Tag Archives: church

What Makes Community Distinctively “Christian”?

In Mark 3:13–19 we find Jesus bringing his disciples together and appointing 12 to be his apostles.  The text, while seemingly a straightforward list of names, gives many important insights into the nature of Christian community.

13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. 16 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), 17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

I know this seems like a list of names and not at all relevant to what we’re talking about, but there’s actually 5 things embedded in this passage that should radically challenge our understanding of Christian community:

1. Christian community is Jesus-centred.  This might seem like a no-brainer, but a lot that is named Christian community isn’t centred on Jesus and his gospel.  Jesus centres the community around himself, so we should be leering of any other expression of community that is grounded in something other than the person and work of Jesus.

If Jesus isn’t the centre of our gatherings, an idol of our own making–even a well intended one–will take his place.  And that move will spell certain doom from the outset.  Bonhoeffer, commenting on the temptation to centre our quest for community on an idealized vision of what could/should be instead of the person of Jesus is dynamite here:

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.” Life Together

 2. Christian community is based on comraderie, not chemistry.  Jesus gathered together people who had little common affinity.  Scratch that:  Jesus actually gathered people who were natural enemies!  A tax collector and a zealot!? There would have been no love lost between a collaborator with Rome (Matthew) and a zealot (Simon) who is seeking to overthrow Rome and use violent means if necessary!

What is Jesus doing?!  He’s showing us a different expression of community; one that speaks to the heart of God’s intentions for the world and the gospel itself.  Jesus does not expect this group to like each other, but he gathers them together to learn to love–starting with loving those you honest wished weren’t part of the group.

That means we shouldn’t expect Christian community to be founded on chemistry and sympatico.  Sure, we will develop friendships within our churches, small groups, etc., but when Jesus forms communities he does so on the basis of camaraderie.  Camaraderie is a feeling of trust, a bond created by a shared goal or experience.  It runs deepen than chemistry.  It goes beyond a convenient collection of complimentary personality types.   When a group is grounded in comraderie, you don’t have to be best friends with everyone in the group to know you have their support.  Therefore, genuine Christian community doesn’t mean you’re best friends with everyone and the group never expereinces any friction or conflict.  What it does mean is that there is a driving experience (Jesus’ call, salvation, and Lordship) that holds the group together and teaches the group to value and love each other.

3. Christian community is a means, not an end.   Jesus calls many disciples to himself, but he appoints twelve as apostles. Why?  He’s rebooting Israel.  “I’ve called you together…for a (re)newed mission!  You are blessed to be a blessing!” (cf. Genesis 12:1-3).  Christian community is always a means to a greater end (i.e. glorifying God and forwarding his mission). When the experience of community becomes the end we’re chasing, it poisons and rots things from the inside out.

 4. Christian community is a commitment to “one another.”  Christian community isn’t driven by the question, “what’s in it for me?” but “how can I be a blessing to others?”  This means a radical commitment to what much of the later epistles spell out in the “one another’s”:

  • Love one another (John 13:34, 15:12)
  • Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
  • Serve one another (John 13:1-20; Galatians 5:13)
  • Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
  • Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32)
  • Submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
  • Be honest with one another (Colossians 3:9)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Confess to one another (James 5:16)
  • Pray for one another (James 5:16)

On a later occassion Jesus gave his disciples a new command:

John 13:34 “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Christian community comes into being when a critical mass of people in a church/group/fellowship begin asking “how can I creatively love and serve these brothers and sisters?” instead of, “when will this group meet my wants and needs?”

5. Christian Community is consistent.  One characteristic that should define Christian community is that it is consistent.  Jesus called his disciples together into a new way of life where they were committed to doing life together as they learned under him.

Today, my sense is that far too many Christians do not take seriously their communal responsibilities to one another.  The first believers met daily for encouragement, prayer, support, study, etc., and while I acknowledge that model isn’t doable for most of us in our contexts, I don’t think our default position should be, “I’m committed until something better comes along.”  More and more of us are rationalizing going to church every 2nd or 3rd week.  We show up at youth group if/when we want.  We sign up for a small group but attend sporadically.

And after weeks/months/years living inside of this lifestyle of casual commitment, we wonder why our experience of Christian community is so thin–or even non-existent?

