Oikos

Missional church planting is gathering people together to become an extended family of God’s people.  It happens incarnationally, life-on-life, through interpersonal and compassionate connection.

Last night Becky and I went to Roman’s Hair Salon to get our hair cut.  We were Roman and Lee’s last customers of the day.  Roman cuts Becky’s hair and Lee does mine.  As we were waiting, we heard Roman speak powerfully into the life of another customer whose daughter had recently come out of a deep coma.   Roman was encouraging her not to fear but to rely on the Lord for healing.  After the customer left, I kidded Roman that she is a counselor and should call her business “Roman’s Hair Salon and Counseling Service.”  She laughed and blushed!   It was evident that she was honored.

Lee was soon cutting my hair (basically cutting it all off and trimming my eyebrows as she does every two weeks!  The best kind of hair cut for an old man like me!).  Lee asked how often Becky and I exercised, and I then asked her about her exercise as well.  In our conversation I mentioned that there were two types of exercise, exercise of the “body” and exercise of the “heart.”  She paused and then asked what I meant by the “exercise of the heart.”  I described God forming our inmost being so that we think and behave like Him.  For the rest of the haircut she talked and talked about her understanding of this and how it was touching her heart.  Although speaking with a deep Vietnamese accent, I was able to hear most of what she was saying.  She wanted to know more about “heart exercise.”

In the meantime Roman was describing to Becky her role as a counselor.  “I love my customers,” she said.  “I believe God gives me a gift of hearing and advising them.  I am bold in my speech.”  Becky asked, “Who is your counselor?”  She paused, thought for a while, and finally said, “I guess God is.”  She also testified that a doctor helped her mother, a refugee from Ethiopia, with glaucoma surgery and only charged her $500, which her family was able to raise.   Becky reflected later that perhaps hair stylists are like proverbial bartenders:  When asked, “How are you doing?”, customers may likely respond, “I am having a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good day!”  People sit with aching hearts and words just come tumbling out.  The server listens and gives words of hope.

After our haircuts Becky and I congratulated Roman on new décor of her beauty salon.  With tears she began to tell us her journey over the past six months.   She almost lost the salon because of high rent and lack of customers.  She told how the owner, believing in her, reduced the rent; how an exceptional 25-year-old resource person through Groupon taught her how to advertise; and how a new friend had unexpectedly decided to redecorate her salon as a special favor to her.  “I know it was God,” she said, pointing up.  We were touched that these searchers with little Christian community were yet acknowledging God in their lives.

We began to talk about how lonesome North America is, how we live in proximity to many people but without neighborliness, and yet how we need each other to live and survive in this world.   As we shared, we asked both Roman and Lee to become part of our extended family, our “Oikos,” and begin a spiritual journey with us.  Becky and I gathered Roman and Lee in a small circle and prayed with and for them.

We are learning that people-gathering is done relationally, heart-to-heart, with prayer, calling people into community and allegiance to God.   We are on a journey . . . .  Pray for us.

The Celebration

“Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice” (Psalm 105:3)

The Mission Alive Celebration was filled with stories of God’s work— the story of a searcher coming to Christ in Mesquite, the story of church renewal in South Carolina, the story of church planting in Denver, and the story of equipping for church planting and renewal through Mission Alive.  Chris Altrock, Mission Alive board member and preaching minister of the Highland Church of Christ in Memphis, who also emceed the program, called these “remarkable stories of God’s breakthrough.”

“My favorite part,” said church planter Charles Kiser, “was when Corey Rose, a member of ONEcommunity Church of Christ, spoke about his participation in that Mission Alive church planting by saying, ‘It’s like I’m a minister or something!’ People like Corey are coming out of darkness, into the light, and being equipped and released into God’s mission . . . .  Praise God!”

Mission Alive board member Allen Close, unable to attend because of a skiing accident, gave a video testimony about the renewal of the Lexington church near Columbia, South Carolina through ReVision.   He tells of multiple conversions of college age students, outreach among Hispanics, and young people who not only raise money for the poor but also minister personally in their contexts of brokenness.  Allen said he had sometimes felt “like an Old Testament prophet carrying an unpopular message” but the church has undergone a mighty transformation.  Listen to Allen’s testimony of transformation through ReVision:

Robbie James’ journey to church planting in Denver was the story of how God worked in several “living rooms” over a decade – from the Van Rheenens’ living room in Abilene to living rooms in Denver.  He focused on the role of prayer and reliance upon God.  “Prayer is not the means to an end,” he declared. “It is the end!”  He reminded us:  “God loves you!  He really loves you!”

