Listening to God—From Theology to Practice

Theology is like the rudder of a boatIn Mission Alive we move from Theology to Practice. Theology is listening to God and seeking to do the will of God. It is like the rudder of a boat—setting direction. I can remember how our children, when they were small, loved pedal-boats and always wanted to “drive”. 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. Without the foundation of theology, church leaders and church planters tend to zig-zag from fad to fad, from one theological perspective and related philosophies of ministry to another. Theology helps center us so that we turn the rudder according to the will of God. It forms and guides the mission of God. Then, paradoxically, our practices of mission begin to inform and shape our theology–a movement from Theology to Practice and then from Practice to Theology.

Cultivate Personal Discipleship

In Mission Alive the first step in training is a two-day, interactive lab called CULTIVATE: Personal Discipleship. The theme is that “what God will do through us he must first do within us.” We would say that the two most important questions are: “What is God saying?” and “What does he desire that we do about it?” In these labs and through coaching and equipping huddles life transformation is sparked for both church planting and renewal.

In Mission Alive we believe in both church renewal and church planting. The impulses of growth, learning, and transformation are similar yet different. These impulses spiritually form searchers to become disciples of Jesus who then go on mission within growing vibrant communities—that meet publicly for teaching, inspiration, and testimony and in smaller groups in neighborhoods and relational networks for mission and community. Discipling-making leads to missions resulting in the development of community. We believe that “the future of the Western Church is . . . a powerful return to Jesus’ heart for making disciples, and multiplying them into missionary leaders” (Jon Tyson, Forward of “Multiplying Missional Leaders”).

There are two types of leaders: those who listen primarily to human voices to guide them forward and those who listen to God’s voice. Mission Alive aims to equip leaders to listen to God’s voice in both church planting and renewal.

Meet our first Network Coordinator

A recent update  shared our excitement about the kickoff of the first Mission Training Equipping Lab called Cultivate. There’s another reason we’re excited about it, too. This Mission Training Cohort signifies the beginning of a new Mission Alive network! Mission Alive’s vision is to equip leaders to plant and renew hundreds of churches all over North America, thereby catalyzing a movement of mission and discipleship. By God’s grace we’re seeing this begin to happen — from San Antonio, Texas, to Regina, Saskatchewan, and from Newberg, Oregon to Williamsburg, Virginia! We are pursuing this vision through the creation of regional networks – where leaders and churches in a particular geographical area connect and work together for planting and renewal. As a result, we’re thrilled to commission Fred Liggin as the Network Coordinator for Mission Alive’s new Mid-Atlantic Network! Continue reading

Introducing Redland Hills Church planting!

Redland Hills bannerPraise God for new beginnings!  On Monday, November 18, 2013 the Redland Hills Church in Wetumpka, AL held its first gathering.  After months of conversation, planning, and praying, our core families, along with others who have been interested in what we are doing, gathered for a night of worship and thanksgiving.  And we have much to be thankful for!  God has been walking with us and far ahead of us each step we have taken.  We are grateful for the partnership, advice, and coaching from Mission Alive to even get to this point.  We have been blessed with a great space in a neighborhood clubhouse, with even space for a kids program.  We’ll begin renting this space each Sunday beginning in January 2014.  And we’re so grateful for the many prayers and encouraging words that friends and supporters have shared.  It is humbling to begin a new work like this, but so rewarding to see it come to fruition.

Redland Hills square

Cultivating Personal Discipleship

October 11-12 was a big weekend for Mission Alive! We launched the first Cohort of Mission Training, the new equipping process for church leaders we have been developing in the past year.

Thirty people in six teams came together to participate at the Williamsburg Christian Church building in Williamsburg, Virginia – three church planting teams and three renewal teams (from existing congregations).

Mission Training

Mission Training is designed to equip church planting and renewal leaders as missionaries in their particular contexts. They begin to envision how the churches they lead can make disciples, reach those who are searching for God, and embody God’s inbreaking kingdom in their communities.

Leaders experienced Cultivate: Personal Discipleship, the first Equipping Lab in the Mission Training process. Cultivate fleshes out our fundamental conviction that the most effective church leaders are devoted Christ-followers. The purpose of the Lab is to help leaders evaluate their own personal spiritual health, have an encounter with God, and identify spiritual rhythms they want to live out in the six months following the Lab. Throughout the weekend, leaders receive teaching input, engage in personal reflection and journaling, and interact with other leaders in Equipping Huddles.

Wes Gunn, team leader of the Redland Hills church planting in Montgomery, Alabama, enjoyed the personal formation and networking opportunities in Cultivate:

“I appreciated the focus on personal discipleship and the foundation that we must be shaped by Christ ourselves prior to being able to guide others.  A particular blessing to me was networking with other church planters and encouraging each other in our journeys.”

Jason Thornton, a team member from the Williamsburg Christian Church, was touched by the depth of community and spiritual intimacy in the Lab:

“The Mission Alive Lab reminded me of the importance of the ‘each otherness’ of walking with Christ. I found it refreshing to be in a Huddle and to share in a time of confession with other brothers in Christ. Having been in ministry, I have frequently felt like I was on an island in spiritual battle. From my brief time in the Mission Alive Lab, I feel like I had more true spiritual intimacy with brothers and sisters in Christ than I had experienced in most of my time in ministry.”

Cultivate is one of four Equipping Labs hosted every six months in the two-year Mission Training Process.

Mission Training diagram

Click here to download our Mission Training brochure.

We are excited and thankful to God for the opportunity to walk alongside kingdom leaders and equip them for the mission!

Charles Kiser

Director of Training

We are excited!