I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of being a legalist, but I think it’s important to recognize that it’s become very easy to place gathering together with other Christians consistently far down the priority ladder.  Which makes sense if church is something you fit into your agenda.  But it doesn’t make sense if through gatherings like Sunday worship, small groups, bible studies, etc., Jesus is seeking to reshape your life around his agenda.


The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill: 10 Quotes

Leadership Journal recently posted an article exploring some of the factors that led to Mars Hill’s rapid implosion over the last few months.  The article can be found here, and should be read by every church leader.  It’s a heartbreaking and harrowing piece that highlights how easily anti-gospel, toxic motivations can take root in the hearts of churches and their leaders.

Below are 10 quotations from the article that stood out to me.

1. “As the structure became more refined, the driving motive became efficiency and growth, and those two factors began dictating church policy.”

2. “This all began as a work of the Spirit, but we quickly started to push harder and harder, trying to accomplish it with human efforts—bigger, better, faster, stronger.”

3. “We started going for high-profile, high-ROI stuff that brings in more money,”

4. “The only way to create scalable multiplication is to somehow dumb down that position [site pastor] so that a dog with a note in its mouth can do it.”

5. “It got to the point where I’d get a weekly printout that would tell me I had one minute and 40 seconds to make an announcement.  I’d get a memo telling me to quit standing up in front and praying with people after the service because those hurting people are already regular attenders. The visitors are out in the lobby, so you need to be out in the lobby to get Velcro on the visitor to get them to stick so they come back.”

6. “‘How do we get more money coming into Central?’ became the main question.”

7. “For campus pastors on start-up church sites, everything hovered around congregation benchmarks. For 500 attendees, you got an executive pastor. 800? You could add a worship pastor. And if you boosted it up to 3,000 loyal listeners, the “award” was a youth pastor.”

8. “The whole corporate model for managing a church has infiltrated and affected the church more than anybody realizes.”

9. “When [a church] is dependent upon one charismatic leader, it is not dependent on Jesus.”

10. “This is going to be a great lesson for church leadership during the next 20 to 30 years.”

I sincerely hope that last quote is prophetic.



I Don’t Connect With My Family Through Family Meals. I Connect With Them Elsewhere.

The following is written in response to this recent post by Donald Miller.

I’ve got a confession. I don’t connect with my family by eating with them. Not at all.

I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I sat down to (yet another) family dinner that had, perhaps, the most delicious spread of food I’ve ever had. I loved the food. But I loved it more for the how it tasted than for how it opened up space for me to connect to Heather and our children. As far as connecting with them goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

I used to feel guilty about this.  But to be honest, I experience an intimacy with my family that I consider strong and healthy.

It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy when I sit down to eat with them. In fact, I can count on one hand the number family dinners I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t find “breaking bread” with my family particularly meaningful or stimulating. Like most men, I find that a family meal can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.

I’m fine with this, though. I’ve studied psychology and family dynamics long enough to know family meals aren’t for everybody. There’s an entire demographic of people who simply don’t find this mode of connection gratifying. You can put food in front of them all day long, do your best to instigate conversation, but they’re simply not going to get into it.

Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I’m a kinesthetic learner. Of course families have all kinds of ways of connecting, but if you want to attend a “family meal” every day, you best be an auditory learner. There’s not much on offer for kinesthetic or visual learners.

How do I find intimacy with my family if not through a traditional family meal?

The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with my family by working. I literally feel an intimacy with them when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my family and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve him while feeling connected to my family!

So, do I attend any family meals? Not often, to be honest.  Like I said, it’s not how I connect with my family.

But I also believe “family” is all around us, not to be confined to specific expressions of solidarity and commitment.

I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I build intimacy with my family every day through my work. It’s a blast.


Sermon Notes: “The Spiritual Journey of Childhood”

As part of Grindstone’s “Understanding the Spiritual Journey Series,” I had the pleasure of co-teaching a message on the spirituality of childhood with Tracy Crewson (one of our Children’s Ministry Co-ordinators) this past Sunday.  Our message is available via at www.grindstonechurch.com for those who want to listen to it.

Every time we do this series, I get a consistent stream of people wanting the notes from our messages, particularly the decade that is most relevant to them personally.