Gailyn and Becky Van Rheenen told the story of Mission Alive from its inception.  “Equipping kingdom communities on mission with God” has become our core identity leading to the planting of 20 churches in 18 cities in 9 states/providences of the United States and Canada; renewal of 7 existing churches through ReVision; and the training of 47 certified coaches working in 35 churches.  “To be faithful to God and his kingdom,” Gailyn said, “both existing churches and new church plantings must become disciple-making cultures on mission with God.”

 “If   you set out to make disciples, you will eventually build the Church. If you   set out to build the Church, there is no guarantee you will make   disciples.  It is far more likely that   you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services that   professionals like yourself provide for them” (Breen and   Cockram, Building a Discipling Culture,   p. 6-7).

Becky concluded their presentation by saying, “We invite you to go on mission with us!  We may not have all the answers to ‘Where?’, ‘When?’, or ‘How?’ as we start.  We will find the answers as we journey together.  It’s too big for any of us, but together with God’s help we can do it.  Let’s go on mission together!”

We are thankful for the 205 people who gathered at the Riverside church building in Coppell for the event and graciously gave over $21,000 to God’s work through Mission Alive.

The Anatomy of a Day

Every day of ministry in Mission Alive has its own special flavor. This morning I thought I would describe what happened yesterday, January 10, so that you might catch of glimpse of one such day. The day was a mixture of preparation for an upcoming lab, working on a developing Missions text, participating in a Partnering Team meeting, and working with church planters in a Planter Forum.

Strategy Lab Preparation

I spend much of the early morning working on a Strategy Lab to be held at the Riverside Church of Christ next week, January 16-20. I focused on a section about sensing, discerning, and entering the will of God. I am using a diagram from 3dm about God’s timing or Kairos. “Kairos” is God’s timing (as compared to “Chronos”, which is sequential timing as indicated by a watch or calendar). Kairos occurs “when the eternal God breaks into your circumstances with an event that gathers some loose ends of your life and knots them together in His hands” (Breen and Cockran in “Building a Discipling Culture”). “Kairos” time occurred when God sent Jesus into the world (Gal. 4:4-5) or when He led Peter to enter the house of Cornelius. It occurs when “the kingdom of God comes near” and we “repent and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:14-15). This transformation is illustrated by the following diagram from 3dm:

Kairos Moment

Kairos Moment

God, the Source of Mission, enters into our lives leading us through a process of transformation. We, therefore, must live with an expectation of God’s leading in our lives and ministry.

As I was working on this course, Brian Williamson, my 3dm coach, called. We talked about the redevelopment of the Strategy Lab and set up another time to talk together on Friday morning.

Conference Call on Mission: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies

Missions text

Missions text

In the mid-morning Anthony Parker, Becky, and I talked by phone for over an hour about the revision of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategy, a missions text first published by Zondervan in 1996. This book has gone through frequent reprintings and a second edition is long overdue. Anthony is working with me to edit and collaborating to write certain chapters of the new edition. We worked for the later part of the morning on editing this text.

Anthony is a long-time friend and co-worker. He served for three years as my first graduate assistant at Abilene Christian University from 1988-91, ministered as a missionary to West Africa for about 20 years, and today works as a coach with the Pioneer Bible Translators. I am thankful for how well we think and work together.

Partnering Team for Carlos Bautista

In the early afternoon I travelled to the Highland Oaks church for a Partnering Team meeting with Carlos Bautista who has planted the Iglesia de Cristo: Un Lugar de Gracia (“The Place of Grace) in Grand Prairie. A Partnering Team is a group of church leaders who walk alongside the church planting family in ministry. One of our core beliefs is that Church planters should not work alone but within a network of support, encouragement, and equipping. Sixto Rivera of Genesis Alliance coaches Carlos and facilitates the Partnering Team. We rejoiced to hear that last year 39 souls were baptized into Christ within that community in 2011. Carlos and his son Jacob made a presentation about their goals and plans for 2012. We then talked about an evaluative grid to help the church develop deeper relationships with God, within the community, and with the unchurched. We sometimes call this the Triangle with three prongs: UP (relationship with God); IN (deep, authentic community), and OUT (on mission with God where members live, play, and work). We concluded our meeting with a prayer of blessing and asking that God lead us forward on His mission.

