Month: December 2011

4 Great Books at the End of the Year

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with a number of books I’ve read at the close of the year. Here are a few of them:

The Road to Missional (Frost) – This is one of those clarifying books for the missional conversation, especially on the topic of evangelism vs. social justice. I’ve marked quite a few lines and have a review forthcoming with Gospel Coalition.

The Holy Spirit in Mission (Tyra)- A book I would have been proud to write. It integrates biblical theology, pneumatology, and practice of mission well. Very clear and compelling.

Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism (Plantinga) – Plantinga writes with such cogency, that’s half the joy of reading him. The book is much more than well-written prose, however. He argues well for a distinction between Science and Naturalism, the latter having all the trappings of a religion, offering answers for religious questions and requiring faith. He also demonstrates a deep concord between Science and Faith, particularly Christian theism.

The Meaning of Marriage (Kellers) – It opens with a nice apologetic for marriage on both cultural and theological grounds but moves quickly into the specifics of a marriage constructed on the gospel, truth and love, between husband and wife. In the chapter entitled “The Power of Marriage” the Kellers uncorks the Spirit of Truth as the power for a gospel-centered marriage. Refreshing but conservative on the Spirit. Here’s a video intro. There are some inspiring vistas and deep pools of wisdom in The Meaning of Marriage.

PlantR: Reorganizing a Network for Movement

I’m incredibly excited about what’s happening through church planting in our city. There is a remarkable level of partnership and kingdom-mindedness among church planters in Austin, attributable only to the the Spirit of God. PlantR, our church planting city network, recently underwent a significant reorganization.

Struggle to Execute on a City Vision

The vision of PlantR is to catalyze a Christ-centered, context-sensitive church planting movement for the social and spiritual renewal of Austin and beyond. Since the beginning, we have struggled to understand how to best facilitate this vision with such a diverse group of church planting methods, ecclesiologies, and theologies. Should we carve the city up into districts to prioritize city renewal through church planting? That sounds awfully parochial. Prioritize planting areas? By what standards? Ethnicity, income, poverty, least reached? The PlantR board has debated this for several years.

In the meantime, we continually pressed ahead with our vision by our three-fold purpose of Networking, Resourcing, & Encouraging church planters for city renewal. Many church planters need:

  • Encouragement from someone with whom they can pray, bear burdens, and lick wounds. If the planter doesn’t make it, the church does make it. Churches have to make it to make movement.
  • Networking to increase social interaction, create space for swapping best practices, establish coaching relationships, and increase kingdom partnership for Christ’s mission. Movements are typically comprised of networks of networks.
  • Resourcing to equip the planter with local knowledge, missional ecclesiology, and church planting training. Some of the best resourcing can happen on-the-fly, when the leader acutely feels the need for it.
To varying degrees of success, PlantR has delivered on these three purposes through a Monthly Meeting. However, the strategic element for city renewal and movement continued to elude us. Then, we had a break-through idea. What if we took strategy out of our hands and placed it in the hands of the planters? This sparked an entire reorg of our structure.
Missional Hubs & MicroConferences
We decided to do away with the centralized Monthly Meeting and reorganize the network around smaller gatherings of church planters called Missional Hubs.
  • Missional Hubs are regional gatherings of church leaders that meet regularly to network and encourage one another for the renewal of a specific region of the city.
Our hope and prayer is that missional partnerships and strategy will bubble up from these smaller groups of planters as they labor alongside one another in a shared space in the city. Now that they are interacting with planters “in their backyard”, our hope is that they will work together on initiatives and strategies to renew, for instance, South Austin. Groups of planters working for Christ-centered renewal in smaller parts of the city suddenly makes the vision a bit more manageable. However, we didn’t want to leave planters un-resourced, so we also developed MicroConferences.
  • MicroConferences are uniquely focused conferences that occur quarterly to resource a Christ-centered church planting movement.
These MicroConferences allow us to handpick leaders to speak into the movement in the various areas of theology, methodology, strategic planning, and pastoral care. In addition, the regional breakouts allow us to customize content and work for real, local challenges on mission in the greater Austin area. For instance, Hispanic church planting on the Eastside. Where can you find a breakout on that at a national conference? The Microconference connects top-level missional thinking to street-level missional practice in our city. On that note, Im thrilled to announce that Jeff Vanderstelt will be speaking into our movement on the topic of Missional Community on January 10!

Building a Discipling Culture (review)

This is a review of Mike Breen’s Building a Discipleship Culture. (Available only as an eBook. It’s worth your $7.49.)

