Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bon Appetit

Ever been to a restaurant before it opens? You are on the outside looking in and you see the workers sitting around the table eating. Being American and living the last few years in Spain we would sometime find ourselves not able to eat quite so late when we went out. So we would go to dinner around 8:30 or 9 pm and some of the restaurants were still closed preparing to open for the traditional late start dinner in Spain.

I would see the workers sitting around eating. I must confess that I sort of felt like they should be opening the restaurant to feed me.

Then I became interested in cooking. I am not ready to claim it as a hobby. I have actaully cooked four times this year for our family. They are not crying out for me to take it up as a hobby either. However I can make great lattes and cappuccinos. This holiday season I actually even picked up a magazine in our apartment here in Germany. I found this really cool paragraph talking about why the workers eat before the restaurant opens.

Bon Appetit - September 2008, p.146
Before a single customer walks into a restaurant, there is a lot to be done. Stock the bar. Set the tables. Eat.. At most restaurants, that pre-service meal is called family meal. Why? Because of the intense pressure of the restaurant world turns coworkers into family. Much like an actual family does, the employees sit down, eat, and catch up over dinner. And the food on the table is often as casual as the conversation. It's good, hearty fare (think meatloaf, pot pie, mac and cheese) that will keep going until that last diner heads off into the night. "At family meal, there's no heirarchy," says Seattle chef Tom Douglas of Dahlia Lounge. "You're breaking bread with your friends, For those 30 minutes, everyone is equal- and hungry."

When I read that I started thinking about teams and how important community is. If the community is strong within a team I believe in most cases it allows the team to function more effectively. Communication flows freely up and down the chain of supervision because instead of being tied to giving and receiving orders you are sitting around the table together sharing life. Granted that given the source of this paragraph the restaurants they are talking about will be certain to have a good chef. It would be hard to sit around the table eating food you did not like. I dont know if this story would hold up in some restaurants. But I think you get the picture. But it made me think about some team stuff.

How often do you eat with your team?
What do you talk about?
Are you sharing life together?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

missions - still in reverse mode

With economic times being as they are in the states I wonder how that will affect short term mission trips or humanitarian trips this next year? I know in Europe their dollar is still quite strong. But here is another idea.

Want to try something different?

Each year we always have friends here in Europe who wants to send their students to the states to be immersed in English and the US culture. It is really a ready made opportunity to be the salt and light to young people. I have also had business people who have asked me if they knew of a family that they could live with for a month in order to learn English. If you cannot go on a trip why not try this way?

There are some really good inter-cultural exchange programs and organizations out there. We do not always need to recreate something. Pray about if the Lord may be leading you to a certain people or place. If you know of a worker in a particular place that you support or your church does why not start there? Do a google search on the topic and see what you find out. Then find a good match for your family. What a great opportunity to share your life with someone from another culture. You will learn alot about their culture as well. Plus in most cases you will have made a life long friend that will go well beyond your time together.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

reverse mission opportunities 2

To keep going on my reverse mission trip theme.

I wonder if this would work. I have never tried it and I am sure someone has so I would be interested in how did it work?

Instead of you bringing your church to "do" a basketball camp or soccer camp that you could bring a group of people to "attend" a soccer camp in Europe? What if you were able to equip your participants to come and live life side by side with a European and be able to share your faith with them in some natural ways? Not to mention learn some pretty good soccer skills.

You see most of the time we want to go on a mission trip and and “Do” something so that someone can attend it and thus hear the gospel. What if we simply get involved in something that is already going on and find ways to tell our story in that way? To me this is the more natural way to share our faith. It is being the salt and light to a group of people.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

reverse mission opportunities

On my last post I wrote about what we could / should we consider doing differently regarding missionaries from North America. I work in Europe. Many people describe Europe as being post Christian. This is not to say that there are no believers here. This is not to say there are not churches here. Both exist but in smaller numbers. It is saying that many people believe that Christianity was tried here and does not work. Others may simply reject it or dismiss it or say it can be one of many choices.

Ministering in this context is quite a challenge. I must admit that my previous experience in the states focused more on attracting people to church. Now when I hear of people coming to Europe to “teach” us the latest attractional model I know I can sometimes be skeptical of such. For the attractional model assumes that people actually are looking for a church. This is not the case here.

BUT... what if…

I had a conversation with a worker yesterday and he gave me a neat idea. Part of my role is helping churches in North America connect with Europe. What do you think of when I say that? I know for me I use to always think that this means that we need a church in the states to come and HELP a church in Europe.

What if we reversed that? What if we had a church in America partner with a church in Europe not to be the great hope but to actually be a “learner”?

What if the church here in Europe could help you? Here is the idea on this. If North America is following the path of post Christian Europe could we not learn from some expressions of faith and community in Europe? How are they thriving or not amidst the world they are living in? What are they learning about the attractional model in a post Christian context? What can we learn from them that would better prepare our churches here in North America to reach our communities?

Anyone looking for such a partnership?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sitting on the bench

The last two weeks I have been playing basketball at the Black Forest Academy. This past week we had two games. I played in the first one against the JV team and I must say I was a scoring machine. I had my touch back. Remember, I am a legend in my own mind when it comes to basketball. But I will still try to take most people on. The second game was against the varsity. Our team expanded to about 16 players. If you know much about basketball it is a game where only 5 can play at a time for a team. I was not in the top five for the varsity game. In fact I was not in the top ten. As I sat there and watched I realized how much I detest sitting on the bench. I did not like it when I actually played competitively and I do not like it now. There is something about if you have your uniform on you need to be playing. Not many people come to see someone sitting on the bench unless it is your mom or girlfriend. Not many headlines are about people who sit on the bench. Stars play in the game.

Using the same metaphor but switching the context I go to a conversation that I had with a well known writer and church planter in Europe who is an European. He posed a question to a few of us at a meeting a few weeks ago. He asked the question: Is it time for North American missionaries to sit on the sidelines for a while? and if it is what can you learn that will help you in the future?

He asked if we were comfortable with that? Umm… (this is me thinking)

This was hard to grasp for I have a hard time making that mesh with the Great Commission since it tells us to GO. Do we just tell God that we need to take a break and sit on the bench a while? “We will get back to the Great Commission in a few years”. While I know we cannot take a break from being a part of the Great Commission should we as North Americans re-evaluate our role as missionaries overseas? I am not ready to buy my ticket, pack up the house and come back to the states but there may be some lessons that we can learn.

Are there some things we should stop doing?

Are there some things we should start doing?

What about some things that we should do differently?

So while I am not prescribing solutions to this I do want to pose the question – what would you learn if you sat on the bench for a while?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What do you do with a church building?

Happy Thanksgiving.

As I was doing some online news reading this morning a story jumped out at me and so I decided I would go back and grab this photo that I took earlier this Fall in Basel Switzerland. This was one of the city's main churches years ago. It is now a musuem.

Europe has quite a few options in when comes to using old churches buildings. You can find quite a few for sale in many of the cities.

You may remember an earlier blogpost. This is the literal
House Church in Bellagio, Italy on Lake Como.

You can find quite a few that are now mosques.

And this morning the source of inspiration for this post. I found this one in the Netherlands. This church has been converted into a Luxury Resort . The writer says he would enjoy going to this church on a regular basis.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Basketball at Black Forest Academy

Yesterday I went to the gym and played basketball with the high school boys team where our kids go to school and where my wife teaches espanol. The one word that would best describe my basketball experience would be "awakening". I was awakened that I am in the middle ages and I no longer can play like Michael Jordan. I would love to tell you more about it but I am still out of breath from running full court for two hours. I have taken a lot of Advil since yesterday afternoon as well.

