Wednesday, October 24, 2012

207. Discipleship and Mission Workshop in Lexington KY with 3DM

My friend Brent Barger called me this week and let me know about a really cool opportunity. If you live near Lexington KY and would like to expose yourself to some really good tools for being and making disciples, as well as missional communities, 3DM will be hosting a workshop November 7-9 at the Cross Roads Church

As someone who has personally been through their workshop and subsequent Learning Community process, I have no problem championing these events and their organization. These guys are excellent practitioners of disciple making and missional communities, with a track record of effectiveness to go with it. If you end up checking it out, look me up, I am actually hanging out at this one. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

206. The Role of Chemistry in a Discipling Relationship

In science, when two different chemicals come into contact, certain reactions occur based on the elements within those chemicals. The reaction can be good or bad depending on what you are trying to achieve. When we talk about chemistry in relationships, we are talking about a certain kind of reaction between people. We all know good chemistry when we experience it. You have a certain connection with someone that you do not have with other people. It could be personality, season of life, or some other factor. When good chemistry is there, you find yourself saying to yourself “I would enjoy spending more time around that person.”

So what does chemistry have to do with discipling relationships? Well, chemistry is actually one of the most critical ingredients to a successful discipling relationship. Discipleship is fundamentally about imitation. If this is true, then we are given our first clue as to what holds a discipling relationship together. Without a significant level of attraction between leader and follower, then a discipling relationship is not even likely to start. There has to be a positive reaction between leader and follower that makes them want to spend time around each other. They have to like each other and be open to each other.
You may be saying something like this to yourself right now: “That sounds right, but shouldn’t we be open to discipling everyone? It sounds like you are saying we should only disciple people we personally like. Doesn’t Jesus tell us to disciple everyone? Isn’t this chemistry thing a bit…well….selfish? Should this really be a part of the equation, or is this whole chemistry thing just an excuse not to engage people who are different from us?”
Well, this is a typical response, so let’s go a little deeper to substantiate the necessity of chemistry. Discipling relationships require frequent interactions. If the follower is going to imitate the life of the leader, then the follower has to have access to the leaders life. This means they will spend time with each other outside of the classroom, small groups, or bible studies. If there is not a significant amount of chemistry in the relationship, both people will experience relational fatigue. After fatigue sets in, then hanging out together in organic and spontaneous ways is not likely to happen.
Also, a discipling relationship is characterized by what we call invitation and challenge. If you already rub someone the wrong way (or if they rub you the wrong way), then imagine what introducing and ever increasing levels of challenge will do to that “rub” in the relationship. There will be some serious friction…otherwise known as conflict! Good chemistry is the permission structure that allows challenge to take place in a discipling relationship.
Jesus, as a wise leader and discipler, knew the critical role chemistry played in the discipling relationship. Notice what Mark says in his gospel about the criteria Jesus used when inviting the 12 to become apostles: ”And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach…” There are two things here worth noting.
1. Jesus had a preference for who he wanted to invite closer and invest his life into. We do not know what these preferences were, but those preferences were a determining factor in his method of choosing the 12. This runs counter to our notion of equality and treating everyone the same. The truth of the matter is, Jesus modeled for us the best possible way to choose people we will invest our life in.
2. Jesus chose the twelve that they might be with him. That means they would be around each other a lot! If there is no chemistry, then this can be a real problem….for both people involved, not to mention the rest of the group. Chemistry is the attractional force that holds voluntary relationships together.
Good chemistry is not always experienced the same way or at the same level between people. This can make the process of inviting people into a discipling relationship a bit tricky. A leader may not have a lot of chemistry with a potential follower, while that same potential follower may actually experience, on their end, a higher (sometimes unusually higher) level of chemistry with the potential leader. Chalk it up to charisma, gravitas, or whatever, but I think we have all had the experience of someone revealing to us that they really like us and we in turn think to ourselves “Really, because I thought you didn’t really like me at all.”
This can also happen from the leader’s perspective. They may think there is a high level of chemistry between them and another potential follower, when in actuality it is only the leader who is experiencing a positive reaction. Recognizing the various levels of chemistry that can exist between people helps us discern the potential for success in a discipling relationship. Consider the matrix below.

Flop happens when the leader over estimates the level of chemistry in the relationship and invites someone into a discipling relationship. If the potential follower is not open to the leader, and is not able to receive an ever increasing scale of invitation and challenge, it can make it quite challenging for the relationship to stay together. This kind of relationship typically happens when we take an overly mechanistic approach to discipling people. Discipling relationships do not form like signing up for a small group. It is an entirely different kind of relationship characterized by high commitment and high accountability. Without significant levels of chemistry the follower and the leader, in the long run, the relationship will be a flop. In most cases, it either does not last the course, or becomes a significant drag for both the leader, the follower and the rest of the group.  The only exception to this scenario is if the follower has a significant level of maturity in their life.
When neither the leader or the potential follower have significant levels of good chemistry, then a discipling relationship rarely forms. When neither person says to themselves “I think I might like to spend some more time around that person” then cause and effect typically keep this kind of discipling relationship from happening. However, there are times when people try to force this kind of relationship into a discipling format and it can be a disaster. Steer clear when chemistry is hovering close to nill.

Drop happens when someone experiences chemistry with you as a leader and is open to being discipled by you, but you do not share the same level of chemistry with them, or you simply do not recognize their openness to you. A good way to limit the number of opportunities that you drop is to develop a routine of praying about people who are within your social reach. More often than not, we drop opportunities when we are not being sensitive to who the Lord is putting in our pathway. Sometimes someone may be open to you, but they may communicate it in ways that you don’t recognize. Jesus spent the whole night in prayer before he selected the 12. There are obvious spiritual implications to this, but I can’t help but wonder what kind of revelation he received during the night from the Father that maybe caused him to change course and select Thomas instead of …..Mathias? Jesus was sensitive to what the Father wanted to happen, and when it came to inviting people into discipling relationships, he spent a significant time observing the crowds, reflecting on his impressions, and discussing it with the Father.
A word of caution: It typically requires a certain degree of maturity in the leader to effectively disciple people he does not have chemistry with. This has to be discerned, just like Jesus, in reflection and discussion with the Father.
P.O.P. stands for Person of Peace and is taken from Jesus’ teaching in Luke 10. The basic definition of a Person of Peace is this: “You like them and they like You.” Stated positively,  peace is about harmony and synergy. Stated negatively, it can mean hostility or opposition. Jesus told the 72 in Luke 10 when he sent them out that when they came to a house they should say “Peace to you.” If a “person of peace” was there, they should stay at that house. What Jesus was essentially saying was this: A person of peace is someone who wants to hang out with you and invite you into their personal space. When you have a moderate to high level of chemistry with someone, this elevates the potential for relational capital to emerge and creates an environment in which a discipling relationship can flourish. If discipleship is about imitation, then the person of peace is somehow drawn to want to be around you. They demonstrate openness to you and may want to serve you and even follow you. This kind of relationship is teeming with potential for imitation, fruitfulness, and a lot of fun!.
I have experienced a FLOP and a DROP before, and each time, hind sight being 20/20, a good amount of observation, reflection, and discussion with the Father would have probably steered me into another course of action. As I mature in becoming a disciple maker, I find that I am more keenly aware of where I am in relation to other people, and where they are in relation to me as a leader/follower.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

205. The difference between Coaching and Discipling Part 2

In Part One, we looked at the importance of imitation in relation to the pattern of the disciplers life and the process they use to make disciples.  In this post, we are going to take an even closer look at how coaching differs from discipling.

