Post-Ecclesia National Gathering: Part 1

I returned from my time at the Ecclesia National Gathering last night despite the somewhat treacherous driving conditions. Overall, it was a great time of meeting new people, reconnecting with some older friends, and learning about spiritual formation. In the next few posts, I’ll give some of the highlights of our time and what they may hold for the future.

As I mentioned in the last post, Todd Hunter and MaryKate Morse were the two main speakers. They opened our time Wednesday afternoon with a general introduction to what spiritual formation entails. A simple definition was given: “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” This is a great, concise definition with some key elements to being the people of God.

First, it is a process. In many Christian circles the emphasis is on salvation (typically a very reduced version of it: dying and going to heaven someday) and then anything of substance usually tails off. Discipleship and formation aren’t necessarily entered into the equation because it is simply seen as that: an equation. Rather than being seen as a process we enter into through salvation, Christian faith is seen as a decision in which all the benefits of said decision are immediately ours. The reality is that life is the process time in which Christ forms us into his image. It is a lifelong journey.

Second, we aren’t being transformed into just “a better person”, but we are being made into the image of Christ. This is essential for our understanding, not just of New Testament Christianity, but for our understanding of the entire Christian narrative. If we were made in the image of God in the beginning, it was fragmented and broken because of sin, part of the redemption process must be the restoration of this original image-bearing. Along with the image being reformed come the works and original purpose of this image-bearer.

This is the third aspect of our definition: mission. Formation into the image of Christ, thus rendering us into the humans we are supposed to be, naturally leads into mission. We don’t begin our journey into Christ-likeness and then keep it all to ourselves. No, formation into the image of Christ pushed us into the world for the sake of the world. This is (again) linked to knowing, understanding, and embodying the entire narrative of God. Because he is a missionary God we are a missionary people, formed in his likeness for the benefit of others. This is why Todd Hunter says, “Missional without formational will always remain aspirational.” They are two sides of the same coin.

Perhaps this is why we don’t see much missionary activity in local churches. If there is a link between embodying the entire narrative of God and missional/formational concepts, and I think there is, then we must ask if we’re lacking in any of these areas. Do we know the impetus behind our being and doing as Christians? Do we anticipate living fully someday “in heaven” or do we strive for life here and now? Are we intentionally pursuing formation (transformation of our malformation) for the sake of others or are we intent with the way things are? If formation and mission are in constant relational tension, what are we intentionally doing to shape our being and vice versa?

Web Browsings to Check Out

Here are some interesting links from the week:

1. Within the church planting world there are assessments that people typically go through. Steve Addison wonders about their legitimacy.

2. My main man, N.T. Wright, recently spoke at Duke University. Here is a video of his sermon from their Sunday Service.

3. If you haven’t checked out the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, I seriously urge you to do so. It is taking place in Cape Town, South Africa and is a gathering of Christians from around the world to discuss and explore how to continue to reach the world for Jesus. The things I have seen, heard, and listened to from this time make me incredibly envious of my sister and her husband who were invited to present at the Congress. What an opportunity! Here is the link to some of the videos from the Congress.

4. PBS had a series entitled “God in America”, which they debuted a few weeks ago. If you missed it, here it is again.

5. Have you seen the reality show cast that makes up the race for New York State Governor? Ah yes, the debate that aired this past week was a highlight of much political substance, historical precedents, and sheer idiocy. Here is the link to Syracuse.com’s review of it. Within the article there are links to other state newspapers and agency’s reviews as well.

6. If you happen to run across this and live in the L.A. area, check out the LA 2010 Unconference. My friend JR Woodward is helping put it together. Check out his blog to see the list of speakers.

7. There is a movement afoot. The Spirit is at work. If you live in the Chicago region, check out the Missional Learning Commons on October 29-30. The topics for the time will focus on missional discipleship, missional family, and missional leadership. Check out Ben Sternke’s blog or Dave Fitch’s blog for more info on the event.

Syracuse: #19 Unreached City in US

My partner in crime, Steve Evans, posted this on his blog and I think it’s rather important so I stole it. Apparently, he thought it was important enough to steal too. The data is from JD Payne‘s research from 2000. So, yes, it is 10 years old, but the implications are still very relevant for today.

Check out the amount of cities right here in our great state of NY. What is #19? Oh yes, it is Syracuse. Only 3.7% of the Syracuse population considers themselves “evangelical”. Now I know that “evangelical” is a tough word to adhere to in our culture. There are many political connotations, coupled with the general ambiguity of overused terms, that make some people leery of labels in general and “evangelical” in particular. However, he deems it applicable to those who claim to a “born again” experience, thus narrowing those who identify themselves as such.

Overall, it is very intriguing data (taken by a the Association of Religion Data Archives), especially in light of our current endeavor of planting a church in Phoenix. The need for churches is astounding. More churches in our area is not competition; it is the kingdom of God. Every gospel-centered church in our area should be checking into their resources and people to see what they can do. Secondary theological issues need to be pushed aside as we unite for the furthering of the kingdom of God. Thankfully, it is happening as people begin to organize and gather around Jesus’ movement and mission for the sake of others in our region.

