Celebrating God’s Work

Monday, September 17, was a thrilling evening at the ACU Summit—our annual Celebration Dinner describing God’s work in Mission Alive.  We were blessed with a full house, just over 120 participants who heard stories of church planting, church renewal, and conversion.

Sergio Rizo spoke about family ministry in neighborhood contexts while beginning Reunion Christian Community in downtown Nashville.  For example, sometimes Sergio, his wife Jackie and their four children plan “sneak attacks” to bless others.  On those nights, they express God’s nature by secretly helping people.  One evening during Easter, they hid Easter eggs in three different yards. Then they taped a sign to each front door that read, “You’ve been egged!  The Rizo kids have hidden 12 eggs in your yard.  Enjoy the hunt, but don’t be discouraged when you find the empty egg.  It is a simple reminder of Jesus’ empty tomb.”  They then rang the doorbell and dashed to the van.  Afterward, they were blessed with calls and texts from each family that had been egged.  These simple ministries bless both their family and the Reunion Church.

My favorite part was seeing Margaret Akachuk’s video testimony describing her journey to become part of the Gentle Road Church of Christ in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.  I was particularly moved by Margaret’s words: “God saved me from a life of disaster, and I’m willing to give back to the people any way that I can. And I’m very proud to be a member of Gentle Road.”  Watch Margaret’s testimony in this video.

Randy Couchman, Preaching Minister for the Boerne Church of Christ, spoke of Mission Alive’s role in his church’s ongoing renewal.  He spoke of intentional disciple-making processes to spiritually form his church’s leaders and how personal connections with people in neighborhoods are developing.  His friend David—part of a Starbucks group of searchers—invited Randy to go fishing with him early one morning and after deep soul-searching announced that he was ready to give his allegiance to Christ.  The lake where they fished became a baptistery!  Homer Hillis of Highland Church in Abilene, reflected on Randy’s words, saying, “I could see that he is not just a mouth in a pulpit, but one who walks with people.”

Tod Vogt, Director of Equipping in Mission Alive, told stories of churches that have been planted over the last seven years.  It was apparent that a nation-wide movement of church planting and renewal is developing.

Finally, Gailyn and Becky Van Rheenen told the story of Leslie Fry.  Leslie is not only a supporter of Mission Alive but also a great encourager.  Becky told of her anticipation of letters from home when they lived in Africa.  In this same way Gailyn and Becky anticipate opening the letters from Leslie.  He invariably includes a word of encouragement indicating that he prays for and follows what God is doing through us. His spirit of encouragement also takes him to Denver to spend time with the church planters and Christians of the Aspen community whom he also supports.  We were honored to present Mission Alive’s annual Mustard Seed Award to Leslie Fry, our Encourager!

We give thanks for the stories of God’s work and for all who gathered to hear them.

Gailyn Van Rheenen

gailyn@missionalive.org

Raise your leadership to another level…with Coach Training.

Mission Alive wants to equip leaders to equip their churches. Coach training trains leaders to come alongside church members and help them listen closely to God. Then they help them creatively develop action steps in alignment with what they hear God saying.

Eric Wilson, the Executive Minister of the Sycamore View Church of Christ in Memphis, Tennessee recently began training as a coach with Mission Alive. He described his experience this way:

“I have benefited from coaching by realizing the necessity of my own need for a support team. I am very driven to become who God has called me to be and to fulfill what He has called me to do with this life. This realization, that everyone needs support, came through the Mission Alive’s coach training. In some ways, these are small revelations of obvious things and small initial discoveries of innovations. But in other ways these are huge moments of affirmation about the coaching process. Coaching breeds innovation and implementation. And I’m convinced we have to celebrate even an inch of expansion of the kingdom.”

Like Eric, most of us want to live in alignment with God’s purpose for our life. We want to grow into our calling and use our spiritual gifts to their maximum. Like Eric, we need support. We need help and, like Eric, we need someone who can assist us to be best version of ourselves we can be.

Mission Alive trains coaches to walk alongside another person rather than stand above him/her. Coaches-in-training learn how to ask transformative questions that help the person they are coaching think outside whatever box they may have around their thinking. They learn how to listen deeply. They learn how to help people see what they have never seen before and do what has previously been too difficult.

