Mark Wilson, Purple Fish

Mark Wilson is a pastor in Wisconsin and he has written Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus as a book on evangelism for everyday Christians. Many of us see evangelism as a special gift that only a few people have, but Wilson shows how having a heart for sharing Jesus with others is available to all! How much better do we share the gospel when it comes from a heart passion, rather than a rote training program?

The strange title comes from ancient near eastern fishermen who would search for a rare shellfish that gave a deep purple dye. The metaphor is that Jesus goes to great lengths to reach people because they are so valuable, so we must imitate Jesus, both in his methodology and valuation of humanity.img_0611

Moving evangelism from a pressure and guilt experience to one of practicality and joy is such a gift to the church. If we stop looking at witnessing as a sales pitch, we will be free from the guilt of not meeting our quotas. When Jesus called the disciples who were fishermen, he used their old job to describe their new job; they went from fishing for fish to fishing for men. Fishing was not about pressure and guilt – it was about knowing the water and the fish and being able to respond to the conditions of the sea. While there was no official training program, fishing took a long time to learn to do well, as you worked with and learned from generations ahead of you. I’m ready for a way of sharing my faith that feels like fishing – something that energizes and refreshes my soul.

Here’s some purple quotes:

  • p.19, “There are two great metaphors for sharing the gospel: fishing and treasure hunting. The purple fish combines both.”
  • p.22/23, “…for most Christians, evangelism feels more like a trip to the dentist than a purple fish fishing adventure…And like so many Christians, I abhorred witnessing and felt guilty about it.”
  • p.40, “We cannot share what we do not have. Unless our mission flows from worship and holiness, we’re just hypocrites playing silly religious games.”
  • p.94, “Here’s a great prayer to start the day: ‘Jesus, what are you up to today? Can I join you?’ You’ll be surprised at the divine appointments you will encounter.”
  • p.133, “Most believers are terrified to share their faith because of their own negative personal encounters with obnoxious Christians, and they definitely don’t want to become ‘one of them.’ “
  • p.138, “…net fishing in the New Testament was social rather than solitary: ‘An entire village would fish together and often two boats would work in tandem drag-netting fish in between them.’ “
  • p.148, “Jesus is already present in the lives of everyone around us. Our task is to recognize where he is working, and then follow the divine nudge to help others see it too.”

 

Driscoll, A Call to Resurgence

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged out any books I’ve been reading – which means I have a stack of about 10 books that I need to process and think about – and what better place to start than with Marky Mark Driscoll. It seems a media storm has been following Driscoll around lately – and by media I mean bloggers and Christian magazines. The actual world doesn’t have any idea how much of a big deal we all think this is. It must suck to be in a position where people you don’t even know have whole blogs to criticize and even condemn you, but it’s not like Driscoll is one to avoid controversy. He has built a church on his pulpit – which has some real liabilities to it (and opens itself for real conversations about how a church should probably be built by Jesus and on Jesus).

For all the Driscoll hate that is out there, I appreciate him. He’s a guy with problems, sure, but he’s also done a lot to help me grow and refine my thinking – and I’m not even a little bit reformed in my theology. His most recent book, A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity have a Funeral or a Future came out last year, so the big publicity push is done, but I just read it this spring. The premise of the book is pretty silly to me – of course Christianity will have a future – isn’t that the whole idea? But it takes a very American-centric view of Christianity and really is a discussion of whether the church in the USA has a funeral or a future in store.

It has all the regular Driscoll fun in it. Little sentences that make you wonder if his editor was asleep at the wheel. Like when he opens the book by saying Christianity in America ended the day that Louie Giglio was un-asked to pray for the Obama’s inauguration. It was a mess for the Obama administration, and it does have implications for the future, but to say that evangelical Christianity is over because we are no longer cuddly with the political power seems like a line to sell books (by fear).

Thankfully, the rest of the book is a little more robust and gives better treatment to the sociological implications of evangelical Christianity moving from the center to the edges of western culture.

Here’s some money quotes for me later:

