Change Happens When Enough is Enough (NPL – Part 7)

Caution: You may have been a part of the history I’m about to describe. My intention is not to open old wounds but to explain how I was feeling and how to avoid some of the negative outcomes as people navigate their way between Legacy and 0-1 forms of ministry. Deb and I spent a lot of time last year connecting with those whom we thought we offended and apologized for anything we did that hurt or created disunity. We don’t want to undo any of that reconciliation so please do not take any of this personally. And for the reader who was not part of the history, please do not hear me pitting Legacy against 0-1. Both are the Bride of Christ and both have merit (and weakness). I am a pioneer so this is written from a pioneer’s perspective. But I believe in a “Both/And” mentality.

I was seeing enough, reading enough, and feeling enough that I had “Had Enough!” I wanted to see the kind of ministry that would multiply disciples as quickly as I was reading about in other countries and I was going to change no matter what the cost. I went on a six-month reading binge. Every author that was talking about reaching lost people, I devoured. Then I stopped and read nothing but the Bible for six months to validate what I was reading in these other books. I especially paid close attention to how well what I was hearing from others was matching up with the Master. Jesus was (and always will be) my gold standard. Then I went on another reading binge for six months and then another fast from other books and read only my Bible for six more months. 

But don’t picture in your mind that I had become some Poindexter with my glasses halfway down my nose with a milky white complexion stuck back in the recesses of some moldy library. Oh no! I was putting these principles into action. I enlisted the help of one of my friends, Jim McKnight and my wife Deb, and we started experimenting. In fact, we called it the Great Commission Experiment. As people who had known me for years watched at a safe distance, I was blowing things up. I was like their weird old Uncle Chuck mixing chemicals in the basement and they didn’t know whether I was cooking up cocaine or a cure for cancer. We ticked a bunch of people off, hurt some feeling, and looked like heretics. We were trying the principles piecemeal and it was a huge failure. 

This is a crucial lesson on working in a Legacy Church or Organization. When you’re experimenting, it’s like putting on your big coat in a very crowded room. You’re bumping and poking, slapping people in the face with your coat and saying “excuse me” every two seconds. It’s not very fun for you or the people in the room. So I had to leave the room and get some space. I had to start over from scratch. Perhaps I could have done both by starting a “Skunk Work” on the side but to be honest, I didn’t have the capacity to do both. I decided to go Zero to One (0-1) and to start all over again. We shut down the website, the Facebook group, and balled it all up and threw it in the trash can and I resigned from my position as a leader in that organization. And if I had to do it all again, I would, but I would do several things differently.

  • I would apologize upfront and tell folks they need to stay at a safe distance
  • I would assess whether or not it was feasible to do a “Skunk Work” on the side
  • I would explain my convictions to the leadership and that I needed space and freedom to experiment
  • I would not leverage my leadership to go on a massive recruiting campaign
  • If it was not feasible to do a “Skunk Work” in the Legacy Church and/or Organization I would ask to be sent out as soon as possible
  • I would resign as soon as I saw my presence was causing division for the greater flock
  • I would start from scratch (or almost scratch)

But remember there are two sides to this story. I’m sure from other’s perspectives it was just as frustrating for them. So I’m not going to claim I was squeaky clean through the whole process and had some kind of moral high ground. I did some things and said some things (and certainly thought some things) that I regret today.  But as painful as all that was, we learned some great lessons from the experiment that would determine our trajectory for the next decade. I kept going because I really felt Jesus was calling me to a new work. I also believe more than anything else He was testing my loyalty. It doesn’t mean people that didn’t agree with me weren’t loyal to Jesus. No, it was about my loyalty. I had to choose.

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9.23-26)

Peter, turning around, *saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 So Peter seeing him *said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus *said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21.20-22)

More about the choice in the next post…

The Book that Changed My World (Again) (NPL – Part 6)

Back to that meeting where the Holy Spirit had me pinned and Jesus counting to ten. As I was sitting there, once again convicted to the core, this guy who had asked the question that started this whole brew-ha-ha was waving a book in the air called “Movements that Change the World” by Steve Addison. He gave the book to one of our leaders sitting next to him and then we went on break. I followed my colleague into the restroom with full intentions of mugging him and stealing the book. But it didn’t have to come to that because when I politely asked him if he was going to read it, he simply gave it to me. I was resolved to do three things; 1) Repent 2) Read the book and 3) Start sharing the gospel more! I set a goal; “I will share the gospel every day for seven days.” I would go down to the street corner in Highland Falls, New York and share the gospel with the druggies, prostitutes, and pimps. I became known as the “Old Crippled Religious Guy” and I really became friends with those folks. I loved them and they loved me. Seven days turned into two weeks, turned into months, turn into six months, turned into a year, which turned into a lifestyle. And you know, I didn’t personally see many people come to Christ but I did see one major conversion. It was me! I was radically transformed by the gospel. I’m not saying I wasn’t a true disciple of Jesus before but I had gone through an incredible transformation personally. Often we view sharing the gospel as an exercise that will benefit the hearer and most certainly that is our great desire. But we should never underestimate the benefit to the proclaimer as well. And Steve’s book was just pouring gas on the fire. I was starting to see things through a different lens and my eyes were being opened to kingdom principles I hadn’t unlocked before.