The scrimmage was at the Black Forest Academy . BFA is a boarding school for Third Culture Kids. Many of these kids come here because their parents work in some difficult places where high school education can be a challenge. My wife teaches Spanish in the high school. I have been able to get to know a number of the teachers and staff and I am most impressed. I was talking to a guy the other day who told me that it has been said that 50 percent of the graduates end up living overseas again either doing mission , social work or simply living out their faith as salt and light in various countries of the world.

I see the investment in these kids as an incredible opportunity. I am so thankful for people like my wife and many others who have a special calling to pour their lives and talents into these kids for a season. When you get a chance check out their site. You may see our kids somewhere in the pictures. Pray for the teachers and staff. Pray for the kids as well as they are in important developmental years before college. Pray for the basketball team to find some better practice competition than someone in theior 40s. smile

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the guide

On recent visit to an area where I had never really been before, I was faced with the task of how to enter into a couple of new cities. I saw the importance of the role of a guide because they were from that city and could speak the same language culturally and linguistically.
The first instance was in a small city in the south of Spain. It was about 11:00 am and time for some much needed coffee. We entered into this small city where almost 75 percent of the people that I observed were from North Africa. They work in the migrant agriculture fields there. Because of the economy many do not have jobs now. There was a construction boom going on in Spain and now it has busted. So a lot of construction workers are jobless, and they spend their time hanging out during the normal work hours hoping to find work. We were walking around the street looking for a place to go for coffee. Our leader enters into a Tea house and comes out with the owner who has a big smile on his face. We were welcomed into the tea house. The owner makes us some great tea and some awesome Moroccan pastries. As he sits down and talks with us, the thought struck me that the reason we had that experience was because our guide, our person of influence, introduced us to the gatekeeper if you will of that crowded bar. Because he welcomed us others also welcomed us.

The second instance was in another city. Again, it was time for coffee or tea. I do not mind if it is coffee or tea as long as it is strong and caffeinated. This time our host for the trip enlisted the help of a guide from that country. I made a couple of observations. We entered into a place and he introduces us and lets the owner know we are good people and honest people. We are instantly welcomed into conversations and taken care of. The second observation was that our guide only stayed with us half of the day. As we walked through the city or “medina,” with our guide, people watched us but they did not really approach us asking us to buy things or give them money. As soon as our guide left us, we became the target of many people coming to talk with us and ask us to buy things or give them things. We had lost our guide. We had lost the person who connected us to the culture.

I am learning just how important introductions are. I recall the story of Levi the tax collector found in Luke 5:27 - 29

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.

To me this is one example in scripture where we see how people introduce us into their circles of friends or family. It is what is called their “oikos” in the New Testament. Levi invited Jesus into his relationship network. I think it is important as we try to missionally live out our lives that we connect with people who can introduce us into the community. What I loved about this particular story in scripture was not that Levi tried to bring his people to Jesus but that he invited Jesus to his people. As I observe the church today I think we far too often expect people to come to us to meet Jesus instead of meeting them where they are living.

Monday, November 17, 2008


As a part of our Basel Lab experience we were sent out in two’s which is from the model that Jesus gave us in Luke 10 when he sent the disciples out two by two to the cities where he was about to go. I went out with my friend D. As we walked around we made notes of the places and people that we saw. Another aspect of this narrative mapping process is to really be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. I think when I have read Acts 1:8 and the Great Commission in the past I become too fixated on the location and where I am suppose to go more than I do in following the Holy Spirit in His timing and place.

Do we stay in Jerusalem?

Should we venture out to Judea?

What about Samaria?

When do we go to the utter most parts of the earth?

A couple of thoughts on this
A) The Spirit should drive the strategy. The promise of the Holy Spirit in the church is that it will lead us, guide us, encourage us, convict us, comfort us, etc… Regarding missions, the church should depend on the Spirit to lead as did Paul in his call to Macedonia.

B) We can be missional wherever we are and it count just as much in the kingdom as it does if you sell your possessions and take your family overseas. I personally think in some ways it was harder to share my faith amongst the people I lived with on a daily basis in the states then it was when I went on a mission trip or in my case moved over seas. Acts 1:8 is about BOTH / AND not EITHER / OR. It is about being missional wherever you are.

Back to Basel - One “take away” for me on this Basel Lab was the fact that I realized that no matter where I am I am drawn to a certain people. It does not matter where they live. I find this when I visit the states. I find this when I go to Spain or Morocco or Italy or when I am home near Basel. I am drawn to Spanish speaking people and in particular Spaniards. So when we were assigned by our trainer this certain area of Basel we had no idea what we would discover so we started taking notes and talking to people as we went.

Sure enough the Lord put some pretty cool things in our path. We had the Spanish Consulate, a Spanish Vino y Tapas bar, a Spanish kindergarten, a Social club where Spanish speakers meet and we even heard of a Spanish speaking evangelical church. I know this may seem quite obvious but this gave me a clue that there are Spanish speakers living in Basel Switzerland. Grin.

Later the next day we went out again and this time we ate at a local restaurant. Often in the case of these countries they will sit you on a bench next to another couple or family. We sat next to a couple where the woman was from Switzerland and the husband was from the USA. We talked for quite a long time and one thing that we were able to discover was the migration of certain peoples to Switzerland. She told us that about 50 years ago Italians came and then Spaniards and then people from Turkey so they could find work and that in those days the Swiss allowed people to come and work since they needed to build up their work force. This piece of information helped me realize that indeed we did find a Spanish population. An important aspect of narrative mapping is finding information givers in a community so that you can learn from them about the people and places of that area.

I think as I mentioned before, one thing that I am all about regarding mission strategies in churches is the idea that as your church senses some leadership from the Holy Spirit to reach a certain people group that the church will work towards reaching them no matter where they live. There are a growing number of churches doing this. One such church that I have talked to lately regarding connecting with some people in Europe is the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas. They have a desire to reach a people group and they are doing so everywhere that people groups lives. So this means that in their community, in the states, in Europe and in that particular country. In my mind this is a good way to flesh out how being missional can look. They are integrating missions in their community to missions in the world.

We live in a small world. We live close together.
The world has come to Europe and the United States. Many of the unreached peoples in the world live in the states. How can we connect with them in the states? It is a great opportunity. Sure we need to go overseas. We need to take mission trips but AS WE are doing this we also need to be seeking to build relationships and share Christ with these people in our own cities.

Some questions to consider:
Who lives in your city? consider doing some narrative mapping to explore your area

What are some ways you can reach out to these people?

What needs do they have as people who come from a different country?
How can you help meet those needs?
How can you help them feel at home ? Personally if it were not for our spanish and german friends (believers and non-believers) making us feel welcome here then it would be much more difficult to carry on day to day.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

basel day two

Yesterday was a pretty cool day in Basel. I will need to make this two posts just so this will not be super long. Plus, I only have a few minutes before we go out the door for day three. Part of our day is in the classroom where we meet at a local church for debriefing on our mapping time, some teaching elements which are pretty cool. Yesterday morning we were given a map of the city. The leaders gave us a section of the city to walk around. Our instructions were to walk around the boundary of our section of the city; to pray, to observe and to connect where possible. We were sent out in twos. We talked about Luke 10 as we prepared to go in our section of the city.

As we walked around our boundary I thought about what we were doing. There are several things that we wanted to accomplish:

1. We want to pray a blessing on the people we encounter.
2. We want to learn by observation such as locating types of churches, main passage ways in and out of our area, gathering places, people groups or people group segments who live in the city, etc..
3. As possible we wanted to interact and talk to people to learn about the area. This is part of what we would call narrative mapping.

