Sabbatical

After 19 years of ministry (15 as an ordained presbyterian minister) Beth and I along with the Crossbridge elders have discerned that the summer of 2015 is an appropriate season for our family to go on a ministry sabbatical. This year Crossbridge will celebrate its 7 year anniversary. In this short period of time Crossbridge has not only established itself as a solid church but has gone on to plant two other congregations in Miami. In the fall, we will launch a vision (you will hear more about it soon) that will allow our church not only to have a greater influence in Miami but in Latin America as well. For this reason it’s important that we as a family take a much needed sabbatical. 

Why a sabbatical?

Many corporations and academic institutions are now seeing the growing importance and benefits of offering a sabbatical to their leaders. According to the Bible, all work that is meaningful flows out of a place of rest. In Gen 2, where we learn that God has created us to work, we also learn that before the command to work, there is the statement that God finished his work of creation, then rested. Our work flows out of God’s rest.

What is a sabbatical?

The sabbatical is intended to give the pastor time away from the day-to-day responsibilities of ministry to pursue professional growth and revitalization through prayer, reflection, study, travel or other pursuits that would expose him to the larger work of God’s kingdom and renew him in his relationship with God.

It’s a time to “look in” for self discovery, to “look around” at the health of family and church, “look out” for new ideas, and “look up” to God for vision. 

As a family, we intend to do more than just rest. Besides spending quality time with each other, we desire to seek God together, to learn together, serve together, and dream together during our sabbatical months. 

Structure

In order to reach that outcome in experience and come back refreshed for the next season of ministry in Miami, we have structured our sabbatical in the following way. 

1. A time to serve 

  • Where: Lisbon, Portugal. 
  • When: May 24-June 23. 
  • How: During our stay in Lisbon I will make myself available to planters to help them think through what a gospel centered church in their context may look like. Redeemer City to City will be hosting a mini conference June 15-16 for Portuguese and Spanish pastors/ planters with the objective of exposing them to gospel DNA. I have been asked to be one of the speakers for that gathering.

2. A time for learning 

  • Where: Greece, Turkey, Italy, Switzerland, France 
  • When: June 23 - July 21. 
  • How: It has always been a desire of ours to be able to visit the sites of the Early Church and the Reformation. We acknowledge that we won’t be able to go to every important site on this trip, but we desire to at least visit Greece, Turkey and Rome from where most of the New Testament was written. From there, we will drive north of Rome with my parents and kids to connect with the all the culture that has come from there as well as to connect to our family’s heritage. A stop at the city of Assisi is much anticipated! From Italy we will go on to Geneva to learn about John Calvin and his time there, then to the country side of France where Calvin was born and raised, and then of course our last stop will have to be Paris -- the city of lights. I believe this experience will be extremely useful for my future years of ministry as it will allow me to gain greater insight and knowledge as I seek to study and teach the Bible faithfully to the church.

3. A time to rest 

  • Where: Rio de Janeiro 
  • When: July 24 - Aug 16. In my opinion, when Heaven comes down to Earth, the whole world will look like Rio de Janeiro. In Rio our intention is to spend time primarily with our immediate family to enjoy the city and its beauty, and to allow God to speak to us in new ways. We envision it as a time to discern God’s voice spoken during our sabbatical as we refocus for life and ministry in Miami. In Rio, we will stay at a family member’s apartment in the neighborhood of Leblon from where we will fly back home to Miami.

4. Sabbatical coaching 

To coach us through our sabbatical, we have invited Pastor Robbi Fischer from Forest Hill Church in Charlotte to pray with us and to counsel us during this season. Robbi is a dear friend to Beth and me. He married us and counseled us since the time we were locked in a long distance relationship. He has a doctorate in preaching, is a counselor, and a very seasoned pastor. Our plan is to skype Robbi for 1 hour each week to process with him what we have been experiencing and learning in each of the places we will visit.

5. Family

We have invited my parents to assist us with the kids. They will stay with us in a rented house in Lisbon and will stay with our children as we go to explore Greece and Turkey. We will meet them and the children in Rome where we will then proceed to travel through the northern country of Italy. From Italy we will stop in Geneva, Paris and then Lisbon where we will catch a flight down to Rio de Janeiro. 