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. (Luke 5.37-38)

And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” (Matthew 13.52)

I had become a new wineskin again. I was open, pliable, flexible, teachable to new things. All of a sudden I was sucking down milk like a newborn and I couldn’t get enough. And it wasn’t like the things I had learned before were all wrong. Nope! It was a 30-year foundation in THE BOOK, reading and studying every day that connected some dots for me that I had never seen before. The book that changed my world wasn’t Steve’s book, it was the Bible. But Steve’s book was certainly challenging my thinking and motivating me to go back to the “Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Act 17.11)  Are you reading the Scriptures daily to align your thinking with the Father’s? Are you exposing yourself to new ideas that challenge you and force you to go back to the Word of God? Are you still pliable, flexible, and teachable? If you are not reading the Bible daily, DO NOT read other books until you have developed that crucial discipline. If you are reading your Bible daily, I would recommend the following books by Steve Addison;

Movements that Change the World

What Jesus Started

Movement Pioneers

The Rise and Fall of Movements

It was a Set-Up (NPL – Part 5)

So my boat was being violently tossed about by these questions and circumstances and I was very ready for Jesus to calm the storm. The crescendo of this intense turmoil in my life came at a leadership meeting. I was sitting there feeling like a caged lion. I had risen to a level of incompetence (The Peter Principle) and was completely out of my league. I was way outside my gifting and thinking “How did I get myself into this mess?” And then in the middle of my brooding, our guest speaker asks a question; “When is the last time you shared Jesus with someone?” Feeling very proud of myself and kind of beating my chest internally, I thought, “On the airplane on the way out to this meeting.” And then the Holy Spirit rolled up His sleeves and went to work. “And when was the last time before that?” Now my pride turned into anger. I thought to myself, “How dare this guy judge me! I’m an important leader. I have important things to do. I can’t just be sharing the gospel all the time.” “Really? So this guy’s wrong and you’re doing what I called you to do?” Now my anger turned into embarrassment. Have you ever had this happen where you are sitting there quietly having this wonderful argument with the other person in your mind without even saying a word and then the Holy Spirit “rudely” interrupts your mental melee and puts you in your place? Oh yeah, I tapped out! I knew I was wrong and this whole thing was a setup. Jesus had me exactly where He wanted me. I recently memorized these two verses and they not only explain a lot but bring me great comfort.

Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. (Ps 139.16)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. (Ps 32.8)

Do you believe that the Father is the great disciple-maker and that He is shaping and molding you into the image of His Son Jesus through the circumstances of your life? (Rom 8.28-29) Do you believe that nothing touches you without first passing through the buffer of His eternal love? (2 Cor 4.16-18, Jam 1.2-4, Job 1.8, 2.3) Do you believe that Jesus is just as interested in developing you as His disciple as He is your ministry? And finally, if all you got from this movement thing was a deeper relationship with the King, would it be enough? Maybe it’s all a setup. Maybe everything that is happening to us and through us is just meant to bring us and others closer to Him.

The Most Important Question (NPL – Part 4)

I want to drop back a few years and address a question that my mentor asked that really rocked my world and should yours. I was dropping some big theological thing on Cecil Bean, my mentor, and he asked; “Chuck, what does that have to do with Jesus?” I WAS TICKED! I thought to myself, “Of course it has something to do with Jesus! Connect the dots man!” But as I cooled down and meditated on the question for a few days, I thought, “Yeah, what does that have to do with Jesus? In fact, what did most of what I talked about have to do with Jesus?” I was doing an inventory of my “discipleship” and I was coming up with a very disturbing realization; Jesus was conspicuously absent from most of my ministry. I was wrecked! I would later find this passage perfectly fitting for my situation;

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; (John 5.39)

The only thing I had missed was the boat! I took drastic measures to correct this very glaring error. For the next year, I read four chapters in the gospels daily and nothing but the gospels to get reacquainted with my King. I developed a strategy to include Jesus in my discipleship;