Looking back this first step in mapping our area is so important. I do some training and helping groups prepare to come overseas and minister in cross cultural situations. In these first hours in our area it was also important to acclimate. This may not be as important for some people but for me it is huge. Some people are able to enter into a new area and process all of the newness however I have found over the years that I need time when I enter into a new area to adjust to my surroundings. When everything is brand new around me I need a little time to soak it in and try to start interpreting it from a missional perspective.

I found these first hours to be vitally important for me to acclimate to my surroundings, to get my bearings. I found that as I spent time on this first day praying and observing that I became more and more comfortable with my area and thus able to interact with people as time went on.
This proved to be very beneficial later in the day.

More later.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

back in basel

After several weeks off I finally made it back to my Basel experience. Sorry. Over the next four days I will be part of a small group of missional leaders who work in Western Europe at various capacities. It is one of the ways in which we equip our workers here to live missionally in an urban environment. We are doing what is called "The Basel Lab". This initiative originally started as London Lab but this year is using Basel as the base. It is an integrated approach where we have some classroom time and then follow it up with being on the streets.

Tomorrow we start off by walking around a section of the city that my team will work in for the next several days. Our purpose in the morning is to spend time walking around the boundary of our area and getting to know that part of our area. We will be making notes and praying along way. I am sure we will drink some coffee as we go. We will be looking for opportunities to connect with the people. I am making no promises since I have been such a slacker the last few weeks on writing. But I will try to post throughout my time here.

I am excited about one email I received today from a person is a cell group leader at a Spanish Church here. I found him several weeks ago from a connection made earlier in the city here. I contacted this pastor and we are going to get together sometime in the next week or so to talk. There has been an influx of Spanish speaking people (some from Spain and others from Latin America) to Basel in the last 20 years. This church is focused on reaching those people. I hope I can be of help.

Next week I will also make some posts about an incredible experience that I had in Southern Spain and in Africa this past week.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Doing Business WITH Mission

Ever heard the phrase in missions, “doing business as mission?” I’ve heard it used to describe professional missionaries who go to their respective fields with a platform (such as a business) to gain access into a closed country legally or to gain credibility among the people of a culture. We see some solid biblical examples in the life of Paul.

But in today’s culture, while we might hear the phrase “business as mission” used, I believe we should consider changing our wording to doing “business with mission.” Though replacing “as” with “with” may look like a minute change, it actually alters the meaning significantly in my opinion.

Doing business with mission can be an accurate description of living and working in a place (either at home or in another culture) missionally. It’s not simply creating a “platform” only to gain access into a culture and then not actually carrying out that task. If we create

Living missionally is an effective and authentic way to be a missionary (with or without the title) in a culture. It simply means integrating missionary efforts naturally into daily work and play.

If we all lived missionally, it wouldn’t matter where we lived or what we did. If every part of our lives is meant to be worship, and if everything we do counts as worship, then we should do it all for the glory of God.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. - 1 Cor. 10:31

Not only can we give glory to God through our work in business, social activism, art, or any other field, but it’s through our work that we can also win the respect of outsiders.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. - 1 Thess. 4:10-12

So how could this affect global mission efforts? I see a day where thousands of believers intentionally take jobs overseas to live out their faith incarnationally in the marketplace and communities of the world. I see this as a new wave of missionary efforts in the future. And I think the local church can support them not so much with finances but with prayers, accountability, encouragement and emotional support. PLUS view them as real missionaries sent out by their church by commissioning them when possible.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Larry in Prison (actually from Paul's prison cell in Rome)

Last Saturday morning I had the opportunity to go to see the Coliseum, and the Roman forum. Just outside the Forum we were able to visit inside the Mamertine prison, the dungeon in the heart of Rome believed to be the spot where the apostle Paul was imprisoned before he was executed almost two thousand years ago. I was quite amazed with this place. To actually be where a part of the Bible was written was quite awesome. Not to mention that Paul is my favorite writer of the New Testament.

Several things hit me while down in the cell. (see picture from inside the prison cell) It was a small room, low ceiling and there was not much light. If my bible history is correct it was not where Galatians was written but I instantly recalled where Paul says in that book: “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!.” I would have to write in large print in order to see in there for sure.

I guess what I am most amazed from this view was Paul’s ability to keep focused.
I would have complained and told the Lord there is no way I can do anything from in there. I would not have had the joy as Paul did as he wrote those letters. I doubt I would be able to think so clearly as to remember to write the churches and the people that I was discipling to let them know to be prepared and continued to grow in maturity.

yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— Philemon 1:9

Or to continually challenge us to live our lives in such a way that would honor God.
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” Ephesians 4:1

I came away thinking about how do I stay focused when circumstances do not always go the way I hope or had planned? How can I have joy when I am in prison or when I simply feel entangled by the situation that I am in.

Here is another prison verse that jumped out at me while there. This one from the book of Phillipians. This is what I must remember while in difficult circumstances.

11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Phillipians 4:13 is the first verse that I remember memorizing. I guess the first one was actually “Jesus Wept”. On that Sunday morning as a middle schooler I needed an easy win in Sunday School. I brought my bible and offering but I needed a quick verse to remember so I could get that checked off my list. Smile. But later on, I memorized 4:13 because it came at a difficult time in my life. A time where I moved from one way of living to another. A time where I moved away from living for myself to living for Jesus. A time where I moved from actually thinking I can do all things because I am capable of it to this verse recognizing that I can only do things because of the power of Christ who lives in me.

I believe this is how Paul wrote from inside the prison. His inner joy was in the Lord. His inner strength was because he had a real relationship with Jesus and he knew and believed and further more lived this truth.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 5:20

Monday, October 20, 2008


I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Colossians 4:18

Yesterday on our last day in Rome we visited St. Paul’s Cathedral. We are so glad we made this part of our journey. It was here where we saw what is said to be the “undisputed” chains that Paul wore in Rome. As I looked at those chains I remembered these verses that I have read many times.

As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Philippians 1:13
Even though he was in prison and in chains he was bold.
for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephesians 6:20

But later I remembered what Paul taught us about grace.
We approached the front of the cathedral towards the area where they currently have mass. The church is the second largest church in that city behind St. Peter’s. There is a huge open area for people to come into. It was empty for the exception of a few tourists. When I say the word huge I really should write it like this: HUGE. By the way, one of our hosts for the week told us that only about 11 percent of Italians regularly attend Mass and 75 percent of them are over the age of 60. There are less than one percent of the people in the country that would say that they have a personal relationship with Jesus. Italy is definitely a country that we would describe as post Christian. Near the front of the church you will find the crypt where it is said that Paul is buried. This is where you will find his chains and see his tomb. It is covered with glass and you can look down towards it.

There is a kneeling bench just in front of his tomb. I noticed a teenage girl down on her knees rubbing a book that her mother gave her on top of the glass. She rubbed the covers and the inside pages. Then she rubbed the book that she brought. Then everyone started handing her things to rub on the glass. They gave her hats, jewelry, books, pamphlets or anything that a person could hand her. They believed that by her rubbing the object on the glass over Paul’s tomb that it would give some sort of power or luck upon that object and of course if you possessed that object then the power or luck would be transferred to you. I sat there and watched that for probably 5 minutes. My heart broke for these people from all over the world who came to do this. For it was Paul who wrote…
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Paul, Ephesians 2:8

My heart broke for these people for there is nothing that we can do or even rub that can get us closer to God or give us power or luck. It is only by grace that we have been saved. I remembered and I am totally grateful for the chains that he wore as he boldly proclaimed the gospel in a hostile world but I am so thankful for the grace from our Lord that gives us life and freedom. Thank you Paul for teaching us that as well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rome, italy

I am sitting in the airport in Malaga Spain waiting to board a flight to Rome. I have been in Spain for two weeks. I really love the spanish people and culture. I have had a great time of meetings and some really cool ministry opportunities with our JetSet Tour with the Upstream Collective. I am on the home stretch. I should be back to Germany on Sunday night.

