Church Planting, Discipleship, Mission, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: You’ve Gotta Go

Jesus is full of surprises. Just when you think you’ve got him pegged, he pulls an audible and you’re left asking, “Whaaaat?”

When Jesus toured Galilee, early in his ministry, he performed miracles and taught about the kingdom. He also stared down the Pharisees and called people to follow him. His reputation grew and soon a huge entourage was following him.

He was a pretty big deal.

Which is why it’s surprising that he took a little excursion into a village called Nain (Luke 7:11-17). Nain was barely a town. It was more like a small hamlet with a few roads and some settlements. The entrance to the town was the end of a dusty street. It was pretty forgettable. Nobody who was somebody went to Nain. Nobody would have taken selfies in Nain. The Google Maps car wouldn’t have gone through Nain.

And yet Jesus went to Nain. And what we begin to discover, early in the gospel of Luke, is that Jesus wasn’t influenced by wealth, prestige, or fame. He didn’t have a bucket list of all the places he wanted to visit.

Jesus went to places where others wouldn’t go, to reach people that others couldn’t reach.

As followers of Jesus, we’ve got to do the same. The world is not changed if the church stands still. We’ve got to get out and get moving. Movement – wherever, however – is the starting point for Jesus to bring restoration to hearts and lives. His plan to change the world demands the motion of his church. There is no ‘Plan B’.

I wonder…what might that look like for you? You’ll never know, until you start moving. The starting point of mission is intentional – it is seldom accidental. It begins by putting one foot in front of the other.

If we learn anything from Jesus, mission doesn’t always happen in the glamorous places. Jesus’ feet led him to a village called Nain. It can be argued that Jesus put Nain on the map. Sometimes mission takes place in the mundane, everyday experiences, like when you’re out walking your dog. Or when you’re sitting in your work cubicle. Or when you’re down on the corner picking up your mail.

And sometimes mission leads you to go to costly places. Unseemly, dangerous places. Places that won’t bump up your algorithm on social media. Places that won’t make anybody’s bucket list.

Jesus is looking for people who will go where others will not go, to reach people that others will not reach.

Should this surprise us?

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Discipleship, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Flood Assurance

What happens when life hits you with a 100-foot wave? When friends betray you, people die, cancer intrudes, or you lose your job, what takes place? Things get turned upside down. You feel disoriented and out of place – like a man cutting through the women’s underwear section in a department store. Sometimes there’s pain and suffering. Ultimately, you might even question God’s goodness.

In Luke 6:46-49, Jesus described two men who each built their house with a different foundation. One worked hard, dug deep, and build his foundation on the rock. The other dropped his house on the sand. When the flood came, the first man’s house was unshaken, but the second man’s house was torn apart. The first man, Jesus said, is like someone who hears his words, takes them to heart, and lives them out. The foundation that Jesus describes is a heart that delights in doing whatever the he asks.

When you have no foundation, your spiritual house will be shaken. It might even begin to drift. Or be swept away.

But Jesus promises that if your life is surrendered to him, you can be confident when the waves smash into your life. Why is this? It’s because you know, down to your bones, that you are not alone in the flood. You understand that Jesus is the Lord of every flood. He’s the one who walks on water and calms the sea. He can open the floodgates of heaven.

We see this when we read Psalm 124:

If the Lord had not been on our side—
let Israel say—
if the Lord had not been on our side
when people attacked us,
they would have swallowed us alive
when their anger flared against us;
the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
the raging waters
would have swept us away.

The flood would have destroyed us – if the Lord had not been on our side.

The job loss would have engulfed us – if the Lord had not been on our side

The cheating and lying would have swallowed us alive – if the Lord had not been on our side.

The cancer would have swept over us – if the Lord had not been on our side.

The betrayal, the loss, the let-down, these would have ground us to nothing –

If the Lord had not been on our side

When the flood tides rise, you can have great assurance – if you heart is surrendered to the Lord.  You know that he’s on your side and he’s the Lord of the flood.

Three years ago, when I experienced a very real, life-threatening health challenge, I was paralyzed with anxiety and fear. When the waves crashed, what kept me from drowning was knowing that the Lord was on my side. And through the experience, he drew me into even deeper surrender. It was one of the scariest seasons of my life, and yet one of the sweetest.

Are you facing a flood today? Have you surrendered to the Lord of the floods?

