The Mission of God: A Faithful but Contextual Participation

I’m excited to be helping Mission Alive relaunch their blog. This blog is part of a larger social-media effort that also includes a monthly webinar called Innovative Church Conversations and a podcast called Discipleship Conversations.

My excitement stems from my belief in the cause for which Mission Alive exists, the mission of God. I’ve had an association with Mission Alive for more than a decade now. I fondly recall my wife and I having breakfast with Dr. Gailyn VanRheenen and his wife Becky, hearing about the beginnings of Mission Alive. Several years later I helped with a church planting team that Mission Alive was helping and then eight years ago I participated in the Mission Alive Renew cohort for leading church renewal.

Although I serve as a pastor with a church that is nearly seventy years old, I believe there is a need for planting new churches. Likewise, I also believe there is a need for equipping leaders who will help local churches live on mission with God. That’s why I’m helping Mission Alive.

Of course, I will boldly say that neither the church nor her leaders should ever forget that when we speak of mission, we are talking about the mission of God — not our mission. As Christopher J. H. Wright has said, “it is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world” (The Mission of God, p 62). 

Recognizing that it is the mission of God rather than our mission raises some questions. What does it mean to participate in the mission of God? How do local churches participate in the mission of God? How does participating in the mission of God shape the task of church planting? How does participating in the mission of God shape the task of leading? You probably have a few other questions too. One thing for sure is that there are not any easy answers to the questions before us.

As most people know, the landscape of North American culture has and continues to shift in major ways. We can’t even speak of one culture because there are a multiplicity of sub-cultures that differ from city to city, region to region. Even within any given metropolitan area there are many sub-cultures. So we can forget any one-size-fits-all approach to our participation in the mission of God. Rather than embracing a homogeneous approach, I want to suggest that the answer to our questions begins with the Bible and particularly the hermeneutics of how we read the Bible.

When we read the Bible, we’re reading a story. In short, the story gives us an account of how God is redeeming and restoring the life he has created, with a past, present, and future. We learn of what God has accomplished in the past to understand how that bears upon the present and will come to complete fulfillment in the future.

Although every aspect of the story is important, the plot draws our attention to Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. The Bible, then, offers us a narrative that is Christ-Centered and Kingdom-Oriented (or Christologically-Centered and Eschatologically-Oriented). Reading the story as people who are part of the story serves forms us as followers of Jesus living under the reign of God. Herein is the key to our participation in the mission of God: We are are learning to live as a coherent reflection of the life Jesus lived and the incoming kingdom of God he proclaimed as good news (cf. Mk 1:14-15). 

So as I like to remind people, we are the Bible that people will first read. What story will they read? Our calling is to live the story of the gospel in such a manner that when words become necessary, they are merely offering an explanation of what is already seen. In other words, the churches we plant and lead as well as our very own lives as church leaders must be embodiment of the gospel. Underscore that too because one of the unfortunate obstacles between the gospel and culture is the reality of too many scandals with churches and church leaders, where there has been a failure to embody the gospel.

However, as important as faithfully embodying the gospel is, the plethora of different cultures among the North American landscape will require innovation as well. If we don’t pay attention to the culture we live among, we may faithfully embody the gospel but do so in a manner that talks past the local community.

To some Christian, the word innovation raise concerns. Are we now just deciding to make it up as we go along, doing whatever is trendy and even edgy? The answer to that is a big “No!” 

What I mean by innovation involves what actors and musicians call improvisation. With the Bible as our story, we become actors within the story (Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God, p. 140). Except the script for our particular scene — how we are to embody the gospel within our local context — is missing and now will require some improvisation. It would be redundant, meaningless, and eventually boring if we just repeated everything in the previous scene because that is what was done before. In lieu of that, we want to improvise in a manner that makes sense for our scene but also remains coherent with the plot of the story told within scripture.