  • p.7, “The Associated Press reported on the significance of the whole ordeal” ‘There may be no clearer reflection of this moment in American religious life than the tensions surrounding prayers at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.”
  • p.51, “The plight of the gay population is now commonly compared with the struggles historically faced by ethnic minorities, women, and other marginalized groups. For Christians, racial issues and sexual issues are very different: the same Bible says all races descend from one man and one women and are reconciled together in Christ also says any sex outside of heterosexual marriage – including homosexuality – is wrong.”
  • p.61, “The old view of tolerance assumed that (1) there is objective truth that can be known; (2) various people, groups, and perspectives each think they know what that objective truth is; and (3) as people/groups disagree, dialogue, and debate their conflicting views of the truth, everyone involved will have an opportunity to learn, grow, change, and possibly arrive together at the truth. // The new tolerance is different from the old tolerance. The new view of tolerance assumes that  (1) there is no objective truth that can be known; (2) various people, groups, and perspectives do not have the truth but only what they believe to be the truth; and (3) various people, groups, and perspectives should not argue and debate their disagreements because there is no truth to be discovered and to assume otherwise only leads to needless conflicts and prejudices. // A few things are perhaps most curious about the new tolerance. One, it denies moral absolutes while holding to the moral absolute that there is no moral absolute/”
  • p.115, “It’s important to ask yourself this one final question: Is your tribe a prison or a home? If your tribe is a prison, you rarely get out to meet Christians from other tribes, read anything from anyone not in your tribe, listen to any outside preachers, or sing any songs not created or endorsed by your tribe. If your tribe is a prison, you may not know that your nation is becoming increasingly anti-Christian, because you have been busy working within your tribe and battling against other tribes. If your tribe is a home, you are free to enjoy friendships with Christians from other tribes, read books and sing songs from believers outside your tribe, and pay attention to what is going on in the world.”
  • p.153, “In more fundamental tribes, the Holy Spirit has two primary ministries: to write the Bible and convict us of sin. Basically, you are a nail, the Bible is a hammer, and the Holy Spirit’s job is to pound you.”
  • p.191, “Both homosexuals and Christians are, curiously enough, organized minority groups. If Christians war with homosexuals, what we’re ignoring is the majority – all the people between the two groups at some point on a continuum. And as a general rule, those people in the middle are the very people we’ve been called to evangelize. If they see us as being mean spirited, they will be less likely to want to hear about Jesus from us.”
  • p.197, “‘Single-parent families tend to emerge in places where the men already are a mess,’ says Christopher Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard University. ‘You have to ask yourself, ‘Suppose the available men were getting marries to the available women? Would that be an improvement?” Instead of making marriage more attractive, he says, it might be better for society to help make men more attractive.”
  • p.240, “Pastor Doug Wilson once quipped that ‘a great reformation and revival…will happen the same way the early Christians conquered Rome. Their program of conquest consisted largely of two elements – gospel preaching and being eaten by lions – a strategy that has not yet captured the imagination of the contemporary church.'”

5 Questions for The Grove: Make Disciples

At our annual meeting on April 27th, I presented 5 questions that I believe The Grove’s response to will determine the level of influence we have for Jesus in our city and in our world.

Will we make disciples of Jesus according to the Great Commission?

In our city The Grove has a great reputation. Everyone knows someone who goes to The Grove and people constantly say that they feel like they need to try us out on Sunday. They don’t always show up, but sometimes they do.

We don’t take this as a big success though. We see it as an added responsibility. At the end of the day, when I, as The Grove’s pastor, get to stand before Jesus and give account I don’t think he’s going to be interested in how awesome I am. I do think he’s going to want to talk about how we operated with what He blessed us with. And our reputation is just that – a gift – not something we’ve earned. So, if we are going to be making disciples it isn’t as much about “fulfilling the Great Commission” as it is being responsible with opportunities God has given.

To help us create a way for people to move from “i like the grove” to “the grove is my church” we are going to be working to create on ramps for people. If we think of the Grove as a highway – it’s great to be on that highway, but finding ways to get on has been a bit difficult. Being relationally based is a great way to be a church, but we are fooling ourselves if we think we don’t have weaknesses. If you can just see how awesome the highway is, but can’t get on it – it becomes a hindrance to your life – not a blessing.

So at the Grove we need to answer the question of how do people “become grovers” and how can we help them along the way – because it’s an awesome ride and everybody wants to get on the highway!

5 Questions for the Grove: Unprecedented Serving

At our annual meeting on April 27th, I presented 5 questions that I believe The Grove’s response to will determine the level of influence we have for Jesus in our city and in our world. 

 

Will we organize for unprecedented serving in our cities?

 

As The Grove began we built community participation through serving others for the greater good into our culture. We didn’t want it to be something we did as much as it was who we were. This gave us the opportunity to be where God was, to work where He was working and to love our city in practical ways.

We allowed this serving to be grass roots style with lots of people serving in lots of different ways. The highest that the organizing got was when life groups would get together and all serve in a common way or at a common time. It was exciting, fresh, front-line, hard to measure, difficult to evaluate and perfect for who we were becoming.

As our church has grown the percentage of people active in life groups has declined (more actual people, but a lower percentage of the overall church). This isn’t to evaluate if this is good or bad, but it is the truth. So, if our best opportunities to serve outside of our (rented) walls is only open to a select few, then the cultural imperative of being a church that is a benefit to our community begins to be lost. This triggers a need to reorganize in new ways so that we can continue to experience what it is to be God’s hand of blessing towards others.

