to exhibit confidence in the lordship of Yahweh as the truth of our existence and in particular of our community” (Newbigin Community of Character p.86). Living like this, driven by faith, changes the lives of those with whom you journey with. The Gospel begins to pour out on to the community as we journey together as the hands and feet of Christ. This is a walk of meekness and compassion. It is one of downward mobility that seeks to serve rather than be served. It is through this existence that leadership is redefined into the mold of Christ. It is also through living in this way that we become more awake to God’s presence in our community. This is the starting point of being transformational.

Where does it go from here? That is not for me to say. Our church will follow the Lord and begin with service. He will guide us to the rest. “To suffer joyfully for the gospel, and to forgive and serve those who inflict that suffering, is to be taught by Christ to walk the way of the cross. It is only such a church, radical in its obedience, that makes known the beauty, truth and power of the Christian message to the world“ (Ramachandra Faiths in Conflict? p.171).

Making the decision to plant a church has become one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I have wrestled with doubt and fear. I have also felt a deep call within my heart to passionately take a leap of faith. While reading the book A Tale of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards, one line struck me. “Beginning empty-handed and alone frightens the best of men. It also speaks volumes of just how sure they are that God is with them” (Edwards p.69). Transformation can only take place in the presence of God.  I believe that as a pastor and leader, I could never expect my faith community to do anything I was not willing to do myself. As my family is preparing to pack up and move across the country to plant a church, I’m beginning to learn that transformation only happens when we step out and take a risk. We take the step of faith the Lord uses the process to transform us. To be a church that is transformational, we must be dreamers and people of great faith. We must also be willing to pray earnestly and take great risks. The new way of live flows easily into our next solution for the church in the 21st century: learning to be missional…

{continued in part 5}

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: part 1

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{continued from introduction}

Survival Lesson #1: USE YOUR HEAD: CUT OFF THEIRS.
(My Journey Out of Tradition)

“Often, a school is your best bet-perhaps not for education but certainly for protection from an undead attack.” – Brooks (p.79)

Regardless of where you find yourself in the zombie apocalypse, one thing is true. You must keep your head and think clearly. It is the difference between life and death. I have yet to experience the walking dead, in the cinematic sense of the world, but after working for years in ministry I knew what a dead church looked like. They were everywhere; it was like a horror movie. Everywhere you looked, there were zombie churches. On the surface they looked alive, but inside they were long dead. After a while, you learn to survive inside of them. On the surface you smile and act like everything is fine. The better you fake it, the greater your chances for not getting bit. I had become a versatile chameleon, but living this way comes at a cost. On the inside, I was cynical and bitter. In 2010, I had been in vocational ministry for ten years. I had worked for a church plant, a church (as a youth pastor) and then was the director of a parachurch youth organization. I knew how to play the game, but frankly I was bored with ministry and my soul was burnt out. I was tired of playing the game and I was tried of faking it. I had lost my faith in the church and ministry, but not in Jesus; which is a dangerous place to be. It leads you to become a lone wolf. With Christianity, our faith is rarely dynamic when we practice it alone.

Doing ministry in a small rural town had become suffocating. Small churches meant small thinking. I knew I needed a change and wanted to be challenged and stretched intellectually and spiritually. I knew something was missing in my life; I just wasn’t sure what it was. That yearning led me to enroll in Fuller Theological Seminary’s Masters of Arts in Global Leadership program in the fall of 2010. I assumed that any change was a good change. In this situation, I couldn’t have been more right.

Flash forward to December 2012. I’m sitting across from a good friend of mine having coffee. I tell him that in the coming year, I’m going to plant a church. He bursts out laughing, “Ha, ha, but you hate church!?!” There was a deep change in me that had happened over the past two years. It surprised others and, frankly, surprised me. This paper is an amalgamation of my collective journey towards transformation that has occurred over the course of the MAGL program. Some of this personal renovation has taken place in the classroom setting. While other times, change has manifested in my personal life and ministry career. As I began to develop from within, the outward manifestation began to alter my journey and guide the path of my life into a new direction. I can honestly say that I am not the same person that I was when I began the program. I have discovered that there is life happening, even in the face of a zombie apocalypse. You just have to learn how live in a new way and survive. You have to also develop a keen eye to see life springing up, even in the face of death.

