loren Eric Swanson: March 2006

Friday, March 31, 2006

Southern California Leadership Community--Day 3

We finished the first gathering of the Southern California Leadership Community for Externally Focused Churches with each church presenting their two-year strategic plans along with their 6 month Action Learning Plans. We intentionally call these Leadership Communities not "learning" communities because the real work, done by real people, in real time is done between the gatherings. We leave each gathering with our Action Learning Plans where we declare, "This is what we purpose to do to advance the ball in the next six months." At each subsequent gathering we start with our Fast Fire Updates where we present what we did. It is a very helpful process that encourages exponential, not incremental progress.

During the final report outs there were some interesting things said:

From EFree Fullerton: Our goal is to go from "We're HERE for you" to "We're here, and here and here for YOU."

From North Coast: We want everyone to engage locally before engaging internationally. Currently every other day one of their small groups is engaged in a service ministry outside the walls.

And many other such insights. Churches were challenged to set BHAGS where God has to show up and where progress is not just a matter of working a bit longer or harder. Many churches have as their goal to have 100% of their attenders engaged in ministry / service outside the walls within two years. This will be a great cohort!

We closed by everyone coming up to the white boards with two sticky notes--"What I'm taking with me" and What I'm leaving behind." Very good close.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Southern Calfornia Leadership Community--Day 2

Had a powerful day today as we completed the second full day of this gathering of this last Leadership Community for Externally Focused Churches. Participant showed up with their "A" game, working collaboratively towards creating a future that does not yet exist. I look at the morning of the second day of such communities as the pivotal time in the life of a leadership community because this is when we focus on "what could be." If this is done right...if people can think outside the box, then the "what will be" time will be much more fruitful and productive.

This morning was an exceptional time. One thing that added to the energy of the room was folks from a few additional Southern California churches who joined with us for the morning--a couple leaders from First Baptist Lakewood...including a good friend, Tom Virtue, Phill Longmire from Skyline Wesleyan in San Diego and four young leaders from Mosaic.

The afternoon was dedicated to working as churches in their strategic planning and action learning plans followed by a dinner together at Colima's Mexican restaurant.

Campus Crusade Gulf Coast Story

Over Spring Break 10,000 student from Campus Crusade took a week off to work in the gulf coast. They invited friends and other campus organizations to join them. Last week they were featured on CNN with Anderson Cooper. Believers and skeptics working side-by-side. Below is a story the Chip Sqivicque sent me in the context of a working group he is leading for Campus Crusade on good news and good deeds. My preliminary thinking is that this month of Spring Breaks accomplished more for the kingdom than anyone dreamed possible. The sun is peaking over the horizon. Its a new day.

My name is Corrie and I am a student involved in Campus Crusade
at a college in Texas. When I received Rick's email asking that we send stories
I was excited at the invitation because my heart has been so burdened to
share with others what God did at the New Orleans spring break trip. We
had about 95 students total join us on our trip to N.O. and about 25-30%
were people who have never even stepped foot in a Crusade meeting, some
not even in a church. I had the privilege of being teamed up with five
students who came from our transexual, gay and lesbian organization on
campus. We quickly made relationships with these students through
working together, eating together and living together all week long. It
was the most amazing experience to have an entire week devoted to
sharing our lives with one another. Almost all five of the students had
spiritual conversations with various students from our team and other
students we brought from Crusade. At our first CRU meeting back, all
five of our new friends showed up and expressed that they have never
felt so loved and accepted by a group of people in their lives and that
we have completely changed their opinion of christians, which in their
experience have always been hypocritical and judgemental. I'm so excited
to see how God is going to work in their lives and how he is going to
grow us as a body as we learn how to minister to their needs. This is my
third year involved in Crusade and I feel as though this is the best
thing we have done as an organization. I hope that God provides
opportunities in the future for us to live out the missional life in
such an impactful way. This is just one of many amazing stories from
our school's experience at New Orleans Spring Break '06.
I hope you have many more encouraging stories overflowing your inbox!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Calculating Probability of Success

Another little gem that you may find useful in calculating probability of the success of a venture comes from April 2006, HBR. Although it pertains to supply chains there is insight for all of us.

Suppose four suppliers meet to discuss the attractiveness of a potential collaboration. All of them commit to assigning their best resources to their respective initiatives, and all believe that the likelihood of delivering their part of the solution within one year is very high-90%. Assume that these individual estimates are accurate. How confident should the four suppliers be in the joint venture?

The unfortuanate nature of probability is that the probability of and event taking place is equal to the product (not the average) of the underlying probabilities. While each supplier has a nine-in-ten chance of succeeding, the chance that they will all have succeeded at the end of the year is significantly lower. In this case, it is 0.9 x 0.9 x 0.9 x0.9, which is 66%.

Information and Knowledge

Recently I came across an article that was a rebuttal to Thomas Friedman's, The World is Flat. The author, Laurence Prusak argues that Friedman confuses information and knowledge. He makes some good points

What's the difference between information and knowledge? Information is a message, one dimensional and bounded by its form: a document, an image, a speech, a genome, a recipe, a symphony score. You can package it and instantly distribute it to anyone, anywhere. Google, of course, is curently the ultimate information machine, providing instantaneous access to virtually any piece of information you can imagine--including instructions for how to perform an laparoscopic appendectomy. But I'll wager no one would opt to have an appendectomy performed by that young woman in Shangahi (alluded to earlier as the mythical 24-year old billionth entrant to the Internet)--no matter how much information she'd gathered on the procedure--unless she'd also had years of hands-on surgical training. Only those years of reading, watching, and doing, under a skilled tutor's watchful eye, would give her the knowledge to expertly perform the surgery.

Knowledge results from the assimilation and connecting of information through experience, most often through apprenticeship or mentoring. As a result, it becomes imbedded in organizations in ways that, so far, have largely evaded codification.... [N]o amount of IT can...crack the problem of how to speed knowledge acquisition. It takes about the same amount of time today to learn French, calculus, or chemistry as it did 200 years ago. Knowledge is time-consuming and expensive to develop, retain, and transfer--and that's as true for organizations and coutries as it is for individuals.

HBR April 2006, p. 19

Southern California Leadership Community

Today we kicked off the first gathering of the last of five Leadership Communities for Externally Focused Churches. This is an outstanding group of ten large churches from North LA to San Diego who will gather for three days over the next two years...and because of proximity and common passion, much beyond then.

We are meeting at North Coast Church in Vista. North Coast is not only an innovator in their multi-site approach to church (five locations w/ 6,100 in weekly attendance) but also an innovative leader in externally focused ministry. The participating churches are:
  • Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village
  • First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton
  • Grace Brethren Church of Long Beach
  • Harbor Presbyterian in San Diego
  • North Coast Church in Vista
  • Park Crest Christian Church in Long Beach
  • Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa
  • The Crossing in Costa Mesa
  • Yorba Linda Friends in Yorba Linda
  • (Trinity Evangelical Free Church in Redlands)
We started our time with lunch, went into a timeline using the STEEPR (Society, Technology, Economy, Environmental, Political, Religious) construct, shared externally focused ministry models at "trade shows," did a reading breakout, building ministry volunteer models based on cognative metaphors (using unclear to give insight into the known). We finished up with a five minute video called "The Abilene Paradox"--the management of agreement. Then we had dinner together at North Coast. The ministry models are excellent with incredible externally focused ministry taking place. This will be a great community!

Exit Interviews

Flying to SNA yesterday, I picked this up from Inc. Magazine. I think these questions are not only valuable in the for-profit sectors but also in the non-profit / ministry sectors as they help us get wiser and better at what we do.

Exit interviews provide insights you can use to keep others from leaving. Here’s what every manager should ask:

  • If the CEO left unexpectedly today and you were put in charge, what are the first things you would change?
  • What could have changed six months ago that would have prevented you from .looking for a new job?
  • If you weren’t looking, what factors tipped the scale when an opportunity came up?
  • Who do you think is next to resign and why?
  • If one person leaving the fir would cause you to think twice about leaving, who would that person be?
  • Why didn’t you leave us sooner than now?
  • How did your manager communicate your responsibilities? Do you think he or she was fair and reasonable?
  • Describe any areas of conflict that have affected either your performance or morale, or that you believe affected other employees.

