What would you plant in the desert?

What would you plant in the arid desert? Probably not the same thing you would plant in the fertile plains. Still, the basic necessities for survival are critical regardless of the climate.

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Here in the desert, a surprisingly diverse climate of flora and fauna exist. Certain types of plants and animals thrive in this climate. They don’t appear much like their counterparts across the rest of the US, but they have a specific purpose and thrive here in the desert.

Similarly, a community of Jesus followers in a different context may look a little different, but that community needs the same foundation those anywhere else in the world need. The primary foundational necessity of a flourishing community of Christians will always be a deeply embedded understanding of the gospel and it’s implications for all of life. Without a robust foundation in the gospel, a community of Jesus followers won’t survive.

Poverty and Planting the Gospel

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If you don’t know the predominant story or themes within the story of your city, then you won’t know what parts of brokenness the gospel can be applied to. So, understanding poverty, particularly in a city and state that has been rocked by the recent recession and is still recovering, is critical to planting a church that wants to bring “good news” to those who are in need of it. So I got on the bus…

Riding the bus on Friday was an interesting experiment. Not only did I meet a few new people, but I realized just how different one area can be from the other. I got on the bus a short 3 minute walk from my house and rode it to the main library in a neighboring city. The route near my home was pretty quiet with only three people on the bus at it’s busiest. Once we entered an adjacent city, and after switching routes, the bus filled up quickly and was much busier.

At one point in the ride, everyone on the bus noticed a gentleman who had clearly had too much to drink and was stumbling through the street into oncoming traffic. He was actually hit by a slow moving vehicle, got up and walked away. After that, as our bus was leaving, he fell onto the tracks of the light rail, under a parked light-rail train. Our bus driver pulled over and alerted valley metro and police.

On another leg of my ride, I got to talk to two gentleman. One was headed home after working as a meat cutter at a grocery for “$9/hr.” He told a bit of his story being from SoCal and how his life is about sending money back to California for his kids since his divorce. Another gentleman was heading from the store to a family members house. He was lamenting the lack of unions and decent pay across the state of Arizona. Both men pointed out the brokenness of the world we live in. Neither expressed hope in anything other than improving their personal financial situation.

Housing is upper-middle class in my neighborhood with very little easy access to jobs that would be held by someone who doesn’t have their own personal mode of transportation, if they could afford the cost of housing nearby. There is bus connectivity, but few and far between. It also doesn’t go directly to places that would be helpful to someone who needs to be in closer proximity to work/home without a vehicle.

The result is a much more suburban community that is somewhat isolated from the visible financial strains on the life of those who are more commonly thought of as “poor.” There are those who probably live in our area who are financially “strapped” due to their decision to overextend their style of lifestyle beyond their means as well.

Truth is, it’s difficult for me to feel comfortable engaging people who are in a different socio-economic group (one category of poor) because I don’t share many (if any) common interests with them or have any overlapping aspects of life with them. My life is different from theirs geographically and many other ways. I struggle to think of how to serve them in a meaningful way without seeming condescending. Which leads me to think about Jesus.

He intentionally came among us in our poverty (spiritually and otherwise). He created overlap in his life. His interest in our well being was based on the same foundation we can realize, that of being an image-bearer of God. I recognize that I am not at the place yet where I am making a regular decision to be among those I would consider poor. I also recognize Jesus did so in obedience to the Father, on mission to rescue us. I’m hopeful He creates a heart and life, in me, that continually looks more like his. The cost of this kind of discipleship is certainly sobering.

Questions I’m asking myself:

What does it look like to overlap life with those who are different from myself?

How would we develop connections or similar interests with those who are just trying to make a basic living?

>> Why does understanding poverty matter? Read this article to find out why understanding poverty is critical to planting churches in Phoenix, Arizona.<<