U. S. Metro Area

Total Evangelical Percentage

Evangelical Church to Population Ratio

Provo-Orem, Utah 0.6% 1:18,427
Pittsfield, Massachusetts 1.5% 1:9640
Barnstable-Yarmouth, Massachusetts 1.5% 1:8889
Providence-Warwick-Pawtucket, Rhode Island 1.7% 1:8230
Springfield, Massachusetts 1.9% 1:9814
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-CT-PA 2.3% 1:8517
Salt Lake City-Ogden, Utah 2.3% 1:9808
Boston-Worcester-Lawrence-Lowell-Brockton, Massachusetts 2.5% 1:7786
New London-Norwich, Connecticut 2.5% 1:6477
Hartford, Connecticut 2.7% 1:7557
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York 2.7% 1:5837
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pennsylvania 2.8% 1:6577
Burlington, Vermont 2.9% 1:6630
Dubuque, Iowa 3.1% 1:6857
Glens Falls, New York 3.1% 1:4288
Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazelton, Pennsylvania 3.1% 1:4733
Utica-Rome, New York 3.4% 1:4837
Philadelphia-Wilmington-Atlantic City, PA-NJ-DE 3.6% 1:5704
Syracuse, New York 3.7% 1:5049
Bangor, Maine 3.8% 1:3535
Portland, Maine 3.8% 1:4580
Laredo, Texas 3.9% 1:4598
Reading, Pennsylvania 4% 1:4018
Rochester, New York 4.1% 1:5084
Binghamton, New York 4.4% 1:3504
Reno, Nevada 4.6% 1:4715
Salinas, California 4.7% 1:3686
Lewiston-Auburn, Maine 5% 1:4152
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 5% 1:3978

Ecclesia Network Church Planting Training Pt. 1

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Ecclesia Network’s church planting training with my good friend Steven Evans. It was an amazing week filled with unbelievable training combined with potential and promising friendships. Our group of fellow church planters was intentionally kept small (about 15 of us), which made the overall feel more comfortable and intimate. Over the next few days/weeks I will be posting on our time of learning, praying, and planning. Here is the first part.

Richmond Hill


This is the backside of the retreat center where we slept, ate, conversed, prayed and learned. Upon arriving at our destination, we felt an immediate sense of both escape and of being at a place of peace. The irenic feel of Richmond Hill was something I’ve only felt a few other places: the hillside church in Africa, the High Braes Refuge, and Indian Lake in the Adirondacks to name a few. Even though it was raining the weather wasn’t getting in the way of our initial calm ending our 8.5 hour drive.

Richmond Hill is basically on the top of a big hill facing the city of Richmond. Originally built circa the Civil War, it was built as a monastery for those who would pray for the citizens of Richmond. Apparently, there is the remains of the largest slave market in America nearby contrasted by the seemingly ironic setting of Patrick Henry’s famous, “Give me liberty of give me death.” Ironic because of its contrasting freedom of whites with that of the Africans. Needless to say, the racial reconciliation needed in the area, and still needed for that matter, was of utmost importance. Hence the need for an intentional community praying for the people of Richmond, both now and then.

The grounds are spectacular in both their natural beauty and their spiritual beckoning. G.K. Chesterton says we shouldn’t call nature our Mother. Rather we should call her our Sister since we both have the same Father. With that in mind we can laugh with her humor and revel in her beauty as a fellow creature of God. There were silent alcoves furnished with garden chairs for those seeking God’s Spirit in the wind-swept paths. It was the epitome of what you would want in your backyard if you had the money and effort to have your own retreat out your back door.

The community that lives and manages Richmond Hill was as inspiring as the beauty of the grounds and architecture of yesteryear. Following in the footsteps of their spiritual forebears, the current community is intentional in the purpose. They live there for the benefit of the citizens of Richmond through prayer, services, meals, and other servant-oriented realms. The daily rhythm of prayer at 7am, noon, and 6pm were enriching ways to slow ourselves down and join in communal prayer. I enjoyed the rhythmic patterns that we were allowed to join in with, especially because of the liturgical form each prayer session took. The responsive prayer tells me that they value the common unified voice of the people. We pray as the people of God, together in one voice without losing the individuality of each person. Community does not deny the individual; it enhances it.

Communal prayer was always followed by communal dining. The community prepares, serves, and cleans up for those whom are visiting. In prayer we seek out God for the benefit of others. In food we get to know others around what God has provided for us. And when I say food, I mean unbelievably good food. With such good food, it was hard not to laugh and listen with strangers who were quickly becoming fellow partners in the gospel.

Every aspect of Richmond Hill as a location was unbelievable and helpful in the culmination of the Ecclesia Network’s training. It all came together in the aesthetics of our locale and this was just our first day. The beauty of the people and place of Richmond Hill were the proper antecedents for the days that followed. Below are a few more pictures of the place. I’ll let them speak for themselves. Enjoy. (If you want to see the bigger pics, let me know.)

βασιλεία (Kingdom)

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” – Mark 1:14-15

I grew up in a Christian tradition that faithfully preached the repentance of sins, the personal need for someone/something to save us, and the proper mode of living after one has made a decision. The individual prayer, usually deemed as the “sinner’s prayer” (which I blogged about here) is something most people have experienced, whether or not they prayed it. Most people whom have grown up attending church have been part of a service in which the push and ending culmination of the service is the altar call.