So I’ve decided to put an abbreviated version of each decade’s speaking notes on my blog so people can review the information whenever they would like.

Here are the notes from week one of our series: The Spiritual Journey of Childhood.

A snapshot of life in the childhood decade

Childhood is a time of enormous developmental change on every level.  Between 0-10 years of age, every 4-6 months children come into new capacities that they need to learn to adapt to and manage.


A. “What is happening? (Big Picture)”

  • Children are trying to develop a “container” (to borrow language from Richard Rohr) that can “hold” together their experience of the world.
  • Children are learning to manage continual and rapid growth on almost every level simultaneously.  The interior life of a child is in an almost continual state of flux, and this is part of the reason children thrive in environments that provide consistency and routine.  There is so much internal change, having a consistent and predictable external reality provides the necessary security and safety that allows children to adapt well to the internal changes.

B.  “What is happening? (Ground Level)”

       Children build this “container” be seeking the following:

  • Physically : Children are seeking touch, physical affirmation, and nourishment.
  • Emotionally: Children are seeking love, belonging, and security.
  • Psychologically: Children are seeking boundaries, expectations, consequences, and consistency
  • Spiritually: Children are in beginning stages of identity formation and “worldview coherence.”  They are asking big questions about life, death, God, meaning, etc.
  • Ideally, children are being nurtured on all four of these levels.


What are the major spiritual challenges?

A. Developing Trust.

  • Dr. David Richo says, “Trust is not an either / or proposition, but a matter of degree…It’s the capacity to trust, which may have been limited or disturbed in our early life, because that’s where we’ve first learned to trust. Trust is basically a feeling of safety and security. When that didn’t happen in our early life with our parents, our capacity to trust became limited. ”
  • Since our spiritual relationship with God is a relationship built on faith instead of sight, it is a relationship built on trust.  Our experiences early in life shape our capacity to trust God later as teens and adults.

 B. Overcoming a lack of nurture and care from adults.

  • Children need to be nourished on all four levels (physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritually).
  • While most people agree on the need to nurture their children physically, emotionally, psychologically, when it comes to nurturing their spirituality, we prefer a “hands off” approach.  Spiritually, it’s often viewed as progressive to “let them decide for themselves.”  This  mentality is dangerous, however, because it assumes that children are able to independently make healthy and wise decisions when it comes to spiritual matters (something Scripture and experience clearly disagrees with).


The Bible and Children

Scripture consistently emphasizes the importance of this decade!  Throughout the Bible there is an enormous value placed on children (which was rarely present in pagan cultures), and an enormous calling placed on communities and the raising of children. Deuteronomy 6 is a prime example:

Deuteronomy 6:6-9
6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.


  • “Impress them on your children.” Imprint. Children are not meant to figure things out for themselves. To “empower” children in this way is usually a way for parents to relieve themselves from the burden of parenting.  We are to actively instruct children in the way they should go and explain why.

Matthew 19 contains another key text that reveals children’s worth and their place of prominence within the kingdom of God.

Matthew 19:13-15
13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.


  • Matthew records that Jesus was ‘indignant’ –  he was angry or annoyed at what he perceived to be unfair treatment of these children.  Jesus was angry that the children were being seen as unimportant.
  • We cannot view our children in the way that society increasingly views them – as burdens, interruptions, and inconveniences.


Advice to Parents

i. Parenting is difficult.  Don’t give up! Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

 ii. Habits matter.  What habits are you letting take root in your child’s life?

iii. Disciple your child. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6.  Our guidance (or lack thereof) during the childhood years has enormous influence and ramifications in the subsequent decades.

iv. Provide morals, but not moralism. We need to give our children the reason behind the rules God has laid out for us.  We need to teach them the Scriptural ‘whys’ so our children develop a Christian conscience not a legalistic conscience.

v. Be a disciple yourself.  Christianity is just as much caught as taught.  What are they catching from you? Are you cultivating a growing and mature relationship with God, or is your Christian parenting style a Christianized version of “do as I say, not as I do”?

vi. Seek healing for a childhood lost.  Now is an important time to seek healing for those of us who never experienced a safe and healthy childhood due to abuse, neglect, or lack of care and nurture.