I am going to Rome to meet with Ed Stetzer from LifeWay Resources. He and Darrin Patrick are gathering a group of pastors to come to Rome and Marsielle France next May 2009 for another Jet Set Tour that we are doing. I really believe that emerging churches in the states have a lot to offer in terms of mission in Europe. I think that as churches engage in reaching the peoples of Europe it will also help them to have even a better understanding of how to engage the peoples of their own community in the states. Feel free to explore www.theupstreamcollective.com .

More later from Rome.

Monday, September 29, 2008

back to basel

Tomorrow I will be going on the road with a group effort blog this next week. I am going to Barcelona and then Madrid to participate in one of the Upstream Collective's Jet Set tours that we do with people from the states who are interested in coming to Europe to connect in ministry. Take some time to check our JET SET starting Thursday, October 2.

I mentioned last week that I try to have some things in mind as I go out into the city.
One of those items would be to actually talk to people. I am relatively out going but I am not one of these people that can talk to a brick wall. I usually need a reason to talk.

I think breaking the ice in conversations can be a daunting task for some of us. When you put on top of that the inability to excel in that language or even say much beyond "Guten Tag" then you can really find yourself having a hard time connecting. I try to remember my ipoc thing that I have in my head. I pray, I observe and I connect but following a formula does not ensure success.

I have made a couple of observations this time around. I have thought of these before but this time i actually made a note of it. You may find the same thing. If so I would be interested in hearing your take on this or your story.

I take the train into the city. In theory it is an easy thing to do. I go the station, buy a ticket and get on the train. It is step two here in Germany that for some reason causes me problems. Each time I have gone downtown since starting this plunge to the city I have had a problem with simply buying a ticket. If it were a person that I had to speak to then I could make it happen. I could point and grunt and try to pronounce the words enough to get the ticket. But Germany is automated in many ways and you have to actually be able to buy your ticket at a ticket kiosk which is a machine. Again, simple in theory but you need for the machine to actually work. From my experience there is usually only one of the machines that work at any given station. There is one machine on each side of the tracks. I have so far chosen the wrong machine three times.

However, I have had the opportunity to have three conversations each time from some fellow strugglers who also have had problems getting a ticket from the machine. Each time the frustration of not being able to get a ticket when you want it led to a conversation with some one. As I thought about that I wonder if it has anything to do with common experience. If a group of people who do not know each other a thrown together say in an elevator then it is quite normal for no conversations to take place except if the elevator became stuck. Then conversations would take place due to this common crisis. There has to be a sociological term for this. I found this crisis point quite helpful in trying to get a ticket at the railstation.

On this morning there was a young lady who was travelling to the city as well. I could not get a ticket from the right side of the track so I did the proper thing of walking around to the cross walk and walking across the tracks to the other side and was able to purchase my ticket. This young woman who was on the other side of the tracks still trying to convince the machine to work saw that I had a ticket in hand so she decided she did not have time to walk to the crossing so she just jumped down and walked across the tracks. (The picture I am painting is not that unsafe, we are in a small town at this point I was just trying to be culturally approriate). She comes over to my side of the trackes and tries to by a ticket. She is able to buy her ticket. I walk around to the crosswalk and come back to the platform. She of course beats me there because she simply walks across the tracks. I see some sign that vaguely resembles "high voltage" and felt walking was a better option.

After we both had our tickets in hand we decided we would try to talk. We were bonded by this experience. We started in German and she knew that was not going to get her far. I reluctantly tried spanish but she could not understand me completely. She was Romanian. So we settled on English. She begins to tell me all about her German classes, getting a visa here to live, always having problems on this train, etc.... I was thinking of letting her know it would actually be better to use the cross walk but I decided against it. We talked for a while before the train arrived at the station and thus parted ways.

The very next time I went to the same station and tried to buy a ticket. This time I was in a hurry trying to catch the train. I went up to the kiosk and tried to buy my ticket. It was not working or I was not reading German correctly and then I was bailed out by a business man who lives in that area but commutes to Basel each morning. He told me that I need correct change which I did not have and which he had. I think I paid a little more for my ticket that morning. He was a shrewd businessman. Once we got on the train we were able to ride in together. He had an appointment. I did not get a phone number or business card but we had a good conversation and he gave me some cultural pointers like always carry change to buy your ticket. smile

My point in these stories is that often a crisis (in these cases extremely minor) can often generate a great opportunity for a conversation. You never know how the Lord can orchestrate such conversations. I am learning more and more to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as God gives me situations to deal with.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

House Church in Italy - Photo of the Week

I was trying not to bring up my recent trip to Lake Como Italy again but I just downloaded these pictures from our camera. I had to have a shot of this and of course my face is extra but it is free.

I have been studying house churches for some time and this has to be the prettiest house church in the world. I rarely take pictures of house churches but I could not resist. I discovered it in Bellagio, Italy. This overlooks Lake Como so the fellowship hall / gathering times out on the balcony have to be nice. The Media Center / Study area is out of this world.

But Seriously, this is a house and not a church but it could be a house church in the most literal of ways. I looked at it intently. It is a private residence but I am thinking it must be someone who wants to have a house church or a house that looks like a church. I consider ringing the bell but i could not tell when the services started. Maybe next time

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Preparing to go

As you may recall (though I have taken a week or to sabbatical from writing on this topic) is that I am trying out some things that I am learning now from my teammate’s teaching portion of the About Europe tour and some things that I have done in the past in other locations. Please remember that I am on this journey from the tangible aspect of ministry to a more intangible one.

One part of my intangible mission plunge into Basel each week is preparation. Are there some things that I can do that will help me as I go?Obviously I am assuming the role of prayer. Unfortunately I too often forget that we are promised the Holy Spirit. I also know that the Holy Spirit gives power, strategic direction, boldness and more as we go (Matthew 28, Acts 1:8)

In addition to prayer I can spend some valuable time preparing for my day or my parachute into the city. Here are some random thoughts on this. These are not sequential nor is it a prescription of what will work. Mostly it is some things that I have found myself doing in PREPARATION. It may have more to do about how I am wired up. It may not work for you. Sorry. I cannot offer guarantees. Smile.

· I always pick up brochures, local newspapers and read those after my trip and then write out what I should look into or follow up on for the next time. You can often find some good festivals, exhibits, concerts of local interest.

· I try to always take my moleskine and take notes. I might find a place of interest or find a place with a website to check out later. I did this with a place in Basel that does language exchange. It has taken me a couple of times to find this place but I finally did and was able from brochures that told me of something of great interest to me.

· I ALWAYS have a cup of coffee somewhere interesting (not always Starbucks for those who know me) and write some in my journal, I mean moleskine.

· Google is a very good friend of mine. I normally make some attempts a day or two before I go to try to find our something about the city, to find if there are certain places to eat, drink or gathering places. I will make a note of that and put down the address to go check it out.

· Connecting with people with knowledge. To me this one is critical. I believe that there are certain people whom God just gives connections to and enables them to connect you with other key people. This past week I had a coffee with a man who lives relatively close to my house here in Germany. We were talking about my journey into Basel. He has lived in this area for years and knows the people, history, culture and even movements of the church. After our coffee he sent me several people’s names that I could make a connection with later on. Hopefully on my next journey this week I will be able to follow up on this and give some insights on these connections but also describe a little better the direction that I think the Lord is leading me in with a people group here.

