Hillsong and the Baptism of Pop-Culture

00Recently GQ published a well written article titled “What Would Cool Jesus Do?” The article chronicled Taffy Brodesser-Akner as she shadowed Justin Bieber and Carl Lentz (pastor). Read it here> http://www.gq.com/story/inside-hillsong-church-of-justin-bieber-kevin-durant The cresendo of the piece is the emotional whirlwind baptism of the Biebs. Justin has a genuine conversion experience when he gets on his knees and he cries, “I want to know Jesus”. The moment of conversion I found endearing and authentic. My critique of the themes in this article are not with “Did Justin Bieber get saved?”, “Are people at Hillsong type churches Christian’s?”. This is a realm I don’t want to tread on, as I’ve seen God’s spirit show up in the stodgiest of places and the most progressive of places. I’m no judge of what happened in the heart of young Bieber. The logical knee-jerk argument often tossed about whenever one critiques a church like Hillsong is “but God is using them”. I’m not interested in the ‘ends justify the means’ type of conversation. We too often emphasize the most obvious, pragmatic cultural signs of success. Albert Einstein said, “That which counts is often the most difficult to count.” I’ve found this to be true. Our location in a […]

The Fragility of Presence

00Recently my wife and I have been noticing and working out something with my 11 year old little boy. He is a human container of vivacious laughter, tantrums of creative brilliance, quirky commentary and strong moral sensitivities. Just recently someone from our community popped into our house to unexpectedly say hello. At the same time they came over, my son was racing through the living room looking for a lost Lego that he wanted to add to the tower he was building. So as this family walked into our living room to say hello my son blew right past them without the slightest nod. He was on a mission! I watched as their little girl looked up at her mom with concerned panic in her eyes and say “does Daniel not want to play with me?” One of the things we’ve noticed is how his personal ambition can cause him to give people a cursory acknowledgment. Later that night as I was singing him a song and tucking him into bed, I asked why he ignored his friend earlier in the day, he said “Dad, I didn’t ignore her I just had big stuff to do.” Ugh, I’ve committed this crime […]

Confessing Church Planters Guilt

00I’ve been going at this Church Planter thing for a few years now. I must say that it’s taken more years off my life than my previous decade in ministry. If there is one thing I’ve learned is that there are a plethora of expectations pummeling a church plant. I’ve experienced many nights tossing and turning over the projected wants lobbed in my general direction. At those moments I make my best attempt at getting still with God and releasing those burdens to the Trinity to deal with. I’ve experienced great spiritual direction over the years in how to root myself in the love of God and not the affirmation of others. All of this has been helpful, but I personally find myself susceptible to hearing, feeling and owning the expectations. The last five years I’ve spent dwelling with and coaching other planters and discovered I’m not alone. The sheer battering-ram of what a successful church plant should look like is felt in the chest of a church planter. Unless you have skin like Teflon, the cultural demands, and the interpersonal demands seep in and stir together a stew of guilt. Guilt that your church is not enough, doing enough, […]

The Renewal House: Locally Rooted Care

00 When I first co-planted our church, we struggled to find jobs with livable wages. Years ago we were strangers trying to cultivate roots in a new place but along the meandering journey we meet other strangers; strangers with greater challenges than our own.  We encountered Refugees attempting to resettle in this city from Burma, from the Congo, from Somalia, from Sudan and from Cuba. Our city welcomes almost 1000 refugees each year and 12% of the children in our city schools are refugees. 30% of the population in our city live below the poverty line.  ~ Onondaga Citizens League We listened to their stories and our hearts were broken open to their struggles.  Many refugees struggle to find ways to survive as basic as finding a minimum wage job, learning how to drive, acclimating their children to our school system and most importantly finding faithful friends that will walk the journey with them.  Over the years we’ve become bonded friends with those struggling to make a new life here; walking the path with them in anyway that we could. In our work we’ve discerned the need for a designated local space for pressing into this issue. This space will exist to empower our refugees neighbors to move beyond […]

Ecology of a Worship Gathering

00 The design of a space is never neutral; it always communicates some specific value. For example, what does it say about someone’s values if they set their living room T.V. off in a corner, while all the furniture is turned towards a window looking out into the back yard? The way a room is set up communicates certain values. Physical spaces have a way of shaping our feelings and even behavior. The church worship gathering is no different. How we design the physical space of our worship gatherings matter. How does our gathering space shape us for mission? How does it shape us for community? We already ask interrogating questions in relation to preaching since we are so intensely an information-transaction-culture. Yet we often forget to inspect the mediums we are using to communicate those messages. What if the medium we use has a message of its own?  The very spatial mediums we use to communicate those messages shape and architect us in powerful ways. In fact, as a medium, the literal physical spaces we use may actually subvert the very messages we are preaching. What if the arrangement of spaces are actually speaking louder than what we are saying in our sermons? Trained by the […]