I then went from this meeting to the ACU campus in Irving, where our monthly DFW Church Planter Forum takes place. I settled in for a couple of hours of preparation for the Strategy Lab before the 7:00 p.m. gathering. (It was too far for me to return home and then come to the evening meeting).

Dallas-Ft. Worth Church Planter Forum

I greatly enjoyed our church planter forum this month. Only three of our DFW church planters were able to come: Wesley Esquivel of ONEcommunity in Mesquite; Charles Kiser of Storyline Christian Community in Dallas, and Bret Wells of The Gathering in Burleson. For two and a half hours we worked through what was occurring in our various church plantings and helped each other. We also explored new insights that we have learned from 3dm (www.weare3dm.com) and the Mission Increase Foundation (www.mif.org) and how these insights were coming into the development of our Strategy Lab. It was a time of growing and learning forward as participants in the kingdom of God.

This is a glimpse of a very long day! While returning home I rejoiced in the Lord for His work in ministry.

Living for the sake of His kingdom,

Gailyn Van Rheenen

Neighborhood Fellowship

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”

(John 1:14 The Message)

This morning Becky prayed, “We thank you for all of our guests who came and blessed our home last night.”  We were indeed  blessed!!  Twenty-four folks from 8 families came from our cul-de-sac and the houses behind our home.  A great time of neighborhood connection!  Melanie, a vivacious lady of Cambodian heritage, was the first to come and the last to leave.  She has lived on our cul-de-sac for 14 years without knowing any of her neighbors.  We had simply left a flyer about our “Holiday Open House” at her home and she in turn called and began a conversation with Becky.  In one evening she developed friends, hopefully life-long, life-changing relationships.

Kim and Paul came with their two daughters.  We heard about their dating; their marriage; their work; and their connection with Travis and Tammie, our next-door neighbors.  Kim, who works in HR with a local company, remembered a person of the old Meadow Ridge home owners association who used to do large community gatherings.  Many mentioned our need for further connection.

I also noticed Becky’s gift of hospitality—her joy in preparing for the evening and then being with all of those who gathered.

Many years ago linguistic consultant William Smalley of the American Bible Society coined the phrase “living in proximity without neighborliness” to describe many in the Western world.  He said, “In our highly complex society we have built cultural devices for keeping people close by from being neighbors unless for some reason we choose to include them.  These barriers provide a protection for us, keep us from having to associate with people who are not compatible, whose race or education, or social status is different from ours.  We can withdraw within the barriers for security from people and social patterns which conflict with our own” (“Proximity or Neighborliness?” in Readings in Missionary Anthropology, p. 302).

Randy Frazee in The Connecting Church says that the church must redeem impersonal suburban communities by multiplying simple intergenerational, geographical home fellowships for the purpose of both incarnational evangelism and spiritually forming people into the image of God.  This is easier said than done given the cultural scenario so graphically depicted by Smalley.  But the hunger for connection that we experienced illustrates that within each of us is an innate desire to connect heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul.  We are created to live in relationship.

Gailyn Van Rheenen

Mission Alive

Who will be a father to the fatherless?

I was touched by this story from Kevin Vance, past President of Western Christian College who is currently planting the Gentle Road Church of Christ with Mission Alive among the First Nations people in Regina, Saskatchewan. His ministry was formed by the teaching of the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus is pictured as ministering among the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). Kevin and his co-workers are being used by God to deeply learn the culture and form a team of national leaders to begin a church planting movement. They have already begun a children’s ministry, fondly called “The Party” by participants, developed an initial team, and started a worship gathering. This story is part of the journey.