 Advice to all of us: learn from children

  • Our spiritual vibrancy is tied to the children around us.
  •  Matthew 18:3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
  •  Mark 10:14, “Let the children come to me.  Don’t hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
  •  There is something about the spirituality of children that we in the subsequent decades are to embrace and emulate in order to be thriving members of God’s kingdom.  Children, not just adults belong in the kingdom of Heaven and are not just as marginal members or on the coat-tails of their parents, but are models in the kingdom of God showing adults how to enter the Kingdom.
  •  Mark 10:14, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
  •  Jesus does not mean that the kingdom of heaven belongs only to children but rather to those like them – they are the perfect object lesson in the kind of humility, faith, and “powerlessness” that is require to enter into God’s kingdom.

How I Write A Sermon

A friend recently asked me about the process I use to write my sermons. In putting my process down on paper for her, I thought it might be interesting/helpful/enlightening to post the process I work through here on my blog.

I entered into a regular preaching pattern about five years ago, and during that time I have learned a ton about how to craft a sermon that is biblical, engaging, and God glorifying. Although I’ve tried many different processes over my five years of preaching, here’s the most current iteration.

This is pretty much how it works.

Ok, so it’s not that easy. 😉

From start to finish, a typical sermon is built over four phases:

Phase 1: Exploration and Information Gathering (4-6 hours)
This phase happens the week before I’m scheduled to preach. I’ve usually landed on a main passage for my message by this point, and will research it as thoroughly as possible via my Logos software and any other pertinent books I own. I have two goals for this phase: i) get comfortable with what the text is saying so I don’t mishandle it, and ii) begin to note the themes/ideas that seem to be jumping out at me.

Phase 2: Team Brainstorming (1 hour)
This phase happens early in the week I’m scheduled to preach, usually 4-5 days after I’ve completed Phase I and let the ideas incubate a bit. I usually sit down with Matt Pamplin, Kristi Gringhuis, and Richard Saunders and go over the skeleton of my message. They then offer any feedback on my proposal: Scriptures I should include, stories I should emphasize, examples within our community, hesitations or cautions if the message’s theme is sensitive, etc. This is one of the most helpful steps in the sermon preparation process, because it allows me to get out of my head and bounce ideas off of others whose input I respect and value. Sometimes these discussions lead to major alterations in the proposed sermon, and at other times they only lead to a minor tweak here and there. Regardless, they are always extremely helpful and make my sermon much stronger in the end.

Phase 3: Constructing the message (8-10 hours)
In this phase I take about a day to pull all the pieces together. I usually have 50% of my message “done” in my head by the time I start this process, and spend the day putting everything down on paper, making sure everything fits, flows, and “works” as it relates to the goal of the message. I’m a big believer in writing out my message word-for-word. I used to rely on bullet points in the past, relying on my skill as an on-the-fly presenter, but I believe that taking the extra time to write the sermon out in full has made me a better preacher. For some (many?) pastors, writing their sermon out word-for-word feels too constraining. However, I think my preaching has gotten stronger as I’ve worked down into the details of exactly what I’m communicating and how I’m communicating it.

Phase 4: Review and Rehearsal (2-4 hours)
This final phase has a few parts to it, and is often a very, very difficult one.

By the time I’m done crafting the message, I usually have a 10-12 page Word document that I need to trim down to 9 pages. While whittling things down is usually excruciatingly hard for me (I don’t want to leave anything important out!), the following questions help me keep my message “lean and mean”:

1. What is the MAIN point of my message, or am I trying to squeeze two (or more) sermons into one?
2. Do ALL of my teaching points reinforce the sermon’s main message?
3. Does the sermon have any unnecessary tangents?
4. Have I spent too much time explaining any one particular teaching point? Could I say the same thing more efficiently?

Then, I usually ask myself the following questions to make sure the sermon will have resonance with my church community:

1. Have I answered the question, “Why should I care about this?”
2. Have I answered the question, “What do you want me to do about this?”
3. Have I include at least one element that speaks to the four different “types” of Christians in my church: Heart types, Soul types, Mind types, and Strength types?
4. Does the message explicitly glorify Jesus and direct people to him?

After I’m comfortable with the sermon after working through these questions, I try to rehearse it out loud at least once. This helps me to discover any elements of the message that “look good on paper,” but don’t work as intended once you’re delivering them out loud.


