Very well done.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been reflecting on living a hurried life. I become convicted of patterns and pursuits counterproductive to the mission to make disciples. The rhythm of society these days seems to be so out of step with the cadence Jesus set out for his disciples. Here is the Savior of the world, the Author of time, never in a hurry in accomplishing the most life-changing, history-shaping mission the world has ever known.
Someone in a hurry makes an idol out of time. They allow the present to be dictated by the future. Lusting after not-yet moments, we deprive ourselves from the already present moments when we are called to love. Skillful living is making most of the time through a redemptive lifestyle, and ironically, making the most of time does not come by hurrying up but by slowing down.
One of the great hindrances to life on mission is being in a hurry. Have you noticed how impossible it is for a hurried person to love someone? They may be physically present, but they are mentally distant. They may give you lip service, but their hearts are far from you. Don’t get me wrong. There are good intentions with being in a hurry. I want to get things done. I love being productive. But when the product takes precedence over people, then my usefulness ironically makes me unproductive for the mission. Even worse, I begin to treat people like product rather than objects of my affection–to listen, to learn, to love. All those things that takes time–things that the absence of margin and presence of hurry rob us from experiencing as we controlled by a rhythm of life that takes the life out of us.
Disciples of Jesus cannot be controlled by time or enamored by the future. Idolizing time breeds unbelief in Jesus, who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. When we are set free to slow down, we can calibrate our lives according to the cadence of the kingdom. One of the simplest ways of being out of step with the world is not living to keep up with it. I am not advocating a life of laziness but rather a pursuit of presence. It’s a perseverance in abiding, not a fleeing for fleeting moments.
Truly, Jesus’ yoke is easy inasmuch as Jesus is not in a hurry. My yoke is hard because the burdens I create are heavy. I’m learning the joyful consequences of preferring Jesus’ yoke over mine. And when His joy is mine, I find that His glory shines in the very places and among the faces of people I’m privileged to love and give my life away. So Lord, let me live on mission so that when the Spirit calls me to make much of Jesus, I can genuinely respond with “present.”
Four years ago, I was leading a group from our church in the formation of a launch team for our first daughter church plant. In my series on “cultivating community contacts,” I shared about the “missional moleskine” (not to be confused with the memory moleskine).
When I started using the missional moleskine, I used it to gather all information from people I encountered in the daily rhythm of life. Such information included (a) their name, (b) when and where I met the person, (c) what the person was doing, (d) info to help me remember them, and (e) info from conversations about their life, beliefs, and experiences. This information would then be used for ongoing prayer as well as plans to build on (cultivate) the encounters from the past. Here is how I explained it in 2008:
Once I have gathered this information, I leave room in my journal for future encounters. For example, if I cultivate a relationship with a server at a restaurant, I will schedule my eating around their work schedule and attempt to connect with them on a regular basis, building on the previous encounters and conversations. Each successive encounter would be dated and filled out, creating a chain of commentary hopefully leading to progress in loving them and leading them to Jesus. The end result is to chronicle the movement around the mission as we cultivate relationships with unbelievers and seek to sow the good seed of the gospel in their lives as a faithful witness and relentless commitment to advancing the cause of Christ. Other benefits include specifics for ongoing prayer and intercession and research/reflection for cultural exegesis, planning, and corporate strategies.
This year, I am focusing on making disciples through a renewed relational investment plan, and with that plan, and am reincorporating the missional moleskine with a few tweaks. The big thing I’m focusing on this year is incorporating “place” and “progression” in the investment “plan“. My goal is to see the missional moleskine turn into a travelogue for life in the city. It is tracing life on mission at home (first place), at work (second place), and in the community (third places). Living as a missionary is not about being special or additional but intentional, and the missional moleskine helps me map that out.
By progress, I am talking about the establishment of relationships with non-Christians and investing in those relationships progressively over time. It is common knowledge that the majority of people whose lives are transformed by the gospel do so through a relationship. For me, this is ground zero for living on mission. While this may sound really elementary and basic, the starting point has to be an honest one.
Some of you who read the title of this post saw the words “chiastic structure” and are wondering what in the world that has to do with making disciples on mission. Hang with me for a second. I’m not going to drag you into Hebraic literature and poetic structures, but I do think such a title warrants a little explanation.
A chiasm is simply a learning device to draw connections and parallels in concentric fashion, usually working from the outside in. Examples would be ABC-CBA (the two A’s parallel, the two B’s parallel, and the two C’s parallel). This is also a way of drawing emphasis, usually the center being the most important pairs of parallels.