It’s like playing in a jazz band. The story of the Bible provides us with the key, tempo, time signature, and even the chord structure. If some of the musicians were to play in a different key, tempo, time, and chord changes, the music would sound terrible and turn away the listeners. So instead, all the musicians play within the structure given. One the other hand, imagine if the musicians just began playing the same seven or eight notes over and over again in the same pattern and same emotion. The song would lose meaning and lose the interest of the listeners. But if the musicians were to improvise, they would still play coherently with the music piece they are given but do so in a manner that makes sense at every bar in the music. So it is with participating in the mission of God. We follow Jesus Christ as people living under the kingdom of God but it requires both faithfulness to and contextualization of the gospel we read about in the biblical story. That is how we participate with God to, as the purpose of Mission Alive states, “bring about the holistic transformation of marginalized communities through starting and renewing innovative churches that address the most challenging issues faced by their neighbors.” To that end is what the relaunch of the Mission Alive blog will serve.

~ K. Rex Butts, D.Min

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K. Rex Butts serves as the lead minister/pastor with the Newark Church of Christ in Newark, DE. He holds a Doctor of Ministry in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, TN. He is married to Laura and together they have three children.

We’re Back: Reintroducing The Mission Alive Blog

I am excited to reintroduce Mission Alive’s Missional Church Planting blog. It has been nearly 5 years since our last post. At the time we were in the midst of a leadership transition from Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen, Mission Alive’s founder, to me as the second-generation executive director. We have made the transition well, planted several new churches, developed a focus on marginalized communities, and are now ready to recommit ourselves to providing helpful articles on missional church and church planting.

As we relaunch this blog, we are doing so as part of Mission Alive Media. Mission Alive Media will consist of 3 media platforms

Each platform will have a unique audience but together they will explore the breadth of topics involved in missional church, church planting, leadership, discipleship, and the future of the church in North America.

I am even more excited to announce the leadership team that will oversee Mission Alive Media. It is my pleasure to announce that Steven Carrizal, Associate Minister for the Alta Mesa Church of Christ in Ft. Worth, Texas will chair the Mission Alive Media team. In addition to his ministry at the Alta Mesa church, Steven is a coach and an associate with Hope Network Ministries. Steven and Jeremy Hoover, Mission Alive church planter in Sarnia, Ontario, originally launched the Discipleship Conversations podcast. While Steven will lead our media team, Jeremy will oversee the Discipleship Conversations podcast. I will continue to oversee the Innovative Church Conversations webinars.

This Missional Church Planting blog will be under the direction of K. Rex Butts. Rex is a gifted preacher, pastor, theologian, and congregational leader as well as a husband and father. He is a ministry coach, guitar player, and enjoys a good brew — coffee and more. Rex holds a Doctor of Ministry degree in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL (Chicago). What makes Rex the perfect leader of this Missional Church Planting blog is how well he brings together missional theology and missional practice. I am excited to entrust the leadership of this blog to Rex.

This blog will address missional ecclesiology in general and missional church planting specifically. It will focus on the connections between Christology, missiology, and ecclesiology all with an eye toward ministry practice.  

Our hope is that this Missional Church Planting blog will become a valuable resource to you and your church, as you seek to join God in what he is doing to bring about the holistic restoration of every soul and every community. Our goal is to provide you, the well-trained ministry practitioner, with high-quality, theologically robust articles that are at the same time enormously practical and inspiring. We will seek out the leading theologians, missiologists, and practical ministry experts in the field of missional church and church planting to write for this blog. Many who are already part of the Mission Alive Network will share with us their thoughts and experiences and we may even convince Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen to write an article from time to time to share with us his ongoing insights!

We in Mission Alive believe that the cultural tables have been turned over. While tried and true ministry methods may continue to gather the already-Christian – introducing our unbelieving neighbors to Christ and helping them grow in Christ will take more creative and innovative methods. That means no one is truly an expert. We are all experimenting. Our goal is to bring you the result of many experiments from many missional trailblazers.  Please join us.

~ Tod K. Vogt

3 Indications A New Church is Growing Up: A Case Study

One of the best things about working with a church planting ministry is getting to watch new churches come to life.  Every new church starts as a stirring in someone’s heart.  When the Holy Spirit empowers that stirring a faith community is born.  Yet starting is the easy part.  The hard work of church planting comes in the months and years after the initial launch.