Writing a sermon is tough, grueling work. But it’s also extremely satisfying. It’s a privilege to be able to teach others from the Word of God, and I don’t take that calling lightly. I aim to do my best with each sermon I preach, and pray throughout the process that Jesus would use the message as he sees fit. My goal as a preacher is to “make straight the way for the Lord” (John 1:23). For me, that means crafting a message that makes it as easy as possible to see Jesus and come to him.


Is the (Institutional) Church Worth Fighting For?

Over the past few weeks I’ve encountered a number of people wrestling with the question of whether the church is worth fighting for. The “church” in question is the local, institutional expression of church, and not the “church” in the disembodied, cosmic, everyone-who-belongs-to-Jesus sense.

On the affirmative side of discussion, I found a few articles really encouraging. Brian Jones’ article reminds us that the church is a whore, but she is our mother. Matt Erickson shares why he’s not giving up on church. And Matt Pamplin’s most recent message really convicted me that I’ve spent too much of my life whining and complaining about the church, and precious little time investing in it to God’s glory.

As a pastor, I encounter the “I’m committed to Jesus/the kingdom/God’s mission, but not the [institutional] church” perspective consistently.  To be honest, however,  I find this talking point increasingly grating and tiresome.  Maybe it’s a lack of patience on my part.  Maybe now that I’m part of the “institution,” I just don’t get it.   Maybe I’m blind to the horrific injustices that a commitment to a local, kingdom-pursuing congregation perpetuate.


But maybe not.

Maybe I’m just realizing that the false (but convenient) dichotomy between Jesus/the kingdom/God’s mission and the “institutional church” is simply lazy and shallow.

Maybe I’m just finding the rejection of all things “institutional”  increasingly naive, short-sighted, and self-serving.

Maybe I’ve come to see just how seductive, insidious, and destructive a privatized Christian faith  outside of community is for all of us.

Maybe as someone who is passionate about discipleship, I see little evidence that a church-less Christian can thrive in this calling, despite their best intentions.

Maybe I’m just finding it increasingly vapid to position oneself as a follower of Jesus while simultaneously removing oneself from the only ekklesia dedicated to proclaiming and teaching the gospel of Jesus.


I think the institutional, local ekklesia of God is worth fighting for.  I think we’re kidding ourselves if we believe faith can flourish (and more importantly, mature) outside of a commitment to a rag-tag group of Christians trying to seriously (but imperfectly) live out the calling of Jesus together.

Yes, committing to a local church is difficult and demanding.  It will demand that you learn to forgive.  It will be difficult as you learn to pray for the enemies who sit in the same worship space as you.  It will demand that you invest time into relationships that offer little return on investment.  It will be difficult to portion a significant amount of the money God has entrusted you with.

I wonder if we assume these difficulties and demands are the very things Jesus intends to save us from?  If so, it will be a bitter pill to swallow when we discover that these are the difficulties and demands he’s saving us into.


If I’m serious about serving God’s agenda in the world and not my own, then I better figure out how to serve within a local, institutional church.  A commitment to a local church is, I believe, one of the few things powerful enough to heal us from our sinful self-absorption.   Yes, God doesn’t “need” the institutional church, but He seems heaven-bent on using it as the primarily conduit through which the gospel is proclaimed and fleshed out.  Speaking as someone who was part of the “down with the church, up with Jesus” movement, I cannot begin to quantify just how stunted my Christian growth was during times when I saw it as heroic and revolutionary to use the brick in my hand as a weapon of destruction/deconstruction instead of a tool for rebuilding/restoration.


It’s time to stop using the imperfections of the church to justify non-participation.  Discipleship to Jesus demands that we fight for the church by serving and loving Christ within the church.  Anything less is cowardly and selfish.


Mere Disciple Interview: Karyn Makins

Recently I was thinking about a way to highlight some of the people that I’ve come to admire as examples of people who are passionately pursuing Jesus.  I thought that it might be cool to post some short interviews with them on this blog, and in the process have them impact you through their faith and passion (if they haven’t done so already). 

First up on the interview queue, Karyn Makins.  I met Karyn back in late 2008, and after our first coffee together it was obvious that she was intensely interested in discovering and following through on God’s call on her life–whatever that turned out to be.  Over the next several months, Karyn got heavily involved in our community, built some great connections within our church and established herself as one of our young adults who led by example and exuded a passionate and sincere faith. 