He’s got you.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Discipleship, spiritual formation

Monday Rewind: Radical Love

How should followers of Jesus respond to those who disagree with or mistreat them? In Luke 6, Jesus unfolds a radical alternative to opposition and hatred. As members in his new kingdom community – a kingdom where heaven is breaking through on earth – they are to have radically different values than the world empire.

He says in Luke 6:27-28 (NIV): “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

This was a radical idea. No other teacher from antiquity taught this – not in Judea or any other culture in the world. Jesus was the first to bring it to our world.

When someone hurts us, we are usually faced with two options. The first is retaliation. If you hit me, I’m gonna hit you back. If you take something from me, I’m gonna take something from you. The second option is to refrain. If someone hates you, or hurts you, don’t retaliate. Just walk away. Do nothing. Ignore them, or if you have to, tolerate them.

But then Jesus presents a third option: radical love. This is more than warm sentiment. This radical love doesn’t sit on its hands. It’s a DOING kind of love. If you keep reading in verses 29-31, you discover that radical love doesn’t hold back – it pushes forward. It loves, it prays, it blesses, it gives. And to illustrate this, Jesus uses a literary device known as overstatement. He gives examples of how to love radically, in worst-case scenarios. Turn the other cheek. Give the shirt off your back. He’s overstating in order to drive home the point that to truly love our enemies, we should give, give, and give some more.

Jesus models for us this radical love by how he responds to his enemies. He says to them:

Here is the whip – rip my back to ribbons.

Here is the crown – crush it into my skull.

Here are the nails – smash them through my hands.

Here is the spear – thrust it into my side.

Mock me, reject me, shame me. And I will respond by giving you my life.

This is radical love.

This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.

Church Planting

To Build or not to Build

Once in a while I get this question about Crosspoint: “When do you think you will build a building?”  That’s a great question, so let me share my thoughts.  And just to clarify, what I assume people generally mean when they say “a building” is your typical church building: auditorium, offices, children’s space, and so forth.

First, let me tell you about the current reality of Crosspoint.  We do not own a building.  We gather every Sunday in a rented space (currently the Northgate Lions Seniors Recreation Centre) and lease a warehouse unit year-round.  Our Sunday location is a church planter’s dream.  It has two hundred parking stalls, a gym-auditorium, tons of class space for the kids, and a cafeteria that we can use as a coffee house.  We book it every Sunday morning, year-round.  (I have to add, the staff at the NGLSRC are fantastic to work with – kudos to the City of Edmonton and their people.)  If we had three hundred people show up on a Sunday (adults and kids), the place would feel very full.  We could conceivably host two gatherings on a Sunday morning, which means we could use this space comfortably for about five hundred people.  Like I said, a church planter’s dream.

The warehouse space we lease year-round (the Ministry Centre) is about 3000 square feet, which includes a large shop (to hold our trailer full of equipment), four office spaces, meeting room, two bathrooms, kitchenette, and some space in the back for future office cubicles.  The rent is minimal.  The downside of its location is that it’s not in the region of the city where our Sunday gatherings are hosted.  But it is literally impossible to get rented space in northeast Edmonton that can house our trailer.

Now, there are several advantages to not owning a typical church building.  The first is cost.  Owning and maintaining a building is expensive.  Because we rent, we can divert funds towards staffing and our external mission.  For the record, I’ve worked in churches where the question every month at the board meeting was, “How are we going to pay the mortgage this month?” rather than, “Who do we want to add to our team? What new apostolic initiatives do we want to start?”  It’s no fun being house poor.  Other advantages of renting include never having to clean toilets, and never having to worry about problems like maintenance, upkeep, taxes or security.

The greatest advantage, by far, is that not having a building actually reinforces our mission.  We believe that the church is the people of God, following God in his redemptive mission in the world.  That’s very basic missional ecclesiology, I know.  Yet it’s true to Crosspoint, to the core.  When you don’t own a building, you are forced to be creative with planning events, training workshops and gatherings.  Often you end up meeting in people’s homes (in neighbourhoods – imagine that) or in rented community facilities.  You don’t feel guilty because you have a building sitting empty during the week.  As a result, you can avoid the impulse of cramming the building full of ministry programs.  You also don’t have an auditorium sitting empty, which you have to pay to heat and cool.  And because people aren’t so busy attending your mid-week programming, they can be engaged in home groups or incarnating the gospel in the places where they live, eat, recreate and shop.