How you can journey with us

  • Pray for protection - International trips can be filled with danger so pray that the Lord would keep us safe as we travel from country to country and town to town. Pray that he would protect our home and church in Miami.
  • Pray for rest - We are aware that it’s easy to fill our sabbatical time with too much stuff, which may sabotage our whole experience. Pray that we would have wisdom to set boundaries even in our sabbatical so that there’s is physical rest and rest for the soul.
  • Pray for vision - Pray that our experience would shed light into the future of our ministry in Miami. Pray that God would speak to us in new and creative ways. That he would use people in our lives during that time to communicate to us his will.
  • Pray for bonding - Pray that we as a family would bond closer. That our marriage would be stronger, that our relationship with the girls would be tighter. That the Lord would spare us from destructive family conflict.
  • Pray for new relationships to be formed - Pray that we would meet new people and that these new relationships would open new doors for the kingdom of Jesus. That through these relationships we may learn more about people and culture. 
  • Pray for discernment - We will need to make a lot of impromptu decisions. I suspect there will be times we will need to improvise. May we have discernment for that as well as to hear and listen to what God is saying to us at each moment. 
  • Pray for impact - Pray that my time with the Portuguese leaders and pastors would be a blessing in their lives and ministry. That my insights and experiences would speak to their context in a fresh and positive way.
  • Pray for Crossbridge - With the calibers of leaders at Crossbridge, I’m confident I could take a sabbatical every year without hurting the church in anyway. But their task is hard nevertheless. Pray that God would enable each of the leaders to lead well in my absence and that the church would continue to grow and thrive during the summer months. 

Besides praying you could support our sabbatical by...

  • Continuing to stay involved - Don’t cease to serve and give of your time and resources during this season. Even though there’s a natural summer dip in giving and attendance, the summer is an important season in the life our church as new families and individuals transitioning to our city walk through our doors with the desire to get to know more about us and to connect. Use this season to help others get welcomed and acclimated to our church family. Plan out your summer giving so that Crossbridge does not suffer budget wise during those months.
  • Supporting the rest of the staff and elders - give them your undivided allegiance and attention. Pray for them and be opened to learn from them. 

 

 

 

 

A Leader's Greatest Need

Christian leaders are the number one group of people that believe they have no need for the gospel. It’s not because they have not received the gospel, but because they fail to understand the full implications of the gospel. They are tempted to believe that because of their time and experience in the faith that they “get it", when in reality they don’t. Precisely because they think that the ones that need the gospel are those that have never received it and since they already have, they have arrived. Therefore, no longer need it. 

I suspect that the vast majority of christian leaders, if asked about their greatest need as leaders that they would answer somewhere along the lines of techniques and best practices. I just think of all the books that have shaped christians leaders in America and how 90% (if not greater) of them are principle based. 

On record, I want to say that there’s nothing wrong with learning new leadership principles and studying innovative leadership trends. These can all be important, useful, and good but these are not what christian leaders need most.

A Christian's primary need is the gospel. They needed the gospel when they first became christians and they need it for the rest of their lives. They need to be reminded of the gospel always. They need to learn the implications of it for every aspect of leadership, and they need to apply it to their lives as leaders. Reformer Martin Luther used to say that “we need to beat the gospel into our heads continually”. 

Why do leaders need to follow Luther’s advice?

1. Because there’s success. Success is misleading because it tempts leaders to believe that it was their giftedness that have brought them to such a place. There are talented people that have done all the right things by the book and yet have had no success. The gospel shows leaders that it’s all by grace, and that unless they are constantly reminded that if it was not for Jesus that they wouldn’t be leading in the first place, success will go to their heads and will destroy them and those they lead.

2. Because there’s failure. The same way leaders tend to build their identity around any indication of success, they tend to build their identity around their failures as well. Many leaders will not recover from failure because they will refuse to believe the gospel -- that what Jesus did for them was enough. Because they refuse to rest in such truth,  there will be a constant need to prove themselves, turning every failure into an extremely debilitating experience. I’ve heard failed leaders say: “How can I possibly make a comeback after a major screw-up?” Leaders need the gospel to remind them that God always brings greatness out of weakness and that they are loved and approved not because of how well they’ve performed but because of what Jesus has done for them. 

3. Because there are people. The people we lead and lead with are sinners just like we are.   Sure they drop the ball, but so do we. Constantly. The primary reason why God gives us grace is so that we would not boast on our own accomplishments but that we would boast of His accomplishments, His grace, and share it with others (Gal 6:14). What followers mostly need from their spiritual leaders is, Jesus’ grace. Grace is what promotes change and what enables them to keep growing. But again, leaders will not output grace if there’s not an input of grace. 