Currently, Karyn serves as a leader within Grindstone’s high school program (Elevate), and also serves as a member of one of our Sunday morning worship teams. 

What does being a disciple of Jesus mean to you? 

Being a disciple of Jesus to me means being like him in everything that I do. You know the cliché Christian saying “what would Jesus do?” I actually ask myself that a lot! When I am going through my day and trying to be a disciple I ask myself what would he do in this situation? Then I try and do it! I think it also means learning and practicing what we learn from other Christians who exemplify Jesus’ character or what we learn from reading the word and seeing who Jesus is.  

What have been a few of the more significant learning curves you’ve experienced as it relates to following Jesus?

I think that I have had a few significant circumstances that have really challenged me to forgive and love others despite what they have done to me. The great thing about Jesus’ love is that it isn’t earned and in fact isn’t deserved. He forgives me for how I have wronged him – just as I need to forgive others that have wronged me. 

I also have learned a lot about living life with kingdom value instead of worldly value. I think that it is good to do things for fun, and that things need to be prioritized (like your job, school etc.) but knowing that if there is something that will enhance the kingdom you prioritize that instead because you know that its value is greater. 

Describe your relationship with God in five words.

Dependence, love, trust, challenging, comfort.

Why are you connected and involved in a local church?

I am involved in the Church for a few different reasons. I LOVE to serve in ministry; it gets me excited and fulfills me! I also think that as Christ’s followers we are called to serve especially in the body of Christ. God gives us spiritual gifts that help others connect to him and grow in their faith.

When did your faith first become “real” and why? 

My faith first became real to me when I entered high school. I was blessed to have met passionate Christ followers who I became very close with. They were living a lifestyle that reflected Jesus’ character and had a personal relationship with him – which was something I was missing. Over the course of grade 9 and 10 I was able to understand and start a relationship with Jesus and ultimately ended up living for his will only, not mine.

 What is a life-stage challenge for you as it relates to living out your faith faithfully and passionately?

 There are so many areas of my life that challenge me to live out my faith. One is living in a culture that is all about selfishness and consumerism. I find that it is a struggle to daily put others before myself and not be consumed by things of worldly value instead of kingdom value.

While I am waiting for my mission term in Rwanda I am working in a mall where all I want to do is spend money on things that have next-to-no value. I also find that my job can be exhausting and can sometimes feel pointless. I know that in this time God can use me through the relationships I have built, but it is so hard to live with zealous faith when I spend my time in a job that is so un-fulfilling. I just look forward to February when I will be serving alongside orphans, widows and refugees.


Thrones and High Chairs

I’ve been listening through Richard Rohr’s CD set “Fire from Heaven” over the last few weeks.  It’s a recording from a men’s retreat that focused on helping men (re)claim their identity in Christ.  It’s definitely geared towards those middle-aged and beyond, but I’ve found the talks very helpful on a number of levels.

A few days ago, I had the CD playing in my car, and in the midst of talking about men, authority, and leadership, Rohr just kind of threw out a metaphor and moved on.  I guess when you have tomes of wisdom, you can’t stop to unpack each insight, but his “throwaway” really struck me.

Rohr was discussing men and the two ways they veer towards holding leadership, authority, and power in their lives.  He said all men at some deep, unconscious level, want to be kings.  By kings, Rohr was referring to the archetypal king who embodies wisdom, justice, power, authority and grace.  Rohr mentioned that men will either occupy high chairs or thrones, depending on which path of spiritual growth they take (or refuse to take).

He said if men don’t mature beyond a “what’s in it for me?” worldview and grow up in God–really grow up–they’ll  likely become “high-chair tyrants” when they find themselves in positions of leadership.  The feet of a child in a high chair never touch the ground.  A high chair tyrant is childish and isn’t connected to reality–he isn’t grounded.  He usually lives out of arrogance and ignorance (I think this is a good summation of a lot of leadership in our world today).  One of the problems with high-chair tyrants is that they are unaware of how disconnected and ungrounded they are.  When someone is brave enough to confront them, any challenge is dismissed because it’s coming from one of the “common folk.”