Inc Magazine, April 2006, p. 42

Friday, March 24, 2006

Community of Kindness Review

Came across this on my son Andy's newly minted blog (www.abswanson.blogspot.com). He pulled out some real gems so I thought I'd pilfer it and pass it on.

Community of Kindness by Steve Sjogren and Rob Lewin (can purchase at amazon.com)A few months ago i read this book and it really helped me and the people on our team to think about doing ministry differently. Here are some of the key points from the book modified a little to go along with our current situation. the numbers refer to the pages in the book where the notes and quotes are fromWhat do you dream about? Is it a big movement or changed lives?How can we build disciples that will be world changers? “Discipline yourselves to count only changed lives and new believers launched into the world to be with people in real ways and enabled to live big lives that count for eternity.” P. 22What are the actions that you and your team believe make up a true disciple? What transforming actions do you want them to do? Lives need to be transformed not just information passed along.28 the goal of a transformational community is to build people who do something that fundamentally changes the way the world works.LeadersWhich of the people I spoke to were excited about going and doing? They might have ideas, they might have tried, they might have failed. Who do you work with? These people. “Focus your energy on the people who are already doing something, not the people who are waiting for you to do something.”24If honoring others ideas and traditions causes you to ignore the current calling of God in your life, you must choose the way of Christ.26Belonging = doing“Servant evangelism is about activating people into the ministry. There are no observers.”27Give people an opportunity to give of themselves. If people are only there to take, they are going to get too full and pretty soon you start a barf-o-rama.Coach and care for the small group leaders. You aren’t going to pastor the city, you aare going to pastor the pastors of the city. Your job isn’t to care for everyone, you job is to train caregivers.176Model- Being a believer has to do with action directed at someone else. Have them bring their friends with them to serve. Action changes people. Seeing that you mean what you say changes people who change the world.In building disciples focus on modeling behavior you want your disciples to do. They will more rapidly display the behavior you are seeking to reproduce by doing the ministry with you.48Let everything you do be a double purposed matter: Do it for the purpose of doing it and do it to train someone else. Take someone along wherever you go. Let them watch you doing ministry. Model your ministry values all the time.Your leaders need to see beyond themselves to the needs of others in your ministry. They need to see that it is not just about them getting their needs met but loving the people God has brought to your ministry.49If outreach isn’t the first point in your discipleship model, it will be no point in your discipleship activity.114;If you aren’t requiring people to delegate, you are crippling them, itf you are requiring them to delegate, then you are drawing out the best tin them.5 steps to conveying a new behavior1491. Do it alone2. Do it with someone watching you do it.3. Do it with someone helping you do it.4. The other person does it while you watch them.5. The other person does it with someone else watching them.Love the peopleIs there anything that can stop you from loving these people? If you can think of anything, you better face it fast. Lack of love is something that will eat away at the possibility of you being successful in that city.67Learn the top 10 negative and positive things the city is known for.Wherever you are is ok. Don’t spend time hating the things you can’t change right now, spend that time loving people.72Serving is the fastest way to recalibrate your heart to why you are working this hard and investing your life in this ministry. A simple act of kindness that wants to honor Christ makes everything clear again.88people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. 76The role of the catalytic staff is to coach leaders who will make this unified statement: We love you, we welcome you, we want the dynamic life of Christ to shine in you so that you will make difference in the world!87Our prayer is that a newcomer would experience a sense of coming home- of being truly wanted180There is an environment of joy, of genuine friendship, of grace-come as you are, and you’ll be loved; come as you are and you’ll be changed; come as you are and you’ll never be the same. 181FailureThere is a lot of latitude and a lot of forgiveness which allows for experimentation to see what works. Don’t call it failure, it is a chance to see what doesn’t work.Live openhandedly. Don’t grab people. Allow them to come in, and allow them to leave. No shame, no angst. Don’t keep folks from leaving. If they stay, they’ll be bitter ad poisonous, and their attitudes will spill over to many others. It’s not worth it. Allow people to make their own decisions and respect them- even if you know their reasoning is stupid. 93Do more outreach. Do focus on the person who just left, but instead focus on the person who isn’t in your movement yet. The more time you spend obsessing, the less time you have to find the person who can’t wait to be involved in the vision you’re bithing.97Begin today building the skills you will need for the rest of you life of ministry.118When less people show up than you expected or than those that said they would be there, it is easy to get frustrated. You focus on who is not there instead of who has come. The challenge is to teach the 2 that did show up as through there were 5000. these are the 2 people Jesus has given you right now. They are the two most important people in the world.Abandon you expectations- give the whole thing to GodSelect one person who needs to hear what you have to say and speak to them.Think of Jesus and how many time this sort of thing happened to him. He is the son of God!144Never cancel an event. When you say you’ll be there, be there.What do we do?In choosing what to do, determine what will give spiritual life to your city and do those things.Gather lots and lots of people. Have lots of different interests. Get exposure to things that are not ministry. Be able to talk to a wide variety of people about a wide variety of things.Read significant magazines like, The Economist, Utne Reader, Wired, Christianity Today, Charisma, Fast Company and Rolling Stone. Regeneration.org, ooze.com, Hollywoodjesus.com soulerize.com smallfire.com sacriments.com freshworship.com churchplanting.com servantevangelism.com topfive.orgPromote the name of Christ and the cause of the kingdom. Involve people in service to meet the needs of someone. Do what Jesus did.Focus on: gathering, training small group leaders, assimilating newcomers into your group. Praying in the community you are trying to impact. Leave the house every day before 9:00am. Do service evangelism project between appointments. Give substantially to the ministry. Take an outside job and get to know the people of your community in a different way.Define yourself179What do you think a disciple is?What kind of church is going to be effective at reaching your community in 10 years?Who do you need to become in order to lead your church in 5 years?What’s the most important spiritual need you have in your life right now?Are there new models and new styles that need to be involved to help you evolve?VolunteersLive openhandedly. Don’t grab people. Allow them to come in, and allow them to leave. No shame, no angst. Don’t keep folks from leaving. If they stay, they’ll be bitter ad poisonous, and their attitudes will spill over to many others. It’s not worth it. Allow people to make their own decisions and respect them- even if you know their reasoning is stupid. 93Plan a vacation for each person with in the first 12 months. It helps morale and helps people feel like you care. It is professional and it forces you to plan for others to do their roles during those times.157Thank your leaders and volunteers. Write them thank you notes. Let them know that they are appreciated. Celebrate success even when it seems insignificantVisionTell your vision from the perspective of how it will benefit the hearer and the Kingdom rather than haw it will benefit you or the organization. Your story is part of God’s Story. He is doing Big stuff through you and your min. He wants to do big stuff through the people he brings to you.Communicate to your people: “We intend to make a difference. Our dream for this is not small. If you are ready for a wild ride, hitch your wagon to us.”172Fund RaisingPicture each person as a gift God has given you. If they aren’t your gift they are someone else’s. It is your job to direct that gift to where he or she belongs.159

A Hero’s Welcome

This article was in the Louisville Times on Wednesday

By Meagan Taylor
Colorado Hometown Newspapers

Even at 4 a.m., waiting on an airstrip in the middle of New Mexico, the Swanson family was never so excited.

Jeff Swanson, a specialist with the New Mexico National Guard’s 126th Military Police Company, was on the plane that landed that morning, after serving 18 months in Iraq.

Swanson was coming home to a special surprise, his 6-month-old baby boy, Gentry, whom he and wife Ashlie conceived during his short visit home in December 2004.

“That was the dream for me,” Ashlie Swanson said of her husband’s early-morning homecoming. “It was so surreal and the girl side of me romanticized it.”

Ashlie, baby Gentry, Jeff’s parents, Liz and Eric Swanson, and his sister, Casey, met him on the airstrip with hundreds of other soldiers and families.

Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Swanson, grew up in Louisville and wrestled on Centaurus High School’s 2001 state qualifying team.

Of the 14-member team, half of the wrestlers went into the military, a coincidence that Jeff’s mother, Liz, thought was notable.

“This is something you can attribute to any sport,” Jeff said of the skills he learned in wrestling. “To stick through it, persevere, don’t give up.”