Coaching is primarily focused on developing competency and skills in relation to performing certain tasks. If we use sports as an example, a basketball coach is looking to help his players become better dribblers, shooters, passers, and rebounders, as well as better team players. The really good coaches look to develop the character of their players as well. However, as some of you may be able to attest to, a player rarely has access to a coach outside of “practice” and “game time.”  Despite a coach’s good intentions, without relational access to the coach’s life, the scope of imitation in the relationship will typically be limited to what is made available during organized times of “practice” and “game time.” The learner, then, in a coaching relationship, will be primarily focused on imitating the methods and practices which the coach uses to train the players during practice and game times. In this sense, coaching is somewhat one dimensional in that it is primarily task, or process oriented.
What makes a discipling relationship different from a coaching relationship is that the learners in a discipling relationship, in addition to participating in an organized process, will also have what we call “organic access” access to the leader’s life. Organic access includes regular times of interaction where the disciple shares in the rhythm and pattern of the discipler’s life. Things like eating dinner together, exercising together, or just plain hanging out for the fun of it. Basically, sharing life together.
Adding “organic access” to an “organized process” is what moves a coaching relationship to a discipling relationship.  The inverse is equally true. When access to the leader is restricted to an organized process, then the nature of that relationship will, by definition, shift away from being a discipling relationship and be characterized by other types of learning relationship. Without access to the leader’s life, the scope of imitation will default to the more narrow venue of the organized training environment.  Notice the diagram below.
While a discipling relationship is the ideal thing to shoot for when it comes to learning, distance and availability do not always afford this kind of relationship to take place. If time, distance or other variables pose a challenge to the disciple having organic access to the leader’s life, then a coaching relationship is possibly the next best thing to be involved in. As you notice from the diagram above, coaching still involves an organized process, but it lacks the kind of relational interaction to qualify as a discipling relationship.
The other two kinds of relationships where learning can take place are through spiritual fathers and mothers in Christ, and advisors. Fathers and mothers in Christ give us organic access to their life, but do not always provide an organized process of learning. It is typically on an as needs basis. Paul described himself as the father of the Corinthians because he helped bring them into existence through his seeding of the gospel. However, by virtue of his absence, Paul did not sustain an ongoing “discipling” relationship with them. This is not to say that imitation could not take place in the relationship. However, the scope of imitation was limited to their memory of his example via his absence, hence the need to send Timothy (I Cor 4:12-17.)
Spiritual fathers and mothers in Christ can be a source of encouragement and  accountability to us. They are there for us when we need counsel or encouragement, and they can also be there when we don’t want them to be, if they feel we need to be admonished or exhorted to pay attention to something we have neglected to pay attention to. They are people we often orbit in and out of our spiritual household (oikos) or extended family, or we orbit in and out of theirs.  
Advisers are people who we deem to have wisdom and discernment, but may or may not be a part of our “oikos,”(spiritual household) or extended family. It is advisers who, upon our request, offer occasional feedback and input into our lives.  Advisers could be elders or other spiritual leaders in your relational network.


I always get this phrase mixed up, but it is a valuable phrase. A rectangle, like a square, has four right angles. But having four right angles does not make somethign a square. No, a square has another feature that puts it into a different category. A square has four right angles PLUS four sides of equal length. A square is more defined and therefore occupies a different category than a rectangle.
So to apply this to our discussion, discipling includes coaching, but not all coaching can rightly be called discipling. A discipling relationship, by definition, has additional features that set it apart from other learning relationships.
Clarity in this area is critical if we are looking to obey Jesus’ command to be and make disciples. Without access to the leader’s life, the relationship will not be able to supply the range of exposure and learning characterized by a discipling relationship.
This reality poses a dilemma. If we only coach people on how to disciple people instead of discipling people to disciple people, we essentially violate the principle of imitation. We end up saying, in part, “do what I say not do what I do.”
There really is no way around this dilemma. Coaching people on how to be and make disciples, by definition, will always possess this inherent contradiction. However, naming this distinction between coaching and discipling allows us to name the relationship for what it is, and thereby guard the generative nature of authentic discipleship. If someone walks away from a coaching relationship and thinks they experienced discipleship, then the coach has failed to adequately define the relationship.

Friday, October 05, 2012

204. The Difference Between Coaching and Discipling Part 1

If we are going to grasp what discipling is, we have to let Jesus be our example. Discipling takes place when we are invited into a relationship where we are challenged to imitate the life of another person. Jesus said it like this: every disciple who is completely trained will be like their teacher. (Luke 6:40) Notice he did not say the disciple will simply “know what the teacher knows.” He also didn’t say the disciple will simply be able to “do what the teacher does.” No, the fruit of a discipling relationship is much more than this. In a discipling relationship, you not only want to “know what the teacher knows” and “do what the teacher does”, you also want to “be who the teacher is.” You want to imitate the life of the one who is discipling you.


When we say that a disciple imitates the life of another person, contained within this peron’s life is the process they use to make disciples. In other words, the one being discipled not only imitates the leaders pattern of life, they also imitate the leaders process of making disciples. So in a discipling relationship there are essentially two basic focal points of imitation.

We see these two focal points of imitation coming to the fore when Paul explains to the Corinthians why he is sending Timothy to them. Paul says in I Corinthians 4:15-17 “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me…(think pattern of life)… For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, …(think process)…as I teach everywhere in every church.” Paul spent 18 months in Corinth, and now in his absence the church has been turned away from the patterns of the gospel into ego-centric forms of leadership and ministry. Paul knew that in order for them to mature in Christ, they needed more than just a letter (information). They needed strategic leadership that could provide a tangible point of reference on how to put the principles of Paul’s teachings into practice. Timothy was sent to provide the Corinthians with the concrete example they needed to move forward and stay on course. The nature of Timothy’s task is reflected in Paul’s language when he says that Timothy will reminding them of his “ways” in Christ. That word in Greek is hodos which means “a course of conduct or pathway.” It carries with it the idea of a sequential flow or process, of moving forward along a pathway towards a destination. Timothy would essentially blaze the trail and lead the Corinthians back into the messianic pathway of cross and resurrection.
So why Timothy? Why not  Silas or someone else? Paul needed to extend his influence back into the Corinthian community. Timothy had been discipled by Paul, which meant he had been exposed to the pattern of Paul’s life. Not only this, but he also participated in the process Paul used for making disciples and planting churches. As such, Timothy was well versed in both the pattern and process of Paul’s life and ministry. If Paul could not be in Corinth, then he wanted someone there who would be able to represent his “ways” to the Corinthian community.  Timothy was definitely qualified to do this.