However, Rohr notes that one of the main differences between a high chair and a throne is that, when sitting on a throne, one’s feet touch the ground.  A king is literally grounded, in touch with the earth, the community–it touch with what is real.   His authority, power and leadership are rooted in his experience with the earth (i.e., reality), and not his own ideas or ego-driven assumptions.

My experience tells me that the high chair will always be tempting, because it offers a shortcut to attention and authority without much work.  Just get a title or a position and start bossing people around–after all, you’re in control now!  You can even throw tantrums and often get what you want because of fear.

But the path towards kingship, the path that will shape us into leaders who are grounded in truth and live to serve while holding our kingdoms together, that path demands deep soul work.  It means confronting demons and a relentless commitment to live in reality, not in the fantasy of what we’d prefer.  Easier said than done, especially as one comes into successive levels of power and authority.

May we seek the narrow way; the way of the King.  Through his leadership, may we be refined into men who sit on thrones and not high chairs.


Do Churches Need to Target the City?

Matt Pamplin forwarded me this great article from The Christian Post’s coverage of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization recently hosted in South Africa. 

The article summarizes Timothy Keller’s presentation on the need for churches (and by implication Christians) to move into cities.  Keller’s main argument is that the city should be a non-negotiable front-line focus  for churches because:

  • Cities are where churches can reach the next generation (young adults want to live in the city).
  • Cities contain more unreached people.
  • People are “far more open to the Gospel in the cosmopolitan city than in their hometown.”
  • Cities are where the cultural creatives (filmmakers, authors, businessmen, etc.) live, work and shape the world.
  • Cities are emerging epicentres for the marginalized, poor, and oppressed (about one-third of city dwellers live in shanty towns).

Below is The Christian Post’s article in its entirety. 

CAPE TOWN, South AfricaNew York pastor Tim Keller awed the crowd Wednesday evening with his well thought-out argument on why churches around the world need to move into cities.

Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan told attendees of Lausanne III that if Christians want human life to be shaped by Jesus Christ then churches need to go into cities.

Cities are where churches can reach the next generation (young adults want to live in the city); reach more unreachable people (people are far more open to the Gospel in the cosmopolitan city than in their hometown); reach people who have a big impact on the world (filmmakers, authors and businessmen); and reach the poor (about one-third of city dwellers live in shanty towns).

“Human beings, according to Genesis 1, are made in the image of God and reflect God’s glory more than anything else in creation,” said Keller, whose Redeemer City to City has planted more than 100 churches around the world.

“In these cities you have more image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world,” he said. “So God makes the numbers argument.”

The influential pastor known for his deep thinking shared a story about a missionary friend. Keller’s friend once quipped that the country is where there are more plants than people and the city is where there are more people than plants. And because God loves people more than plants, He has to love the city more than the country.

About 300 years ago, less than three percent of the world’s population lived in cities. Today, more than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities and the number is growing rapidly. It is estimated that eight million people, or about the population of Bangkok, move into cities every two months.

“The people are moving into the cities faster than the church is,” Keller emphasized. “If you love what God loves then you will love the cities. If you want to go where the people are you got to go into the cities.”

But churches that want to go into the cities need to be contextualized in order to be effective, he said. Just like how urban China is different than China and urban America is different than America, an urban church is different than a church in the countryside.

An urban church, which has people from many cultures, is required to be extremely patient about accusations of cultural insensitivity and should expect to be accused of such. Pastors of urban churches need to accept that they can never fully solve complaints of cultural insensitivity, but that they can learn from criticisms.

Churches in cities also need to show people how their faith relates to their work because jobs are a much bigger part of urban dwellers’ life, Keller said.

“I had only known how to disciple people by bringing them out of the work world and into my church world,” the New York pastor shared. “But if you are in an urban church you can’t do that. You have to help people apply their faith to their work.”

Urban churches also need to expect disorganization and changes; be intensely evangelistic but at the same time famous for its concern for justice; be committed to the arts; and cooperate with other denominations and faith, he said.

“Look at the cities of this world. Look at the masses of these cities, God says. Why aren’t you moved by them? Why aren’t you going there?” Keller asked. “So let’s go.”