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I recently had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with the Redland Hills Church, near Montgomery, Alabama.  Wes and Amanda Gunn and their team started the Redland Hills Church, a Mission Alive church plant, in 2014.  Since its inception, the church has become well-established in its community and seen several people come to faith.  Throughout 2016 an average of 80 people have gathered each Sunday morning in a neighborhood clubhouse.  They come from a variety of backgrounds but have all found a home at Redland Hills.

At a time when many new faith communities struggle to maintain their momentum, the Redland Hills Church is thriving.  During my recent visit with them I realized that the Redland Hills Church is a case study for how new churches transition from church plant to established congregation.

New churches are naturally fragile.  They typically start with limited human and financial resources.  What they have in abundance is excitement and momentum.  The challenge is to transition the excitement and momentum of the launch into healthy ministry rhythms that will sustain the life of the church over the long haul.  At the Redland Hills Church there is still plenty of excitement but 3 practices are emerging which are helping them make the transition into an established church.

  1. Caring for People

During my time with the Redland Hills Church I clearly saw how God was extending His grace into the lives of hurting people.  The team shared with me some of the challenges they have faced as they try to do this.  Like most communities, theirs has its share of family crises, health challenges, addiction and parenting issues.  Wes, Amanda and the rest of their team have all been thrust into many of these demanding situations.

Early in the life of a new church nearly all the energy gets focused on the mission.  Yet for a new church to transition and become established within its community, it must add pastoral care to its strong sense of mission.  The Redland Hills Church is certainly doing that.  We can support them by calling upon God to strengthen them and make them wise as they extend God’s grace in their community.

  1. Engaging the Community

Soon after they launched, the Redland Hills Church hosted an appreciation dinner for the local volunteer fire department.  As a result, Wes was able to develop several friendships among the volunteers.  More recently Wes completed ‘fire school’ and is now a certified member of the department.  I had the privilege of touring the fire station with Wes and meeting several of the other firefighters.

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His role with the department has allowed Wes access to the community on a deeper level than he would have had otherwise.  Whenever there is a car wreck, house fire or medical emergency, Wes is one of the first to arrive.  His commitment to the community is tangible.  Even more exciting, it is not just Wes engaging the community.  On several occasions Wes has alerted members of the Redland Hills Church who have responded with care, food, clothing or whatever was needed.

Wes and the Redland Hills Church are a model for how Christians can bless their community.  Not that every church should join the fire department but every church should seek opportunities to engage their community in redemptive ways.  We can ask God to keep Wes safe and give him and the Redland Hills Church opportunities to extend God’s care to those in need.

  1. Developing Leaders

During my time with the Redland Hills Church I had the pleasure of spending an evening with the leadership team.  We ate together and talked about some of the challenges of church planting.  The main conversation focused on how the Redland Hills Church would identify, equip and ordain new leaders.

Most new churches start with a small group of committed leaders dedicated to the hard work of launching a new church.  Frequently, this is called the Launch Team.  The Launch Team must eventually transition into a Leadership Team as they church becomes established.  Making this leadership transition challenges any new church.

The Redland Hills Church is handling this well.  Since its inception in 2014, several members of the initial Launch Team have needed to transition from leadership.  The time has come to develop new leaders who will lead the Redland Hills Church into its next season as an established church.  We can pray for Wes and the rest of the current leaders as they develop strategies for identifying and equipping the leaders who will guide the Redland Hills Church into the future.

For any new church to transition into an established congregation it must develop ways to extend care to the church and community.  It must develop methods for cultivating new leaders.  We in Mission Alive are excited to work with gifted leaders like Wes and Amanda Gunn.  If you want to keep up with the Redland Hills Church, you can check out their website at www.redlandhills.org or take a look at their Facebook page www.facebook.com/redlandhills/ .  Please join us in praying for them, their church and community.

 

Confronting Spiritual ADHD (Church as Attentive Community)

This year, Mission Alive hosted three of the classes at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures.  Last week we shared Missional R & D: Church as Adaptive Community taught by Dr. Phil Claycomb and Charles Kiser.