· Language Exchanges - In Spain it is quite popular to have language exchanges where a you talk talk 30 minutes in English and then you talk 30 minutes in Spanish. It is a great way to meet people and get to practice your language and learn about the city. It helps both people learn the language. There are even websites that can help you do this where you can set up the parameters for your language exchange search and then set up an account and meet people to practice Spanish. I have tried this in Switzerland and have not been able to find a person to practice with. I found one man who said he was interested in learning English but have not heard back. I guess he figured out that I did not do so well in English in High School and College. I also went to several language schools but came up empty in regards to trying to meet people interested in doing this type of language exchange. I have several options here. Since I know Spanish but could always improve it I can look for a Spanish speaking person. I also need to learn German so I can look for someone interested in that as well. I finally ran across an Advance Conversational Spanish class in Basel that I am currently checking out to see if that is a possibility.

· Writing out my path but in pencil. I try to map out where I want to go. I am a TOP FIVE type of guy and try to figure out what are the top five things I want to accomplish. I do this with almost everything. I usually have 1000 things to do in a day but what are the top five things that I HAVE to do. I do the same as I go in. I just pencil in my journal what I hope to accomplish. It really should be a top four list since having a good cup of café is always on that list. I write it in pencil for I do not know that I will accomplish it all and it may change as I go. Part of my journey is really trying to let the Holy Spirit lead in this endeavor. The Holy Spirit may have some other directions for me so I try to be sensitive to this. This list is not that profound it looks like this: find a good map of the city, go back to the church where I visited the first time, find such and such language school, etc…

Essentially I am mapping out portions of the city one day at a time. One of my professors who was guest lecturer at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School was a man by the name of Roger Greenway. He was a professor at Calvin Seminary for years and an urban missiologist. Greenway said something that has always stuck with me on this very topic. “The two pieces of leather that you need to wear out while learning about the city are your shoes and your bible”.
What are some things that you do that you have found helpful in preparation?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

the photo of the month

Sometimes you just need to get away. If so, I would highly recommend Lake Como, Italy. The challenge is having to return.

My wife and I just took a quick weekend getaway there. It is about a four hour car drive from our house.

How can one country have so much?

Great Coffee

Unbelievable Ice Cream

Really cool views

and pasta out of this world.
We enjoyed all four. Go Italy!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What really counts?

As I was sitting yesterday enjoying a rainy and cold Saturday morning in Southwest Germany (okay my picture is on a sunny day. Who really wants to see a rainy landscape photo?). I read the book of Galatians in the New Testament. I really like this book. It is relatively short so I can read it in one setting.

The Apostle Paul wrote it and says some pretty cool things in there. I love how once Paul says “you foolish Galatians”.
Why did he do that?
I think one issue that he was addressing was that they were becoming caught up in the wrong things. They were listening to people who were complicating the gospel.

This struck me in Galatians 6:15 NLT as Paul was winding down his letter. He says “what counts is whether we really have been changed into new and different people.

I think sometimes my bottom line may not be that. I will at times lean towards efficiency, competency or just downright pragmatism. I can become too caught up in the other stuff and forget that my life has been radically changed / transformed by Christ.

Life change is what it is about!

Paul says this in Romans 12 - Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

This is what really counts.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Basel Experience

I live about 30 minutes outside of Basel, Switzerland. Basel is a beautiful city on the Rhine River, bordering Germany and France.

My ministry these takes me to places all over Europe and in the United States, but I am trying this fall to go into Basel once a week to spend a day there exploring the city and seeing what happens.

Let me give you some context as to what this is all about:

First, I choose not to drive to the city, but rather I drive to the train station and there take a train to Basel’s main station.

I do not know anyone in the city … yet. (I’m thinking positively.)

I do not know the city very well, so I walk around a lot, seeking to discover it for myself. I get lost along the way.

As I walk around, I pray, I observe the people and I try to find ways to connect with them.

Did I mention that I really do not know anyone there?

Our kids do not go to school in the city.

We do not live in the city, so it’s kind of like I am parachuting in one day a week.

This is a learning opportunity for me. In some ways, I feel like a volunteer on a mission trip. I’m basically starting at zero, trying to get to know a city and its people. I figured that would be an interesting missional experience to blog about and maybe others could relate to if they’re starting out in a new city or have been a volunteer mission trip leader before.

Speaking of volunteer mission trips, keep in mind that I am not specifically going into Basel to paint a building, dig a well or work in an orphanage. I am not going to the tangible, but the intangible.

I am entering into that culture for a limited time, but I am seeking out how God would have me make an impact on the city for Him, whether that means prayerwalking, helping a lady with her groceries or striking up a conversation at a coffeeshop. Coffee will always be part of the experience.

The question I am asking myself each time I go into Basel is, of what value can I be when I go into this city?

How would you go about doing this?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

the list continues: intentionality

How do you intentionally engage the culture in which you have been placed?

As I wrote this down, I was asking myself why this is on the list. It seems so … obvious. But I’ll try to explain why it made the list.

In the film “Chariots of Fire,” Eric Liddell has a line that says something like, “Wherever you are, be all there.” To me, this is an essential characteristic of a person seeking to live missionally.

So many times, we are everywhere but where we are. We are dreaming about where we want to live or do ministry. Or we are back in Egypt, Spain or fill in the blank. We think about how it was in yesteryear. What happens is that we tend to cheat on our investment in the place where we are.

What if you are only in a place for six months, 12 months or three years? Does that affect the way you live your life? Some people would say yes. You may think that since you will be moving on shortly, there’s little point in investing in someone. Instead, what if you made the most of every opportunity where you are planted today?

I think it is about making intentional choices to engage in the community and not just in the Christian (or American) sub-culture of that community (if there is one). My wife gave a terrific example of this while we were living in Spain. Shortly after we moved to Madrid in 2001, Susan was at an event at our children’s school one morning, sitting with a group of Spanish mothers who also had kids at the school. She did not know a lot of Spanish, but she was trying.
One of the mothers asked Susan, “You know that there is an American Women’s Club here in Madrid, don’t you?” My wife said, “Well, no, I did not, but besides – this is my community, and you all are my friends. I want to have Spanish friends.”

Susan was an instant hit. She had access to the community. She made an intentional choice to engage in the community.

There is nothing wrong with the American Women’s Club. They have some awesome events there in Madrid, as we later found out, but the point is that it was not Susan’s default setting. Her default setting was to intentionally engage in the culture.

It is sometimes so easy to go to the familiar. I know in the South, where I am from, the Christian sub-culture is so strong. When you move into a community, it’s usually easy to find a really cool church of whatever style or flavor you want, and you can start developing community with the people in that church … and never meet anyone in your own neighborhood. It does not have to be that way, but it is that easy.

We make choices to engage or disengage every day. One of my mentors who has helped me in my missional thinking over the years is a guy by the name of Lonnie Reynolds.

Lonnie and I are both on the leadership side of our organization, and so we could sit in front of the computer all day long and never interact with anyone else. Lonnie was telling me the other day that he likes to do his administration stuff in the morning so that in the afternoon he can go into his community and hang out with people.

I am doing my own experiment with this right now. I live about 25 minutes (if the wind is at my back) from Basel, Switzerland. I am going into the city and trying to put some of my thoughts to practice in regards to this very topic. I love the urban setting, and I have missed it since I moved from Madrid. I do not know what my engagement in the city of Basel will look like, but each time I am walking around town, I pray, I observe the people, and then I look for ways to connect with them.