This is being encouraged in multiple ways (establishing a community life director on staff for the church, June 22nd having our Go Serve Sunday, generating local partnerships with active social services organizations). So the new framework is being built, but success for The Grove is not measured by systems. For us, we will know that we have made a great change when everyone grabs onto the fresh vision and participates.

Our missional mandate is to live for Jesus by loving our city. This cannot just be a catchy phrase that we plaster all over everything. If we fail to put actions to our words, we fail to have integrity and then we fail to be the message of God’s love and hope for our neighbors. This question is more than ‘will we serve’; this question is ‘who will we become’.

 

11 Things You Can’t Find in Church Planting Textbooks

1. You can do anything you can pay for. This is actually something I learned from my pastor, John Breitmeier. It may sound crass, but it’s really true. You might have the biggest ministry dream in the world, but if it’s not funded, it doesn’t move. As a church planter, you are the main fundraiser and you have to be alright with straight up asking people to fund a church that doesn’t even exist yet. You dream first, but then you have to take a look at the budget and adjust accordingly; God will provide all the money He needs to do what He wants to do.

2. If you send out mailers/postcards/door hangers expect to see the kinds of people who choose churches by mailers. Honestly, what kind of a person gets a postcard in the mail and then makes major spiritual decisions according to what it says. 9 times out of 10 it’s crazy people. There’s the odd person who has been praying and asking God for a sign and then this is how God leads someone to a church, but mostly you are going to see crazy people. The crazy people will also call you and get mad at you for inviting them to your party in the park. It’s awesome.

3. Satan will come against you by coming against everyone close to you. When the devil comes against me it’s no surprise and I am able to stand strong. When those I love most suffer, it hurts in a completely different way. I can point to too many “coincidences” of extreme difficulties and trials in my immediate family, in the lives of my close friends and in my extended family. You may seek prayer cover for yourself, but I think those closest to you need it also. It’s important to not be surprised by opposition, when you make aggressive moves for Jesus, it’s going to be noticed by Satan.

4. Those first two years when everyone thinks you are the greatest invention since velcro shoes…don’t get used to it. In the first place it’s an easy time to get a big head and start believing your own hype. Even more, the third and fourth year is when opposition that has been simmering under the surface finally comes out and tries to kick you square in the face. It’s a special feeling to have someone tell you that you are absolutely terrible, that you are the primary reason that people don’t go to church (I think they meant all people everywhere, which is quite a compliment if you think about it), or have people dedicate their internet chatter to talking about your failings. So, it’s important in your first couple years not to get used to people thinking you are awesome – because some people don’t think that and they are just waiting their turn.

5. The church plant rises and falls on the preacher. People will be extremely patient and generous with pretty much everything about your church except the child’s safety and the preaching. If your chairs are uncomfy, it’s ok. If the school you are renting accidentally forgets the heat over winter break people will keep their jackets on. Even if your band struggles to find it’s voice the people will still worship and love it. But, if your preaching lacks fire people will burn a trail to the exit. Having all those other frills is great, but child safety that allows parents to focus and honestly strong preaching will have people showing up and growing! Also, pretty much all the research on church planting points to the major determining factor of success being the primary vision casting leader.

6. Having a killer band basically makes every Sunday easier. If you are able to create a culture where musicians have the opportunity to grow and play awesome music, they will show up and they will play magical music. Senior pastors who are terrible guitar players (I’m talking to you James Carmichael!) will do the gospel well by getting out of the way and allowing awesome musicians to be awesome. This should also inform the culture shaping process of what you chose to center your service on. Most churches are sermon-centric, but is that the way to be the church in your neighborhood?

7. Set the culture and allow the strategy to flow from it. Culture eats strategy every single time. You can copy the very best ideas from the very best churches and leaders, but if you fail to create a dynamic culture your strategies will be out of style quicker than crocs. Wait, they never were in style. And that’s the point. Let the leaders lead. Great churches have great leaders at all levels of the organization. If you are blessed with great leaders, don’t just delegate responsibility – also give them authority to make important decisions. If you’ve built a str0ng culture, they will be able to know how to make decisions that align with the organization.

8. Church planters need a community of church planters. The second most determinate factor in a church planter’s success is being in relationships with other church planters. The encouragement and mutual support of other planters is such a major factor that most planting organizations require it. This comes in the form of more experienced coaches and/or current planters. Finding and investing in those relationships make a huge difference in your church.

9. Be where the people are. For the Grove, this meant being outside at community festivals all summer long because these were the biggest gatherings of people in our city.  If we believe that God loves people and is working in their lives and we want to be where God is working, then we have to be where the people are. We do not set up shop, advertise and expect the people to come to Jesus because Jesus has already come to earth and the Spirit is at work!