But he said his faith played a major role in maintaining his courage on the unpredictable streets of Baghdad.

“I think I kind of had an advantage, because I have Jesus,” he said. “Anything that happens, you know what is going to happen.”

Swanson was sent to military police and combat training before his deployment in March 2005.

Ashlie Swanson found out she was pregnant just before Jeff’s departure.

“I freaked,” she said. “I was in denial ... even after the doctor told me, I thought, no way.”

Ashlie said she sometimes felt like a single mother, though she had strong support from her family and the Swansons.

“I didn’t know really what to think,” Jeff Swanson said. “I knew I had to be really sweet and give her that, because what else could I give her?”

He was disappointed at not being able to witness the first six months of Gentry’s life, and missing Ashlie’s first pregnancy.

“I had to act like it didn’t bother me,” he said. “That’s why it’s a sacrifice, not because it doesn’t suck, but because it does.”

However, Jeff was given leave in September, to be with Ashlie in the hospital for Gentry’s birth.

“It was like a dream,” he said, noting that his fatherly instincts kicked in almost immediately when doctors took Gentry’s blood for the first time. “I said, ‘What are you doing? You just poked my son with a needle!’”

Jeff said the worst feeling was having to return to Iraq for six more months before he would be reunited with his family.

Swanson’s company was the third of a series of units sent to train, mentor and assist Iraqi Police in securing the country. He served as a gunner on a Humvee.

“I had no idea what it was going to be like,” Swanson said of the war zone. “I couldn’t imagine how you could fly a plane over Baghdad ... I thought we would have to shoot our way to the safe part.”

Having been in the country, he explained that the military bases are organized, and terrorist acts are not consistent.

“Some days, we were out on the streets every day in Baghdad, seeing different landmarks,” Swanson said. “Then we would go home and see on (television) that something happened where we were.”

He also said many of the protests seen in television media reports are staged for the cameras.

During the company’s various missions, five men were injured and one was killed in a roadside attack.

“It will take awhile for everyone to get to know the freedoms they have,” he said of the social situation in Iraq, noting that some Iraqis lack confidence in the country’s leadership, and religious differences create turmoil.

“It will take time, and in the mean time, there will be good and bad and people will make a big deal of it,” he said. “There’s just no other way to do it. But, they wouldn’t have had a chance without us.”

Despite being relieved that her husband is home safe, Ashlie Swanson said she felt proud that Jeff served his country.

“I couldn’t even comprehend what losing him would be like,” she said of her husband’s dangerous job. “In my heart, I knew, as scary as it was, that God wouldn’t have started what he started between us.”

Changing the Trajectory of the Church Part 6

The church has to be the church and build the kingdom (part B)

As this point it is important to affirm that kingdom work does not in any way, shape or form, merit our entrance into the eternal kingdom. Jesus gives this ultimate disclaimer when he says,
“Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles”’ then I will tell them plainly, ‘ I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Matthew 7:21-23

The kingdom without a king and a king without a kingdom
As we move forward in our work of the kingdom we need to keep1 in mind that the kingdom always includes a king. Historically the church (God’s workforce for expanding the kingdom) has drifted to one side of the pendulum or the other—trying to bring the king to people without helping to bring the kingdom or bring the kingdom to people while failing to tell them about the king. Both are less than Christian. The kingdom, by definition includes the King and this King, by definition, has a kingdom.
Questions for reflection
· What difference does it make to have as part of your mission “to build the kingdom” rather than “to build the church”?
What can you do to bring the King into your kingdom work?
What can you do to help build the kingdom as you announce the king?

Concluding thoughts
Can the trajectory of Christianity be changed? A hopeful answer is “yes” and a realistic answer is “maybe.” As I mentioned earlier, I am sitting in a hotel in Thessalonica (Thessaloniki). In the year 50 or 51 the apostle Paul and his two companions Timothy and Silas came here, preached the kingdom (Acts 17:7) and “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ’” (Acts 17:3). The description of the Thessalonian Christians that I read about this morning in Paul’s letters to them, are far from influencing the city I see today. At some point the church stopped multiplying. At some point the church grew inward. At some point the church stopped building leaders. And at some point the church stopped building the kingdom. But by God’s grace the trajectory can change.

Colson, Charles, “Confronting Moral Horror.” Christianity Today February, 2004: 8
Clegg, Thomas and Bird, Warren, (2001), Lost in America. Loveland, CO: Group Publishing
Frost, Michael & Hirsch, Alan, (2003), The Shaping of Things to Come, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing
Henderson, Michael D., (1997), John Wesley’s Class Meeting, Nappanee, IN: Evangel Publishing House
Jenkins, Philips (2003), The Next Christendom—the Coming of Global Christianity, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Keller, Timothy, (1997), Ministries of Mercy, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co
Lawson, Steven, “Jesus With An Iced Latte.” Charisma Magazine May 2004: 72-74
O’Brien, William, (2001), “Mission in the Valley of Modernity” in Snyder, Howard A., Global Good News, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press
Roesel, Charles, (1995), Meeting Needs, Sharing Christ, Nashville, TN: LifeWay Press
Smith, David, (2003), Mission After Christendom, London: Darton, Longman and Todd Press
Ward, Pete, (2002), Liquid Church, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers
Stetzer, Ed, (2003), Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age, Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Press
Stringer, Doug, (2001), Somebody Cares, Ventura, CA: Regal Press

Monday, March 20, 2006


Jeff, Ashlie and baby Gentry arrived Friday in time for the St. Patrick's Day dinner. We've had fun just hanging out. Yesterday was a great day. At church, Pastor Tom Shirk recognized Jeff and Ashlie for their contribution and the congregation gave them a standing ovation. It was a wonderful way to honor Jeff and Ashlie.

Back at our house we had an open house from 2-5 so folks could come by and say "Hi" to Jeff and Ashlie and to meet their new baby. These were the people that had been part of Jeff's life--neighbors and friends that had been praying for Jeff. Our good friend Harold Wong from Moab drove 6 hours, went to church and an hour of the party before he had to drive back to beat the impending snow. It was probably the all-time party we've had at our house. Over a hundred people showed up to enjoy meatballs, pork tenderloin, and the usual assortment of party foods including a huge cake. People gobbled down nearly everything.

At 4pm we had a little ceremony to take down the blue star that had hung in our window for 382 days while Jeff was in Baghdad--representing the prayers for a safe return. The red, white and blue colors are almost indistinguishable from each other--a fitting reminder of the length of his duty. I said a few words, then Jeff spoke words of gratitude and thanksgiving. He mentioned that his company was in the streets every day, doing the same thing every other unit did, but they suffered only one KIA--quite amazing. Then, those who had served in the armed forces, Doug Palmer (USN), Don Wilcox (USAR), John Lamb (USMC), Tim Shaffer (USMC--Des[s]ert Storm) and I (cooking for the US Army Reserves) gathered around Jeff's family and John Lamb prayed a prayer of blessing.

Kacey put together a science fair display board of Jeff's time in Iraq displayed on the dining room table. Ashlie put together a slide show of Jeff during his time in Iraq and his homecoming that we showed in the living room. As the light was fading from the sky Jeff and Ashlie launched the red, white and blue balloons into the sky.

It was starting to snow...some were driving a distance and so they donned coats and said goodbye. After the crowd thinned out we persuaded Jeff to pull out his guitar and he sang to us (Lambs, Swansons--including Matt, Wilcoxes and Kacey and Erik) four or five songs he wrote while he was in Iraq. They were songs of love and hope and family. He even previewed the song he wrote to sing at Kacey and Erik's wedding.

We probably need to celebrate more. Celebrations cement relationships between family and friends and create a common history. Celebrations bring closure to accomplishments and endurance. Celebrations also portray hope for the future. They say "We stand with you," "We believe in you," "Your happiness and joy is one that we share with you."