The third class Mission Alive hosted was Confronting Spiritual ADHD (Church as Attentive Community). Does your church suffer from too much activity and not enough listening? How can the church become a community of spiritual attentiveness? This class discusses this paradigm change for the 21st century church.

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The class was taught by Jarrod Robinson, minister of the word at Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene, TX, and Charles Kiser, the director of training at Mission Alive and a church planter in Dallas, TX.

Missional R & D: Church as Adaptive Community

This year, Mission Alive hosted three of the classes at the Pepperdine Lectureships.  Last week we shared Keep Church Weird: Church as Alternative Community, taught by Collin Packer and Charles Kiser.

The second class Mission Alive hosted was Missional R & D: Church as Adaptive Community. What does research and development have to do with the church? What do churches and entrepreneurs have in common? In this class, these questions are discussed and how churches faithfully adapt to their changing contexts.

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The class was taught by Dr. Phil Claycomb, the executive director of Nexus and Charles Kiser, the director of training at Mission Alive and a church planter in Dallas, TX.

 

Keep Church Weird: Church as Alternative Community

This year, Mission Alive hosted three of the classes at the Pepperdine Lectureships.  For the next three weeks, starting today, we will be sharing with you recordings from all three classes, in case you missed them this year or you wanted to hear them again.

The first class Mission Alive hosted was Keep Church Weird: Church as Alternative Community.  As an outpost of God’s reign, the church is a counter-culture to the prevailing culture around it, though perhaps in unexpected ways that is good news to those outside the church. This recording discusses how the church embodies an alternative way of life in its North American neighborhood.

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Collin Packer and Charles Kiser

The class was taught by Collin Packer, the preaching minister at Greenville Oaks Church of Christ in Allen, TX and Charles Kiser, the director of training at Mission Alive and a church planter in Dallas, TX.

The Nativity

It’s December and our Nativity scene sits on our mantle – just like it does every year. It reminds us of God’s gift – his Son, who came to earth as a human and who became our Savior. A marvelous gift that we celebrate at Christmas time.

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The scene depicting Jesus’ birth brings to mind that God’s Son humbled Himself by giving up His position in heaven and taking on human form. He also loved us so much that, though He was perfect, He took on Himself the sins of all humankind and died a humiliating death on a cross so that our sins were forgiven.  This death was the prelude to His becoming the risen Lord standing beside our Father interceding for us.

 Baby Jesus in the manger also reminds us of the man Jesus, who lived a life that we as Christians want to imitate. He had meals with the undesirable, had conversations with those who were ignored, demonstrated how to love God, taught life lessons in everyday language,  healed the deaf, blind, and lepers…. He loved the unlovable!

 The Nativity scene on our mantle is a reminder that God in Jesus became “flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). He is Immanuel, God with us. He showed us how to live and how to obey our Father.

 The Nativity scene sits on our mantle not only during the Christmas season but throughout the year. It reminds us that God’s coming into the world is not just a December message but one for every day of the year!

 The Mission Alive team wishes you hope, peace, joy, and love during this Christmas season!

Gratitude is Weird

Anyone with teenagers is overly familiar with the exclamation, “That’s weird”.   I have been amazed to learn how many objects or expressions are weird.  For example, to refer to something as ‘cool’ is now ‘weird.’   To wear pleated pants or white socks is ‘weird.  What I have come to realize is that when my teenager asserts that something I say or do is ‘weird,’ what he is telling me is that what carries meaning  or value to me as an adult does not carry the same meaning in his teenage culture and vice versa.

One of the most significant challenges Christians face in any culture is to identify how they can imitate the culture and yet behave, dress, speak and live differently than the culture.  One way followers of Jesus stand out in our North American culture is by expressing gratitude.    In a culture characterized by consumption and entitlement, gratitude is counter-cultural.  It is weird.