Perhaps on another post I will write down what I am learning along the way. However, the last thing I want to do is prescribe a certain method or program. About the time a formula starts working, circumstances change anyway – not to mention that my culture here will look different from where you live.

I have to intentionally choose to leave the computer and get out of my house if I am going to be missional.

Think about the intentional choices or opportunities that you have when you go to a new place.

Where do you live?
If you have children, where do they go to school?
What clubs are there to join?
What hobbies do you have? Are they individual hobbies, or do they allow you to be in community with others?
Where do you shop?
Do you do online banking, or do you go inside the bank so you can have a conversation?
Where you go for your neighborhood coffee or tea?
Where do people hang out?

Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but you get the idea. I think we make choices in how we engage in the community where we live.

Will we be givers to the community or takers from the community?

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Here is my first attempt at writing about one thing on the list of missional characteristics.

One of my best friends in the world is Mr. Outlook. Yes he is part of the Microsoft family but he is quite helpful for me. Some people who are not so fond of Microsoft call it him other names but I like the guy.

I like Outlook for several reasons. I put all of my appointments on Outlook so I know where I need to be and when and what I am doing. I am able to write post it notes to myself without using paper. (I feel pretty good environmentally about that). I am also able to track all of my TO DO’s on Outlook. If I complete a task that was not on my Outlook task organizer then I will go back and enter it in so I can delete it. It feels great to check something off the list.

Having my life organized helps for I am so scattered brained that there is no way I can keep up with everything unless I had tools like this but there is a dark side to all of this.
The dark side is that my life can become too organized and too scheduled for my own good. I like to be efficient and I like to get a lot done in a day so I try to pack in a lot of tasks and appointments (live or phone appointments). So having my time lined out for me is the best way to do it. BUT… this is the problem for me.

As I have been watching people whom I think live out their lives as salt and light in this world I have observed people who are able to not be so rushed in the moment for a conversation that could have been set up by God. I call this living with some “margin”. If I have no margin in my day and I am running to each appointment then I do not have time for an interruption, crisis or much less a divine appointment that often is not on my Outlook calendar.

The people I see who seem to share Jesus in their everyday life quite effectively seem to have time to do so when the opportunity arises. They have enough space in their day to have a divine appointment. They are not as much in a hurry as they interact with people as they go about their day.

They live in the present tense not always pressing to the next TO DO.

At the bank they have time for a conversation. The same is true in the coffee bar or at the newspaper stand. They are not so much in a hurry to get about their TO DO list. I think “busyness” is one of the greatest challenges to us in the West as we try to live out our lives missionally.

I am not ready to give up on my friend Mr. Outlook but I am trying to have a few more minutes to spare for those divine appointments. Living in Europe has helped me immensely. I think I need to live here the rest of my life. Not to mention the café is great.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

conversations about missional living

I made it back home to Europe. I have have been travelling all over the states for the last two months with the Upstream Collective. We have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of great people that are out there living out their lives with intentionality.

I was inspired to write some observations about living missionally last week at David Putman’s house (he is the author of the book Breaking the Missional Code). We were sitting at David’s house on his back patio enjoying a very HOT Atlanta afternoon. We were doing a Skype call with Alan Hirsch. Despite the humidity and heat it was a pretty cool day to be in conversation with those two.

As I have these conversations I get rather convicted of the idea that I do not want to be guilty of just talking about being missional but actually living missionally and being the salt and light as Jesus teaches. I want it to be a natural part of my day and not just aspiration. I think way too often I just talk about it.

In my former life I worked at the North American Mission Board in church planter assessment. There are quite a few people out there who sense a calling to plant a church in North America. I would set up training seminars at seminaries around the country teaching people how to assess potential church planters. The model that we used was from a behavioral psychologist by the name of Charles Ridley. One essential in behavioral psychology is that a person’s past behavior is the best predictor of their future performance. Often, with a high degree of accuracy one can assess if a person has what it takes to be an effective church planter.

You must first determine what are the behavioral competencies that are needed to be successful and this was the basis of his research. The second ingredient is that you must be able to draw out from the candidate the right information in order to properly assess and the right information is based on the depth of their past behavioral performance.

One such quality for a church planter is “the ability to start something from nothing”. For example if a person cannot give you a concrete example of ever starting something from nothing then they would not have that behavioral competency. After more discussion with them you see that their past experience really shows that they do much better at developing something that has already been started then. This would be a good indicator that being a lead church planter might not be the career path for them. They may be better suited for church development or revitalization than church planting.

With all of the missional talk going on in the evangelical world today I have been thinking about if there are certain behavioral competencies that can be identified in people who live this way.

I am going to start again (I think I have tried this before) to write about some characteristics that I hear talked about but most importantly characteristics that I observe in people whom I think do a great job living their lives in a missional sort of way.

Here is what I have so far.

On my list:

Intentionally engaging in the culture in which you are placed.
Having Margin in your life
Good at asking questions
An interesting person
Being natural
Willing to engage in conversation

What is on your list?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

You can do it, We can help

Home Depot has a pretty cool slogan

“You can do it, We can help”.

I have working overseas in missions for almost 7 years now. I have been thinking lately that in the past I have taken the opposite of that slogan when it comes to applying it to volunteers going overseas on mission.

"I can you it. You can help me".

Over the last several years I have noticed that often groups come over from the states and they actually do things that I cannot always do. They bring a boundless energy to their time and effort. They are willing to try things that I may not try. They are willing to talk to strangers and try to strike up a conversation with most anyone. They pray for our city and people and do it for hours. They minister to me and my family.

I have come to realize that you indeed can do it and I need to help and even sometimes I need to just get out of the way. Sometimes people expect the missionary to have some special and mystic abilities to do things others cannot do but at the end of the day the Great Commission was given to all followers of Jesus and the part that sometimes we forget to emphasize is that the Holy Spirit goes with us. We are not alone as we go on the journey.
The Holy Spirit will guide, give strategic direction, give you Divine appointments, the words to say, boldness, and you can keep adding to this list.

I am so grateful for the people who have a calling to come here to minister alongside of us for short periods of time. We could not do it without you. Thanks for being obedient to the Great Commission.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

the intangible mission trip

"Doing" versus "Being".

To me this was a big shift for me regarding the use of time with short term workers or volunteers. Often churches (myself included) want to send groups over to "do" something. It needs to be tangible is something we often hear.

  • We need to put on a program
  • Hold a concert
  • Hand out bibles or Jesus films
  • Pass out water bottles

We need to fill the time with activities that are tangible.
But what about the intangible things that are "done" on a mission trip? Are they significant? Can they make a difference? YES!!!!

My friend Spencer in Birmingham told me that we need to talk about "The intangible mission trip". I like that idea.

How does a church prepare for that? ( I would love to hear your thoughts on this)

How does the church feel "fulfilled" by going on such a trip? Often the questions that people want to hear when they return are:

  • how many people came to the event?
  • how many times did you share your faith?
  • how many bibles did you hand out?
  • how many churches did you start?

enter The Intangible Mission Trip -
I think this is a title of a new book in the making. Or should be.

The longer I am on the mission field in Europe the more I see that "the intangible mission trip" is of great value. We often see less and less interest in people coming to our programs. There are some good examples of exceptions. I will write about that later. It also has to do with relationship and credibility that you have in the community.

So since my conversation with Spencer I have been thinking. What does one "do" on a mission trip when all you are suppose to "do" is to "be"?

How do you prepare to go on such a trip?
What does your church call "success" on a mission trip?