If discipleship entails the imitation of someone’s life (pattern and process), then not just any learning relationship qualifies as a discipling relationship. In order for the scope of imitation to include someone’s pattern of life, there has to be a certain level of relational access (spatial proximity) to the life of the leader. This means interaction with the leader has to move beyond the controlled environment of the classroom/conference call and into a more experiential and practical setting where the follower can observe the rhythms and practices of the leaders life. This kind of learning relationship is often characterized by a certain degree of relational frequency and situational variety. In other words, there is regular interaction in multiple settings.
It is important to recognize that a discipling relationship is not the only relationship where imitation can take place. Imitation can also take place in a coaching relationship, but we have to be clear about what can actually be imitated in a coaching relationship. Once we understand discipleship as essentially being about imitation centered around pattern and process, we not only discover the essential framework for what a discipling relationship looks like, we also have a point of reference by which to understand the nature of other relationships, like coaching, in which learning and imitation can take place.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

203. Discipleship and Missional Effectiveness

Karl Weick, in his book Making Sense of the Organization, says, “…whenever you have what appears to be successful decentralization, if you look more closely, you will discover that it was always preceded by a period of intense centralization where a set of core values were hammered out and socialized into people before the people were turned loose to go their own ‘independent, ‘autonomous’ ways.”*

Weick is pointing out an important ingredient here when it comes to decentralizing the church for missional ventures. As much as we would like to see the church decentralized for mission, we can not successfully de-centralize for mission until we first go through a period of centralization where the necessary foundations for movement are embedded within the community.

This is exactly what we see taking place in the life of Jesus, the revolutionary founder of a global movement. For 3 1/2 years Jesus discipled the twelve and modeled for them what discipleship, community and mission really looks like. When it came time for the disciples to launch out into a decentralized mission of disciple making and mission, they had the necessary training and tools to lead the movement. You can’t get to Acts without passing through the gospels. And you can’t make it through the gospels without passing through discipleship. The reality is, Jesus did not expect the 12 to know how to be or make disciples, live in community, or be on mission with God until he had modeled and trained them for 3 1/2 years.

Trying to catalyze a decentralized movement without laying a good foundation of discipleship is just trendy new-speak. In fact, if you try to decentralize without first going through a period of centralization where the core practices of being and making disciples along with living as an extended family on mission, you will not end up with movement at all. What you will end up with is a fragmented group of disillusioned people with no point of reference for how to move forward. To put it another way: Decentralization before discipleship equals diaspora. Decentralization after discipleship equals movement.


Most churches find themselves stuck in a stage of centralization, but it is not the kind of centralization Jesus has in mind. Instead of centralizing around the core practices of being and making disciples, and living as an extended family on mission, the church often centralizes around teaching and information. In this model of centralization, discipleship and mission take a back seat to the centralized gatherings that are primarily focused on preaching and the band. If there happens to be any mission minded leaders in the bunch, they typically challenge the church to go and do mission, but in essence they are wanting people to spontaneously go out and do mission on their own.

The only problem with this approach is that people tend to do what you model for them. So if you give only give them information, then challenge them to do mission, they will most likely equate mission with giving people information…about the centralized gathering where you receive…that’s right….more information.

The missing link in this informational approach is discipleship; specifically, the principle of imitation. In order for me to learn how to be and make disciples, and live on mission, then I need to be invited into a relationship where I can have access to someone who actually lives it out in their own life. To get me going I need something to imitate. My friends at 3DM use this triangle to illustrate the proper relationship between information, imitation (discipleship) and innovation.

It starts with information, then leads to imitation, and finally moves into innovation. Centralization takes place during the first two phases. Decentralization takes place as you move towards the edge and innovate with new expressions of ecclesia. The order is really critical if you want to see a decentralized movement of disciple making and mission to emerge. The missing component, for most church plants (and churches for that matter), is the phase of imitation where a leader invites people into a relational process where they model for them how to be and make disciples and live like an extended family on mission. If the leader is aiming for decentralized mission where people move towards the edge and innovate new expressions of ecclesia within every nook and cranny of their context, then they need to invest the necessary time and energy to centralize around the patterns of Jesus’ ministry. Those who take the time, like Jesus, to build a discipling culture will always get what Jesus got……a movement. If we want a movement like the one Jesus started, then we need to do it the way he did it. There is just no way around this.

It is true that anyone can start a movement, but the sustainability of that movement will hinge upon whether or not the leaders of the movement can be and make disciples…that make disciples…that make disciples…  

*Karl Weick, Making Sense of the Organization, (Maine: Blackwell Publishing, 2001) p. 341

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

202. Waffle House Ecclesiology

Now time for a fun post. I was driving back form Huntsville AL last week and I was doing what I normally do on long trips...doodling in my little black book, developing diagrams and matrixes. I turned to my wife as she was driving and shared with her the matrix I was working on in relation to the gathered and scattered church. The more I shared the terms gathered and scattered, the more we began to drift into Waffle House terminology. Waffle House is a great third place by the way. Typically the waiters work regular shifts and are usually open to conversation. My friend Nathan Capps has a regular Waffle House ministry that has been quite fruitful. 
So here is a quick look at a matrix that depicts how gathering people for fellowship, discipleship, and worship times can intersect with scattering for mission.  

High on Gathered, Low on Scattered: Gathering with limited scattering will essentially smother the church with meetings, programs, and worship services. This kind of church can only thrive for a season. After a while, people get cabin fever and start turning in on each other. 

Low Gathered, Low Scattered: I used the word capped here because low on both of these categories puts a cap on the potential of the community. You need covenanted community that meets frequently, and a sending out away from the center towards the edge in order to honor the giftings and callings within the community. 

High Scattered, Low Gathered: Scattering for mission works best in the community when you couple it with regular gatherings where people can give testimonies, share challenges, and be inspired through friendships and visionary leadership. Only your more entrepreneurial people will be able to go for extended periods of scattering without gathering. On average, most people need a good blend of both. Without regular gatherings, people feel isolated and fragmented. You don't want to dice up the community for the sake of mission. You can do both gathered and scattered, and do them both well. 