We in Mission Alive want to be weird by expressing our deep appreciation for the countless individuals and the many churches who participate in this mission.  To them we say, ‘Thank-You!’  You are the strength we need to continue this ministry.  We also want to express our appreciation to the churches and individuals who have participated in one of Mission Alive’s training events this year.  You are leaders trying to make a difference in this culture.  Thanks for trusting us to walk with you.  Lastly, we want to thank our church planters.  They are our heroes.  They are the ones who wrestle every day to embody the gospel in their neighborhoods and relational networks.  To them we say, thanks for your vision and courage.

Let’s all be weird this Thanksgiving and all year long!

Suffering Well

Most people naturally avoid suffering. And I dont blame them! Suffering is uncomfortable.

Certainly there are different degrees of suffering, but any experience of something difficult, painful or unpleasant qualifies as suffering (at least according to the dictionary).

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who was praising God because God had preemptively rescued her family from suffering. They had planned to sell their house and move into a larger, more expensive one. When potential buyers approached them about forming a contract and purchasing the house, my friend and her husband decided at the last minute not to sell. The timing didnt seem right.

The next day she lost her job which would have provided the funds for their new mortgage. God, she reasoned, had saved them from the financial crisis that selling their house and buying a new one would have caused them.

Perhaps thats true. Im pretty ignorant most of the time about the providence of God. It was the most logical interpretation probably because our default is to avoid suffering because it makes us miserable; and God certainly wouldnt want to make us miserableright?

The apostle Paul had a different perspective on suffering. He started a church in Philippi, and after he left, the Christians there began to experience opposition from others because of their commitment to Jesus. In Pauls letter to them, he acknowledges that suffering can sometimes be a privilege and a blessing:

For God has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.(Philippians 1:29 NRSV)

Thats difficult to hear in a culture of suffering-avoidance. How might suffering ever be a privilege and a blessing? On the surface, the Philippians were able to stand in solidarity with their leader Jesus, who suffered deeply himself. That kind of suffering was an honor. But perhaps suffering is a blessing on a deeper level as well: through suffering we are stripped of all that we hold on to for security and identity, and invited to move beyond ourselves toward God and others in genuine love.

Richard Rohr reflects on this dynamic in the book Adams Return:

In the larger-than-life people I have met, I always find one common denominator: in some sense, they have all died before they died. At some point, they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown, which surely felt like dying, led them into a larger life. Thats it! They broke through in what felt like breaking down. Instead of avoiding a personal death or raging at it, they went through a death, a death of their old self, their small life, and came out the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them.

Jesus leads the way for us and shows us how to handle suffering. When faced with it, he emptied  and humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death on a cross.

We frequently don’t have a choice about whether or not we suffer. But we do have a choice about how we respond to it. Will we try to avoid it? Will we rage at it? Or will we, like Jesus, humble ourselves and allow God to use it to shape our souls?

We’d love to hear from you. Who do you know who has suffered well? What impact did that have upon them and others?

Report from the Field: Introducing Charles and Julie Kiser, Church Planters in Texas

This week, we want to introduce Charles and Julie Kiser, church planters in Dallas, Texas.

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Where is your church plant?   

Our plant is in Dallas, Texas.

Why did you choose the place to plant? 

We chose Dallas because there are many opportunities in the city to connect with 1) those who are disconnected from God and/or Christian community; 2) those who are downtrodden and need a community to walk with them from poverty to wholeness.

What is your vision for what you are doing?

Our vision is to start missional communities in more and more nooks and crannies of culture in Dallas so that more and more people can find their place in God’s story.

What made you want to become a church planter specifically?

God called our family to be missionaries! We sensed this calling from conversations with others, time in Scripture, and a deep passion that has emerged in us. It’s like a fire in our bones. Even when we get tired and want to give up, we can’t see ourselves doing anything else.

What tips or advice would you have for someone interested in church planting?

1) If you can see yourself doing something other than church planting, then do it! Church planting is not for the faint of heart. It will be easy to quit if there’s not a deep sense of calling from God.

2) Consider first joining a church that embodies that kind of missional life you want to plant. Start a missional community with them before you branch out to start a church. If you can’t think of such a church, come to Storyline! We are FAR from perfect, but we’ll walk with you and help you get started!

If you are interested in church planting, or would like more information, please visit our website at missionalive.org.