I appreciate Mike Breen’s radical focus on discipleship. He points out that many leaders in the West, while often well-educated, are poorly trained for disciple-making. In seminaries we learn exegesis, systematic theology, church history, and pastoral duties but all too often the basics of making a disciples are left out. While there are exceptions, in general, he’s right. It’s true. Things do need to change.

Some Strengths of the Book

Build a discipleship culture. This is what Breen does well. Build. Equip. Change. If you’re looking for a book to help you to create a discipleship culture, look no more. He does this through structure and insight. The second half of the book is devoted to discipleship structure. He calls for Huddles, small groups of disciples who meet regularly to encourage and disciple one another. These huddles have multiplication built into them. They are kind of like Fight Clubs but with much more structure and intentionality.

What I enjoyed most about this book were the discipling insights, things like Invitation and Challenge. Invitation and challenge was one way Jesus made disciples. He invited them into his life, but not just to be his buddies; he also challenged them. Too much buddying is done in the name of discipleship. We need to deepen in our security in Christ to love others enough to exhort, challenge, and correct them with grace and truth. Breen notes that Jesus created a “highly supportive but highly challenging culture.”

I was teaching through a holistic discipleship class in our local church while reading Building a Discipleship Culture, and to my surprise, there were a lot of overlaps in our structures and insights. This was affirming, as Mike has been at it a bit more than me. Discipleship, if it is going to be true to God’s intention, has to be intentional, integrated, and informed. Mike says roughly the same thing when he calls for three environments: Classroom, Apprenticeship, and Immersion. Most Westerners never get beyond the classroom. Discipleship remains at arms length idea, not a personal investment.

Now, don’t jump to conclusions by lumping Mike into an anti-theology camp. He says teaching and doctrine are “incredibly important”, but goes on to point out how Jesus taught important doctrines in the context of relationship and ministry immersion. So, in building a discipleship culture its important that we integrate information with intentionality in the context of relationships. I really like this statement:

“The best discipling relationships always have an intentional, ‘organized’ component to them, as well as a less formal, ‘organic’ component.”

It’s true. Go all organic and its hard to grow well. Even plants often need support. Go all intentional and relationships can be reduced to meetings and information transfer. We need both intentionality and relationship. For these insights and many others, Building a Discipleship Culture is worth reading!

Overstatements in the Book

Now, Mike and I have exchanged a few winsome emails about some things he says in his book. And, if I understand correctly, he has a tendency to overstatement (of course none of us do!). In light of that, here are a few that I think need qualifying:

  • “Disciples are the only thing that Jesus cares about, and its the only number that Jesus is counting.” Really? Jesus doesn’t care about our doctrine or church polity? And is Jesus counting disciples because he’s basing our worth as a disciple on how many disciples we have, or is he counting because he died for his disciples? Counting can be a dangerous thing.
  • So what is the engine of the church? Discipleship. “If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.” There’s some truth to this statement, but it’s not a truism. Disciples have been made without making churches throughout church history. Very often they end up as cults. Alternatively, many churches are started that don’t mature and multiply disciples but instead gather Christians to Sunday events. This probably needs nuancing.
The Engine of the Church
If discipleship is the engine of the church, we put our hope in pragmatism, albeit Jesus imitating pragmatism. But the hope of every disciple and would be disciple is not the method of discipleship but the might of the gospel! The gospel, not discipleship, is the engine of the church. I asked Mike about this and he gave a helpful response:

All metaphors break down at some point and I’m sure saying discipleship is the engine breaks down on many levels, though i think it works on many levels too. I don’t know that I was trying to make a significant theological statement so much as point to a reality of causation that I believe exists/doesn’t exist in the church. I think you could say discipleship is the fuel and the Gospel is the engine and the point is still proven. Without fuel, the car is still going no where, just as it wouldn’t without an engine.

Point taken! Then I say, “Let’s start the engine, fill it up, and start making disciples!” Let’s build discipleship culture with the gospel of Jesus right in the middle of it!

4 Reasons to Not Celebrate Christmas (by C.S. Lewis)

Ahh, Christmas the most wonderful stressful time of the year! C. S. Lewis had a hard time with Christmas too. In fact, in several essays he denounces the contemporary celebration of Christmas. In “What Christmas Means to Me” he lists four reasons he condemns commercial Christmas.

  1. It gives on the whole much more pain the pleasure…Long before December 25th everyone is worn out…They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.
  2. It is predicated on involuntary gift-giving. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost blackmail. Consider the despair and resentment when an unexpected person gives you a gift at the last minute!
  3. The waste of money and human skill in buying gaudy and useless gadgets. Have we really no better use for material and of human skill and time that to spend them on all this rubbish?
  4. The nuisance of it all. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country…in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as charity.