High Scattered, High Gathered: I put covered here, because if you do one without the other, you become vulnerable to latent forces within the community or the surrounding environment. Covering your bases on doing both gathered and scattered is a good way to guard your community against unnecessary pitfalls. 

So consider this a simple, reproducible Waffle House Ecclesiology. 

Monday, July 02, 2012

201. Apostolic Ministry and the crucial AND

Most people will tell you that when you plant a church, you are typically reacting to your previous experience of church. This was partly true in my case. I say partly because I had already been a part of an urban church plant in Montgomery AL, that used a missional-incarnational approach to church planting. In fact, our strategies were both missional and incarnational and we didn't even know it! That language would have been really helpful to us back then, but we just lumped it all up into the concepts of evangelism.

I moved from that church plant to do campus ministry for 3 years in Clarksville TN. At the end of that 3 years, we felt the Lord calling us to plant a church. So entering into this 2nd church planting venture I had a healthy respect for a church planting model front loaded with missional-incarnational forms of evangelistic ministry. However...going into the 2nd plant I had a certain reactionary vibe in me in regards to leadership, centralization, the size of our gatherings, and organization. Because my typical experience in these areas was...typical, I wanted to experiment with what it would look like to engage these things in an unconventional way. Being bi-vocational when I planted stretched out the pace at which our community evolved, and therefore extended the learning curve on my end as the leader. At the end of the journey, I have pretty much come full circle on most of these issues, but it is with a wealth of experience and practitioner wisdom that can only come from experimenting, failing, and learning from your failures. The basic flaw in our church planting strategy was that we took an either/or approach on these issues rather than a both/and. Here is a quick break down of where we needed the AND approach, but didn't have it.

Leadership AND Followership: We were coming out of a situation where people were not given the freedom to pursue their callings without a lot of red tape. The leaders kept a tight control on who could and could not play a role in the church. We did not want that to happen in our church plant. We thought the best way to create a leadership culture was to say everyone was a leader. This turned out to be unwise for two main reasons. First, not everyone wants to be a leader. Some people want to follow a leader and have no desire to be out front. Calling people leaders does not make them leaders. Second, someone needs to model healthy leadership in order for other existing or potential leaders to know what a leadership culture looks like. This is imitation 101. To make good leaders, you have to have a good leader to imitate. (See blog post here.) 

Centralized AND Decentralized: Because we were hyped up on creating a movement, we thought the key to seeing it happen would be to decentralize our ministry efforts and give a high level of autonomy to people on the front end to pursue what they felt the Lord wanted them to do. However, if we take a look at the ministry of Jesus, he structured a period of centralization for 3 1/2 years with the 12 before they decentralized for mission. This centralization around the leader(s) is where the DNA of the gospel, mission, community, discipleship and leadership is embedded through discipleship. Without this period of centralization, decentralization turns into dissipation and an overall fragmentation of the community (see blog post here.) It is hard to build momentum and get traction in this kind of scenario.

We also took an overly decentralized approach to being on mission. We told everybody to go and be Jesus in their social networks, and bring people back to the group. This sounded good, at first. The more entrepreneurial people in the group liked this idea and did well, for a season. But the less entrepreneurial folks did not last long with this approach. People got discouraged and felt alone on the mission. We needed to have a specific network or neighborhood that the group could organize around and call that their mission focus. Without a clear mission focus for the group at large, everyone eventually felt alone and discouraged. They needed synergy with others and a sense of accountability to make it work for the long haul.

Home AND Temple:  We started the church plant off with 6 people (2 of which moved after about 6 months into it....yikes!!!) In an effort to keep things simple and reproducible, when numbers got up to around 18, we multiplied into 2 house churches. We thought that as long as we kept the church in the 10-15 range, we would position ourselves for multiplication. We neglected moving into larger gatherings because we did not want to drift into a Sunday event style church where it was all about the worship service. However, what we didn't take into account was that a lot of the people in the community needed the larger gathering for momentum, and a sense of being a part of something bigger than themselves. This decision to only do personal space frustrated our development and momentum as a community. We needed larger and smaller gatherings. 

Organic AND Organized: This basically has to do with our aversion to structure and organization at the front end of the plant. We were over reacting to a rigid environment we were coming out of. What we needed was structure and organization that functioned like a trellis in a garden. The structure would support the life of the community, not the other way around. My own preference for a lack of structure highly influenced the culture of our church plant. Now that I am aware that it was purely a preference, I can bring balance to the next venture and design structures that will focus our energies and attention on what matters most.  

Failure is one of those things no one wants to experience, but it is probably one of the most fertile places for learning things about ourselves and what it means to live in a covenant relationship with the Father. It is through failure that we learn some of our most valuable lessons. 

One thing is for sure, if you never fail, you are probably not taking risks. And without taking risks, we will never be able to move beyond the present reality. Experiment...but learn as you go. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

200. Mastery and Originality in the missional task of the church Part 2

In Part 1 of this series on Mastery and Originality, we talked about the need to for the church to have a balance between mastery and originality in order to remain effective in it's missional task.
Ideally, when someone launches out and experiments with innovative forms of mission, they develop a sense of mastery in that particular strategy or model and become an effective practitioner. This is how models or methods of any kind are born. Depending on certain variables, that model may get replicated in other contexts. It would look something like this.

This journey from experimenting towards effectiveness is what the success stories are made of. We all love to hear these kinds of stories. They inspire us to innovate and experiment ourselves. If they can do, we can do it too. This journey, as the squiggly line depicts, is not easy, and often times filled with discouragement, ambiguity, disappointment, and frustration. But to cross that line into sustainability and effectiveness is sweet indeed. It's something every pioneer longs for. It deserves to be celebrated and taken note of.

So what happens when you experiment and things don't work out? What happens when you pour your heart and soul into a venture and you don't achieve what you wanted to achieve? We don't hear many stories about this kind of journey. For one, those who go through it are rarely excited about sharing it. There is a certain shame involved with being "that guy" who sets out on that journey and doesn't land the ship on the other side. Questions like "What's wrong with me?" and "Why me?" and "Where is God in all of this?" are some of things that go through church planters minds when their experiments turn out to be just that, an experiment. These are tough questions that don't settle down with easy answers.

I want to suggest several things to keep in mind if you are "that guy" (no gender bias here :-) or you know someone who is "that guy."

1. If you felt called by God to launch out into the frontier and experiment with a missional venture,  just because it didn't work out does not mean God did not call you to walk with him on that journey. None of the apostle Paul's churches are still around today, and yet his influence is undisputed. God goes with us into every calling, even if it doesn't turn out like we wanted.