Coaching will move your leadership to another level. You will listen differently. You will ask different questions. You will see people discover new ways of serving God’s Mission. You will help others become what God gifted them to be.

Mission Alive is now registering a new cohort of coaches-in-training. See the Mission Alive website for more details on the coach training process.

Registration deadline: November 16, 2012
Coach Training Lab 1: Feb 1-2, 2013
Coach Training Lab 2: Sep 27-28, 2013 (both are required for certification)

Register Here

New Board Leadership in Mission Alive

I am thankful for the many people that God has raised up to serve with us as partners in His mission.  They grow with us as we seek to equip kingdom communities on mission with God both in the planting of new churches and the renewal of existing ones.  Truly God, who leads us forward in His mission, is faithful!   The leadership of Mission Alive is an ever-expanding circle of staff, board, church planters, ReVision church leaders, church leaders in equipping huddles, and those walking with us in areas of equipping/preparing, praying, serving, relating/networking, giving, and healing/transforming.

This update focuses on the developing leadership of the Mission Alive Board.

For the first seven years of Mission Alive, I have served not only as Executive Director of Mission Alive but also as the Chairman of the Board.  I am happy to announce that at a recent board meeting Frank Stepp was selected to serve as the new Chairman, Scott Ferguson as the Vice-Chairman, and Mark Lowe as Secretary.

Frank is Senior Vice-President of Thompson and Associates.  He has served as an elder at the Central Church of Christ in Amarillo and currently is a leader within the Riverside Church of Christ in Coppell, Texas, a major partnering church with Mission Alive.  He has served on the Continent Connection Team with Continent of Great Cities (currently called “Great Cities Ministries) in Brazil in 2009 and 2011.  When asked how serving with Mission Alive emanates from or fulfills his calling, Frank says, “I have a heart for ministry beyond the confines of traditional brick and mortar buildings. Mission Alive’s approach to relational transformation that comes from a missional church body energizes me. Also, my background in fundraising and working with churches fits nicely with the needs of MA.”

Scott Ferguson is a Vice-President of Cornerstone Real Estate Advisors.  He serves as an elder of the Riverside Church of Christ.  Scott says, “Working with Mission Alive helps me, in a very small way, be a part of helping the church reach our culture by supporting our men and women who display such commitment in planting churches and living out their lives as an example of God’s Kingdom at work on the earth.”  Scott and Frank will work closely together to provide board leadership to Mission Alive.

Mark Lowe is Vice-President of Wealth Management and Trust at the First United Bank and Trust.  Mark is currently a member of The Branch at Vista Ridge and served as a catalyst to plant the Shawnee Trail church in Frisco, Texas.  Mark says serving with Mission Alive “is changing my life to serve with committed Christian men and women whose purpose is to follow the calling of Matthew 28:19 and to witness the results of Christians changing people’s lives by demonstrating the love of Jesus.”

Jerry Browder, President of Signet Health, continues to faithfully work with us as Treasurer of Mission Alive.  Jerry is an elder of the Singing Oaks Church of Christ in Denton and a founding board member of Mission Alive.  Jerry says, “I believe Mission Alive’s missional and incarnational models of church planting reflect who Jesus is and how he connected with people while on the earth. Our world and our community needs these kinds of opportunities to provide belonging for people who are struggling with the consequences of sin in their lives and are unlikely to seek or find community in established traditional institutional churches.”

I praise God for our partnership with a board who believes that the key to renewal and church planting is a return to Jesus’ heart for making disciples and multiplying them into missionary leaders.

Gailyn Van Rheenen

Mission Alive

www.missionalive.org

Sifted: Powerful Theme, Powerful Conference

Last week the Mission Alive staff attended the Exponential Conference, the largest gathering of church planters in the world.  Every April over 5000 church planters gather in Orlando, Florida, to think, pray, worship, learn and grow.  If you are a church planter or church planting ministry like Mission Alive, it is THE place to be.