As I sit writing this early on Monday morning, the house looks like Sunday morning after one of our fraternity party but the star is out of the window and Jeff made it safely home.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day

There's a reason we in America celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Unlike Latin American Catholicism, it was the Irish, not the Spaniards, French or Italians who shaped what Catholicism would be like in the United States. (From a book summary I wrote up a couple years ago):
The American Catholic
By: Charles R. Morris
First Vintage Books, 1997

The American Catholic is nothing short of a remarkable volume of how the Catholic Church has been shaped by America and how America has been shaped by the Catholic Church. Morris provides an engaging description of the Church’s humble beginnings in America buttressed by the immigration of hundreds of thousands of Irish during the potato famine of the nineteenth century. Packed into “coffin ships” they arrived in America in waves where they migrated to the cities looking for work. Shaped by the reforms of hierarchical Catholicism of Ireland’s Cardinal, Paul Cullin, in the latter half on the 1800’s, America became the Church’s mission field to the Irish immigrants. A shaping force in the role of Irish Catholics was their migration to the cities where they could be organized, led and managed. The Irish Catholic Church formed the DNA of American Catholicism to which every other succeeding ethnic migration, be they Italians, Germans or Poles, had to accommodate to. Irish composed the largest percentage (90% in the latter part of the 19th century) of those in seminary. Consequently Irish immigrants and their descendents would form the largest percentage of priests and bishops in America. America did not accommodate quickly to the influx of Irish or the influence of the Church but the Church was here to stay.

There are a couple of good books to look at to understand St. Patrick. A 121 page gem by George Hunter called The Celtic Way of Evangelism is most worthy. Hunter lauds Patrick, who at 16 was captured from his Britanic home and taken to Ireland to be a herdsman for an Irish druid king. It was in Ireland that his conversion was complete. One night, six years into his captivity, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Your ship awaits you" and he made the 200 mile journey to the coast and sure enough he boarded the ship for the continent. Several years later he had recurring dreams of people who he knew in Ireland, who were saying, "Return and walk among us." And so he did. In 27 years of ministry he planted some 700 churches and ordained a thousand priests. In the years to follow, according to Hunter, "Patrick's movement blanketed the island: 'In Ireland alond ehter are more thatn 6,000 place names containing the element Cill--the old Gaelic word for church'" (p. 36).

The other book is a Classic called How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. Cahill points out that after Constantine's edict of Milan, it was politically advantageous to become a Christian. Not so in Ireland since Ireland was never under Rome's control or influence so Irish conversion was more genuinely Christian.

Time does not allow us to review other Irish classics like Darby O'Gill and the Little People or Boy's Town so the former will have to do. There are so many other contributions the Irish made, like Lucky Charms Cereal and Irish Spring soap but again they are secondary to Patrick.

Tonight we'll be havin' Corn Beef and Cabbage and help celebrate the contributions of Patrick and our Irish friends. To close...an Irish blessing:

May there always be work for your hands to do;
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.


Babette's Feast

Last night, through the magic of Netflix Liz and I watched Babette's Feast. It is a Danish Film from 1987 that is set in the 1800's. It's the type of film you can watch with others and discuss a number of themes including grace, Scandinavian and French cooking, the role of the poet and artist, piety, service.... the list goes on. Good movie for a ministry team to watch after / before a sumptious meal. If you enjoyed Chocolat, you'll like this film. Subtitles are in English.

(from imdm.com) "In 19th century Denmark, two adult sisters live in an isolated village with their father, who is the honored pastor of a small Protestant church that is almost a sect unto itself. Although they each are presented with a real opportunity to leave the village, the sisters choose to stay with their father, to serve to him and their church. After some years, a French woman refugee, Babette, arrives at their door, begs them to take her in, and commits herself to work for them as maid/housekeeper/cook. Sometime after their father dies, the sisters decide to hold a dinner to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth. Babette experiences unexpected good fortune and implores the sisters to allow her to take charge of the preparation of the meal. Although they are secretly concerned about what Babette, a Catholic and a foreigner, might do, the sisters allow her to go ahead. Babette then prepares the feast of a lifetime for the members of the tiny church and an important gentleman related to one of them."

Changing the Trajectory of the Church Part 5

The church has be the church and build the kingdom (part a)

For churches to have a sustained impact on their communities, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we need to recover or rediscover some truths about the kingdom teachings of Jesus. The church is the instrument to build the kingdom of God but it in itself is not the kingdom. The gospels mention the kingdom over 120 times and the church three times. Maybe God wants us to understand the kingdom. In July 2004, in an attempt to understand the kingdom I printed out every verse in the New Testament where “kingdom” is mentioned and spent a month of study trying to understand the just what Jesus is talking about. I have written extensively on this subject in a previous class and so as not to duplicate what I have already written, I will include only a few salient points.
Because the book of Daniel had predicted the kingdom of God to arise during the time of the Roman Empire, by the time Jesus was born every Jew, who understood the Scriptures, knew that the next kingdom on the horizon was God’s kingdom and the air was thick with anticipation. Many reflected the anticipation of Joseph of Arimathea who twice is described as one who was “waiting for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 23:53, Mark 15:43).
Matthew records John’s first public words—“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” and with anticipation, the crowds from Jerusalem and Judea, responded by confessing their sins and being baptized in the Jordan (Matthew 3:4-11). If the king was coming, they wanted to be ready. After Jesus was baptized by John and returned from his desert temptation, he found himself in his hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). When the scroll of Isaiah was handed to him, he found Isaiah 61—“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” This verse and the verses that followed fleshed out his “great commission.” Isaiah 61:1-6 depicts the gospel being preached through proclamation (“proclaim”) and demonstration (“bind up the brokenhearted,” “to comfort those who mourn,” “provide for those who grieve,” etc). The kingdom becomes a place of beauty, not ashes, gladness not mourning, praise and not despair (v.3). The transformed people—referred to as “oaks of righteousness,” are those who “rebuild, renew, and restore the city.”
As Jesus began his ministry, the words of his first public sermon were, the same message as his older cousin’s—“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2, Mark 1:15). Jesus was announcing the coming kingdom. What shape that kingdom would take would unfold through his actions and teachings over the next three years. But wherever he went he spoke to people about the kingdom—“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43). “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35). (See also Luke 4:43, 8:1, 9:11)
His message was not confined to his own preaching. When he sent out his disciples (Matthew 10:7, Luke 10:9), he instructed them, “As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near’”—the same message he and John had been preaching. In the book of Acts (1:3), in his post-resurrection appearances “He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” The central teaching of Phillip (Acts 8:12) was “the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ…” Similarly the apostle Paul preached the kingdom of God. When Paul was arrested in Thessalonica his accusers underscored the central message of his teaching—“These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here…they are all saying there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7). (I write this section of the paper sitting in a hotel in Thessalonica a block from the marketplace where the scoundrels were rounded up to start a riot in the city (Acts 17:5)). When Paul came to Ephesus for three months he spoke out boldly, “arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). For two years he set up shop in the School of Tyrannus where he taught about the King and the kingdom (Acts 19:9). In Paul’s farewell address to these same Ephesians he says, “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again” (Acts 20:25). The closing curtain on the book of Acts finds Paul under house arrest welcoming all who came to see him “and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). In Paul’s writing he refers to the kingdom no less than sixteen times. The point is that the kingdom did not end with the advent of the church. The church is God’s instrument for building the kingdom.
What is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is any place over which God has operative dominion. Although “[t]he earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1) the kingdom of God extends only to those sections of geography or chambers in the hearts of people where God is honored as sovereign and his values are operative. The kingdom of God has a king. His name is Jesus—Matthew 2:1-12, John 18:37. To preach the kingdom is to tell people about the King and the type of things he values in his kingdom and the world he wants to establish. Isaiah 65:17-25 gives a picture of what community life is like when God’s reign is fully operative in the renewed community.
There is joy—v.19
There is absence of weeping and crying (v.19)
There is no infant mortality (v.20)
People live out their full lives (v.20)
People will build houses and live in them (v.21, 22)
People will sow and reap (v.21, 22)
There is fulfilling work (v.22)
There is confidence that their children will face a better life (v.23)
People will experience the blessing of God (v.23)
People will have intergenerational family support (v.23)
There will be rapid answers to prayer (v.24)
There will be an absence of violence (v.25)
So any place where there is sorrow, weeping, infant mortality, premature death, etc., in any culture, is actually an affront to the kingdom of God. This also helps explain the miracles and actions of Jesus. When people were hungry, it was an affront to the kingdom, so he fed them. People are not hungry in God’s kingdom. When people were sick or paralyzed that also was an affront to the kingdom so he healed them. There are no sick people in God’s kingdom. When people died prematurely (Lazarus and the twelve-year old girl (Luke 8:49-56), that was an affront to the kingdom also so Jesus raised them from the dead. People do not die prematurely in God’s kingdom. When Jesus sent his disciples out to minister, they too were to preach the kingdom and do the same things Jesus did to show people what the kingdom of God is like (Matthew 10:7,8, Luke 9:2).