4. Because there’s a thing such as “good news.” As I have said, getting and giving good advice is good but receiving and giving good news is infinitely better. Why settle for what’s lesser, leader? Quoting Isaiah Paul wrote in Romans: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Why? Because good news has to do with what has already been done not what it has to be done. And that is rest. If you’re able to lead from rest and dispense rest through the gospel in your leadership, you will lead as Jesus wants you to lead. 

As you can see, it’s only through the gospel that leaders are truly free to lead, because the gospel is what leaders ultimately need.

 

Hospitality is Stewardship

“Jesus, make our hearts ever gentler and more humble, so that we may be present to those you have confided to our care, and in this way make us instruments of your love which gives life and joy and real freedom.”

-- Jean Vanier

Hospitality is a matter of stewardship. Therefore, good hospitality is good stewardship. Conventionally, we tend to think of stewardship in terms of money and time. Rarely do we see it beyond these borders. Why? Because time and money are the two main treasures of the American individualistic culture. As individualistic beings we have a hard time seeing others as gifts. For us, people are more like puzzles. Hard to exegete. Tricky. Certain people even feel like curses, don’t they?. The truth is that dealing with people is messy and complicated. So much so that french existentialist Jean-Paul Satre used to say that “hell is other people”. 

But people are gifts. To the first human, God gave him another human as a gift, for “it was not good for man to be alone”. She was crafted from his own rib. A gift made from him back to him. 

Children are gifts and so are friends. In the Gospel of John, the ultimate human (Jesus) receives a people as a gift from the Father (John 10:29, John 17:6). Which tells us that we are the Father’s gift to the Son. And because Jesus sees us as treasure, he has and is stewarding us well. He redeemed us. He has given his life for us. He has clothed us. He has ushered us into the household of God. He is with us. He is for us. He is guarding us. He is defending us. He will never forsake us. Through his Spirit he is making us more life him, and one day he will raise us. 

It has always intrigued me that in the journey of following and becoming like Jesus we have failed to see things as Jesus sees it. I think of all the people that God has placed in my life for me to steward for him. From my own wife and children to the guy I see at the gym day after day to my next door neighbor, Jesus has placed them naturally into my life’s circle for me to steward them well. Sometimes I can almost hear him saying: “I am sending people your way, will you care for them well?” 

This Sunday we are wrapping a four week long series on Hospitality at Crossbridge because I believe we (as a church) need to give high priority to this forgotten christian practice. Week after week Jesus sends strangers through the doors of our worship center, our offices, our classrooms, and through the front doors of our homes. How will we steward these opportunities? These so called gifts God is sending our way. I know someone in our community that is stewarding people well.

I recently heard that every single day for six months, one of our deacons visited at Jackson Memorial a ten year old Chinese girl that battled leukemia. This girl was neither part of our deacon’s family, nor part of our church. She was not even a fellow believer in Christ. Merely a neighbor. The bad news is that a few weeks ago the little girl lost her battle to cancer. The good news however, is that because of our deacon’s hospitality and great stewardship of that life, the little girl responded positively to the ultimate host’s invitation. And today because of someone’s faithful hospitality even though she is physically dead, she spiritually lives with Jesus. One day she will also be physically alive again. It gets better. All of the little girl’s immediate family that came from China to care for her, saw our deacon’s care and love and where compelled to give their lives to Jesus as well.

This is what good gospel stewardship of people looks like. So let’s steward people well, because hospitality is a matter of stewardship.

What Do We Miss Out On When We Miss Out on Hospitality?

"An embrace involves always a double movement of opening and closing. I open my arms to create space in myself for the other. The open arms are a sign of discontent at being myself only and of desire to include the other. They are an invitation to the others to come in and feel at home with me, to belong to me. In an embrace I also close my arms around the others-not tightly, so as to crush and assimilate then forcefully into myself, for that would not be an embrace but a concealed power-act of exclusion; but gently, so as to tell them that I do not want to be without them in their otherness. I want them to remain independent and true to their genuine selves, to maintain their identity and as such become part of me so that they can enrich me with what they have and I do not".
- Miroslav Volf

I believe that what differentiates an outward faced community from one that is ingrown and inward faced is the practice of hospitality. I believe that life and vibrancy always flows out of the openness of doors, minds, arms and hearts. Death comes as a consequence of closed doors, hearts, arms and hearts. It's sociologically proven (I think) that countries that have closed their doors to other ethnic groups and cultures will grow old (in average age), resulting in the loss of their own culture. The very culture, they are trying to keep pure. Because when it comes to culture, architecture, books, culinary, territory, and even language, are proven not to be the best preservation tool. People are. 