{continued in part 2}

Ministry in the Face of the Zombie Apocalypse: An Introduction

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LESSONS FOR SURVIVING A ZOMBIE ATTACK (An Introduction)

In Max Brook’s seminal book on the topic of surviving the impending undead apocalypse, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, he outlines ten easy to follow and practical tips for staying alive. The top ten lessons for surviving a zombie attack are as follows:

1. USE YOUR HEAD: CUT OFF THEIRS.
2. THEY FEEL NO FEAR, WHY SHOULD YOU?
3. BLADES DON’T NEED RELOADING.
4. KEEP MOVING, KEEP LOW, KEEP QUIET, KEEP ALERT!
5. NO PLACE IS SAFE, ONLY SAFER.
6. IDEAL PROTECTION = TIGHT CLOTHES, SHORT HAIR.
7. GET UP THE STAIRCASE, THEN DESTROY IT.
8. ORGANIZE BEFORE THEY RISE!
9. GET OUT OF THE CAR, GET ONTO THE BIKE.
10. ZOMBIE MAYBE GONE, BUT THE THREAT LIVES ON…

We are living in time of the zombie, culturally speaking. From TV shows like The Walking Dead to the up coming movies Warm Bodies and World War Z. Vampires used to be cool, now it’s zombies. So, what is behind this cultural explosion of the undead? I think on some level, it speaks to something deep within us. It’s not simply about horror; it’s about our cultural anxieties that play against our fear of the unknown and the monsters within us. People are comfortable and want the world to remain as it is. Professor Charles Fleming, while lecturing on the lifecycle of an organization once said, “we do not fear change, what we really fear is loss.”

In the same vein, the church in the West is experiencing great loss. Like the familiar motif in zombie stories, we are facing loss and must learn to survive in a new reality against monsters that closely resemble ourselves. The reign of the Western church’s dominance is over. We find ourselves in a new world and must learn to function under a new set of rules. Like zombies, there are still churches operating under the old paradigm and they are the walking dead. So to survive we must embrace change. There are many faces to the walking dead, but the ones that we will focus on here are namely traditions and biases. Each of these stalk us, seeking to feed on our souls, stifle hope, and kill the future. The church must learn to live and survive in this near reality.

In light of the above, to be transformational and missional in today’s globalized and post-Christian world, the church must begin by rethinking leadership in terms of ethnic diversity, hierarchy and spirituality. I will explore in depth what a transformational and missional church should look like and also analyze the key leadership themes that must be incorporated for these changes to be possible.

Through the course of this, we will delve into these themes as they have impacted my life and spiritual journey. They also act as a road map to guide me as I am beginning to plant a church. This will be equal parts personal process as well as a critique of the present and future state of the Western Church. The journey towards transformation is not an easy one or for the faint of heart. It is much like surviving the zombie apocalypse. You must be smart, savvy, and you cannot accomplish this alone. As you will see, this process hasn’t been easy. There has been much fought for as well as loss. The following pages detail key and signature themes I have learned in this process of survival and change. Prepare yourself because following after our savior is rarely a PG rated affair. It can get bloody. We will begin our journey with the words that Dietrich Bonhoeffer used to speak of his own life. In Letters & Papers from Prison he spoke in these terms,

“My life has followed a straight and unbroken course… if I were to end my life here in these conditions, that would have a meaning that I think I could understand; on the other hand, everything might be a thorough preparation for a new start and a new task when peace comes” (Bonhoeffer Letters & Papers from Prison p. 272).

It is my hope that this will all be a preparation for a new start. Let us begin…

{continued in part 1}

Brand, Westboro, and Christianity

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Image by: Burstein!

Note: this isn’t a post about Russell Brand, his show or anything he stands for or endorses. This is a post about the current state of Christianity in America (and the western world).

Watching this interview, I was surprised how fair and graceful Russell Brand was with the guys from Westboro Baptist Church. It’s a sad thing when Brand acts more like Jesus than these professing Christians. That’s not a dig on Brand (who is a professing Hindu), but more of a commentary on the sickness that is Westboro Baptist Church. I cannot comprehend the warped hatred that fuels this “church.” Especially, this week, with Westboro planning on picketing the Sandy Brook funerals of the children that died in the massacre – this is a level of sickness that transcends words. It’s times like this that my faith is ashamed and I wish I could distance myself from Christianity.

It’s not just the Westboros of the world that bother me the most, because I know they are extremists and insane. It’s the subtle (and not so subtle) judgmentalism that seems to be wagging the tail of Christianity these days. Westboro is an extreme example of the plague that is happening everywhere. As a result, Christians are seen in contemporary culture as, “judgmental, hypocritical, too political, and antihomosexual” (Gabe Lyons – The Next Christians). Christians are so concerned with being right (and/or correct) that they’ve forgotten to be loving, graceful and kind. There is no hate in seeking and saving the lost. There is no hate in loving your neighbor. There is no hate in offering healing and help to a broken world. There is no hate in redemption. When judgmentalism takes over the whole way you view the world and read scripture becomes warped. You lose all grace and/or humility.  If you lose this, you lose the heart of Christianity along with the life and mission of Christ.

If the atheist can take Christ out of Christmas, can’t I just take Christ out of Christianity? I just wish we could seperate Christ from what Christianity has become in many places. Sometimes I want to take Jesus with me and make a run for it. Gandhi put it right when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” All I need is to find some broken, graceful people and go into the world to live out the gospel together with a bunch of sinners. That’s my plan. Anyone with me?