There are a few false assumptions about owning a building that I’d like to address.  One of them is that you will never have to set-up sound equipment or chairs.  Anybody who has ever been a sound person knows that you still have considerable set-up on any given Sunday, even if you own a building.  Plus, when you own a building, you still need people to make coffee, to set up children’s classrooms, to fold bulletins, and the list goes on.  The other thing to keep in mind is that the labour you subtract by minimizing set-up, you add in maintenance.  You’ll need to add custodial, groundskeeping and general maintenance to the list.

Some church plants dream of no longer having to set up chairs.  In our current location, we don’t have to set up chairs, so that’s not a concern of ours.  But why would you assume that if you owned a building, you wouldn’t have to set up chairs?  An auditorium that sits empty during the week is a tremendous waste of kingdom resource.  Churches of the future that want to engage the unchurched need to design buildings with their community in mind.  Why not “black box” your auditorium?  Why not make it into a room that can be purposed for multiple uses – much like the gym auditorium at the Northgate Lions?  Imagine if a church decided to design a building not just for their congregation, but for the community.  How missional would that be?  Of course, a multi-purpose space like that would need people who can set-up chairs…

To be practical, a church should never build until they’re certain it’s the right time.  Some churches might hurry to build, but then build something too small or too impractical.  They might build it for their immediate need rather than what they might need twenty years down the road.  Other churches build prematurely, but then end up being ‘house poor’ and can’t afford to hire staff or be engaged in the mission of God.  Timing, funding, stewardship and calling – all of these factors must be considered.

But here’s the most important factor to consider.  I think churches should only build something that aligns with their God-given mission.  The danger in building is that your building becomes the mission rather than helping you accomplish the mission.  I’ve seen churches build and the building becomes the focus of all their attention.  It’s all about funding the building, designing the building and then maintaining the building – and meanwhile the original apostolic mission slowly erodes away.  As Marshall McLuhan has said, “The medium is the message.”  Applied here, your building is the medium that can dictate the mission (message) of your church.  What message is it sending?  How is it helping to reinforce or confuse your mission?

For Crosspoint, we want to build so long as the building enhances our mission, not becomes our mission.  We are not against building.  We’re just uber pro-mission.  And if a building will help the mission and make God’s name great…then we’re all in.

Mission

Why Alpha Won’t Work

For millenia people believed in spontaneous generation (abiogenesis).  It’s the idea that living matter could spontaneously emerge from non-living matter.  So apparently mites could just appear from dust, maggots from rotten meat, and mice could appear from sweaty underwear and husks of wheat in an open-mouthed jar (I’m not making this up).  Thanks to early scientists like Redi, Needham, and Spallanzani the theory eventually went the way of my Commodore 64.

I love Alpha.  It’s a great tool to help people discover some of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith.  It’s a great place to ask questions in an environment that is safe and enjoyable.  We’re in our second year of hosting Alpha at Crosspoint.

I have no problem with Alpha.  Yet I’m concerned with the expectations churches have about Alpha.  Like medieval scientists, they sometimes assume that if they just host an Alpha course, people will spontaneously appear.  I know plenty of churches that have tried it.  They did a great job of getting a venue together, recruiting and training volunteers, and advertising.  And nobody showed up.

The challenge is that churches don’t first develop a going and bringing culture.  We’ve only had a few people show up to Alpha as a result of advertising.  The majority of people who came (and who stayed) were invited by a friend.  Just hosting an Alpha is no silver bullet for helping people find their way back to God.  Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come.  But if you first build an incarnational and invitational culture in your church, Alpha may work well for you.

So, first things first.  Teach your people how to GO…to incarnate the gospel in their neighbourhoods, workplaces, and friendships.  Help them understand that they are the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in this world.  Jesus left heaven and moved into the neighbourhood, and so should we.  Give them the tools to do this.  Host seminars.  Coach those who want to take it seriously.  But more than anything, if you are a church leader, you need to model this for your church.  Speed of the leader, speed of the team…

And can I just say – don’t make people so busy with church programs and events that they don’t have the capacity to build relationships outside of the church community.  If you want to learn how to streamline your church ministries, can I recommend Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger?

The single greatest challenge to the effectiveness of Alpha isn’t Alpha.  It’s church culture.  More about this later.