I think it has something to do with the way a church is hardwired.
I believe some churches are "program driven" and feel most comfortable "doing stuff".

About 7 years ago I remember hosting a group of "doers" one time on a vision trip. The goal of that trip was for this group of leaders from the church to come and pray and get a glimpse of what God wanted of that church. Then they would return to their church and seek the Lord's direction in that partnership. By the second hour of their week they were so preoccupied with what they could do. They wanted something to hand something out or to do or to start some program in the city. I finally had to tie their hands together (just kidding) It was a daunting task to simply have a "vision" trip for this group. They were "doers".

I had another group that came to our city some time later that was from a church that was highly relational in their approach to evangelism. As they did the prayer walking and vision thing I was expecting to hear about all of the programs and stuff they wanted to do but their response was different. However they told me that they felt that they could best two things.

1. Help my family connect in the community in a natural way with activities that are already taking place there: tennis team, golf, fitness club, etc...

2. They felt as a church when they came over to help that they would bring small groups where they could connect as naturally as possible in that culture. They would go find a group of guys playing basketball or soccer in the city and simply play and hang out with them and then afterwards go for drinks (coffee of course) and hopefully get to know them. They were completely dependent on the Holy Spirit to guide them and put them into conversations. At the end of their week they were not concerned about the numbers to report but they were able to meet some people, have some spiritual conversations, pray for people. From what they told me they felt "fulfilled".

I am a "doer" by nature. I want to see results and "do" stuff.
I sometimes confuse "busyness" with "success". It may explain why I write out tasks after I complete them on my "to do" list just so I can feel accomplished. grin.

I have had to re-program myself in some major ways in order for me to have a sense of fulfillment in this type of mission trip. I am still learning. It is still much easier to do something but part of my journey is learning it is not always about me.



Wednesday, July 16, 2008

college road trip

I watched a silly movie on the plane over from europe the other day. It was called Road Trip and it was about an over protected father who takes his daughter on a road trip to visit a potential school.

Right now Iam living that movie. My wife and I are taking our "little girl" our "first born" to look at potential colleges. I cannot believe she is that old and what that naturally makes us. OLD.
She will be a senior this year at an international school in Germany. She has her ideas about colleges and what she wants. We have ours. smile

We are so fortunate on the first visit to spend some time with her aunt who works at Samford University in Birmingham. She was like a parent guidance counselor for us. We learned a lot.

I am still trying to figure out what questions i need to ask. Let me know if you have a question you wish you asked when you were looking at schools. I do know a major one. How much does it cost? Then i hear you add about 10 percent to it.

We are now in Nashville taking a look at Belmont.

Next week she will go to her number one choice ... for now, NYU in New York City.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

check out the updates

Many of you may know that we launched a new network called the upstream collective.

Caleb Crider and I are travelling this summer in various locations. I guess we are on tour. I have always wanted to have tour. We are not selling t-shirts or hats. Sorry.

We are calling it "About Europe". We are talking with various pastors and church planters and other mission influencers. We are blogging about this as we go so please check out the updates on http://www.theupstreamcollective.org/

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Membership Decline

The SBC and church membership decline.
(okay - for my many non SBC friends- SBC is the Southern Baptist Convention)
It seems many people are writing on this membership decline topic. I figured I would attempt at writing an angle.
I am not including a lot of numbers. You can find that elsewhere.
I read this in The Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper this week.
"The resolution (regarding church membership) , which reflects the growing influencing of Calvinism in the SBC, comes on the heels of denominational statistics that showed the 16 million-member convention shrinking. Membership fell in 2007 for the second time in a decade. Even more discouraging, officials said, baptisms in SBC churches dropped for the seventh time in eight years – down 5.5 percent in 2007."

So there you have it. The SBC is in decline.
What do we do about?
I am sure there are lots of reasons that people are citing.
  • Too narrow as a denomination
  • Too broad as a denomination
  • People are not loyal to denominations any more
  • We have lost the passion to evangelise
  • The SBC needs new programs or methods for evangelism
  • The SBC needs reach the next generation of leaders
  • They need to come together as a convention and work together
On and On the reasons go.
Some of them could even make sense.
I am also sure that this list is not extensive.
I want to explore another angle. It is simply an observation that I want to make.
One reason I feel we are in decline is that most churches (I would venture to say inside and outside the denomination) are churches who are more "attractional". By this I mean their primary way of growth is to invite people to church. This can be done in various ways but often through cool programs or outreach events. A lot of energy and resources are spent on building the church to be an attractive place for the community to come. I have been a part of this approach for nearly all of my ministry.
However, I believe this approach makes a dangerous assumption. It is assuming that people want to come to church. It is assuming that people are looking for a church to attend. I am not that old but I do remember the late 80s and 90s in church growth. I was a young child then. smile.
You could offer quality childcare, relevant preaching, good programs with cool logos and brands, a great band and then you could "attract" a crowd. We have seen churches grow in this way. I personally think much of that growth has always been transfer growth but nonetheless many churches gained a lot of attention by growing in numbers and thus many people felt - IT IS WORKING and this must be the way. However, I would not want to minimize what some times took place in those days for I know that many people came to know Christ personally. Many others renewed their commitment to Jesus. Some great things happened and their are places where great things are happening today.
BUT --- I noticed upon living and ministering in Europe that it is an uphill struggle when you are trying to use attractional methods in a post Christian culture where the vast majority of the people are not looking to go to church. For the majority attending church of any sort on Sunday is not a blip on the radar screen. I think America is quickly following suit and we need to discover ways to minister amongst this culture or we will continue to see decline.
The HOPE is this.
I would say a couple of authors Allan Hirsch and Michael Frost articulate this much better than I in their book "The Shaping of Things to Come". I think the church has to become "missional" in it's approach to ministry. The church has to get out of it's building and programs and traditions and get into the streets and neighborhoods and take the Gospel to the people by living amongst them. Our lives as Christ followers should be the attraction to our lost friends not the building or programs of the church.
Instead of extracting new believers out of their culture and into the church where we expect them to be many hours during the week we must find ways to evangelise, disciple and plant churches (or cell groups / small groups) amongst the people where they are living and working. I believe this is best achieved by what is called "incarnational" ministry. Living as a Christ follower intentionally amongst the people who need Him the most. Sharing Jesus in a natural yet intentional way.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

finding our way

On Friday I took a 6:30 am flight from Basel, Switzerland (near my home in Germany) to Malaga, Spain which is on the Med. in the area called Andalucia, Spain. By 9:30 am I was having a great cafe con leche and a tostada con tomate (toast with olive oil and tomato paste which is one of my favorite Spanish breakfast foods) in a small city called Torremolinos. I went with a colleague of mine to scope out some excursions for an upcoming conference that is being planned. I was the translator. I am not saying I was good or bad but simply leaving it as I was "The Translator".

One of our tasks on our fact finding mission was to find this place in the middle of nowhere (a town on a mountain in the desert is a better description) that hosts outdoor adventure activities.

We found it on a website and it gave us directions. At least we thought. We had pretty good directions from 1 - 6 but for some reason direction number 7, 8 and 9 were missing. Direction number 6 simply got us into this very small pueblo (small town). It was a typical "white washed" Spanish pueblo that you see in post cards. We arrive in the town to really discover this may be harder than we thought. We see no signs or billboards for this place. There were no signs or billboards period. I have my friend pull into the center of town where they have the government building. Luckily they were open and the woman was friendly but she did not know really where this place was located though she heard of it. She said it will be hard to find for it is in the middle of the "campo". (It is in the middle of the country). But, if you will take a right and then a left and then another right through this town you will find a bar (in Spain restaurants and coffee shops are called bars, trust me). The owner knows this person who has the recreation place and you can ask him and he can tell you. So we did.