This year the conference theme was “Sifted,” taken from Jesus’ words of warning to the apostle Peter in Luke 22:31-32:

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

In each session speakers and couples took the stage to testify how Satan had sifted them.  They spoke with surprising honesty and vulnerability, something not usually seen at conferences like these.  Some confessed to pornography, others to adultery, others to ignoring their families while they poured all their time and effort into their ministry.  Darrin Patrick, church planter of The Journey church in St. Louis challenged church planters not to walk away from their calling at the first significant challenge.  He said, “If we are going to talk about [our] calling, we are going to have to talk about faith.”

Each speaker exhorted the audience to have courage, perseverance, integrity, deep dependence upon God, obedience, and much hope.

The final session focused on healthy rhythms and boundaries for church planters and their families.  Dave Ferguson interviewed Bill Hybels, his wife and two adult children about how they maintained a healthy family as they ministered.  Amidst his many wise thoughts Hybels said, “In ministry you’re going to disappoint someone.  Try not to make it your kids.”  Great advice for every Christian trying to live by faith and raise a family in the midst of such busy lives!

Most church planters and church leaders understand the importance of personal development, soul care and family care, yet these are often lost in the frenetic activity of church leadership which results in a life and family unprepared for the inevitable sifting.

Jesus’ words of warning to Peter echo far and wide throughout Christian history.  Satan has indeed sifted many missionaries, church planters, ministers and preachers.  Today we can be sure that he is preparing to sift a new generation of Christ’s servants.

Join us in praying for God’s blessing and protection on Mission Alive church planters on the front line of the Kingdom of God.  If you would like to join our Prayer Team and receive weekly prayer updates, contact Holly at holly@missionalive.org to be added to the prayer list.

Tod Vogt

Mission Alive-Director of Equipping

Learning to Pray

“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1)

Prayer, like conversion, is a turning to God.  This turning to God is very difficult for human-focused, individualistic Euro-Americans and those culturally influenced by the secularism of traditional Western education.  We are taught to rely on ourselves rather than on God.

How then can we learn to pray, to turn to God?  The answer is imitating others who depend on God, modeling their examples.

Prayer – Imitating Jesus

The early disciples learned to pray by watching Jesus.  They watched him go to a solitary place to pray (Luke 4:42).  They witnessed that he “often withdrew” from proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing the sick “to lonely places” to pray (Luke 5:15-16).  They learned that before Jesus selected twelve of them to become his apostles that he “spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12-15).  They heard his prayers before his death, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you!” (John 17:1), and his death had the power to give them “eternal life” (John 17:2). They did not fully understand this prayer, but the words stuck in their minds.

But the journey to his death was not easy.  He urged his disciples to pray that they would not “fall into temptation” (Luke 22:39-40) and then withdrew “a stone’s throw away” and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:41-42).  Luke says that he prayed so earnestly that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).  This took place in the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus habitually took his apostles to pray (Luke 22:39).

Jesus’ journey was typified by prayer to His father and was witnessed to by his disciples!

Prayer and Disciple-Making

Learning to pray cannot be done merely by studying prayer, telling people to pray, or teaching the components of prayer.  It is best done by imitating those who are walking in a dependent relationship with God.  Learning by imitation thus becomes an inextricable part of our disciples-making.   Expectant prayer must be modeled in both community and ministry.

I am currently learning how to more effectively huddle church planters and ReVision church leaders for the purpose of disciple-making and leader-equipping.   In this process I am like “a sheep from the front and a shepherd from behind” (p. 40, Building a Discipling Culture – Huddle Guide by Mike Breen and Steve Cochram).  In other words, I am following those who disciple me while simultaneously guiding others on the road to becoming mature disciples and leaders.   In these various huddles I am learning prayer both from the vantage point of a follower and a leader.

Currently I am honored to facilitate a huddle for the leaders of a church in the San Antonio area, who are going through the Mission Alive ReVision ministry.  This weekly huddle takes place via conference calls because of distance.   As church leaders, we recently spent two weeks disciplining ourselves to pray.  We concluded during this time that it is easier for us to talk about prayer than to discipline our lives to commune with God in prayer.  We, like the disciples in Luke 11, requested “O Lord, teach us to pray!”

The obvious beginning point is the Lord’s Prayer, his model prayer, in Matthew 6:9-13.  This prayer, given specifically to teach us to pray, has six elements, each teaching us an important truth about the father (Breen and Cockram, Building a Discipline Culture, Chapter 11): Continue reading

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

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