The guiding metaphor for understanding discipleship is the process Jesus used. He walked with his disciples, teaching them and showing them what he wanted them to become and to do in this world. The story of the Road to Emmaus in Luke chapter 24 depicts what this process looks like. The story begins with Jesus “coming up and walking along with them” (v.15). Jesus makes contact yet the disciples “did not recognize him.” Jesus connected with them by asking questions (v17, 19, 26), digging into their experiences and helping them see what they couldn’t yet perceive (v27). This kind of connection is made in the internal struggle in which they could not understand what Jesus was teaching them. When they arrived at the village, they offered Jesus a place to stay. Jesus committed to joining them for a meal. Here at the table, Jesus shared a regular meal in the same ritual format - becoming a covenant meal as the Eucharist by taking the bread, giving thanks, breaking it, and giving it to them (v31). It was at this moment the disciples recognized Jesus who had been walking with them all along.
Make Contact > Make Connection > Make Commitments > Make Covenant
The rubric for pastoral engagement evaluates the work of the pastor, not who the pastor is trying to reach or who is more committed to his or her work. When it comes to evaluating oneself as a pastor, many times it is the other person’s behavior being measured and held accountable whether it’s a student or employee or church member. In the case of pastoral ministry, the tables will be turned and instead measure the pastor for evaluation. How can the pastor tell if he or she is doing well?
What is missing from other evaluative tools for making disciples, such as church attendance, sermon series, and giving records, is found in what do pastors do and how do they know they’re doing it well. If there is a way to understand and evaluate the work of the pastor, this is how to do it: make contacts, recognize connections, engage in commitment to participate in their lives and work, and recognize covenant partnership with them as members of the Body of Christ. This is the pathway of making disciples in a way that Jesus did.
Pastor How-to Habit #1 -- Initiate eight new contacts every month. That’s 96 new contacts in a year.
Pastor How-to Habit #2: Twice a month celebrate a new Kingdom work in someone’s life or with the community through the work of the church during the main service; and twice a month promote new opportunities to serve in the church and in the community.
Pastor How-to Habit #3 - Select four activities outside of church that are important for some of those in your community of faith, e.g. sports league participation, workplace volunteer. Use your time in these spaces to get to know this part of your parishioners’ lives outside of their participation in church. Get to know their friends, family, and colleagues especially those not already part of your congregation. Commit to being involved in these four activities for at least four months.
Pastor How-to Habit #4 - Choose up to twelve parishioners that seek a deeper experience with Christ and walk with them in a more intimate fellowship. Pray for them, but also ask them to pray for you. Teach them from what you’re reading. Ask them what they are learning and let them teach you. A covenant is mutual and multi-directional. Agree to meet regularly even weekly for up to one to three years.
I’ve heard folks in my denomination talk about “high impact churches.” It's a phrase that's been out there for a few years, in particular an eponymous book by Linus Morris. His primary shift is thinking about church not so much as being situated in a geographic location but within large scale social network. This move was important a quarter of a century ago when Morris published with the rise of the internet and globalization. I think we've seen a cultural migration away from dislocation as a norm toward place-centered living. Anecdotally, people just are not transient as they used to be. People tend to grow where they are planted. The trend is playing out during the last year. If people are moving, it is close to where they already are:
"This local movement means that even for residents who did move further from an urban center, many remained part of the same regional economy. And most of those who moved further afield tended to stay within a radius of 100 to 150 miles."- "More Americans Are Leaving Cities But Don't Call It an Urban Exodus" - Bloomberg News, April 26, 2021 The "same regional economy" is the same as a megaregion, which I written about elsewhere on this blog. People are moving but staying within a place called home. So, one's social network is the same as sharing a place: familiarity in particularity.
My denomination leans toward defining high impact churches as those that start with a large core of attenders, around 200 (multiplynaz.org). These kinds of churches are also actively working toward getting people involved in the life of the church, usually through a system of discipleship groups. Much of the focus is building internal capacity for nourishing the faithful and reaching the like-minded. It's a consumer-driven approach to building the church. I was never really satisfied with these notions of what church should look. The cynical side of me thinks that the emphasis is on HYPE -- just trying to get people in the door and find ways to keep them around. The non-cynical side of me wonders if evangelism of attraction will actually lead toward discipleship: the true calling of the church is to make disciples.