“If you’ve prayed this prayer, please lift a hand or raise your head up so I can recognize you and thank God for your decision.” This is typically the mode of welcoming new believers into the family of God. The call is for life change in response to the need for grace for the entrance into heaven when we die.

Repent, pray, and raise a hand. Easy enough.

Yet, why does Jesus say something about God’s kingdom? What is this all about? I’d be willing to bet (because I know from personal experience) that most Christians don’t know much about the kingdom or its importance. Most churches emphasize a personal repentance into a personal relationship with God through Jesus, but what about the communal effects of salvation? What and how does Jesus’ declaration of the kingdom of God being at hand intertwine with repentance? Obviously, personal salvation is a must, but not to the exclusion of kingdom living and thought. Is there something bigger and more extensive that perhaps overemphasizing personal salvation misses out on?

Anyone out there have any thoughts? I’ll write more as we move along.

The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay – Some quotes and thoughts

Last night I finished The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community after starting it a few months back. There were plenty of things discussed in it that truly resonated with me, especially since we’re working on planting a church here in Phoenix. Rather than give a review of the book, here are some quotes and thoughts, which hopefully are thought provoking or interesting.

“‘If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of behavior, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little  more like Heaven, would you be interested?’ ‘Hell yes!’ was his reply. He continued, ‘Are there churches like that?‘”

“As I speak for many in the budding new missional church world, I have to share that I no longer judge the faithful, fervent work of so many pastors who have pastored well but who struggle to find their place in this new world. They deserve to be honored instead of belittled. Without their legacy, we would have nothing to build upon.”

“We used to be told that the number one indicator of a new church’s success is how many people they have when they start. Now we say, the number one problem you’ll have will be based on bringing too many people with you. Why? Because a good majority of the Christian world is unconsciously a Milo or a Mitten. They have good hearts, but they hate change, they’ve gotten used to being provided for, and many will take too much of your time and energy to try to keep on the mission with you.

“Classic Western autonomy can be clearly seen in your typical suburb. Most suburban planners since the 1970’s have built homes based on this value of autonomy. If you bought a home built during this era, you got a long front driveway and a garage door opener with your purchase. As you drove down your street, at the end of a long, hectic day, you pressed the button on the garage door from four houses away, and the gateway to your private world would open up. The goal was to make it inside your house without acknowledging anyone else in your neighborhood.” – How true is this? This sums up my entire suburban neighborhood growing up. Everyone would pull up into their garages, perhaps with a cordial wave to each other, and then hide away in their houses til the morning. How do we break this?

“When you try to do evangelism by yourself, your only option for continued spiritual movement is to get people to church. We find people who have developed great relationships with people at their office, their Starbucks, or wherever, but it always seems to dead-end. ‘I can’t get them to come to church!’ The issue is not you. The issue is that you don’t have a community in which they can find belonging.” – Interesting point. Perhaps, we’ve created churches where people don’t belong or feel like they belong and so the question becomes, how do we change this so they do belong?

“‘What you give leadership to will always grow.’ That is, if I give my time to getting in shape, I’ll get in shape. If I give my time to my business, my business will grow.” – What areas of church and Kingdom life are we spending a disproportionate amount of time on? Does it show? What areas need more of our leadership in order to grow and be more holistic and balanced?

Pastors should provide only what the followers of Christ can’t get on their own. Said another way, followers can’t expect the pastors to give them what they can provide for themselves. Even more important, followers should expect to give what they can provide to others.” – How would this change “Sunday morning only” churches? How would this change pastoral expectations and responsibility?

“…people who only dream of community usually destroy it, but those who love people without expectation unknowingly create it.” – I like this.

“As Patch (Adams, as played by Robin Williams) explains the pleasure and power of just listening to people, he said, ‘If you want to help people, we have to dive into people, wade into the sea of humanity.'” – We can’t simply, and naively, think people will wander onto our paths. We are to go and be with them. Good ol’ Patch Adams.

“Hear this great prayer of Jesus: ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.'” (John 17:15) – Interesting that Jesus wants his followers to stay in the world and to be protected. Not flee from it, be scared of it and its wiles, but to stay and bless it.

“It’s (blessing) most often directed to a nation, family, or community, instead of for an individual. Blessing is given to God’s community, for the global community.” – What now Joel Osteen?!

“The more we do ‘together,’ the less individualistic we’ll be. The more we become ‘one’ with Christ, the less comsumer oriented we’ll be. The more we do for ‘others,’ the less materialistic we’ll be.” – These are the three things that have completely infiltrated our culture. They also happen to be the three things dividing and conquering it.

The worst mistake has been that Christians have tried to  make their church programs or worship services their third place (place other than their home or workplace where they can relax and be in good company on a regular basis). The key is that third places need to be in public zones.”- What if more Christians spent their regular “church” time in places where they could meet others and begin relationships with them? What might happen?

“Thus, mission is more than just doing good things for people. It’s a primary means of helping people see what a Christian really is.”