2. Failing at an experiment does not mean you are a failure. No one likes to experience failure, but when we do, it tends to reveal the source of where we draw our identity from. If the core of your identity is drawn from what you do FOR Christ (doing), then experiencing a failure will rock your world. Our identity is fundamentally who we are IN Christ (being). God can use our failures to anchor our identity in Christ.

3. There are big "F" and little "f" failures. Little "f" failures are when you don't achieve what you set out to achieve. Big "F" failures are when you choose to stay at the settlement because of fear or down right laziness. This is perhaps one of the most important things for  people doing apostolic ministry to embrace. We are to be faithful to the One who calls us into the frontier. Faithfulness, in and of itself, is Success with a capital "S". The ultimate Failure is disobedience to the One who calls. Framed this way, I will take a little "f" over a big "F" any day.

4. Learn from the experiment. It requires a good dose of humility to look back on your efforts and say "If I had to do it again, I would do ________ differently." Doing this will position you to learn valuable lessons from your experience. This is where the Father will redeem your experiment and be able to cultivate a level of mastery in you for the next venture.

5. Talk about what you have learned from the experiment. This is another way the Father will redeem your experience of failure. You develop a level of authority out of your experience of failure that can not be found any other way.

6. Just because you did not achieve what you wanted to achieve, does not mean nothing was achieved. As a leader, you are the custodian of the vision, which is often larger than life....and it should be. However, when that vision doesn't come to pass, it is easy to write off the venture as being completely worthless. Regardless of whether or not you achieved your goal, God will still use the soil you tilled, the weeds you pulled, the seeds you planted, watered and tended for His kingdom purposes. Influence is not measured by the leader, but by those who have been influenced. This explains why people who walked with you will always see more good coming from your efforts than you will.

7. It's not over. Just because you experienced failure does not mean your future is sealed. You can take what you have learned from your experience, increase your level of mastery, and move forward into the future with greater levels of wisdom and maturity. The Lord can use anyone who is willing to learn. The trajectory would look something like this.

It is during that phase of expiring that the Father can raise our level of mastery. Most of the things you will learn on the frontier will have a lot to do with your own spiritual formation as a leader as well as issues related to structure, strategy, and sequence for implementing your vision. However, learning from failure is different than learning from success by way of focus. When you learn from failure there are typically specific practices, postures or processes you can clearly point to that contributed to the failure. This makes learning from failure really focused....and painful.

Success, on the other hand, is often not so revealing as to what the contributing factors were. I remember hearing a guy get up and explain the success of his church plant with really vague and cliche phrases like "we prayed really hard" "made sure people were committed" and "small groups were a big priority." I thought to myself, "Every church planter I know does this!" The factors that contribute to a successful venture are not necessarily apparent on the first round because many of the factors are often concealed from the planter by virtue of their default assumptions of what makes a church plant successful. This makes learning from success a tricky affair. It often takes others experimenting with those same "factors" in similar contexts to expose those factors as being peripheral to what makes a venture successful.

8. Don't be afraid to let "it" die. If you did not achieve what you wanted to achieve, you should name it, and let it die. You should let the venture expire. You then, should enter into a season of abiding (John 15) where Jesus can re-build and re-store your vitality for the next assignment. Experiencing failure can tear you down, especially the last phases of the venture where you have to watch it die and fade away. But Jesus is the source of life, and if we are willing to abide in Him, and let his words abide in us, we will find the love and joy we need to move into the future with hope and confidence. It is during a time of pruning that we can draw from the Vine in deeper ways, positioning us to bear fruit that lasts.

In the next post, I will talk about some of the practical things I have learned through my most recent failure in church planting. For the past 5 years I have experimented with planting churches using the house church model. I call it a failure because I did not achieve what I wanted to achieve. God still used our efforts, people were changed, healing took place, and we saw God build bridges where none existed. But as the leader, I had a vision of starting a network of multiplying house churches. I did not achieve that vision. So I have to own that, learn from it, and share with others what I have learned so those who are open to it, can learn from my experience. This is part of what it means to be a pioneer. You share your journey, pitfalls and all, and in so doing, you can help others chart a better course into the future. 

Friday, June 08, 2012

199. Mastery and Originality in the missional task of the church Part 1

In The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church, we talk about the trended decline of Christianity in the West. This decline has prompted a surge in church planting over the past decade. However, most church planting in the past decade has been shaped by the prevailing paradigms and practices (algorithms) of the conventional church. As the algorithm goes, you throw up a sexy worship service, provide a dynamic children's ministry, get a "wow" speaker, and market like crazy (I sarcastically oversimplify, but humor me). This conventional model of church planting has experienced a certain level of "success." However, if truth be told, most of these plants typically attract a certain demographic of the already Christian population, otherwise known as the churched/de-churched folks. All in all, you cant knock this kind of venture because it often restores back sliders and ends up mobilizing resources for kingdom impact in the long run. Kingdom impact is a good thing no matter how you slice the pie. So I am not one of those purists who says this kind of church planting is useless or irrelevant. It clearly has a place in the churches task, and I respect those who are called to do it. 

However, we have to own up to the music here. The current algorithms of church planting will only reach a certain demographic of people. In order to reach people we are not currently reaching, we will have to do things we are not currently doing. Most church planting organizations stick with the prevailing model because they have developed a level of mastery in executing the current church planting algorithm. And who can blame them? Considering the amount of money involved in most church planting ventures, the proven efficiency of it all is quite alluring to all involved. 

Yet our mission still stands: to penetrate un-reached people groups and places with the gospel, make disciples, and form new, self-propagating expressions of the ecclesia. If getting better and better at applying the existing algorithm (mastery) will only make us more efficient at reaching a certain socio-cultural strata of the population, then no matter how efficient we become, we will, in the big scheme of things, remain ineffective. We will not achieve our mission. This is a problem. 

In order to effectively achieve our cross-cultural, geo-ethnic mission, we have to open ourselves up to developing new algorithms. In essence, we have to move away from mastery and move towards originality. Stepping away from the existing algorithms and their predictable outcomes means you will experience a dip in efficiency. It will take more time, more resources, more energy. Success will be delayed, and sometimes even denied. To illustrate the interrelationship between mastery and originality, I came up with this matrix.

High levels of mastery and low levels of originality amount to efficiency. Efficiency is good, but only if all variables are static. If your surrounding environment shifts or increases in complexity, relying on your mastery of previously formulated algorithms will, over time, lead to a devolution and expiration will be on the horizon. Blockbuster Video stores are case in point. With the onset of netflix, and then redbox, Blockbuster was being faced with a serious shift in the marketplace. Their inability to innovate and adapt put them out of business. They were efficient, but not effective.  Without originality, your organization will become irrelevant and outdated, no longer able to engage the complexity of it's environment.