In 2020, I read an article on 11 Traits of Churches That Will Impact the Future by Carey Nieuwhof that fleshed out what I think I mean by “high impact churches.” Nieuwhof wrote this article in 2013. It could easily have been written yesterday. It has given structure to what a high impact church might look like.
Nieuwhof’s thoughts on what these kinds of things that could be considered high impact churches bear repeating:
“When you learn to say no to the preferences of some current members, you learn to say yes to a community that is ready to be reached.”
“If you can’t make a decision within 24 hours, your process is too slow.”
“In fact, more and more larger churches will start embracing smaller venues, locations and partnerships to keep growing. A great number of smaller venues might be a hallmark of future churches making an impact.”
“Get innovative and start looking at portable and non-traditional ways of growing your ministry.”
“Churches that understand that embracing questions is as important as providing immediate answers will make an impact.”
“Churches in decline often think in terms of what they can get from people - money, time, growth, etc.”
“Churches that decide they will hold the message sacred but tailor the experience to an ever shifting culture will be more effective.”
From Nieuwhof’s article, I narrowed my emphasis on eight aspects of high impact churches. When I see these concepts at work in a church, there’s a good chance they are making an impact on their community. These practices are not based on church size or financial capacity. I believe all of these descriptors need to be present for a local church to be considered a high impact church. If they are not all present, then these aspects become aspirations for what a church seeks to become in its community.
Overview: Understands local context, knows the map, makes strangers into friends
Questions toward becoming outsider focused:
--Who lives in your neighborhood?
--What contribution does your church make to this neighborhood?
--Do they know your name? Do you know theirs?
--Do they invite you to participate in their lives?
Overview: Realizes they cannot go it alone, becomes connectional, seeks district oversight and guidance, leans on a prayer network, looks for local sources of funding, enters into a larger global family
Questions toward building a partnership plan:
--What organizations are doing what you think the church can/should be doing?
--How are you helping them do this work?
--What gifts does your church have to offer these organizations?
--If there is not an organization doing this work, how can your church start doing it?
Overview: Rule of Four in team leadership, each position is a function, response-ability, self-perpetuating
Questions toward pulling together a leadership team:
--Who are the four people that are always there that dream big and make things happen?
--Who needs to be involved in the decision-making
--What are examples of tangible and memorable evidence of the trust that has been built between these leaders and the rest of the church?
Overview: No canoes (Tod Bolsinger), learns to say no to insiders to include outsiders, cultural shifts, does what is necessary, focused on a few ministries, inter-culturally sensitive
Questions toward implementing adaptable ministry:
--How quickly can a ministry be started in church for the community?
--What is the ratio of active volunteers to regular church attenders?
--Where can be found written expectations for volunteers?
--How often is training held for new volunteers?
--What kind of gratitude is shown to volunteers?
--What are active ways the church reaches out to the marginalized - not like the majority of those already in the church?
--How are different languages and cultures from your community represented in your church?
Overview: Little overhead, just in time planning, ready to move, costs in people. “Get innovative and start looking at portable and non-traditional ways of growing your ministry.”
Questions toward having a flexible footprint:
--Who decides when a new ministry might begin? Or when it might end?
--How many “circles” or smaller groups of church folks meet outside of regular worship gatherings?
--Where are there places to meet for church folks to meet together beyond gatherings at church?
Overview: Multiple avenues, everyone involved, participatory, movement toward everyone discipling someone else
Questions toward a discipling culture:
--What is the next step for a new believer in your church?
--How are these next steps communicated to new believers?
--How many members have actively taken part in making new disciples in the past year?
--What is considered essential knowledge and practice for disciples in your church?
--Who or what criteria in your local church determine what is essential for making disciples?
--What does this pathway of disciple look like in your church?
Overview: Social presence, connectivity: “Sure, face to face is deeper, but people will tell you things online they can’t muster the courage to tell you face-to-face.”
Questions toward creating an online presence:
--Does your church have a website or Facebook page that is updated on a weekly basis?