This principle translates equally to the church and the preservation of its essential message, the Gospel. In the first three chapters of the Bible, we are able to draw the same parallel. Out of the openness of the Trinitarian God, the world came into existence. Out of this same openness, humanity was created and invited to participate in the Trinitarian dynamics. However, we later read in that section of Scripture, that death entered into the picture as soon as mankind decided to follow the example of Lucifer. And that was, to BE their own gods, to focus on the desires of their own hearts and its craving for self-satisfaction. 

Sef-satisfaction is the essence of sin and as Scripture points out clearly, "the wages of sin is death".  For those who have had the opportunity to go to Europe I'm sure it's mind-bothering to visit Christianity's cemetery. There, you will see buildings, books, museums, art pieces of a culture that once was. Why so? 

Ecclesiologists and missiologists will generally agree that it had to do with an inward faced/ ingrown church that grew old, and irrelevant. A church that once was. Signs of this passing are beginning to show up in America where every year, less young people attend while at the same time more people drop-out to never return.  Other statistics such as the number of churches closing every year are quite alarming, to say the least. 

The city where I live in (Miami) is certainly a witness of this reality. The million-dollar question is: what is the church missing out on? I would have to say that it's the whole issue of hospitality. 

When we think of hospitality we usually think as Tim Keller says, "of Martha Stewart". He's right. Google search the word and you will find resorts and vacations websites as well as, Martha Stuart stuff. Those are all good things however, that's not what the Bible means when it speaks of hospitality. Mainly because when we think of hospitality we are really thinking about ourselves. We are thinking of places we would like to go, enjoy and be well accommodated and, people that are like us and that we find pleasure hosting and spending time with. 

What the Bible means when it comes to hospitality is 
a. an intentional lifestyle not something done once in a while 
b. something to be extended to all people not just to people that are like us 
c. more than just a few days of shelter and an open fridge, it means meeting all needs
 d. not to be exercised with what can be spared for example, an extra bed, left-over food, pocket change. It implies in sacrificing your comfort in favor of others. 

Bottom line is this. Hospitality is about others. Its about the neighbor and even the enemy. Through these lenses hospitality can be seen as the embodiment of the Gospel. This implies that If the church misses out on hospitality it will eventually miss out on the Gospel. And, a church without a palpable gospel has no business in being alive.

History will show that the times when Christianity thrived, were the times when the Church exercised radical hospitality to its neighbors and enemies. While there are indicatives that the church in the northern hemisphere at large is at the very least stagnant, the church in the southern hemisphere is thriving. 

Reason? Many but one of them certainly is hospitality that flows out of a genuine understanding of the Gospel.

 

Why We Sprinkle Babies

Yesterday I was able to perform one of my favorite things that ministry allows me to do– infant baptism. Some people were surprised that Crossbridge baptizes babies so, I decided to write a post to explain why we sprinkle babies.

1. We are Presbyterian. Part of what it means to be Presbyterian or Reformed is to be covenantal. Cove…what? Reformed Christians read the Bible with the understanding that God relates to individuals through a people he has set aside. The terms of this relationship that God establishes with his people are called covenants. Through the 6 main covenants depicted in the Bible (Adam/works, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, New) God vows to protect, to nurture and to never abandon his covenant people.

2. We believe that baptism (as circumcision in the Old Testament) functions as a sign and seal of this covenant. The seal aspect points to the fact that through baptisms people are brought into life in the covenant community in a visible way. In Matt 28:12 when Jesus commands his disciples to make disciples and baptize, he intended that those who became believers in his Gospel would have to be immediately inserted into the covenant community for nurture, service and growth. The sign aspect reveals that there is a greater reality which baptism points to. This greater reality is, God’s outpouring of special blessings to his covenant people (we technically say that baptism is a “means of grace”).