Culture Over Coffee in Phoenix

I was sitting at an incredible coffee place in Chandler the other day (I know, imagine that!) and overheard a neighbor in the coffee shop talking about their (rather poor) experience with both Arizona and Texas. At one point, I was unable to hold in my laughter at some of the stereotypes. That offered an opportunity to have a truly enjoyable conversation with someone who cared deeply about education as a hope for future Americans, but clearly worried whether he would actually see that hope materialize in the face of so many challenges. Here are some things I considered after a short discourse.
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  • It’s easy to complain. Those who enter into the problems seeking to create solutions should be listened to. Sometimes the act of letting off steam, or complaining, can lead to some fruitful conversations that can truly cause people to think differently about the world and their part in it. Listen to people on the other side of the divide and speak sparingly at first.
  • It’s hard to change things. It takes a truly subversive life narrative to desire (much less enter into) restoration within a community or place. Most people are unaware of the competing narrative, or don’t intend to live in an alternative narrative even if they know it. On the other hand, followers of Jesus, who understand their role in displaying and declaring the Gospel narrative and giving glimpses of the Kingdom, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have an exponential opportunity to shape and influence a place.
  • Everyone is living out of a story. Their stories influence their thoughts and actions. People have untold experiences of pain, suffering, success and other experiences that lead to their strongly held positions on a variety of subjects. Jesus knows the stories of each individual he interacts with. If we walk in his ways, then we engage through the stories that make up the lives of others. We enter into their lives and offer reconciliation through Jesus and the true story of his life, death and resurrection. We intentionally and prayerfully serve and speak to people through His story so that they can see, hear and experience that Story and make it their own through all of their life.
  • Shaping moments can only come through confrontation with the story people are living in. If we don’t challenge those narratives and affirm the understanding that “things aren’t right”, there is little chance to offer an alternative narrative. That’s uncomfortable for people who value people’s love more than the love of the Father or those who would rather build walls than bridges to dialog.

Take a look at The True Story that competes with the story we are bombarded by every day.

What We’ll Be Doing in Phoenix

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Missio Dei Communities (the church we will be working with in Phoenix) hopes to glorify God by saturating the Phoenix area with families of missionary servants who together declare and demonstrate the gospel in the everyday rhythms of life. As disciples are made we believe churches should be planted and cities will be blessed.

This ambition to see the gospel saturate the Valley is deeply rooted in our belief that church planting is not only a natural outcome of disciple-making but it’s the most effective and sustainable way to make, mature, and multiply disciples in our cities.

The Missio Dei Communities church planter residency is a program designed to equip aspiring church planters with the theological knowledge, practical pastoral training, leadership coaching, and the logistical support needed to plant more disciple-making churches who exist to build up the body and bless their cities.

As a part of this residency, we hope to follow the work the Spirit is already doing in multiplying disciples and groups of disciples as we further saturate the East Valley of Phoenix with the gospel.

Here’s an overview of the process:

MC Apprentice Leader 
Resident transitions into the role of an apprentice within a missional community, and begin to identify his target context.

Lead MC Leader
Ideally this first MC will be be their core group in the beginning phase of their church plant. For some, this will be a period of training; learning how to shepherd and reach the people in their target neighborhood while equipping and releasing leaders.

Multiply MC’s
In order to plant a church each resident must prove able to call, equip and lead leaders as expressed through multiplying missional communities.

Elder Qualified Church Planter
As a called, elder-qualified planter the resident will be affirmed and sent out from Missio Dei Communities to pursue planting of the gospel with a local congregation.

Our humble prayer is that the Holy Spirit would bring together a group of people who begin to understand themselves as a Family of Missionary Servants that would further saturate The Valley with multiplying disciples of Jesus, leading to the planting of more churches.

CLICK HERE TO JOIN OUR PRAYER TEAM

Why We’re Moving to Phoenix

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Over the last 8+ years, God has blessed our family through Lake Pointe Church. My wife and I were baptized here in 2003. We’ve given birth to and begun raising three wonderful kids. We’ve been a part of starting and leading 12 Life Groups at the Rockwall and Forney campuses. We’ve had the joy and privilege of baptizing my son and many others as a part of the Pastoral staff of Lake Pointe Church. Countless friendships and life-long connections are the result of these years at Lake Pointe. No single letter can contain what God has done in and through us here at Lake Pointe Church and we are grateful for that.

From the beginning of our time at Lake Pointe Church, God has instilled a deep and growing love for the local church and her mission. As a result we have considered moving to Portland to help launch Westport Church, led numerous teams to our North American church plant partners and considered God’s potential call to London, England and finally moved for the purpose of His mission to Forney, Texas as we launched the Forney Campus of Lake Pointe Church.

I’ve loved serving our North American partners each October as they gather at Lake Pointe Church to learn from each other and Pastor Steve. God has developed a deep seeded love for those who are advancing the Gospel in under-resourced areas of the U.S. and He continues to direct our efforts in that way as we take part in a church planting residency in Phoenix, AZ.

As God continues to invite us on His mission, we experience a range of emotions from grief to excitement. We are grieved for the distance between those we have come to love as family, but we are excited about the next steps and opportunity to participate in what God has already begun.

While He’s been preparing our hearts for years, God has given us clarity as of late. He has made clear the place and purpose of our next steps as we have been affirmed by friends and directed by scripture in unique ways. Certainly, the next phase God is calling us into in faith will not be without difficulty, but we walk forward with anticipation that what He has in store will be well worth the step of obedience.