--What are ways for someone to participate in a worship service or discipleship group even though they are online?
--What are ways people can be engaged via message or comment boards in an online environment?
--Who tracks online involvement in your church?
--What online resources available for discipleship opportunities, financial giving, registering for events or ministry sign-ups?
--In what ways will someone be able to find out what is happening at your church this month by going to the website?
Overview: Planted to grow here not there, able to engage a transient society, has social awareness, recognizes their place in society, stones in a stream
Questions toward engaging the whole city:
--In what ways does your church provide avenues to connect to the larger community around the church?
--How does the church find ways to meet with or partner with other churches even if it is just with other church pastors?
--How does the church offer its voice to concerns within the larger church community?
--What markers in the church’s building, signage, website, and events that show evidence of its community’s presence?
--Where do people live that regularly attend, participate or have a connection to the church?
“give not get” mentality
Overview: Asks what the church can do for you not to what it can get from you : “Church that will make an impact on the future will be passionate about what they want for people - financial balance, generosity, the joy of serving, better families, and of course, Christ at the center of everyone’s life.”
--What is the church doing for its community without any strings attached or return on investment?
N.T. Wright is offering a course that "have meant the most to [his] spiritual development." And, so, I began reflecting on what passages from. the Scriptures have shaped me. I'm not a fan of "life verses." They seem more like bumper stickers of wisdom extracted from their source and surroundings. The interest here is to get to the passages that have continually drawn us back over the years. I cannot really shake what they tell me about myself and the world I wish to inhabit.
Here is the beginning of my list:
Romans 1:16-17 NIV
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'”
It's really verse 16 that jarred me loose. I was a new believer, at a youth retreat for the South Central Ohio District in Ripley, West Virginia. The speaker talked about this verse. It was later in the weekend that I sensed a calling to mission and ministry. So, I've always taken to heart the desire to not only be with those inside the group but also to be among the outsiders. This is really the verse that brings to life the whole notion of the doctrine of entire sanctification--"the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" either it works for everyone or no one. One of the few either/or's in my spiritual lexicon.
Colossians 3:1-14 NIV
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
"Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
My first sermon in French was on this passage. It's just packed with the basics of Christian theology on the Incarnation - the heavenly becomes earthly - as well as the transformative power of the Resurrection that continually brings about a newness to daily life - la vie quotidienne. Even the mundane gets an overhaul. Especially the mundane, daily, boring makings of a life become something glorious in the hands of God. Moving toward Christlikeness makes us more like Christ and more recognizable to each other: "Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." This is not only an individual transformation but it is witnessed in the whole of "God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved." The witness continues through the people as they "bear with", "forgive", "love" and all the one anothers that "binds them all together." They surely don't look alike but they are "unified" in the Body and Blood of Christ--here on earth as it is in heaven.
I'll continue the list over the next few weeks, this is just a beginning.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to for groups of people to gather. For the church, weekly worship gatherings have become nearly impossible or restricted by local guidelines. It is possible for the local church to be present in its context but it may require becoming a network of house churches. Here are links to a Powerpoint presentation and training video followed by a print version of the training material.
The church is still the church regardless of how it gathers. One definition of church is defined is:
“Any group that meets regularly for spiritual nurture, worship, or instruction, with an identified leader and aligned with the message and mission of the Church of the Nazarene, may be recognized as a church and reported as such for district and general church statistics.” Board of General Superintendents, December 8, 2015
There are five minimum characteristics for a local church to be a church.
“Any group that
(1) meets regularly for
(2) spiritual nurture, worship, or instruction,
(3) with an identified leader and
(4) aligned with the message and mission of the Church of the Nazarene,
(5) may be recognized as a church and reported as such for district and general church statistics.”
Let's compare a description of the New Testament church from the Book of Acts to the five characteristics of a local church:
Acts 2:42-47 (NRSV) compared to BGS ruling 2015
42 They devoted themselves [meets regularly] to the apostles’ teaching [identified leader] and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers [spiritual nurture, worship, instruction].