Reflecting with my disciple-making team, I believe there is a chiastic structure to missional discipleship. In other words, I believe there is biblical symmetry in how we enter missionally and how we make disciples by joining them to invite us into this life on mission. In order to make the parallels memorable, all of the parts of the structure begin with the letter “P” (and all Southern Baptists say a hearty “amen”). Here’s the chiastic structure:
Last week, I wrote about “owning my own square mile” based on coming to terms with God’s purposes and providence/plan for my life. I genuinely believe that a high view of God’s sovereignty does not marginalize mission but actually mobilizes mission. God’s purpose is that His people who represent Him on earth–His character, His Ways, and His gospel. God has a plan to bring about His eternal purposes culminating in the glorification of His Son from every nation, tongue, and tribe. That plan is through the local church to proclaim the gospel of God which brings about the obedience of faith to those becoming like Christ in all things. God is the great Evangelist who plans salvation (Father), purchases salvation (Son), and personalizes salvation (Holy Spirit).
As a disciple of Jesus, I’m called to follow Him on mission to love God and love others, to become a fisher of men, laborer in His harvest field, ambassador of His gospel, and soldier in His army. My life should be characterized by the pursuit of man–of sinners far from God–who become the object of my affection, the subject of my prayers, and the prospect of kingdom advance. In order for this pursuit of man to become meaningful, I must pattern my life after the priority of the kingdom of God and making the gospel of first importance. Because I have been sent into the world by Jesus (John 20:21), my life should reflect a pattern indicating a pursuit for sinners because of God’s purposeful and providential placement.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Acts 17:26-27
Last week, I talked to you my efforts this year to build a neighborhood in my city through Next Door. This is a heavy burden I have, one that I have not steward very well in the past. The verses above speak about God’s providence, namely that God determines our dwelling places. Have you thought much about that? Yes, you thought you live where you do because of the great deal on the house, the school district, the proximity to work, etc. But in and through all of these secondary causes, there’s a primary cause that you live where you do: God put you there.
And God’s providence is not without God’s purpose.
God’s purpose in Acts 17 is “that they should seek God…and find him.” So let’s put this together. God placed me in this particular plot on planet earth for the purpose that people should seek God and find Him.
And God’s purposes should become the passion of our lives.
If God’s purpose of providentially placing me in the city where I live so that people would seek God and find him, then it ought to be my passion to accomplish that purpose. God has a design. He’s being intentional and purposeful. When I embrace that intentional design, my response should be a passionate embrace and acceptance of the mission.
Simply put: I live where I live so that those without God can find life in Him. What difference would this make if my life really looked like that?
I live in the city of Cape Coral, FL. It’s a fascinating city in many ways. A few years ago, it was one of the top ten fastest growing cities in the United States. More recently, it has held top ranking for highest numbers and percentages of foreclosures and short sales in an area with the worst performing job market of the 100 metropolitan areas of the United States. Cape Coral has massive potential unfortunately ruined with horrible planning. It’s a story that advertises paradise with a much darker reality.
The city is built like a massive grid (see the image above). Only a handful of neighborhoods in the midst of 165,000 people. I would say 90% of the city lives without any communal connections in their immediate geographic context. It wasn’t made to be this way. Cape Coral was to be a bedroom community. Business development was severely discouraged (we don’t have an actual “downtown” or business district). Because it was once swamp land, the developers dug over 400 miles of canals throughout the city (more than any other city in the world). According to Wikipedia, Cape Coral was a “master-planned, pre-plotted community” which means us 165,000 were to fit into a postmodern template where neighborhoods didn’t exist. Because the city expanded so quick with developers, most of the homes don’t have running water or sewage (instead use well water and septic systems), and because there was only a few select neighborhood developments, the majority of the homes are randomly scattered (in my case, I have 13 vacant lots surrounding my house, and an additional 5 foreclosed (empty) homes past that).
The city is much like the boats that line the canals. It is without roots and is about as stable as the water upon which it sits. You are hard pressed to find indigenous folks here with multi-generational roots (the city was started in 1958). There aren’t stories that transcend generations or narratives that shape the culture as a whole. Rather, it is like a jigsaw puzzle. The people moving in are primarily (a) retired couples from the north who have intentions to “snowbird” part of the year and perhaps move down full-time at a later time and (b) Caribbean islanders (Cuban, Haitian, Dominican, etc.) and long with other Hispanic ethnicities migrating from the east coast (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale) looking for work in the blue-collar service industry. Then there’s the investor piece to the puzzle–people who buy property with no intentions on living in the city. So in any given street, the makeup of the community could be:
house 1: low middle-class full time resident (highly transient due to low-performing economy)
house 2: foreclosed home
house 3: investment home from someone in Europe
house 4: home own by snowbirds in town 3-6 months out of the year
(and in between these homes are numerous vacant lots)
Because there are not roots, it is very unlikely for people to stay. Job security in many cases is determined by your ability to own and operate a small business in the service industry. The moment you get to know someone, you find a UHaul truck in their driveway. On my street, only one of my neighbors has been here longer than I have (four years).
As you can imagine, this journey of dwelling in this city has been a real challenge. At times, I have just waved the white flag and given up on building community. Pessimistically, I envied living in a college town, because you would at least have folks around for four years (or more). Of all the places I have lived, I have become convinced this is the hardest city I have ever lived for the purpose of fostering community and living on mission.