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Joanna Meyer Comes Over

Tonight Joanna Meyer came over for dinner. Liz fixed a turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy! Joanna complained about my blog--"Great content but very text-heavy lately." Joanna lived with us for several weeks around a year ago. She is best recognized for her quote on the nature of God in respect to "American Idol." Joanna said, "God sees us like Simon but treats us like Paula." Joanna also brought dessert--vanilla bean ice cream with home-made fudge. The recipe follows:

Joanna's Awesome and Easy Hot Fudge Sause
1 small can evaporated milk (5 oz)
1 C Sugar
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 T butter
1/4 t salt
1/2 t vanilla
Reheat ina saucepan. Don't microwave as it will be tough
"Delicious with icecream and nuts."

Oops, here are the cooking instructions: In a 2 Qt. saucepan heat sugar and milk until boiling. Stir frequently and atch carefully so it doesn't boil over. Boil for 1 minute. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Add margarine and stir until smooth. Finish be stirring in vanilla and salt. Sauce thickens as it cools

Murph also came over. Rick is a dear friend. We all ate dinner then watched American Idol together.

Awesome Golden Anniversary

Got this from a good friend of mine--Art Walsh. Art taught me how to coach 7-a-side Rugby back in the 80s and we share many things in common. His father grew up across the street from Liz's father in Cortland New York. He was a very good wrestler at Cornell and played rugby until he was 56... so you've got to be impressed. This letter is from a good friend of his--Rodo Sofranac--a Serbian who grew up in DP camps (displaced person) after World War II and came to the US through the Serbian Orthodox Church. It represents what it means to be an immigrant in America and I thougth it should be published somewhere.

Awesome Golden Anniversary

By Rodo Sofranac

“Dodji! Dodji!” (“Come here! Come here!”), my mother yelled, in Serbian first. Then she spurred us in German, “Schnell, schnell, kommt doch hier!” (“Hurry, hurry, come here!”) Between the two languages, I guess she thought we would listen to at least one.
My sister, Maria, and I wanted our legs to move in response to the thrill, but they were still a little shaky. Our stomachs were also still churning from our long, hopscotch airplane ride. Now it came time to turn in our airplane wings for sea legs. We were in this boat, swaying and bobbing on the water in New York harbor. Just what we needed. It was a ferry taking us from the airport to a refugee intake center. Ellis Island, the long-time Gateway to America, had closed eighteen months prior to our arrival, so we were examined and chronicled at another immigration station.
Our family left Munich, Germany at 9:30 a.m., April 4, 1956, and was admitted into the United States around noon on April 5th. I know it was around noon for two reasons. One clue was that just a bit earlier, on the last leg of the flight, I lost the breakfast I worked so hard to get down. The other indicator was that we were given a sack lunch upon arrival. Inside the brown bag were a sandwich and the biggest, reddest apple I ever saw. A few days before leaving Munich we were living in a refugee camp in Salzburg, Austria. I don’t recall having even a little red apple there.
We flew out of Munich on Flying Tiger Airlines. Back then Flying Tiger was primarily a freight carrier—and maybe that’s what we were seen as. It carried us from Munich, to Scotland, to Newfoundland, and finally to New York. Flying Tiger was infamous for some harried flights in the growing air travel industry. Ours was one of them. On top of that, my sister and I were not used to engine-driven motion. We had almost no experience with trains, plains, boats, or automobiles. So, any flight would have been a roller coaster ride to us. The apple would be the first food in some time to stay down.
My sister and I moved across the deck of the ferry as quickly as our stomachs allowed us. We had more enthusiasm than we could muster and more amazement than we could express. But, our timing was just right.
As we came to where my mother and father stood, the bow of the boat began to turn so that we could face and easily see our mighty greeter.
We had seen impressive pictures and heard inspiring stories about America and the Statue of Liberty. But none defined, portrayed, or lived up to the word of awesome like being in her presence.
I don’t remember if the air was filled with fog, mist, rain, or tears; but it paused and then seemed to part like an opening curtain, right on schedule, revealing her highness. Truly awesome!
Our legs steadied and our stomachs settled.
As I looked up at that magnificence, I deeply felt the passion described in the words of a song by John Denver that I learned later in life, “Coming home to a place he’d never been before.” After four years of fleeing from country to country, it was a relief to come home yet dreamlike when it was to a place we’d never been before.
Sure, we had to learn our third language and our fourth culture. Certainly, we would be far away from any family and friends. But we were being welcomed home, as well.
Besides being awed, I was overwhelmed. Given the opportunity, I would not have been able to describe my feelings then. Now I have the opportunity, and it still is difficult for me to articulate them well.
A much better writer than I wrote a most profound and accurate homecoming theme, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Plus, they are “unalienable”.
But my childhood awe created a simpler description. Coming to America felt like being picked up, dusted off, and hugged after a bad fall; someone finally choosing you on their side for a big game; new friends inviting you to play at their house; the doctor looking at you, smiling, and saying “You’re going to be just fine”; a soft, warm bed after a long winter hike; or a small square of very dark, bitter chocolate slowly melting in your mouth.
Today, even more than when my childhood awe and security needs ruled my thoughts, I believe the U.S.A. welcomes people, from all over the world, home to a place they’ve never been before. We do, and we always will. We keep willing to help turn fear into hope. Those offers of opportunity coupled with the acceptance of responsibility are the bonds that nourish the American character.
Having lived in and traveled to various parts of the world, I know why so many people want to call America home. Having my own roots transplanted and helping numerous new arrivals adapt, I also know the transition is not without pain and sacrifice.
This April 5th will be the Golden Anniversary of our awesome homecoming. Fifty years in the U.S. and what a trip!
I want to hold a homecoming parade, or maybe a football game, or maybe a little party. I want to thank my benefactors and share with my friends. I want to reinforce the enthusiasts and remind the unaware. Like they have so many times before, the people I care about will laugh and cry with me. They’ll continue to show unparalleled grace and mercy in opening their minds, arms, and especially their hearts to the kid from Montenegro.
But, I’m going to have to keep the parade, party, and being homecoming king in my head. To those who care, except for my ‘interesting’ name, my integration is fairly complete. To them, I’m just another American.
So, on April 5th, as well as most every other day, I am very satisfied to just sit back and reflect about another day in paradise; looking out at the spacious skies, the purple mountain majesties, and my blessed family. Coming home to a place I’d never been before has given me much more than I ever hoped for.
Don’t get me wrong, I realize the assimilation journey is more like the Flying Tiger flight than a glide on smooth ice. There is plenty of ‘motion sickness’. However, other than sometimes more extreme, that feeling is not reserved to groups of immigrants, or individuals like me. It’s just a matter of degree. All of us have jarring bumps and blind curves on our roads.
Yet, I think every bump and every curve helped confirm my belief in the sonnet, The New Colossus, written by Emma Lazarus and inscribed in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
I thank God, and I thank the people of the United States of America. Now, even more than when my childhood awe and security needs ruled my thoughts, I believe in the American soul; the spirit that is alive and well and says:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land: Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Monday, March 13, 2006

Changing the Trajectory of the Church, Part 4

The church needs to evangelize and develop leaders

A tough job of the church is preserving the fruit while continually going after the lost. A tougher job is identifying and training leaders while continuing to have an evangelistic thrust. One of the sorriest conditions for people, Jesus seems to say, is to be like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)—to be converts with no one to care for them. It would be a cliché if it were not so true and prevalent that there is such a lack of leaders in the church today. Somehow the church has to do a better job of identifying, investing in and empowering young leaders. This week (October 2006) I’ve been in Athens for a meeting of the European Evangelical Alliance. From what I have seen and heard, it is a group of overworked aging men who have too many jobs to be really effective at any one of them. They need to train leaders.