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. [Identified leaders]
44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. [aligned with the message and the mission]
46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, [recognized as a church]
47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. [reported as such for district and general church statistics] (thanks to John DeMuth for thinking this through with me)
There are right and wrong ways of meeting as house churches, according to church planter Steve Brenmer (2012).
What house churches do right: Intimacy, accountability, offers freedom and flexibility, outward-focused (with an emphasis on reaching neighbors, and meets with intentionality (know why they are doing what they’re doing).
What house churches do wrong: Still needs physical space to meet, turns inward-focused, no longer brings in new people, no longer makes disciples and just hangs out, becomes arrogant in that this smaller gathering is the only legitimate way to meet together as the church.
How are house churches different than small groups?
Small groups are focused on one thing: fellowship, Bible study, gender groups, or a service project.
House Churches are focused on being the church: worshipping, learning, serving as an extension of the Body of believers gathered together
Where should house churches meet?
Geography - ZIP code, housing development, apartment complexes, direction from the gathered church
Why geography? Same schools, same grocery stores, travel time, needs to be a focus on gathering for being the church not around lesser reasons, Keep the purpose in focus
Why not affinity groups or groups of friends? See the point about house churches being inwardly focused. Rarely will this kind of group invite an outsider that isn’t already closely connected to someone in the group. This group also is so focused on the ancillary reason they are meeting together, such as a book club or women’s group, and not why they are meeting together as the church.
Make the Body local. Find where the Body already is. Let the Church move into the neighborhood.
Who meets in the house church?
Around ten adults. Jewish synagogues require at least ten heads of household. The same applies here.
A church of 50 might have two churches of 18 to 25 people or three groups of 15 to 18 people.
Those involved in house church include: The designated (trained) leader appointed by the pastor/board as a lay preacher, the host family, children/youth activity volunteer, and any other guests.
For COVID-19 precautions - Suggest no more than 10 persons at a time in a room or backyard gathering. Children might go right into a lesson time in a separate space rather than gather with the whole to limit numbers in a single space at one time. Masks recommended (and may be required by the host family).
Remember that everyone is a guest. Household rules need to be honored by the guests
When does a house church meet?
Suggested time frame is 90 minutes from arrival of guests to departure of the last family
4:30 p.m. Arrive at the location
4:45 p.m. Begin the time together whether it is singing together or sharing praises with one another, including listening to the worship portion of morning’s service, listening/singing along with a Spotify playlist, etc.), lead by a single guitar or piano, no more than three songs
5:00 p.m. Announcements and allow children’s and youth activities to begin in other rooms
5:05 p.m. Listen to the sermon together. Feel free to pause for discussion
5:30 p.m. Pause for response, accountability, and prayer. Feel free to make smaller groups for prayer if space allows.
5:45 p.m. Gather for snacks, finger foods, and fellowship
6:00 p.m. Begin departing
More COVID-19 precautions - Consider not serving food. Limit the gathering time to 45 minute to avoid the need for restroom usage.Also, singing may not be wise in a small, confined space. Other options include someone playing an instrumental or ensemble together, reciting a poem, memorizing and reading hymns together interspersed with prayer, Bible reading and reflection (e.g. lectio divina).
How does the house church stay connected to the primary local church?
The designated leaders are trained, accountable to, and appointed by the pastor and staff. A local church board might confer a local minister's license to each house church leader.
Designated leaders report the meeting times in advance and accurately to the pastor and church staff for promotion on the web site or social media. House Church leaders also track and report participation in the house church. They are also responsible for giving prayer requests and concerns to the pastor and church staff.
Offerings are best handled through online giving opportunities. If cash and checks are given, designated leaders are to bring to the pastor and/or church office the following day. Or, mobilize the finance team/board members to collect the offerings and bring to the church office for accounting and deposit.
The pastor and/or church staff may distribute announcements (written copies or weblinks to online videos), as well as give leaders the weekly discussion questions for the sermon/teaching times, and share prayer requests.
Host families may display a yard sign showing connection to the primary church with contact info, websites, and maybe leaflets with take-home information.
Board members could be asked to host or attend the house church gathering nearest them. One or two board members could volunteer to visit multiple house church gatherings as a means of accountability.
What makes this “count” as going to church?