This last week, we attended the funeral of a 30 year old man – taken in the prime of his life. I say “taken”, even though he destroyed his body through hard drugs and other self-abusing behaviours. After 30 short years, his body simply could not sustain itself anylonger. Street life is hard, and it appears he participated in most aspects of it for quite a long time. Continue reading

An Elevator Speech

Randy Harris and I recently held a Theology Lab at the Boerne church just north of San Antonio.   During this lab I facilitated discussion about the interrelated biblical themes of mission dei (the mission of God), the kingdom of God, and incarnation.   During the discussion of each Theology we also reflected on related Practices and First Steps in developing these practices.

Randy Harris led us in reflecting on the major tenets of the Christian faith beginning with “humanity” and concluding with a theology of “church” and the nature of spiritual formation.  It was a transformative lab of church leaders!

During our final debriefing, one elder asked, “How can we summarize the content of this lab so others in the church can grasp what we have learned?  What is our elevator speech?” Continue reading

Kingdom Communities on Mission with God

Last week I blogged about Tiffany, a prototype of a post-modern person.  Tiffany is broken by sin and intimidated by “church” yet receptive to the Gospel.  I suggested that we use divine imagination to see “things as God sees them, to catch a dream as big as God is!”  This imagination helps us to jump out of “what is” into “what God desires us to be!” (Harris 2004).  It enables us to develop paradigms for church planting and renewal for people like Tiffany—for those living in the postmodern, post-Constantinian, and increasingly post-Christian contexts of Western culture.

This divine imagination within Mission Alive is embedded in seven small words:  “Equipping Kingdom Communities on Mission with God.”  These words form the essence of Mission Alive.

Equipping

Equipping at its core involves “character”—the spiritual nurture of the soul to reflect the qualities of God—his love, his holiness, and his faithfulness.  Ministry to Tiffany is defined by these qualities. She learns to walk with God by being with us, by seeing us “reflect the Lord’s glory” as we are “being transformed into his likeness” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Equipping also involves “skill,” or ministry practice.  How do we build a discipling culture which nurtures Tiffany to spiritual maturity?  How is she equipped within the community for works of ministry (Eph. 4:12)?  How is Tiffany nurtured to commune with God; become a part of a worshipping, transforming community; and sent out to make other disciples?  How does she develop God’s compassion for the poor and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19)?

The church provides the matrix for both her spiritual formation and equipping for ministry. Continue reading

Is there a church for Tiffany?

Tiffany has led a sinful, broken life.  She is intimidated by “church” but searching for God.  “I’m not good enough to be a Christian,” she thinks.  “How can Christians accept broken me?  Can God love ME?”  The church wants to love and accept her but has forgotten how to speak the Good News of the Kingdom (Mark 1:14-15), minister at the heart of her brokenness, and guide her to become a disciple of Jesus. 

Tiffany typifies many in the postmodern, post-Constantinian, and increasingly post-Christian contexts of North America, where the church has been marginalized and no longer sets the dominant values of culture.  In this environment church attendance in the USA is projected to decline from 16.2 per cent in 2010 to 14.4 per cent in 2020 to 10.5 per cent in 2050 (Olson 2008; Kinnaman and Lyons 2007). 

Continue reading

From Theology to Practice

In a broad sense there are two types of Christian leaders:  Those who listen primarily to human voices and those who focus their hearts on listening to God.  The first try to navigate competing human preferences, expectations, and desires with the goal of satisfying everyone.  The second acknowledge that only God in his Holy Spirit can form us into his kingdom people.  The first seek answers below—in the world; the second above—in God.  That is the purpose of Mission Alive’s Theology Lab:  to teach Christian leaders to move from theology to practice by hearing the voice of God.  

For us, a theology of mission, like the rudder of a boat, guides the mission of God and provides direction.  My wife is fond of remembering how our children frequently wanted to “drive” when we took them on pedal-boats.  At times they were so intent on pedaling, making the boat move, that the rudder was held in an extreme position, and we went in circles.  Realizing their mistake, but still intent on pedaling, they would move the rudder from one extreme to the other so that we zig-zagged across the lake. When Christians operate without the foundation of a missional theology, their lives and ministries tend to zig-zag from fad to fad, from one theological perspective and related philosophies of ministry to another.  A theology of mission, like the rudder of a boat, provides practical direction for Christian ministry.  Continue reading