We’d love to stay connected with you. Follow the link below to join our prayer team. It’s the best way for you to know what we’re up to and for us to hear from you.

CLICK HERE TO JOIN OUR PRAYER TEAM

Life As Mission: Method (Missional Rhythms)

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Where do your feet hit the ground most mornings? What stretch of driveway does your car occupy? Where do the soles of your shoes tread every day? Where do you enjoy recreation? How many houses are on your street? What eateries do you frequent?

These may not be the questions you think of when you think of “mission”, but they are critical questions when you think about where you spend most of your life. If we understand that we are people who are on mission with God, then all of life becomes our mission field, and even more so those places we live the majority of our lives. Places like our own neighborhood, workplace, the gym, the coffee shop we frequent. Anywhere we find ourselves on a regular basis as a rhythm of our life is our mission field. This is where we will primarily be “making disciples”.

What would it look like to think of mission as a part of our regular everyday life rather than something we have to add to our already busy schedule? It changes the way we think and act. When we consider our routines with missional intentionality, then the conversations we have with our regular barista, or waiter, or neighbor are more than just passing, they become redemptive. As a people redeemed by God, we are on mission in every aspect of our lives to display and declare the redemption offered to those who God places in our paths.

Take a look at how Ben Connelly describes “Everyday Mission.”

To add another layer, where do these paths, routines and rhythms cross with those of the people in your “community” (Life Group, Community Group, etc)? In seeking to put the best display and declaration of the Gospel in front of those who need it, can you imagine the picture people would get when they see people who believe the Gospel and actually live it out together? What a powerful testimony that would be.

  • What regular rhythms and routines can you do with missional intentionality?
  • Where do those cross paths with people in your “community”?
  • Where are there opportunities to combine those rhythms and people in the future?

Take a look at Chris Gonzalez’ suggestions for understanding your rhythms through the lens of mission.

Life As Mission: Means (Community)

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A COMMUNITY OF MISSIONARY DISCIPLES

The term “community” can be heard in many different spheres these days. You may hear it mentioned in places like business meetings, church gatherings and city development boards. Everyone is talking about “community”. Generally, it’s in a positive light. For instance, someone may boast of the “sense of community” the culture of their business fosters, or the tone of “community” in a suburban town. When we think about “community” within the sphere of the local church, we are often referring to a group of people who have committed to “do life” or “grow” along side one another. Jesus’ specific practice of “community” was within the active process of discipleship. The mission of God advances as disciples of Jesus live on mission together in community. In Jesus’ picture of community, discipleship and mission are inseparable.

In a passage most are familiar with, Matthew 28:18-20, we are given a description of what it means to be on mission with Jesus.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matt. 28:18-20

The way we are to “make disciples” is meant not only for our good, but for the purpose of displaying and declaring the Gospel inside and outside the community. Followers of Jesus are to be disciples, on mission, in community.

DISCIPLES DISPLAY THE GOSPEL

It’s one thing to be a part of community that is a “team of missionaries” and quite another to be a part of a community that is a “missionary team”. The distinction in the terms is slight, but the implications couldn’t be bigger. As Todd Engstrom writes, a “team of missionaries” is a group of people scattered in a variety of different missional directions. One person is focusing here, another is focusing there and still another is doing something different in another location. The significance of a “missionary team” is that the community focuses in one specific direction with a clear purpose and puts the gospel on display in how they treat those inside AND outside their “community”. The uniqueness of these people serves to point others to Jesus as a people who believe what He says, live by what He says and communicate what Jesus says.

Here’s another way to put it: “The only way for the world to know that it is being redeemed is for the church to point to the Redeemer by being a redeemed people.” – Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon

A community of people on mission in their neighborhoods and cities intentionally postures themselves as an outward-facing group of people determined to display and declare the gospel out of a motivation of who God is and what He’s done.

DISCIPLES DECLARE THE GOSPEL

The outcome of experiencing community in this way from the outside naturally leads to the question “Why do you live that way?”. So we must “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15 It’s clear that a community on mission together naturally experiences deeper community as they pursue the mission together. Aiming for community without mission will result in a shallow version of community built on serving ourselves before others. In addition, community formed from discipleship naturally overflows as mission to others. Go here for more on “displaying and declaring the Gospel.”

The best hermeneutic of the Gospel is a community of men and women who believe it and live by it. – Leslie Newbigin

In the next post, we’ll consider how our motivation for mission and means for mission collide in the mission itself.