3. We believe that adults are brought into the community through baptism after they profess faith in Jesus. Infants on the other hand, that are born in the covenant community (children of members) are naturally brought in through their parents. To deny them the seal that recognizes their participation in the community is to A) narrow the composition of Jesus’ church (covenant community) to people that have the ability to discern B) to be inconsistent with what actually takes place practically.

4. We believe that baptism does not confer salvation. Reformed Christians differ from Catholics that believe that regeneration is initiated in baptism and from Baptist or Anabaptist Christians that believe that baptism is merely a symbol of one’s profession of faith. For us, baptism is a sacrament. Sacramentum is a Latin translation of the Greek word Musterion from where we get the word ‘mystery’. We believe that in baptism as in communion, God graciously distributes blessings to those who participate by faith. In the case of infants being baptized, their parents’ faith. Parents trust Jesus in baptism that Jesus will mysteriously begin to work in their child’s life and that one day Jesus will draw their child to himself and, that their child will one day publicly profess their personal faith in Jesus.

5. A covenant involves responsibility for those who participate in it. As wedding vows bind those who marry, baptism binds the church (the covenant community) and the parents to Jesus’ covenant. For both, it means bringing the child in the ways of the Lord, providing the child a culture of Grace and, godly examples to follow. Lack of faith in participation implies in judgment.

I know that there is room for a lot more to be said in this post and I’m sorry if I disappointed but, let me remind you that this is a blog not a theological journal. I attempted to be practical and less technical so, if you wish to study this topic in more depth let me know and I’ll send you a couple of theological papers. I also recommend this video by Dr.Richard Pratt one of my professors in seminary.

Why The World is Becoming More Urban

I remember sitting through a sociology class in my high school in Brazil as the teacher presented to us students the rural exodus phenomenon. His negative tone to the presentation connected well to our contextual reality for as many of you know, there are many urban problems in Latin America such as high crime, favelas (slums), and unemployment. All world cities face variations of these issues.

For a long time I saw the urbanization of the world as something inherently bad. After all, God had created the world rural. In my imagination heaven was a place for plants, animals and human beings dressed in long white robes. While those things will probably exist in heaven (except for the white robes, of course), the Bible portrays heaven as an urban place with a main boulevard, streets, buildings and tons of people. Density, diversity and creativity are overtones of this depiction. Don't believe me? Go read Revelation 21-22.

History does start in the garden but it ends in a city. A city that God is building and that one day he will bring down from heaven. A city that will fuse into our Metropolis (New York, Sao Paulo, Seoul...), will bring them all together into one mega-mega-mega Metropolis, will eliminate what's bad in them and enhance to the maximum what's already beautiful in them.

This changed things for me.

I guess for this reason its not all that bad that more and more people in the world move to cities. Its inevitable that this rural exodus intensifies. The reason why the world is becoming more and more urban is because history is moving us to the biggest and the greatest city of all -- The City of God.

In the time being this makes me appreciate more and more where I live (God forbid I move to a farm town in the middle of nowhere!). It makes my adrenaline levels rise with the thought of engaging the mission of beginning this urban-fusion process here and now.

 

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De-industrializing The Church, Part 2

In my last blog  I spoke acerca changing our paradigms from an industry or megachurch mentality to One That is more sustainable in our post-Christian culture. The first two Were 1) incarnation over innovation and 2) Processes over environments, and the last two are 3) expansion and movements over 4) flat over hierarchical.

3. Movement over expansion

It's a good thing That churches seek out ways to grow. After all, a local church is a living organism, and healthy organisms not only grow but played themselves. But to think of growth in terms of a larger movement THROUGHOUT a city or region instead of the result of a well planned expansion strategy for your church is not only less imperialistically to think, but to think larger rather than smaller.

That I have found churches That "movement think" They envision the role play alongside other churches as the kingdom of God goes forth In Their region or city. They have switched from "How can we grow in Influence in this city?" To "How can the Kingdom of God grow in Influence in this city?" They refuse to be tribal, territorial, arrogant, and dependent on the strength of their "brand." They not not not realize that the power lies not in a specific brand but in a deep comprehension of the Gospel present in the church at large in a region. There is always a collaboration (with other churches and parachurch ministries locally) Influenced by an impetus to flesh out the Implications of the Gospel for ministry Among Their neighbors. They see this vision as something to be shared and owned by not just one church, or a few sitting at the top of the clerical ladder, but by everyone.

These churches are concerned Not Necessarily With the short term success of Their Particular Local church (like That companies are always squeezing the bottom line at the end of each quarter), but With the long term success of the Gospel in Their city / region.