  • I will mention Jesus every time I talk to another disciple
  • When asked a question, I will answer with a saying or example of Jesus first
  • When reading other books of the Bible besides the gospels, I will look for Jesus
  • When confronted with a dilemma, “I will ask what would Jesus do?” and do it!
  • I will not talk about Jesus as if He isn’t in the room
  • When talking about God, I will address Him as the Father, Jesus His Son, and/or the Holy Spirit 
  • When engaged in discussions I will let people know that I am a follower of Jesus upfront
  • I will read some of the gospels daily as I read the rest of the Bible 
  • I don’t have disciples. I make disciples of Jesus
  • My goal in life is to master the Master

Does this seem extreme to you? I have an exercise for you whether it seems extreme or not. Read Colossians chapter 1 out loud and time yourself. Now count the number of times Paul refers to Jesus (Christ, He, Him, Whom, etc…) If I mentioned your name that many times in that short time frame, what would you think of me? You would think I was obsessed! And based on His love for me and Who He is in the Chain of Command, shouldn’t I be? Is Jesus the center of our life, our ministry, our everything? How often does the name of Jesus cross our lips? Do we have any other Bible characters that rate higher on the “Hero List” than Jesus?

Some Nagging Questions (NPL – Part 3)

So we’re in the middle of the perfect storm and things are not going so perfectly. And I’m getting these questions. Some are from the Holy Spirit, some from people, and others are questions I’m asking myself. And they are like “splinters in my mind.” (whoever word smithed that phrase was a genius. Splinters…in the mind. What a word picture! I’m sorry, but there’s not a pair of tweezers in the world long enough to pull that kind of splinter out of your mind!) And that’s what these questions felt like, painfully nagging for attention. Questions like;

  • Why does the gospel stop at the front gate of these Army posts?
  • If you believe in the priesthood of the believer so much, why are you doing things to circumvent it?
  • What does that have to do with Jesus?
  • Why is my vision so small?
  • Why am I only teaching people to obey three-quarters of the Great Commission?
  • What about the nations?
  • Why do I think going to church is a waste of time?
  • Why is my prayer life so anemic? 
  • When is the last time I shared the gospel?
  • Can’t God do in the US what He’s doing in China, India, and Nepal?

And the list goes on and on. These questions elicited all kinds of emotions from anger to embarrassment to fear. Have you ever noticed how many questions Jesus asked? In fact, the Divine questions actually started way back in the garden between God and two naked people trying to hide behind a couple of fig leaves.

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3.11-13)

  • “Where are you?” (Gen 3.9)
  • “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3.11)
  • “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3.11)
  • “What is this you have done?” (Gen 3.13)

Isn’t it interesting that the Almighty God, the One Who knows everything, chooses to ask questions rather than start with the condemning facts? At the moment that sin enters the scene and corrupts all humanity, the Father gently guides His wayward children into truth. And that is exactly what He was doing with me as I stood hiding uncomfortably behind some very itchy fig leaves. As disciple-makers are we asking lots of questions both of ourselves and others? More later…

The Perfect Storm (NPL – Part 2)

I’d like to tell the story of how Deb and I got started on this journey ten years ago. I will try to stay objective and I think the principles will apply both to the 0-1 and the Legacy expressions of church. A decade ago we were in a perfect storm. I was wounded, angry, and disillusioned. I had been in ministry for 30 years and had my share of failures and successes but now I was at my wit’s end. I saw so much potential in the ministry and yet it was the ankle-biting things that were consuming all my time, emotions, and energy. I was done! Ever been there in ministry? Ever been there in life? Where you’re just done? Yeah, you could stick a fork in me. But as much as I could not see what was really happening behind the curtain, I would later find out that Jesus was preparing us for a new season of fruitfulness. 

I love the story of Joseph. A snotty-nosed kid that might have been a little too big for his britches but certainly didn’t deserve to be sold into slavery, set up by an adulterous hussy, and then thrown into jail to rot. I mean really, did Joseph deserve all that for being Daddy’s favorite with a cool coat and a few dreams? But God was at work. Even in all that pain, injustice, and betrayal, God had a plan. And Joseph was growing and developing through every arduous day of it. And then it happened. He was miraculously rescued by God and his purpose was made clear. He had been in the Father’s tough training program for the purpose of delivering nations from starvation. Joseph sums it all up when his conniving and cowardly brothers came with their hat in their hand, fearful of what possible revenge could be taken, and Joseph confidently and mercifully states;  

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen 50.20-21)

My mentor used to say, “We cry out to God when the very foundation of our lives is being shaken only to find out that God is doing the shaking.” I know people are angry and hurt by the condition of the church and probably what others have done to them in the name of the church or some other Christian organization. We are a wounded lot. But will we allow bitterness to drive our attitudes and actions? Or will we see these tough times as the training grounds that God is using to develop us into better disciple-makers, leaders, shepherds of the flock? That decision my friends will determine our trajectory for either being part of the solution or perpetuating the problem. More later…

How Deb and I joined the NoPlaceLeft Vision (NPL – Part 1)