On the other hand, an entrepreneurial venture that lingers too long in experimentation without developing a level of mastery in the skills needed for a sustainable venture will also devolve and expire due to a lack of momentum and depleting resources at all levels. Perpetual originality in the absence of mastery leads to brinkmanship. Engaging in entrepreneurial ventures with significant levels of risk and innovativeness requires a certain kind of wisdom and discernment to know when to embrace the reality of failure and go back to the drawing board. 

Every organization/venture, if it wants to be effective, has to wrestle with finding a balance between developing a level mastery in their current operations and practices while at the same time cultivating a certain level of originality in their approach to achieving their mission. To engage in one, without the other, is to seriously compromise the long term viability of the organization/venture. If we are willing to navigate the landscape of mastery and originality we will open ourselves up to the Missio Dei who calls us into the frontiers of unreached people groups to pioneer missional-incarnational-attractional-communal-instrictional (APEST) forms of ecclesia.

Christianity in the West stands at the cross roads in this hour.  Apostolic ministry is not the solution to all our problems, but it does present us with the potential for a new beginning in the churches task to penetrate different people groups and places with the gospel and form new expressions of kingdom communities. It is our contention that those gifted as apostles are the one's most likely to engage the challenges associated with originality and experimentation, thus catalyzing an environment where a permanent revolution can emerge.

In the next post I will talk about how to deal with failure on a personal level when an experiment with originality fails. Even in the midst of failure, God can bring a level of mastery to the fore that can be leveraged for future ventures.   

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

198. Discipleship and Imitation Part 2

If we are willing to let Jesus be our primary point of reference for what it means to make disciples, then discipleship is fundamentally about imitation. Jesus said every disciple who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Lk. 6:40) Without imitation, then making disciples will drift into information giving. Information and teaching are good, but lets not make the act of teaching synonymous with making disciples. (Even the great commission in Matthew 28 draws a distinction between these two activities by using two different words for making disciples and teaching)

If disciple making is fundamentally about imitation, then it would be helpful to know what essential components need to be in place in order for imitation to take place. I think they can be boiled down to the following: 1.) Physical Proximity 2.) Relational Frequency and 3.) Situational Variety.

1. Physical Proximity: You may be able to coach someone over the phone or through the internet, but you can not disciple them through this medium. Why? Because in order to truly disciple someone they have to have access to the patterns and practices of your life. They have to literally be around you so they can observe your life and learn to imitate the parts of your life that are worth imitating. This requires physical proximity so you can share the same space and synchronize portions of your life for real, in person interaction.

2. Relational Frequency: Even if I have physical proximity with someone I am discipling, if I dont open up the rhythm of my life to them in both an organized and organic way, then they will not have adequate exposure to my life. People can only imitate what they have been exposed to. As a general rule, I have an organized meeting once a week with those I am discipling where I go through tools called LifeShapes crafted by 3DM. I also have organic times where I spontaneously invite people over or we do life together over meals or recreation. This happens, ideally, on a weekly basis. A weekly organized meeting and a weekly encounter on the fly. Most months the rhythm is checkered for the organic times, but the organized huddle is week in and week out.

3. Situational Variety: the people I am discipling need to encounter me in multiple scenarios and contexts. If I only meet with people in a classroom setting, then lets be honest....I am not discipling them, I am just doing some really up close teaching and coaching. Discipleship means I invite them into the rhythms of my life. They need to seem me hug my wife, pray for people in the Walmart parking lot, witness to people at the local court house. They need to see me in church settings, in entertainment settings where I just chill, have fun, and hang out. So here it is in a diagram.

Making disciples the way Jesus did it requires us to have a level of intentionality and openness with our lives. People do not get discipled on accident. We disciple people by inviting people into the rhythms of our life and saying to them "Follow me as I follow Christ." We have to be strategic with our time and the way we organize our lives so that the people we are investing in not only have access to us, but have access to us in different scenarios and contexts. I think this is what Jesus is getting at when he says that a disciple who is "fully trained" will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40.) Without these 3 components being a part of the discipling relationship, then imitation will be only one or two dimensional. There will be a lack of exposure, and consequently, a lack of imitation. By definition, this translates into a lack of discipleship. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

197. Discipleship and Imitation Part 1

Discipleship is one of those words that means so many things to so many different people. It really does depend on how many people you ask as to how many explanations you will receive. Two reasons come immediately to mind for this kind of ambiguity. First, there is a functional difference between being a disciple of Jesus (follower), and making disciples of Jesus(follower and leader). Making disciples of Jesus is clearly a broader function than being a disciple, and should take place, ideally, after one has been discipled by another.

For example, the 12 were disciples of Jesus for 3 1/2 years, but did not become disciple makers till after the ascension. However, notice they did not cease to be disciples when they became disciple makers. No, they merely matured into their role as disciples by imitating Jesus, the disciple maker. They became little Jesus' and called people to follow them in a discipling relationship. They were merely imitating the one who previously discipled them.

Secondly, the cultural distance between us and Jesus' first century, Palestinian, 2nd Temple Judaism context creates a little bit of a blur for us.  If you wanted to become a disciple of someone in Judaism (in Jesus' day  you would follow a rabbi), you knew exactly what you were getting into. You would literally follow the rabbi (teacher) around and attempt to integrate every facet of the rabbi's life into your own life. You would try to develop and acquire the knowledge, skills, rhythms and practices of their life. Your basic aim was to BE who the rabbi was. The nature of this disciple-rabbi relationship was a part of the very fabric of their culture. It was in this particular historical environment that Jesus called people to be his disciples. (In some ways, I think this relational structure of rabbi-disciple that was built into the culture of that day was part of the "fullness of time" mentioned in Galatians 4, buts that's another post :-)

We, on the other hand, do not live in a culture where discipleship is a part of the visual fabric of our society. The closest thing we have to discipleship is the concept of apprenticeship in which someone seeks to learn a trade like welding from someone who was traditionally called a master craftsmen. But even this current practice of apprenticeship falls short as it is typically only experienced in the technical college, classroom setting, for a brief moment. When compared to how Jesus defines and demonstrates what it means to "make disciples" the language of "apprentice" gets really close, but doesn't fully capture the meaning of the relationship.

The following video is a glimpse into the mind of a blacksmith master craftsmen, Notice how he talks about his craft and how it is learned. Not from books, not from lectures, but by actually doing it. If you wanted to learn how to be blacksmith, you would need to apprentice yourself to a master craftsmen blacksmith. You would have to watch what he does, and then experiment with it yourself. You would need to imitate him.