4. Flat over hierarchical

This last shift is Closely related to the previous one, Because a movement by nature has to be free. Missiologist David J. Bosch said that: ". The Difference between an institution and a movement Is that one crosses boundaries while the other guards them" According to Bosch, movements thrive when Power is distributed as fast as possible. It can not Afford not to give away power. On the other hand, logically Institutions will withhold power for self preservation. The hierarchical structure, Therefore, is the greatest invention defense to play the game at its best. The confidence of an institution is backed on policies and Those who hold offices while the movement's confidence is based on trust Among all who share a common vision. They see each other not just as co-workers but as friends and peers. In "The Starfish and the Spider," Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom write, "It's easy to rebel against a boss, it's much harder to dismiss your peers." The environment is forged Becomes That one where there's a high level of freedom But Also a high level of accountability.

I have personally found That this is not only a way to produce Highly Effective but a very healthy environment to be a part of. It is extremely freeing to distribute the pressure in a way That the load of the ministry and consequently sustainable Becomes bearable. The flatter the structure, the more it Relies on collective intelligence, the more it Stimulates creativity and the more it restrains large egos. ,,, Moreover, it Allows boldness and compassion, truth and love to shape the outcome of the mission.

De-industrializing The Church, Part 1

DESPITE the growing number of megachurches in America, the truth of the matter Is that Christianity is in decline in our culture. I've heard Alan Hirsch explain the phenomenon as one of reconfiguration due to a lack of understanding of the true nature and mission of the Church (with a big "C"). While it's clear That mainline Protestantism is in steep decline, I Believe That the megachurch model has its days numbered Also at its core lies Because an industry mentality That our culture is now moving away from.

 All of this has led me to rethink the very way in Which values d my church does things. I have been reevaluating practices and culture through a theological filter fueled by a desire to see a more biblical and sustainable form of Christianity in our cities. What you're about to read raw thoughts are (in no way conclusive) in terms of paradigm shifts. There are four main shifts: 1) incarnation over innovation, 2) over environments Processes, 3) movements over expansion, and 4) flat over hierarchical. I'll write about the first two on this post and leave the last two for next week.

1. Incarnation innovation over
I not not feel that there is a large preoccupation with Innovation nowadays. Awards Have Been Given to innovative churches, and pastors are Praised for being "innovative." There's nothing wrong with trying to think outside the box when it comes to contextualization, but no method will ever trump innovative incarnation. I mean, this is God's own method of Addressing our need! It's what differentiates Christianity from all other religions. Coming down to the level of people've Always Been Christianity 's Most Innovative way to contextualize the gospel to the real needs of humanity. In fact, I would say That our level of innovation is always proportionate to the depth of our incarnation. In other words, aim at incarnation and you will always get innovation.

2. Environments over Processes
In the last 10 years there has-been a great emphasis on discipleship churches Develop develop developing pathways and processes. Processes and pathways are not bad things per se. In fact, having something in place will help move people horizontally and Mobilize them towards your vision, organize your institution, or generate growth - At least on a surface level.

The problem is it With This methodology That Resembles the American industrialist model of assembly lines far more than the New Testament church. The thing with having to "process" Is that it Tends to compartmentalize discipleship by rushing through stages That people are focused on one specific thing. To carry out the metaphor, there's a stage where you're bottled, labeled another where you are, where you are packaged another, and another where you are delivered.

Environments are more holistic. They are spaces where you're exercising a variety of practices With Different intensities Depending on the environmental context. You can see what I'm talking about in Acts 2:42 where the first Christians Were living out the four components (the apostles' teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer) in the context of bigger gatherings, smaller gatherings, and while ministering to neighbors. Thinking in terms of mind-bending environments for discipleship is That Should not people just be moved horizontally towards an end goal, but in every direction at once (up, down, sideways, in, out). Such spaces allow the dynamism of the Spirit to be at work while helping to preserve the organic nature of the body of Christ. This is the perfect recipe for robust discipleship, which in the end is the the type of sustainable growth we ought to be looking for. In the industry model, eleven product goes through all the stages and Necessary is finally assembled, it's sold, then Consumed - a feeling common to Those Who Have been through a "process."

More on  the next two paradigm shifts  next week.