But, this is my mission field, I am renewing my commitment this year to be the best neighbor I can be and positively invest in the welfare of my city. One of the creative ways I’m seeking to do this is through an online platform called Next Door. Throughout this tool, I am gonna try to create a neighborhood where one does not exist and bring those around me together. Here’s a brief overview from Next Door about what they’re about:
Why is this so encouraging to me? Well, it is going to provide me the opportunity to make my neighboring efforts to “stick.” By that I mean, I am going to be able to transcend the current dilemma seen above (house 1, house 2, house 3, house 4) by networking those who are present and interested in helping one another out. I believe it will help me personally know my neighbors so that I can practically serve my neighbors so that I can genuinely love my neighbors.
Here’s another big reason I’m encouraged. People no longer come to their front door. If they do, it is with a shot gun and a threat. You are a stranger and likely a very dangerous one at that. First places (the place of the home) are fortified with fences, security systems, and blinds. However, people are open and actually want community. And they are finding this community through social media and social networking (principally Facebook). So the front door of the 21st century neighborhood is no longer the front door of the house but the social networking invite. That’s how you enter into their lives.
But here’s the difference with Next Door. Those in your online network are actually your REAL neighbors. They are people whose lives you gain access and can actually make investment in the world you are living in. The front door of the virtual world through Next Door has the potential to become the key to unlock the front door of people’s lives (and their homes).
I say potential because I’m just getting started in 2013. My goal is to have 50 neighbors networked together, forming a new neighborhood I’m calling Burnt Embers. It’s an experiment that I hope will become a precedent, perhaps for our city. We need neighborhoods, not just “master-planned, pre-plotted communities”. I’m committed to giving it my best shot, to living incarnationally and on mission so that Jesus would be magnified in my life, my neighborhood, and my city.
For those interested in this kind of thing, I will try to keep you updated. May God help me form a neighborhood where His kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.
Yesterday in my disciple-making class, we focused on developing a relationships investment plan for the new year. We plan for a lot of things. There’s financial planning, educational planning, vacation planning, retirement planning, etc. But one of the most important plans you could make as a disciple of Jesus is planning your relationships.
Jesus planned his relationships. He entered into relationships with a specific group of people with a purpose in mind. Those relationships were meaningful and intentional. Those relationships also had a stewardship to them, meaning that the exchange (giving and receiving) of life would carry on into the lives of others. Just a cursory look, for example, in the life of the Apostle Paul you see how sweet and endearing his relationships were with the people of whom he invested his life.
Relationships is the interconnected superhighway for gospel advance. The stronger the relationships in gospel community, the greater the success of the mission. When relationships are not strong (or nonexistent), substitutes attempt to fill in, such as programs, events, or classes. I am not saying those are bad things in and of themselves, but they are inadequate replacements for life on life and handicap the mission of the church when they do.
When making your relational investment plan, I am not talking about adding a superstructure to your life and schedule. Rather, the goal is to integrate your life in the fabric of community so that your relational investments can be intentionally leveraged for gospel growth and missional advance. It is living skillfully (walking with wisdom as Paul puts it) and seeing all of life along as a classroom to make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus.
I was not able to attend this conference this year (I did last year), but I look forward to downloading the audio below. I’m posting them here in case any of you would be interested in downloading them as well.
• Sacrilegious Jesus – Hugh Halter
• Gospel Fluency – Jeﬀ Vanderstelt
• AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church – Hugh Halter
• Moving from Additional to Intentional – Caesar Kalinowski
• Walking in the Spirit – Jeﬀ Vanderstelt
• Multiplying the Mission – Caesar Kalinowski
Breakout sessions are to be updated in the near future.
PLNTD announced today its second regional conference of the year – Cultivating Gospel Mission, scheduled to take place on September 20-22, 2012 in Portland, Maine. Main session speakers will be Scotty Smith and Caesar Kalinowski, with breakout sessions with Jared Wilson. This week only, you can register for 50% off regular ticket price for just $29 (discount ends Friday night). If you live in the New England or Canada area, be sure to check this training event out.
Here’s a blurb from the conference website:
We live in a day where it is commonplace to hear the words “gospel-centered” and “missionally-driven”. The danger, however, is to use those phrases in ways that diminish their meaning to that of a cliché. At the 2012 New England Training Event, PLNTD partners with the Gospel Alliance to focus on why those phrases are grounded in God and His purposes for the church.
Every church planter and pastor should lead their people to live gospel-centered lives on mission as those who have been sent by God. What does that kind of life look like? How does articulate this kind of vision to people in their community? These are the kinds of questions we hope to address as we gather together on September 20-22.
This training event is open to anyone who would like to be instructed and encouraged to cultivate gospel mission, including pastors, church planters, aspiring ministry leaders, leadership teams, and the like.
Unlike the typical conference format, the goal of this training event is interaction, integration and application of teaching and instruction. Our desire is that you leave equipped with practical instruction, edified through meaningful fellowship, and encouraged by Christ-centered passion for greater kingdom advance.
Join us as we press into the call to be oriented around the mission of church and saturated in the message of the gospel!