We walk into the bar and there were 6 other people there and we stuck out a bit especially after I used my Spanish. I ordered a coke and some chips thinking that I would get better directions if I bought something. Plus at 1130 am it was time for second breakfast. In Spain you normally do not eat lunch until 2:30 or 3 pm. I asked the owner who also was the waiter about this place. Sure enough he knew and he gave us another set of directions that got us there. It was quite a journey and adventure.

If there is a point to this story it would be how we gather information in life for life and how that relates to discovering God's will and way for us. I know I really want steps 1- 9. I want all of the directions mapped out for me but it is not always like that. I usually have to stop and ask directions along the way and those directions may only get me to the next stop and it is there where I have to stop and ask for more directions in order to get to the destination. What I am learning is to be "okay" with that.

It suits my desire for control to know all of the steps but life is not always like that and I sometimes have to figure it out as I go. What I need to keep in mind is the Holy Spirit is with me as I go. I have a guide. The Holy Spirit gives me direction even though I may not be able to see it all at first. I think it requires us talking with other believers, studying His Word, praying, experiencing the journey and the circumstances that come from that. It also takes time and it not always an instant discovery.

It is a journey of adventure.
It is a journey of faith.

Though I look forward to the final destination I am learning that it is also possible to enjoy the journey as you go.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

more iPOC

I feel after posting my blog on iPOC that I ought to tell you why I wrote it or what inspired me.
It was not listening to itunes while running and using my ipod. It is not because we are a family of four with three ipods. We actually had four until this winter when I came in from a run and put the ipod shuffle into my sweatsuit pocket. Little did I know it needed a wash but I have learned that while they wash nicely they do not seem to dry out very well. Thus we are a family with three and i have to now steal (i mean borrow) my wife's ipod shuffle. I also have to hide it as I run for it is pink or purple but that is another story.

I was inspired because i have a lot of volunteer groups that come over there to work on various projects and I use this tool to debrief each day. We are able as a mission team to look back and talk about what we prayed for, how God answered those prayers. We are able to note observations about the people and culture which help us understand some needs that may exist. From there we find relevant and natural ways to connect with the people.

As we talked one day one of the mission team participants said "you know, we can do this at home". I said, NO YOU CANT.. just kidding. Of course you can. You can do this anywhere. Again, it is not a program it is about living your life amongst the people as Jesus did. In mission talk this is "incarnational ministry". Wherever you are and whatever you are doing you represent Christ. You are His ambassadors. That has to be somewhere in the New Testament.

So I am a HUGE advocate of taking what you do overseas on a mission trip and making practical applications at your home. If you are willing to pay a lot of money to go to Mexico (for example but you could fill in the blank anywhere) then it would make sense that you would do all you could to minister to the Mexicans in your own city. If you are interested in reaching people from the 10/40 window in their country then we should be involved in doing it in our own city.

How do you do that?

Pray for them. Pray for opportunities
Observe the people and look for potential needs
Connect with them
Do it continuously

Friday, May 9, 2008


These days, I hear a lot about churches trying to be more evangelistic or missions-minded. Church leaders may create a new program or come up with a new idea to attract people to the church in order to reach their communities. While the intention behind these programs and ideas may be right on target, I believe evangelism and missions can be much more personal. The special events and weekly meetings of a church are not designed to do the work that we as individual followers should do daily.

As I understand it, Jesus did not talk about how the church needs to have creative programs in order to reach people. Instead He gave that job to each one of us as His followers.

Consider what Jesus says in Acts 1:8:
• You will receive power.
• You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the Earth.
• I will be with you.

We are all missionaries.
Some people are called to live out this calling in another cultural context, but all of us are called to live it out wherever we are. That’s what living missionally is all about.

Living missionally doesn’t come down to a formula, but I must admit: I was inspired by a certain brand of computers in regards to how to think and live missionally wherever I am. This little non–formula is called “iPOC3.” I am not a huge fan of acrostics, but iPOC3 reminds me of some basic things that I can do on a daily basis, no matter where I am, to work toward that end:

Pray: Prayer should be the foundation for all we do. Through prayer, I have seen people who were previously closed to spiritual things really open up. I have seen hard–to–reach areas become receptive through prayer. Prayer is the essential piece for living a missional life. We often make time for prayer during our quiet times, but prayer should also be an active part of the rest of the day. As you move about in your daily life, pray. Pray for open doors. Pray that God will show you people with whom you can talk. Pray for opportunities. Pray that God will open up the hearts of the people wherever you are.

Observe: As you pray, you also observe where God is at work. Observe the people and discover possible needs that you can meet and ways that you can connect with them.

Connect: This final point can involve almost anything as you relate to people. Connecting with people can be striking up a conversation with a post office clerk. It can be walking with an elderly person as he or she crosses the street. It can be helping someone carry his or her groceries when it’s clear the load is a little too heavy.

At the end of the day, I believe evangelism today is more than a simple formula. It is your actions toward people. Evangelism is highly relational, and God will provide you opportunities to connect with people.

Continuously seek to have spiritual Conversations: The second and third Cs of iPOC3 would drive home the importance of continuously seeking to enter spiritual conversations with people as you connect and as God opens doors. You may even be able to strike up a lasting friendship with someone you connect with during a typical day. If that’s the case, who knows? You may even find that the person is interested in spiritual things and might be open to hanging out regularly to talk about life and spirituality. From my experience, that is a much better, less threatening, often more sensitive option than simply taking that person to a local church in order to be taught more. That’s because I believe that, as followers of Jesus, we are all equipped with the ability to speak truth into their lives and tell them about Jesus. If that sounds intimidating, go back to that Acts 1:8 thing. “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus says. He will give us power and help us in this. He promises.

To recap, iPOC3 comes down to ...
I pray
I observe
I connect with people Continuously Seeking to have spiritual conversations

In conclusion, I need to add that iPOC3 is not a program or something else to do in your church. For me it has been an easy way to remember what I should be doing as I go about my day, but there’s no magic formula. Living missionally is about who we are and what we are becoming. Pray and seek out what God might want that to look like in your daily life.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I have to be honest.
I was not expecting this.
I came around the curve near our house. We live on the edge of the Black Forest and I had to adjust my speed limit because of Frogs crossing the road. Between the hours of 8 pm and 6 am in this area you have to be careful for there are frogs crossing the roads and you can only go 50 kph.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

As We Go...

The Church Recapturing the Great Commission

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: "God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age."
Matthew 28:18 -20, The Message

I believe there is a basic assumption that Jesus made when he gave us the Great Commission. He assumed that as disciples of his, as followers of the Way that we would naturally do what he did.. Make Disciples and that we would be willing to do it wherever we are living whether that is in our own city or in a land far away.

The early disciples took serious this charge. They told others rather boldly about Jesus. I think they did it in their normal every day life. In most cases they did this within the context of their own job and families and friends.

But something unique seemed to happen in Acts 13. As the church was gathered worshiping and praying the Holy Spirit spoke to the church and told them to set a part Barnabus and Saul.

What could even be more unique is that the church obeyed the Spirit and they laid hands on them and sent them on their way. Lately these verses have sparked a renewed vision for me. A vision where the church recaptures the Great Commission.
Obviously at that early point in church history we did not have mission boards or societies. We simply had the church finding a way to send it's own people. How can we recapture that today? How can the church today find creative ways to act globally in world missions?
I may have some ideas. stay tuned.