What difference is there between evangelism and evangelism with leadership development? In the early 1700’s, the twenty-three year old preacher, George Whitefield could gather a crowd in excess of 20,000. Erudite and eloquent beyond his years Whitefield would hold the unchurched spellbound through his “field preaching” and hundreds would come to Christ at each of his open-air services. His contemporary John Wesley was a ready pupil of Whitefield but he broke from his mentor in respect to multiplication.

Whitefield had initiated and popularized mass evangelism to the unchurched, but Wesley organized the movement and brought it under systematic management. Whitefield hoped that those who had been ‘awakened’ would follow through on their own initiative; Wesley left nothing to chance. He made sure that those who were serious about leading a new life were channeled into small groups for growth in discipleship. These little meetings were later called ‘classes’ and formed the backbone of the Methodist reformation for the next century.[1]

Wesley’s classes were really modest church plants that formed the embryonic structures of the Methodist Church. Many years after Wesley and Whitefield parted company, Whitefield confessed to one of Wesley’s followers, “My brother Wesley acted wisely—the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.”[2]

Questions for reflection
What do you do to identify and develop leaders?
What could you learn from John Wesley about leadership development?
[1] Michael D. Henderson, John Wesley’s Class Meeting (Nappanee, IN: Evangel Publishing House), 1997, p. 28
[2] Henderson, p. 30

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Central Baptist Church--Beardon, Tennessee

For the past couple days I've been with a great church in the Knoxville area. A few years ago I met Robert Bowman at a Leadership Network conference and a few times subsequently at a couple of other meetings I've been at here in Knoxville with Compassion Coalition. Central Baptist was started over a hundred years ago and although it is a very traditional in its service it is all but conventional in its service (you figure out which is which). Central Baptist was one of the first churches to begin an HIV / AIDS ministry long before Saddleback. They have a wonderful prison ministry, inner city ministry along with a great food bank and clothing ministry. Affirming the value of external focus, Janette Witt, who works with Hands & Feet ministry in East Knoxville. The ministry really turned the corner when she began seeing her community full of assets rather than just problems. Those who were normally receivers of mercy became dispensors of mercy as they filled 30 "shoe-boxes of love" last Christmas and 60 this Christmas. This year they also collectively adopted a child through world vision. Janette said giving and serving changes everything.

Changing the Trajectory of the Church Part 3

The church needs to start congregational churches and simple churches

Congregational churches are the result of what we would consider traditional church plants. Congregational church plants begin in a number of ways. Some churches are planted by other churches who “hive off” one or two hundred members to create critical mass for another church. Sometimes a team of people (consisting of a worship, teaching and youth pastor) is sponsored or raise support to plant a church. Often one person with a vision for a church simply begins a Bible study in his or her home. But the intention is all the same—to create a permanent congregational church (hopefully with a permanent building) in the community. If these churches survive, the pastor is usually referred to as the “founding” pastor. We need hundreds and hundreds of new congregational church plants simply to replace the ones that are closing their doors every day. But we also need thousands and thousands of simple church plants. What is simple church?
As with any minimalist paradigm one can find the minimum definition by reducing or taking away elements until the defined or desired entity no longer exists. So with minimalist art, to draw an elephant might only require three or four lines to determine its “elephantness.” Any fewer lines, it might be mistaken for a woolly mammoth and any more lines would simply be superfluous. So to define “church” one can begin taking away elements and then evaluating what remains. For example:
If you took away the sanctuary could you still have church? YES
If you didn’t meet on Sundays could you still have church? YES
If you didn’t have complete copies of the Bible could you still have church? YES, I THINK SO
If you had to meet in a cave or cemetery because public meetings were forbidden could you still have church? YES
If a church only lasted for three years, would it still be a church? YES
If a church only lasted for eight months, would it still be a church? PROBABLY
If a group of people, worshipped God, studied the Word, and encouraged and prayed for each other for one afternoon, would that be a church? PROBABLY NOT—IT’S TOO SHORT A TIME
If there was no mention of Jesus or teaching of Scripture would you still have church? NO
So, you get the idea. If you take away enough, you probably don’t have church but with a minimum of structure church is created.
What is church? First, the Scriptures may give us a minimum definition.
As to size: Jesus said, “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20). So probably the minimum number to constitute church is two. Since I have written this paper while in Greece I have had the opportunity to visit several museums including one that had a depiction of what middleclass homes were like in the first century under Roman influence. The largest room in the home was the “triclinium”—a large reception room often tiled with a mosaic floor. It was most likely in this room that house churches convened. By structural limitations these house churches could never be larger than 25-30 people. It wasn’t until the 4th century that believers convened in large buildings or basilicas.
As to function: Here the Scriptures seem to be more descriptive than prescriptive. Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” So here elements of church are described—Scripture, fellowship, prayer and sharing a meal together (or perhaps the Lord’s supper.) Where these things happen you have “church.” Looking to history, the 16th century Book of Common Prayer defines church not by locale or size but by purpose: “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite of the same.”[1] John Calvin’s take is, “[w]herever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists. For his promise cannot fail: ‘Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.’”[2]
Jurgen Moltman, of Boston University described church as a place where
No one is alone with his or her problems
No one has to conceal his or her disabilities
There are not some who have the say and others who have nothing to say
Neither the old nor the little ones are isolated
One bears the other even when it is unpleasant and there is not agreement
The one can also at times leave the other in peace when the other needs it[3]

Those with the Saturation Church Planting movement write, “by simple church we mean a way of doing and being church that is so simple that any believer would respond by saying, ‘I could do that!’”[4]
How long does a gathering have to convene before it is called a church? Again we look to Scripture. The book of Acts tells us that Paul, the apostle, was in the Macedonian city of Thessalonica for less than a month before he was pressured to leave. He wrote his first letter to these young believers shortly thereafter from Corinth. So even though the gathering was only a few months old, he did not hesitate to call them a “church” (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1). So in reference to the Scriptures, history, duration, theology and culture we could probably form a basic definition of what constitutes a church.[5] But the bigger question is how could we start thousands of simple churches?
Last summer a friend of mine in Los Angeles asked me to come out to LA to spend some time with some young businessmen he was discipling. Jeff works with Priority Associates, the business and professional ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. Driving from LAX I asked him, “What have you been thinking about lately Jeff?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about planting churches in the business communities of LA”
“That’s a big thought. I’ve been thinking a lot about church planting also. Tell me more.”
“Well, this morning I met with a guy from my church who oversees a thousand Starbucks stores in Southern California. And we talked about planting churches in every one of them.”
“Whoa! Now that’s a big idea!”
Jeff is thinking missionally. Even though he attends a large attractional church he realizes that not all that could attend are attending. We’ve got to be missional. But we also must be strategically missional. The thought of starting a coffee shop as a church is not new. But how would we typically go about doing it? We’d raise $500,000 to rent and renovate a building, give it an edgy look and feel, stock it with fair-trade coffee (to appear hip and politically correct), secular magazines with a bit of Christian-friendly literature (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, et al) placed strategically on the book shelf. And we’d name our café with a name porting a double meaning like “Higher Grounds Café.” And then we’d ask people to leave a coffee and location they already enjoy (Starbucks) and join us at our café. The Higher Grounds Café is nothing more than attractional church with decent coffee.
The missional approach asks, “Where are people meeting already? What are they doing that they already enjoy?”…and then joining them where they are. If you think about it, all you really need for “simple” church is content (God’s Word, prayer, and the like) and a space to meet. If a place like Starbucks is already providing space then a person who brings spiritual meaning and content can create simple church.[6] On September 29, 2004 Jeff wrote me an email to give me a few detail on how his fellow Priority Associates (PA) Staff co-worker, Todd Berk was reaching people in the Starbuck’s of Portland.
I was just in Portland with the PA guy, Todd Berk…. Two fun things: Here is the PA ministry in Portland in a nutshell: Todd and twelve guys from his church go into Starbuck’s all over Portland and do "Community Spiritual Life Surveys" which 75% of the time leads into the gospel. In the last year and a half they have seen over 200 people come to Christ!