You Know You Are Preaching The Gospel When… (top 10 list)

I believe a preacher is effective when he is faithful. Faithful not necessarily to his tradition nor to the people but to the Gospel he was called to proclaim. As a young preacher wrestling with being faithful I have given some thought to what faithfulness to the Gospel in preaching looks like. This top ten list is what I use to evaluate myself so, it may not apply to you but, nevertheless I felt the need to share it given the state of pulpits today. I feel that most sermons  nowadays among the most famous evangelical preachers of our days could be preached by Dr. Phil, Deepak Chopra and, Oprah without a problem. Not because of common grace but because there’s no room for special grace. Enough said, here’s my top ten list to know if you are effectively preaching the Gospel.

You know you’re preaching the gospel effectively when…

1. In your prep you are able to see Jesus in light of every text and every text in light of Jesus. Jesus is the hermeneutical key to unlock every text because every text fulfills its main purpose when it reveals Christ. He said so himself (Lk 24:25-27,44).

2. Your reasoning sounds deep to mature christians and simple to non-christians.Both groups of people are not used to see Jesus in the Bible. The “mature christian” is not trained to read the Bible through Jesus and even when they are, they constantly need to be reminded because that’s how they grow. The non-christian on the other hand does not read the Bible and generally has a very negative view of the Bible (slavery, bigotry, violence…). Which means that, if you’re able to show Christ in the text there will be “a-ha” moments for both groups of people.

3. Change is taking place in the heart of the one who preaches before it takes place in the lives of those who receive it. When you’re able to see the Gospel in the text your heart cannot help but to burn and melt (Lk 24:32). You will begin to see your own idolatry, hopefully repent of it and, allow the truth of the Gospel to work in you before you hit the pulpit. If you allow enough time between your prep and your delivery your words will have depth. I usually give it about 2 weeks to marinate.

4. You’re able to share more out of failure than out of virtue. This one is a consequence of the previous point. When the Gospel becomes real to you there’s no shame in sharing weakness because the power of the Gospel is only made true in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). If you do this often people will not only relate more but grace will be made more real to them. Romans 7 is another great example of how this works.

5. You find yourself relying on the power of the gospel instead of relying on the intellect and emotions to be effective. I find that most preachers feel the need to quote dozens of people smarter than everybody else, cry like a baby in front of people, yell like a drill sergeant, act like a comedian, among other things, out of insecurity. Deep inside they feel the Gospel does not have enough power to do the job. (By the way, I’m not saying these things are bad in themselves, just that you should check your motives of why you keep doing it.) Part of it is that they do not have a Christ-centered hermeneutic, do not think through the deep implications of the gospel (in that particular text) for their lives and other peoples' lives, and do not go the length to explain the gospel clearly to people. I find myself constantly in this tension because I come from a cultural background that worships feelings and a tradition that worships the intellect. I find Scriptures such as Rom 1:16, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 extremely helpful to keep the right perspective.

6. The implications of the Gospel are communicated beyond being right with God.We are made right with God so that things in the world will be made right. Part of the reason why God justifies sinners is so that everything would be redeemed (Col 1:15-20) through the power of the Spirit at work in the lives of redeemed individuals. If people are going forward and being baptized but your community is not becoming more grace-based, more sacrificial, more giving, more missional and your city is not becoming more beautiful, safe and just as a result of the people in your church, chances are that the whole gospel is not being preached.

7. There’s full emphasis on what Christ has done for change instead of what needs to be done to change. When the whole gospel is not being preached you have moralism mixed in with evangelism. So even though the “plan of salvation” may be presented at the end of every sermon, the part about “living the christian life” is based either on moralistic applications of the Bible text or on motivational/ self-help principles. This weird dichotomy produces the best kind of pharisees.

8. People are compelled by grace to believe instead of being coerced by guilt to behave. The gospel promotes an inside-out change, not an outside-in change. Behavior modification has all to do with religion and nothing to do with the Gospel. So, don’t guilt people for not changing, nor force change upon them. Preach the Gospel and allow the third person of the Trinity to do as it pleases.

9. There’s greater satisfaction that you’ve pleased God and that God is pleased with you than that you’ve pleased people and that people are pleased with you. We often measure success in preaching by the number of compliments we receive afterwards. I’m not saying that compliments are not good in terms of feedback, nor am I telling you not to accept them, but when you’re depressed the next day because you didn’t get enough, you’re motivation might be sightly out of line with the Gospel. And, if you’re not drawing your motivation from the Gospel you will find yourself being less and less willing to be faithful to the Gospel message and more and more willing to be faithful to your audience. At the end of the day if your motivation is not right, you will either grow in pride or succumb in sorrow.