Top 10 Missionally Helpful Books in 2014

00 There were a plethora of good books I worked through this year. The stack of books on my desk were a bit larger than normal because I was in the middle of research for my own project Subterranean. Outside of research, I often find myself reading from a missional-pastoral angle. So I picked 10 books this year that helped me coach, counsel or gently cajole others to enter deeply into community, for the mission of God. 1. A Thicker Jesus by Glen H. Stassen Sadly, Glen Stassen passed away this year but he had a significant influence on me. Both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr., were been able to practice truth against power at great personal cost, while others readily capitulated to injustice. In this magnum opus, Stassen spingboards of their work to argue that such a robust Christianity stems from believing in a “thicker” Jesus, who is Lord over all of life. Belief in this thicker Jesus results in “incarnational discipleship”. We must break away from idealism, individualism and cynicism to engage in the flawed messiness of our world. 2. The New Parish by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight Friesen I was able to hang with Paul Sparks in my own city […]

Advent: The Challenge of Waiting

00In this Season of Advent we learn about waiting. Waiting is painful; it brings anxiety and in some cases causes us to wonder – “Where is God?”, “Does God sleep?”, “Does he care?”    Malachi had spoken of the Messiah’s coming in chapter 1 “I have loved you, saith the LORD. Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me saying ‘the Lord, whom ye seek is coming to his temple, for he brings a new covenant, a new day of delight. Will you stand with him when he appeareth? For his message is like a refiner’s fire.”   Imagine being the Jewish people hearing these words of promise, the coming of a new day, a new hope and then suddenly silence. After these words from Malachi there was cold, tortuous silence for 400 years. Between the Old Testament and the New Testament it seemed as if God disappeared. Nothing was spoken and nothing moved.    Jesus did not arrive into a quaint storyline. There were thousands of people hanging on the words of Malachi who did not see these words fulfilled. There are no easy answers as to why God would take his time. In our […]

The Fracking of Spiritual Information

00Fracking is form of gas extraction. In the old days, a well was drilled straight down and gas was pumped up. Now to get at less accessible gas, wells are drilled thousands of feet down and then thousands more horizontally. Hydraulic fracturing pumps thousands of pounds of water, sand and chemicals down the well to fracture the rock that holds the gas. This extraction process boosts production, migrating natural gas and petroleum to the well. For all that is gained in Fracking there is a growing chorus of people exposing the environmental impact. No one contests how productive Fracking is for extracting gas, it is exceptionally productive. What is being pointed out is that the process leaves behind damage. Whatever your opinions on Fracking are, they are irrelevant for what I’m poking at. The greater question I want to ask is “What does Extracted Learning do?” Often our celebration in extraction revolves around what is gained, pulled to the surface. Extraction always profits us something yet leaves behind something in the aftermath.  The Damage on Practice I contend that the church has submitted to information-delivery techniques that extract. How we learn and teach is stuck in a habit that perpetuates separation. In order to get […]

Community Patterns for the Church (7 C’s)

00 When my wife and I got married 16 years ago we’d already been dating for 5 years prior. We had a winding dating relationship that was stretched by time zones, career u-turns and simple immaturity (mostly mine) but we continued to hold onto each other despite these challenges. Naively I thought our sheer romantic-will-power would be enough to cultivate a vibrant marriage. I was an idealist that needed to experience the school of hard knocks. The first year was filled with beautiful memories but the assaulting arrows of: demanding jobs, fluctuating finances, existential crisis (mostly mine), complicated outside friendships, the intensity of school, and learning to grow up, was an onslaught to our bondedness. Our emotional love for each other was still strong but a significant shift needed to take place if we were going to build an abundant life for the future. We needed new patterns.  Organized-Organic All of life is built upon patterns. In the natural world bees form their honeycombs methodically, robins put together their nests piece by piece and planets loop around the sun in a strict cycle. All of these are wild expressions in nature, yet none of them is spontaneous and random. They are exuberant but they are organized around […]

A Little Break to Write

00So I’m taking a little break (Month and 1/2) from Blogging and Twitter-stuff to pour time into two things that are very important to me. First, I’m planning on making more space to be with my co-conspirator Tonya. We just hit 15 years married and want to enjoy the sun together in our sweaty city. Second, I just signed a book deal with the wonderful people at The House Studio to release Subterranean: A Radical Rootedness for the Future of the Church. Confession, I’m not a natural writer. I am first a practioner and then I twist-and-turn to figure out how to craft it into words. I find it comical that I failed English Comp in school, was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia and now getting the opportunity to publish. Anyhow, I need to write, write, wring my hands, pound my head and write something essential. So lets see if I can get productive.Peace. 00