The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, also known as Cape Town 2010, has drawn more than 4,000 Christian leaders representing over 190 nations to Cape Town, South Africa. The conference was founded by American evangelist Billy Graham in 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland, to bring together the global body of Christ for world evangelization.

This Congress is unique in the diversity of its attendees and for discussing a wide range of global problems faced by today’s church, including secularization, Islam, HIV/AIDS, prosperity gospel, nuclear weapons, and environmental concerns. The conference program will conclude on Sunday.

What do you think?  Should churches “target” the city?  Should urban ministry take precidence over rural ministry?  Will the gospel be stifled if Christians refuse to (missionally) enter into urban environments?


Staying Rooted in Jesus

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple, chapter 9: A Tree of Life

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1–4

How do you and I stay rooted in Jesus? How do we remain connected to Him so that we can experience this great life and extraordinary hope regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in? How do we keep Jesus’ call to discipleship front and centre, especially when we are assaulted by countless distractions and difficulties? How do we avoid being overwhelmed and choked out by the cares and worries of this life? Staying rooted in Jesus begins with and is sustained by a commitment to four priorities.

Engage the Bible everyday. Whether it means reading, studying, discussing, or memorizing, staying rooted to Jesus means staying rooted to the Scriptures. We need to continually stretch our understanding of what the Bible says and how that should play out in our lives. The gospels should be read consistently and carefully, because declaring ourselves to be disciples of Jesus means we’re trying to embed the values, attitudes, and priorities of Jesus into our lives. The importance of reading, studying, memorizing, and discussing the Bible is a value most Christians agree on but few actually practice. However, everyone I see flourishing in their discipleship walk is engaging the Bible everyday.

Develop a strong prayer life. Developing a strong prayer life is very challenging for most people. Personally, prayer is an area I read about, talk about, and think about more than I actually do anything about. Prayer is very hard for me, because quite honestly it feels like a waste of time. It feels inefficient and sometimes ineffective compared to physically doing something, but I’m pushing myself beyond those faulty assumptions. I’m in the process of exploring different forms of prayer because I want to develop a strong and intimate relationship with Jesus. This intimacy will never happen if I neglect communicating with Him honestly and openly. Although it may not be easy for us, taking time everyday to share our hearts with Him—and taking time to listen for His still, small voice—is critical to our growth as disciples.

Invest in a local church. I will be the first to say that church can suck. You know it and I know it. But here’s the reality: I’ve never, ever met someone who powerfully inspires me to love and serve Jesus who isn’t invested and connected to a local church. I don’t think church is some kind of magic bullet when it comes to discipleship. However, I believe that discipleship outside of a church commitment just doesn’t work. I also know how tempting it is to bounce around and check out the latest ministry, church, or preacher. But discipleship requires roots, and you can’t grow deep roots if you’re continually uprooting yourself in order to be a part of the next new thing. Therefore, if we are serious about discipleship to Jesus, we have to make it a priority to plug into and invest in a local church community.

Serve others. Following Jesus as a disciple means continually reminding ourselves that in Jesus’ kingdom leaders are the ones who serve (Luke 22:26) and greatness is measured by one’s ability lay down one’s life for others (John 15:13). Our days are filled with opportunities to bless and serve others in both simple and profound ways, and Jesus calls us to adopt a servant heart that places our preferences secondary to the interests and needs of those around us. Jesus said that His kingdom is one that will be characterized by servant leadership (Matthew 20:25–28), so if we aren’t consistently serving others we’re operating out of ego and self-centredness.

These disciplines, however, may strike us as overly simplistic or obvious. Because of this, it’s common for us to overlook them in order to look for something that sounds deeper and more profound. But these four practices form the foundation—the root structure—of the Christian faith. If we ignore, dismiss, or abandon them, we’ll soon find ourselves feeling old, gnarled, and lifeless.

After years of discipling, mentoring, and observing many young adults, I’ve noticed a huge difference between those who just talk about these things, and those who actually do them. Jesus said a disciple is someone who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24, emphasis mine). It’s easy to extol the virtues of Bible study and prayer, hold lengthy conversations on the nature of community, and discuss new justice initiatives. However, none of these things lead to transformation in Christ. Those who have been truly transformed are those who have consistently done these things and not just talked about doing them.


To order a copy of Mere Disciple: a spiritual guide for emerging leaders, click here.