10. Both religious and irreligious people are believing the Gospel. When the Gospel is preached faithfully and consistently in a community, you will experience an interesting dynamic. Both the “churchy” and the unchurched will often be offended while at the same time both will be encouraged with the hope they’re able to find in the Gospel. Meaning, in a Sunday you might get two completely different feedbacks from same demographic unchurched folks. Same with “churchy” folks. Mainly because the Gospel will be doing its job to humble the prideful and uplift the humble at the discretion of the Spirit. You’ll see both types not only mixed in the crowd weekly but coming to Jesus often. There’s no way around it.

Urban church planting will tear you apart!

Here’s something they didn’t tell you at assessment: Urban church planting will tear you apart! This year alone I had friends quit, sink into depression, addiction, and one that has completely ruined his marriage.

Why? Because one of the hardest things you can do is start a church in a city. Here’s a twofold reason. (1) Cities are complex places and it takes a lot to figure them out. (2) Because cities are hard to figure out it makes it hard to figure yourself out as you live in the midst of the urban chaos.

I find that a lot of young guys that want to plant in cities are far more aware of the need to build a robust philosophy of ministry for their work in the city than of the toll that church planting and the city will take on their own personal lives.

So, what does church planting in the city demand of you as a planter? And, how can the gospel help speak into some of these faulty areas?

It demands:

1. Spiritual constancy - City people are fast paced. They adapt to change without giving too much thought to it and that’s why life becomes chaotic and out of control in the first place. When city people end up pausing to think about their overwhelming state, it’s usually too late. Ministry in the city requires a lot of reflection, prayer and, Scriptural meditation. It’s much easier to be in sync with the pace of the city than the pace of God’s heart for the city.

The Gospel says: You are a child of the King. That’s your main identity. The city cannot be your primary identity shaper. Your status of sonship is to compose the rhythm of how your life is lived out in the city. It’s not about being busy but, resting on what Christ has done for you.

2. Emotional stability – Cities demand quality, often without compensation. Think of the talented 50 year old sax player in the subway. Get the point? Pastors in cities have to find a healthy way to deal with slow growth and even failure. Unless they do so, they will  likely hit the bottle, the spoon, their wives and kids or, the x-rated sites.

The Gospel says: Before God you have performed to perfection because Christ performed for you. You have nothing to prove to anyone. Your ultimate source of affirmation and joy should not come as a result of how well you are able to perform according to the city’s standard of success. God says to you in the Son: “you are my son of whom I am well pleased”. God could care less if you are able to build a mega church. He cares about your faithfulness to him.

3. Intellectual integrity – The city demands that you give a good reason for what you do and say. At the same time it’s always bargaining with you ideologically. It’s very hard not to compromise biblical doctrine in exchange for the approval of its inhabitants and even harder to find an honest, respectful, clear, and contextual way to communicate truth.

The Gospel says: Because your identity comes from who you are in Christ you can afford to be bold with people and not act like a coward. Pleasing God is more important than pleasing people. Also, the Gospel is that important. It’s worth giving deep consideration and thought so that you learn and teach others how it relates to the totality of life.

4. Excellent time management – If you want to stay together you have to learn to give time to yourself, to your body, to your family, to your leaders, to your neighbors, to your study and, most of all to your God. Failure to do so in one of these areas will show in lack of personal evangelism, spiritual shallowness, bad preaching, overwhelming sense of responsibility, stress, and a variety of family crises including divorce.

The Gospel says: Because Christ gave more than his time (his life) to you, you are to give time to the things Christ has entrusted you with. A heart that believes in the Gospel is always reordering its passions and setting straight its priorities.

5. Deep level friendships – Life in the city is extremely individualistic. If you, your kids and especially your wife do not find friends you can share your lives with, forget about it. You can have all of the above but you will just not make it. This should probably be the first thing on your check list when you move into the city.

The Gospel says: Because Christ went out of his way to seek friendship with you and was vulnerable with you, you are to go out of your way to make friends for you and for your family.

Conclusion: The Gospel is the only power you will have available to reconstruct you as the forces of urbanity and church planting tear you apart. So, dig in deep into its reality.