Mission Training WilliamsburgFirst, we are excited about Mission Training.  Tod, Charles, and I were in Williamsburg, VA, this past weekend facilitating the first lab of our new equipping cycle.   Thirty-six participants (from three new/beginning church plants and three established churches) explored how to “Cultivate Personal Discipleship.” These participants were both growing as disciples themselves and learning to help others do the same.

new church plantersSecond, we are excited about new church planters–committed, talented, people of experience!!  For example, Wes Gunn recently announced to the Landmark Church in Montgomery, AL, that he was resigning to follow God’s call to plant a new church in the area where he lives.  Praise God for the words of encouragement and affirmation that Wes and Amanda and their core team received from their church family.  Please pray for Wes and Amanda Gunn (pictured), Tim and Diane Castro, Rob and Rivers Sellers, and Rob and Joy Williams as they begin to reach out into their community.  Read more about the Redland Hills Church at http://www.redlandhills.org/blog.  And we are thankful that this church planting is fully funded from the beginning.  Praise God with us!

Third, we are excited about the leaders who are growing to heightened spiritual vitality and understanding through our Equipping Communities, which we have been calling Huddles. Continue reading

New Missions book…first look!

In late July Becky and I finally finished writing and editing the second edition of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies.  Completing this missions text is very significant for Mission Alive.  Writing the chapter on “Planting, Nurturing, and Training: An Incarnational Model for North America” (in the context of theMissionsText other chapters leading up to it) has helped to sharpen our thinking and led us to be very intentional in the process of church planting and renewal.  This text has nine new chapters and moves more intentionally from theology to practice than the 1996 edition (http://zondervan.com/9780310208099).  This first edition has gone through 12 printings. Its publication will also be significant for us as a ministry.

In the next few weeks I will continue blogging a few excerpts from this text.  We invite you to read and to respond.

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God’s Ministry through Jim and Julie

Jim and Julie discerned that they were naturally gifted as evangelists and this understanding amplified their interest in missions.  As youth ministers, they felt the calling of God to begin Missional Communities, meaning in this case, Christian relational networks within schools to help searchers know God and walk with him.  With other leaders of their church, they conceived of multiple Missional Communities, embedded in neighborhoods and relational networks, as extensions of their public Worship Gathering on Sunday morning.  The seeds of the communities were planted when they began to pray with Christian student leaders about their schools and to minister with these students during campus activities and in coffee houses.  They were present for many school activities; it was their arena of mission.  Soon Jim and Julie were ministering to a broader group of students who were friends of the core group within the church.  After a student’s death, Jim and Julie were at the school to comfort, counsel, and pray.  They attended many sports events and the coaches frequently asked them to pray for and minister to struggling students.  Jim and Julie attempted to model Jesus’ ministry on earth in their campus environments by teaching, listening, praying, and healing.  Reflecting the ministry of Christ, they also prayed diligently for the students from their church who ministered with them.  After extended prayer, they selected twelve students, six from each of the two high schools in their area, and invited them into two discipling huddles.  The huddles’ focus was to help the students grow as disciples of Jesus and partner with them to be Christ to their campuses.  As a result, within a year missional communities of about 40 students were ministering in the name of Jesus on each campus and worshipping in the church’s public gathering.   Mission had gone out of the church building and into the schools and homes of the community.

What do you think are Jim and Julie’s assumptions about the nature of ministry?

How are you gifted? Wired? Called?

How are you gifted?  Wired?  Called?

WateringSome Christians are gifted as church planters. They are like Paul the Apostle. Converted to convert others. Led by God to start new churches. Paul spoke about this gifting when he wrote, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Cor. 3:6).  God uses called and gifted servants to both plant new churches and water existing ones.  Do you have the apostolic calling of Paul?

As you consider this question, read 1 Cor. 3:5-9 and specifically ask, “What type of servant am I—a planter or a waterer?

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.  For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

As you reflect on this passage, realize that you are merely a servant.  Only God working through you makes things grow (vs. 6). This planter/waterer metaphor illustrates not only spiritual gifting, but more importantly, divine guidance and empowerment.  We are only “God’s fellow-workers . . . God’s field . . . God’s building” (vs. 9).  Ultimately the mission is God’s, and we are merely servants ministering in his vineyard.

Read 1 Cor. 3:10-15 about laying kingdom foundations.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

chiselWhat type of builder are you in the kingdom of God?   Are you like Paul—one who lays the “foundation” of the Gospel “as a wise builder”—or are you like Apollos, a minister building upon an existing foundation (vs. 10)?

The Lord’s work is not easy!  It is messy—as messy as people are.  Paul writes, “The fire will test the quality of each person’s work” (vs. 13).  How do God’s servants spiritually and strategically prepare themselves to lay new kingdom foundations of Jesus Christ (church planting) or to build upon these foundations (church renewal and growth)?  Are you willing to put your life in God’s hands and work in this messy world?

What type of material will you use to build the foundation of Jesus Christ?  Paul describes various materials used in the building—“gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw.”  What separates these elements?  The answer is that some are combustible and some are incombustible!

Since “the fire will test the quality of each person’s work,” some work will “survive” and some will be “burned up.” Foundations of gold, silver, costly stones will survive but those of wood, hay, and straw will be consumed.  How can we spiritually prepare ourselves for ministry in which some of God’s work will “survive” but some will also be “burned up”? Are you spiritually ready to experience loss?

Paul talks about ministering out of “God’s grace.” What does this mean? How do we minister out of God’s grace?

Paul called himself “a wise builder” (vs. 10). How did Paul—who once persecuted the church—become an expert builder? How does “God’s grace” work within us to form us into “expert builders”?

Answering these questions is a step in discerning how you are gifted, wired, and called.

For personal spiritual discernment contact us at Mission Alive at Contact@missionalive.org to connect and discuss a process of equipping. We would love to hear your journey and pray with you.

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