In the next post, I will talk about the essential components that need to be in place in order for imitation to take place.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

196. The Difference between Discipleship and Ministry

As I talk with various leaders, I am finding that there is typically a misunderstanding about the difference between ministry and disciple making. Describing the difference between disciple making and ministry is kind of like describing the difference between a square and a rectangle. A square can be a rectangle, but a rectangle is not necessarily a square. They both have four right angles and four sides, but only the square has sides of equal length. Applying this to ministry and discipleship, you can do ministry without making disciples, but you cant make disciples without doing ministry.

Think about it like this....Jesus could have taught every sermon and parable in his ministry without the 12 disciples being around. In fact, Jesus could have healed, spoke truth to the Pharisees, died for our sins, and rose form the dead...all by himself.  Jesus could have had a dynamic ministry without ever discipling anyone.

So why invite 12 guys to follow you around and give them access to your life? The answer is this: Jesus wanted to build more than a dynamic ministry, he wanted to build a movement. In order to build a movement that outlives the founder, you have to make disciples. Ministry is not enough.  Some churches have dynamic ministry going on, which is great! God will move in and among his people when we obediently serve people. But without disciple making, it will never be become a movement, and you will likely be limited in the amount of ministry you will be able to do as well. After all, who is going to lead those ministries? Who will lead new ministries? Who is going to minister to the people you reach through those ministries? Without making disciples, you will not be able to develop leaders, and without leaders, ministry can only go so far.

However, if you make disciples, then you will get more ministry, and the people who come into the orbit of that ministry will come into contact with people who can make disciples, and this will eventually lead to more ministry and missional ventures in the long run. Sounds simple, sounds cute and trite, but don't be fooled. This is really how it works.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

195. The False Dichotomy between Leadership and Servanthood

It is becoming increasingly popular to create a false dichotomy between leadership and servant hood. As the logic goes, having an organizational structure that identifies someone as "the leader" is somehow tyrannical and loaded down with exorbitant pitfalls. Truly spiritual people and organizations use "mutual submission" and "team based models" of leadership, as the logic would ensue.

First, let me say that most of the blogs and talks I hear on this topic are, at best, looking to shape leadership around the sacrificial, servant based, kenotic (emptying of self) values of the cross outlined in Philippians 2. We have all experienced the ego-centric leader, power hungry and addicted to prominence. However, I think that the term leadership is broad and often eludes simplistic definitions, especially when we factor in the dynamics of organization and cultural context. I will not offer a definition of leadership here, I'll leave that to the exploration of the reader. I will however ask one question that I think deserves attention and may have the potential to draw this kind of false dichotomy out into the open and expose it for what it is. The question is this:

If you were to ask any of the 12 apostles during Jesus' ministry who "the leader" was, what would they say?

There is no doubt that they would have said. They all, without question, would have said Jesus. Jesus was "the leader" of the 12, and the 12 knew it. This was not just a Jesus thing, it was a rabbi thing. In other words, it was the nature of a rabbi-disciple relationship. There is a leader and a follower.

This may at first seem overly simplistic, but facing up to this reality that existed between Jesus and the 12 leads me to ask another follow up question:

When Jesus told the 12 to go and "make disciples", wasn't he telling them to now become "the leader" with a potentially new group of followers?

The answer in my mind is an obvious "yes." If discipleship is fundamentally about imitation, then when I am being discipled by another person, I am choosing to follow that person for a season. It is an incubation period where I learn how to be a leader by following a leader. If I am imitating the one I am following, then by definition I am imitating a This means disciple making is fundamentally about leadership training. When it comes time for me to expand my role from one who is being discipled to one who is also making disciples, then I will, by definition, be "the leader" of those who are following me.

The problem with most discussions about leadership is that they often don't factor in the equation of disciple making. An organizational structure that includes "the leader" does not have to be tyrannical or abusive, or un-spiritual. If so, Jesus would have been all those things. No, leadership can be exercised in such a way that the power and authority afforded to the leader can be stewarded for the empowerment of those who are following "the leader." This is how Jesus did it, and he asks us to imitate him. This is why I think that the practice of making disciples is axiomatic to any discussion leadership.

I have been on a church planting team in Montgomery Al that was organizationally structured with "the leader" and other "co-workers" who synergized around the over arching vision and values of "the leader." We had staff meetings, argued, debated, shared perspectives, and sometimes hotly disagreed. At the end of the day though, when we could not agree, something had to give. As naughty as this may sound, "someone had to make a decision." And this fell to "the leader." We trusted his heart, as well as his openness to us, and the Spirit. If we didn't, we would not have "followed" him as a leader. He was accountable to us in areas of character, as we all were to each other. How could we not be? We shared our lives together and were in close enough proximity to each other to notice character flaws and address them when necessary.

This is not to say leaders don't need accountability structures and communal processes to season their leadership. This is deserves another blog post, admittedly. The point I am making here is that we don't have to throw the baby out with the bath water. What we need to do is learn how to lead as Jesus led his disciples. We can not improve on what Jesus did. He called people to follow him, trained them, and empowered them to become leaders themselves. He gives us the authority to do the same thing (Matthew 28:18-20). Only now, it is not just "follow me." Our fallen nature requires an exception clause: as I follow Christ.(I Cor 11:1) Our leadership is held to the same standards (if not higher) as those who follow us. We all follow Christ, but not all are making disciples. Those who are making disciples both follow Christ and lead others in doing so, only to make other disciple makers, which is to say, by definition, leaders. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

194. Review of Multiplying Missional Leaders by Mike Breen

Wisdom is demonstrated in not just knowing what to focus on, but  also knowing what not to focus on. This kind of wisdom only comes from years of practice in one’s field. It takes experimentation, failure and a track record of success and fruitfulness to develop this kind of wisdom. Not many leaders have been willing to pay that price.  

Mike Breen’s new book, Multiplying Missional Leaders: From half-hearted volunteers to a mobilized Kingdom force, offers us the rare opportunity to peer into the mind of a wise, seasoned missional leader. For the past 20 years, Mike has poured his life into developing Biblical tools and strategies that effectively train leaders to reproduce themselves while pioneering missional communities. The global movement of disciple making, leadership development and missional communities that he now leads is essentially the culmination of a lifetime of experimentation and unquestionable fruitfulness both in Europe and the U.S.

Reading his new book is like lifting up the hood of a car and seeing what the engine of a missional movement looks like. Concepts in the present day missional movement that tend to be stand alone topics are integrated and brought into meaningful relationship with one another.  Topics like the fivefold giftings of APEST in Ephesians 4, the role of leaders in defining culture, the need for both discipleship and leadership, the criteria for selecting and training new leaders, the role of of an oikos(household) for leaders of leaders, the importance of developing both character(who leaders are) and competence(what leaders can do) in leaders, as well as an organizational process (pipeline) for training leaders, are all woven together in complimentary ways that show how each part plays a role in moving towards a leadership culture. Finding a book that brings all of this together is a rare find indeed.