I started telling my story in response to a Facebook friend who was angry and hurt. He came off the top ropes on the institutional church in America and it was filled with hot words and accusations which were for the most part true. But I’ve learned three crucial lessons over the years

  • I’m a sinner too
  • There are always two sides to the story
  • Using social media to vent usually makes you feel good for the moment but doesn’t fix a thing

On the other hand, I don’t want to minimize my brother’s pain because “I’ve been there. Done that. And got the bloody t-shirt. I know exactly what it is like to see the “world going to Hell in a hand-basket” and asking “Why don’t you care?!” I’ve watched the great ship of potential be sailed straight into the rocks of incompetence (and sometimes I was at the helm). It’s troubling, to say the least. So I thought maybe Deb and I’s story would be helpful and others could learn from our combat…uh, I mean…ministry experiences.

Post in response to my friend; Dear friend, I have a saying, “If you want to see a shepherd go prophet, mess with the sheep.” Your passion for the people of God is evident! But I’m giving these guys the benefit of the doubt and trusting that they are actually doing something about it. You’re right, there’s been a lot of talk. I’ve been at this for a long time now and quite frankly I’m Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde on this. I love the church because it is the Bride of Christ and I desperately want to see her in all her fullness glorify Him. I remember where I was years back wearing a robe as I officiated weddings and reserving baptism for the clergy (me! Yikes!). And the long process I had to go through in order to have my eyes opened not only to the fact that the American Church is in trouble (and every other country we exported to) but that I was in conflict with the truths of the Scriptures. But I am a shepherd by nature and gifting and I also get angry when I see the sheep neglected (or downright abused). So I did something about it 10 years ago. I’ll talk about that in posts below but lots of people in this facebook group are trying to do “something about it.” Some are trying to reform and some are starting from scratch. I would ask that you help me by approaching the problem as “family.” It’s good to be angry but I’m very careful to guard my words when expressing it (esp on Facebook) Let’s work together and pursue the solution through our actions.

Ok, so let’s talk about the elephant in the room 🙂 Some of us are still trying to make disciples in a Legacy Model and some of us are 0-1 folks that are starting from scratch (or almost scratch). This should start a civil discussion (not a civil war). Let me be transparent (and set the tone) about where I stand. To be upfront, I am a 0-1 guy. But as I stated above, I love the Bride of Christ (whether Legacy or 0-1) but I have been and still do get very agitated about the condition of the Bride. I try to approach this “full of grace and truth” but often fail. But here’s where I start. Jesus said He would build His church (Mt 16.18) and it will overcome Satan and the world as it advances the Kingdom of God. I also believe we have a role to play in building the church. Just as we are commissioned to make healthy disciples, those healthy disciples will gather. As we gather, we are church. Our goal now is healthy disciples in a healthy church. It doesn’t matter where they meet or when they meet. They are church. That’s their Identity. Looking at our classic example of church in Act 2, we see that they met in the temple and house to house. Which was church? Yes, 🙂 When did they meet? Daily (often) not just on Sunday morning. The church is the church. That’s her identity. Now what they do is another matter. I believe that what they “do” will determine their health (you just ferreted out my ecclesiology, I make a distinction between identity and practice). I believe the church in America is 1) in an identity crisis because everyone is calling themselves Christians and many (not all) are mistaken. and 2) That which is really the church has a health problem. We are not making healthy disciples. I could be wrong, but that is what I see as the actual problem. Not where we meet or when we meet or format or tools or etc… We are not making disciples of Jesus (before the ones that are, get mad, don’t! You’re doing a great job 🙂 ) More to follow…

So I’m still talking and we promised action. So what should our first step be in solving this problem? Repent and pray. 

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chr 7.14 

If the condition of the church in America doesn’t drive us to our knees, we don’t have a dog in the fight. Because let’s face it, it’s going to take a miracle. And I love what Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel do when they acknowledge sin in the camp. This is not a “YOU” problem. It’s a “WE” problem. I need to repent. It starts with me and we. When I was slapped in the face with this reality some 10 years ago, after 30 years in ministry, I was appalled at my lack of dependence on the Holy Spirit to actually get things done. I was maybe praying for 10 minutes a day. But when I was gripped with the actual need for me and our nation (and the world for that matter) it radically changed my prayer life. I’m no prayer warrior but I repented and started declaring my utter dependence on Jesus by “putting my prayer where my mouth is.” Seeing people like Ying Kai and how he and Grace prayed was not only inspiring but convicting. Deb and I have set aside Fridays for prayer and fasting for our Oikos and the American Context. I think if we are going to do anything to see a movement of the gospel in our country and see the church as a healthy change agent in our context, it starts on our knees. God help us!

How Deb and I got started in a Church Planting Movement