Every great awakening begins with a good strong cup of coffee
How can one turn evangelistic converts into a church? One of the most experienced church planters in the coffee shop genre is Neil Cole, who works under the umbrella of Church Multiplication Associates.
In 1999 Cole jettisoned his traditional pulpit ministry in Alta Loma, California to launch Awakening Chapel—founded it literally in the smoking section of The Coffee Tavern in Long Beach…. In a little more than four years, the crew he gleaned from the smokers’ ranks on the patio at the Coffee Tavern has ballooned into a movement of 400 churches in 16 states and 12 countries.[7]

Cole’s strategy was not to start a coffee shop ministry but to go to where the lost people were already congregating. “This taking-church-to-where-life-happens approach has been a cornerstone of the movement.”[8] The churches meet to “worship, read the Bible, pray and fellowship.”[9] Because church is not defined by steeple or chimney but people, churches can be birthed on college campuses, in 12-Step programs or other places people gather. Cole believes “leaders come from the harvest”[10] and because church structure tends to remain simple and size relatively small, lay men and women with modest education can be effective pastors…which Cole calls “shepherds.” I suppose the big idea is not “What would Jesus do?” but “Where is Jesus working?” And Jesus doesn’t need a church building to fulfill the purposes of church.
In May of 2004 I was meeting with the senior pastor, the small groups pastor and a couple of elders of a large church in the Portland Oregon area. We were talking about deploying small groups into the community with regular frequency (once a month) as part of the DNA of what it means to be in a community groups in their church. Three of the four weeks they would engage in the usual small group activities like Bible study, prayer, fellowship and encouragement but the fourth meeting would be built around loving on some area of the community, like an apartment complex that housed a lot of single moms, or perhaps a low income housing project with lots of recent immigrants. The subject came up about how relatively simple it would be for a small group to plant a simple church in their target audience. When the question was posed, “Do you think, if the six of us were a small group and once a month we took a Saturday morning and loved on an apartment building for a year that we could start a simple church? We all agreed that we thought it was a no-brainer. Then the question came up, “Do you think all eighty small groups in this church could start simple churches?” Now that got people thinking. It would really change the chemistry of a small group if they saw themselves as church planters rather than simply as a small group.
Could you imagine a church that was planting ten churches a year…or fifty churches a year or a hundred churches a year? Simple church doesn’t have to last forever. Knowing that the average local church has only a seventy-year life span prevents us from thinking that a local church has to last forever to be considered a “church.” Simple churches can be fluid, lasting a few month to a few years with some actually becoming congregational churches.
A month after I was in Oregon, I was with a group of staff at Grace Brethren Church in Long Beach California. Over breakfast I was sharing the concept of using the external ministry of small groups to begin simple churches. After listening intently, staff member Amy Newcomb exclaimed, “That’s how I came to faith five years ago in one of Neil Cole’s house churches. It’s just what I needed at that time in my life. It was multicultural and diverse and everybody could be who they were.” Now eventually Amy moved on to a more permanent structure but simple church was her spiritual nursery. Pete Ward, in Liquid Church says, “[e]veryone has spiritual desire. Church should be designed around people’s desire for God.”[11] Simple enough.
In my ministry with Campus Crusade I’ve been captivated by Steve Douglass’ (Bill Bright’s successor) mandate to “start movements everywhere so that everybody knows someone who knows Jesus.” Starting movements and starting churches is very similar so there is a lot of crossover learning taking place. With aging Crusade staff (median age is 38), most are interested in finding their niche through specialization. The problem is they specialize themselves right out of the mainstream of the movement. Uniqueness and specialization has value only as it relates to the mission of the movement. In the past year I had a conversation with a single woman in her early 40’s who graduated seminary and is wanting to teach Greek to Crusade staff. Now there isn’t much of a demand in Crusade circles to learn Greek. My suggestion to her was to lead a six week summer project in Greece and teach staff how to use the Greek tools in Bible study AND at the same time, attempt to start a spiritual movement among students at one of Greece’s universities—sort of the “genius of the ‘and.’” I had another conversation with a campus staff man who is close to 50. He fashions himself to be a “teacher of the Word” but few are clamoring to hear him. My suggestion to him was to go to Thessaloniki or modern Philippi and teach the corresponding books of the Bible AND start a campus ministry. If staff do not tie their unique ability to the mission of Crusade they will soon be without a job.
When I was a small boy, my father asked me a hypothetical question about wages, “What would you rather do…work for me for one month at a penny a day doubling every day for thirty days or for $10,000?” I knew it was probably some type of trick question but I thought even if I lost, how great having $10,000 would be. If you do the math you will quickly see multiplication beats size when time is added to the equation. Every church should be a multiplying church. Bob Roberts of Northwood Church for the Communities in Keller Texas says, “Wouldn’t you think it unusual for a church not to lead anyone to Christ in a single year? Well, it should seem just as strange for a church to exist and never birth another church? “Horses” that don’t reproduce are called mules. We have a lot of churches that are mules. They work hard but they are sterile and will never reproduce.”[12]
Questions for reflection
How would you define “simple church?”
Has your church ever planted another church?
Where are some common spaces in your community where people already gather?
How could you bring spiritual content into such places?
How many small groups are in your church
How many of them could start a simple church in the community?
How would you organize and structure such a movement?
[1] Pete Ward, Liquid Church (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), P. 66
[2] Ward, P. 67
[3] Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), p. 55
[4] From Simple Church Models—BELLS--http://www.dawnministries.org/regions/nam/simplechurch/models/bells_conclusion.html )
[5] On October 21, 2004 I had a lunch conversation with Jay Weaver of the Saturation Church Planting movement (an organization that seeks to plant a church for every 100 people in a culturally relevant, geographically accessible manner.) Jay told me that SCP encourages the indigenous leaders come up with their own definition of church that honors the denomination and the local setting.
[6] Interestingly enough I was sharing this illustration with Jay Weaver, with Saturation Church Planting, who resides in Budapest. He started shaking his head and chuckling. “That’s just what my pastor wants to do—open a Christian coffee house right across the street from one of the finest and popular coffee houses in Europe. I know exactly what you mean!”

[7] Steven Lawson, “Jesus With An Iced Latte”, Charisma Magazine, May 2004, p. 72
[8] Lawson p. 73
[9] Lawson p. 73
[10] Lawson, p. 74
[11] Ward p. 74
[12] I heard Pastor Bob Roberts say this at Northwoods Church for the Communities in Keller Texas in May, 2004 at the Northwoods Conference on Church Multiplication

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Apologetic for Multi-site Churches

Multisite churches are a great idea. My own church (Calvary Bible Evangelical Free Church in Boulder) is launching a video venue 20 miles from Boulder in a growing three-city area. Recently I was flying somewhere and picked up a USA Today and caught this ad by Embassy Suites that expresses the sentiment of those who think church planting and multi-site churches. Think and enjoy.