10. Be a generous church even before you can afford it. To this day, I don’t know of a church that can ‘afford’ generosity. Churches (and people) chose generosity intentionally. From the very start set up your church plant as a source of blessing for others and you will have a lot more fun. Give locally and globally, to Christian and secular organizations, intentionally and randomly. Even while your church plant is being supported by outside organizations, decide to be a giving church and support others.

11. Start a church for unbelievers. Starting a church for church people is as easy as making it a little cooler than the coolest church in town. If the coolest church has a boss youth ministry, hire a young pastor with a mohawk and tattoos – church people will flock to you. Starting a church for people who don’t  know anything about church is stunningly more dangerous. First, it gets messy because they won’t know how to behave, and second, the church people will hate it and start gossiping all over town about how “emergent” your church is. This means you don’t need small groups when you start – only Christians think it’s awesome to meet in small groups to talk about their feelings. It also means you might not participate in the local ‘christian’ festival because all the christians are already there – so your band might need to play at the ‘ungodly pagan heathenfest’.

2 Days with Rob Bell Part 2

This is part two of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014. If you want, you can start at the first post.

The day that I was to fly down to Orange County my road was snowed in by an epic winter storm, unlike any seen in the Willamette Valley as long as anyone remembered. Churches all over had cancelled services and I had a 4 wheel drive truck with chains on and I was still spinning out. Thankfully Russell, who is the best Oregon winter driver I know, came to my rescue. I actually had to walk down to the main road with my luggage and meet him as he came down the ruts and drove me down to Eugene. The main roads were totally fine, but getting to them was basically impossible. Then when I was at the airport, all sorts of flights were being cancelled because of thick fog! When our plane landed it was awesome and people were clapping and stuff – this is what it is like to fly out of Eugene. When I got into PDX, we were so late I had to run to catch my connector so I didn’t get to enjoy the most beautiful carpet in the world.

The coolest part of my trip was after I landed in Orange County, I used a company called Lyft to get a ride from the airport to my hotel. The company is set up as an app on my phone that you use to call for a ride and a guy shows up with his car and drives you. It’s terrible for cab companies, but a riot for people who think technology can bring us together! It was cool to be able to try out because I don’t live in a big enough city to have Lyft. Considering the safety factor, I imagine it’s easier for a larger man to try it out, but the company has done a good job ensuring safety and professionalism. To get back to the airport on Wednesday, I left before Lyft was open (they went 24-7 only recently), so I used a different app called Uber. Had another great experience and got to know another stranger!

I also got to go for a run Monday morning that was simply amazing – up to the top of the hills in Laguna Beach. 1,000 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles! It was so rough I had to walk a bit, but the views from the park at the top of the hill were superboss.

the $12 million view

This is all preamble to an awesome two days, but it’s so much fun to be alive at such an incredible time of transition in our world. Everything we thought we knew about how to function in society is up for grabs – which is so terrifyingly awesome. There’s a lot of opposition from the structure that built the culture we live in, but to hold on to it is to deny the very spirit that built it. It’s not about staying at some kind of pinnacle, it’s all about taking the next step, going to the next level. Really, this is why I went to 2Days with Rob Bell, so, in a way, I got started before I got started.

You Can’t Find Stukeley Baptist Church

Even if you do a google search, you end up with a map and some random church listing websites. Stukeley Baptist Church, in Richmond, VA is gone. Where you think you will find it, you will instead find Light Community Church, which has recently moved into their 7,400 square footbuilding on 3 acres of land…given to them by Stukeley Baptist.

As a 66 year old church full of older white folks, Stukeley Baptist was failing to reach the increasingly diverse community around their building. Only 20 people were regularly attending on Sunday mornings. This is a perfect storm for a declining church to dwindle and end up with a broken down ministry in a broken down building. The difference in Stukeley Baptist is that they loved their community and wanted them to know Jesus; so, just blindly continuing in their comfortable pews (with plenty of parking spaces!) until the fat savings accounts ran out was not an option. Instead, they became friends with Pastor Kimberly Ridley of Light Community Church, made sure their hearts were in line as churches, and straight up gave them their church building last July.

In a country where we have far too many zombie churches – churches that died a long time ago but they are still wandering around moaning and eating people’s brains (ht:Mark Driscoll) – this is the right option to continue a church’s mission, but in a new way, in a new culture and in a new day. There are piles and piles of money locked up in these zombie churches and in their savings accounts – they did faithful ministry for decades upon decades. Unfortunately, that was decades ago. There is not a resource problem in church planting and reaching people in America – but there is an allocation problem.

How amazing it would be if we heard more stories like this! Churches being churches! Existing for the world, and not for themselves. I’m definitely putting the members of Stukeley Baptist on my list of people I want to hang out with when we all go to heaven.