While Mike gives us a broad view of the essential components for multiplying missional leaders, you can rest assured that the principles he lays out are not grounded in theory or trendy new speak.  No, this book has been written by a seasoned leader who has extracted these principles from scripture and enacted them on the ground in the real context of a post-christian culture. Mike Breen has focused the wisdom and success of the last 20 years into a rich, yet profoundly simple, format that brings together both the principles of scripture and the wisdom of experience into an integrated, systemic, process oriented approach to leadership development.

 All in all, this book will help bring clarity to areas of leadership that, up until now, have remained foggy, fragmented, and overly fixated on either or thinking. It brings a refreshing kind of wisdom that can only be found in seasoned practitioners who have walked the line and done the hard work of experimenting, learning from failure, and crafting their hard earned insights into useful principles that can serve the next generation of leaders. Save yourself some time, heart/head ache, and unnecessary failure and read this book. You, and those you lead, will be glad you did.

Friday, May 04, 2012

193. Apostolic Ministry and the Entrepreneurial Orientation Part 1

In our book The Permanent Revolution, me and Alan Hirsch spend a bit of time taking about the entrepreneurial orientation of apostles. The staple quality of entrepreneurs is what sociologists call "opportunity recognition." That is, entrepreneurs have an innate ability to recognize opportunities for either making money or advancing a cause. Where some see deficits, entrepreneurs see an opportunity for development. Where some see gaps, entrepreneurs see opportunities for growth. Where some see vacancy, entrepreneurs see opportunities for ventures. You get the idea.

Another staple quality of entrepreneurs is their ability to take risks. Entrepreneurial people have a certain tolerance for risk and ambiguity. They like the idea of launching out into the unknown and get a unique satisfaction out of making it to the other side, despite the odds. The destination sometimes is just as exciting as the journey itself.

As "sent ones", apostles have a God given drive to launch out and start new things. They thrive on the idea of taking risks and pioneering new ventures into unknown territories. This is a gift, one that should be celebrated and embraced.

However, like all giftings form God, they have to be exercised under the Lordship of Christ and go through a process of maturing and filling out. One of the common mistakes that immature apostles often make is responding to opportunity without a clear word from the Lord to do so. Just because you recognize an opportunity does not mean you should respond to the opportunity. On any given day, I will be driving through my city and think of several businesses I could start. I could list off to you the restaurants that are not in my city, the services not being offered in my city by various vendors and companies in other cities. I will see a trailer park and think, I could probably start a church there...who could I get to do that with me. I will drive by a huge city park with about 15 soccer fields while a soccer tournament is going on and think, I need to start investing my time in that people group, I know I could meet a person of peace there. On, and on, and on it goes. Sometimes it is just fun to play with the idea in my head about how it could all  look, and then sometimes it is quite frustrating to me because I become disoriented with all the opportunity that surrounds me.

I want to share something about a word the Lord gave me about two months ago. The previous plant I was involved folded about 9 months ago partly because of team issues. As a result, me and my wife are in transition right now and waiting on the Lord to reveal to us what he wants us to do next. I was in my bed one night about two months ago lamenting to God about how long he was taking to reveal "whats next" for us. As I wined and complained, the Lord directed my attention to the story of Peter walking on the water. I began to meditate on this story and I felt like the Lord said something to me. It was a word of rebuke. He said that I needed to learn from Peter and start asking permission before I step out of the boat. As I began to abide on this word for the next month, the Lord began convicting me about how quickly I moved into this previous plant and did not spend enough time observing, reflecting and listening to the Father's voice on whether or not I need to move forward into this particular opportunity. We did have team issues that ultimately led the team to disband, but I the Lord spoke a clear word to me that I did not ask his permission to move forward into this opportunity. I just moved forward and asked God to bless it.

So how do you know if you should respond to an opportunity? This is really important question for apostles to engage in.  As I reflected on the story of Peter walking on the water, there were three particular elements to Peter stepping out of the boat. Recognize Opportunity, Request Permission, Respond Accordingly.

Here are some of my reflections on these three components.

1. Recognized the Opportunity: He saw Jesus walking on the water and thought to himself, I want to do that too! Jesus is on the water, why don't I join him there!

2. Request Permission: Peter said to Jesus, "If its you, tell me to come out to you on the water." Peter did not just assume Jesus wanted him out on the water with him. Just because we see the Lord working some where, doesn't necessarily mean he wants us to join him there. When we recognize an opportunity, we should first ask permission form the Lord to "step out of the boat."

3. Respond Accordingly: Peter heard one word form Jesus...Come. That's all he needed. The important thing to see here though is that he is responding to the voice of the Lord, not to the opportunity itself. Just because you recognize an opportunity doesn't mean you should respond to the opportunity. What if Jesus would have said "It is me, but don't come out. I will meet you on the shore. Keep your seat in the boat with the rest of the team." My guess is that Peter would have stayed in the boat. But then again, this is Peter we are talking about here :-)

So the proper flow is to move from recognizing an opportunity to requesting permission, and then to launching out. It would look something like this.

If apostles are "sent ones" then it implies someone else is doing the sending. There is an actor external to the apostle that is directing the apostle towards a specific opportunity. The apostle is not the one who sends themselves, it is God who sends the apostle. So in essence, apostles respond to the voice of the Lord, not to the opportunity itself. If we bypass "requesting permission" and go straight to "responding" then our apostolic ventures will take on a certain "opportunistic" feel to them. Instead of being led by the Spirit, we will find ourselves being led by our own cravings for adventure and novelty. Mission then becomes a tool for self-actualization and not a mans by which we worship-fully offer our world back to God.

Paul demonstrates this process of learning how to respond to the Spirit in Acts 16 when he is trying to figure out which direction he should be going for his next venture. The direction the Spirit gave in this instance was more indirect than direct. The Spirit directed them by forbidding them to go certain places, but He did not actually give them a direct word saying "Go to Macedonia." Instead, Paul had a vision of a man pleading with him saying "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Its interesting how Luke records the decision making process that they used. A vision comes to the principal leader of the apostolic band, but then Luke says we sought to go to Macedonia "concluding" that the Lord has called us to preach the gospel to them.  The impression I get here is that they deliberated on it and had to make a judgement call on what the Spirit was up to. The Spirit was closing all the doors around them, and then a vision of an opportunity in Macedonia came to Paul. The point of the story, among other tings, is that Paul was being sensitive the leading of the Spirit here. He was a man on the move, but he had a desire to move in step with the Spirit, not in step with his own agenda.

So what about you? Have you ever moved to quickly on an opportunity without seeking to hear form the Lord and get His permission? Next pot we will look at the implications of Peter's walking on the water, sinking, and coming back to the boat for apostolic ministry.