Changing the Trajectory of the Church Part 2

Changing the Trajectory of the Church Part 2
by Eric Swanson

The church must multiply as well as grow
One of the largest persons in recorded history was a man named Michael Edelman from Pomona New York. The Guinness Book of Records puts his weight at 994 lbs though his mother insists that at one point he weighed more than 1,200 lbs. In 7th grade he tipped the Toledo at 154 lbs and left school at age ten because he couldn’t fit in any school desk. He kept growing and growing and growing, getting larger and larger. Reportedly, he would frequently consume large pizzas with his 700 lb Mother as a bedtime snack. Michael gained his fifteen minutes of fame when in 1988 the tabloids recorded his public vow to lose enough weight to consummate his marriage to his 420 lb. bride. The couple reportedly grew apart after both of them gained weight instead of losing it. Needless to say Michael never had any children. He never multiplied. He consumed and he grew and his story entertained a lot of people but he never multiplied. Is the designed purpose of the body just to become as big as humanly possible until it suffocates under its own weight or is there something more? The first command given to man is found in Genesis 1:28—“Be fruitful and multiply….” The first command given to the nascent church is strikingly familiar. “Go make disciples in all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19). The command is not merely to grow but to multiply. It is difficult for churches that are consumed with growth to also be consumed with multiplication.
Ray Bakke tells us that the largest church in the United States was a Catholic church in Chicago.[1] In its heyday in excess of 70,000 attended its multiple services during the week. It’s interesting that most likely you’ve never even heard of this church even though it stands as the largest of all mega churches in the history of the United States. Being a mega-church does not insure its survival or legacy. How does that forebode for the future of Willow Creek and Saddleback? Will a day be coming when these churches will be forgotten?
Missiologists tell us that at the turn of the 20th century roughly one third of the planet in some way, shape or form identified themselves as “Christian.” One hundred years later, although earth’s population has grown by billions and the numerical number of Christians by hundreds of millions, Christians still make up only one third of the world’s population.[2] Past the number “2” addition will never overcome multiplication. Some churches are huge but they never multiply…they never reproduce. They impact their age but they can never impact the ages apart from multiplication of other churches. Every movement of the Spirit that dies, dies because it failed to multiply itself and eventually becomes a monument or a footnote on a page in history. Perhaps enamored with itself it never gets around to having children and raising a family. Size does not inhibit multiplication but neither is size a substitute for multiplication. How can churches multiply? That question leads into our next point
Questions for reflection
Is your church consumed with numerical growth to the exclusion of church multiplication?
Would your church be healthier, and your community be better off if your present church tripled in size or it planted two other churches?
[1] Dr. Raymond Ray mentioned this in the Overture Class in Seattle in June 2002. I have written him for specifics but as of yet, I have not heard back from him.
[2] Phillip Jenkins in The Next Christendom writes that although church growth has been prolific in Africa, Latin America and Asia, it has nearly proportionately shrunk in Europe and North America. The majority of believers now live in the East and South rather than the West and North of a hundred years ago.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Changing the Trajectory of the Church in the 21st Century

Changing the Trajectory of the Church in the 21st Century
by: Eric Swanson

This is the first installment on my thougths on the future of the faith from a paper I wrote in October 2004.

The church is in a fix today, as deep a fix as perhaps never before in the history of the church. Many signs of the times tell us otherwise. Christian book sales have blown the roof off of the sales charts. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, reports that this book has sold in excess of forty million copies—more than the Harry Potter series, The Da Vinci Code, and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, combined.[1] The blockbuster movie of 2004 is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” The Prayer of Jabez left its impact on millions of believer and unbeliever alike. WWJD bracelets have adorned the wrists of school children and CEOs alike. Mega-churches (frequently defined as those in excess of 1% of surrounding population), once scarce, are all but ubiquitous in suburban landscape of America. We have an outspoken evangelical as our President. All market indicators would tell us that Christianity has never been doing better. But in fact it may never have been doing worse.
Ed Stetzer, in his book Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age, makes a number of observations regarding the demise of the church in America. For example:
In 1900, 27 churches existed for every 10,000 Americans
In 1950, 17 churches existed for every 10,000 Americans
In 1996, 11 churches existed for every 10,000 Americans[2]
Further he cites Win Arn’s report that 3,500 to 4,000 close their doors each year in the U.S.[3] making the US is the fifth largest mission field on earth.[4] David Smith writes,
‘We ring our bells, says Darrell Guder, ‘conduct our services…and wait for this very different world to come to us.’ Pastors continue to preach sermons and carry on internal polemics over doctrine as though nothing outside has changed, but the reality is that everything has changed and the people ‘are not coming back to the churches.’[5]

Tom Clegg and Warren Bird, in their book, Lost in America, tell us “roughly half of all churches in America did not add one new person through conversion growth last year.”[6] Further they state, “In America, it takes the combined effort of eighty-five Christians working over an entire year to produce one convert.”[7] Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, creators and instructors of ZerOrientation, inform us that although this year in the U.S. 1,300 churches will be started, 3,750 will disband and close their doors.[8] Ninety-eight percent of church growth is by transfer growth as smaller churches close their doors and growth is consolidated into fewer, though larger churches.[9] Although there are few true atheists in the U.S. and the vast majority of unchurched people describe themselves as “spiritual” (though not religious) and would like a deeper relationship with God,[10] the church is doing a dismal job of connecting with these seekers. If present trends continue, by 2060 “no one will be in church.”[11] David Smith observes
that the real problem of Christian mission in the modern West is not the absence of spiritual hunger within the postmodern generation, but rather the church’s failure to recognize the existence and significance of this quest on the part of thousands of people beyond its doors. Even where such recognition does occur there is often a refusal to respond on the terms set by the searchers, rather than those dictated by existing ecclesiastical traditions and structures.[12]

We cannot expect the trajectory of the church in the future to change by doing the same things in the present that we have done in the past. We need to think differently and act differently if we expect the future to be different…and better. How can we change the trajectory of the church? The answer lies in five imperative strategies:
The church must multiply as well as grow
The church needs to start congregational churches and simple churches
The church needs to evangelize and develop leaders
The church must be attractional and missional
The church needs to be good news and share good news
The church has be the church and build the kingdom
[1] Rick Warren said this on September 21, 2004 at Generous Giving Meeting at Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia.
[2] Ed Stetzer, Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Press, 2003), p. 9

[3] Stetzer, p. 10
[4] Stetzer, p. 10
[5] David Smith, Mission After Christendom (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003), p. 33
[6] Thomas Clegg and Warren Bird, Lost in America (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, 2001), p. 27
[7] Clegg and Bird 2001, p. 29
[8] Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, ZerOrientation—Creating Church Where It Doesn’t Exist (Anaheim, CA: Church Resource Ministries, 2004), P. 2
[9] Halter and Smay, lecture, September 28, 2004
[10] Insights from Pete Ward’s Liquid Church, p. 2-5
[11] Halter and Smay, lecture, September 28. 2004
[12] Smith, p. 73

The City: A Global History

Finished up a book last night called The City: A Global History by Joel Kotkin (2005). Kotkin argues that all thriving cities, despite their infinite variety, serve the same basic functions and have the same basic characterisitcs. So when Cortez, saw Mexico City for the first time, he was amazed at how similar it was to the great cities of Europe. Kotkin provides a nice outline of the major cities of the world and what made them stand out. Here are a few salient quotes from the book.

“Cain has built a city, for God’s Eden he substitutes his own” Jacques Ellul

“Two central themes have informed this history of cities. First is the universality of the urban experience, despite vast differences I race, climate, and location. This was true even before instant communication, global networks, and ease of transportation made the commonality among cites ever more obvious. As the French historian Fernand Brauden once noted, ‘A town is always a town, wherever it is located, in time as well as space.’”[1]

“This leads to a keen generalization about what characterizes successful cities. Since the earliest origins, urban areas have performed three separate critical functions—the creation of sacred space, the provision of basic security, and the host for a commercial market. Cities have possessed these characteristics to greater or lesser degrees. Generally speaking, a glaring weakness in these three aspects of urbanity has undermined life and led to their eventual decline.”[2]

“Cities compress and unleash the creative urges of humanity. From the earliest beginnings, when only a tiny fraction of humans lived in cities, they have been the places that generated most of mankind’s art, religion, culture, commerce, and technology. This evolution occurred most portentously in a handful of cities whose influence then spread to other centers through conquest, commerce, religion, and, more recently, mass telecommunications.”[3]

“What makes cities great, and what leads to their gradual demise? As this book will argue, three critical factors have determined the overall health of cities—the sacredness of place, the ability to provide security and project power, and last, the animating role of commerce. Where these factors are present, urban culture flourishes. When these elements weaken, cities dissipate and eventually recede out of history.”[4]

“The country places and the trees don’t teach me anything, and the people in the city do.” Socrates[5]

“Cities can thrive only by occupying a sacred place that both orders and inspires the complex natures of gathered masses of people. For five thousand years or more, the human attachment to cities has served as the primary forum for political and material progress. It is in the city, this ancient confluence of the sacred, safe, and busy, where humanity’s future will be shaped for centuries to come.”[6]
[1] Kotkin, Joel, The City: a Global History, Modern Library, New York. (2005) preface
[2] Kotkin, p. xvi
[3] Kotkin, p. xx
[4] Kotkin, p.xxi
[5] Kotkin, p. 21
[6] Kotkin. P. 160