The BGS definition of church as gathering for “spiritual nurture, worship, or instruction” is consistent with the message and mission of the Church of the Nazarene whether the gathering is in a church building, in a house, or anywhere else.
There will be three essential elements in every gathering (borrowing language from Neil Cole):
How can house churches still feel unified as to the local church?
"Be careful, you are not in Wonderland. I've heard the strange madness long growing in your soul. But you are fortunate in your ignorance, in your isolation. You who have suffered, find where love hides. Give, share, lose — lest we die, unbloomed."
Rev. Amy Butler, minister at Riverside Church in New York City, wrote an opinion article at Religions News about the dying of organized and institutional Christianity in north America. Declines in church attendance and giving to traditional churches have not gone unnoticed. But, all is not lost. There is a sense in which there is something new, maybe better said, refreshing and not altogether different needs to happen. Her article is here: https://religionnews.com/2019/10/30/christianity-as-we-know-it-is-dying-lets-welcome-the-new-life-ahead/
My district superintendent in South Texas asked for some thoughts on the article. So, here is something of what I sent this morning:
There are those are culturally part of Christianity…they go because they’ve always gone…and in the same way. Sunday morning worship for an hour, after dropping off children at their activity station, maybe meet during the week with a few families to watch a video lesson and discuss something related to life, faith, and the Bible, could be Sunday School or as it is called now, life group. Occasionally volunteer for some church-related event or service project nearby or abroad. And, they are gravitating toward big box non-denom Bethel-infused Baptist/Catholic churches: it's dark inside so sound and lights are on point, mostly great contemporary music, good coffee served by enthusiastic greeters, preaching focused on the "how" more than the "why." People have left others still sitting on pews and singing from hymnals after attending Sunday School. The veneer has changed but it's mostly the same, and folks go because they've always gone. Example: Recently, I met with a few leaders to talk shop, and one of them said, “People just won’t go to church unless it meets on Sunday morning.”
There are those who are just completely indifferent – NONEs and DONEs. They believe that they’ve been there and done that and there’s nothing really more to it. And, they refuse to go back. Youth group kids went on every ski trip and mission service project and retreat and summer camp and ... then the adrenaline rush of youth ministry did not answer their questions, or even worse, question their answers as they entered adulthood and exited what James Fowler called a synthetic-conventional faith. It's a faith patched together from various teachings but not consistent or coherent (synthetic). It is a faith borrowed from parents, pastors, song lyrics, and bumper stickers or Pinterest boards (conventional). It's a meme-derived faith that makes sense in the moment but cannot be easily remembered, especially when life reveals itself as really, really hard. Example: A male parent of a trick-or-treater at pastor's house in one of our fastest growing locales in southern Texas, asked the pastor first thing after being invited to church, “So, is your church non-denominational?” They've been to youth group, and just don’t want to go back. They want to think about a faith that questions their assumptions and gives them hope when things don't look so good, and something to chase when they feel like what they have doesn't satisfy like they thought it would.
So, in between the two, I think there is a place for authentic Christian community. Those are loaded words and vague enough to not really mean anything. They are root concepts. I think it means “groups of believers with a designated leader that meet regularly for worship, discipleship, or service.” This is how my church defines church. Inside this definition are expressions of authenticity, something that reflects the original genius of the Body of Christ found in the New Testament (and Hebrew Scriptures and Early Church, and other historical epochs of revitalization. There have been times when the Church remembered itself: The Desert Fathers, Franciscan monastic movement, Celtic missionaries to Western Europe, Radical Reformers of Western and Southern Europe, evangelical movements like the Great Awakening in the US and the Methodists in England, and the rise of Pentecostals in Latin America and rapid church multiplication in Africa and Asia. I do not suggest replicating past movements but learning from them and not making the same mistakes and nurturing the best ideas and practices that history has to offer.
We have already made room for more organic and fluid expressions of gathered people. So, let's do it again by meeting in third spaces like coffee shops, ball fields, festivals, farmer’s markets, library study rooms, as well as homes, apartment complexes, and dinner churches that all fit this definition. See Kris Beckert's stuff at Fresh Expressions US. Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost have made careers on trying prune this garden of wilting flowers and unharvested fruit. These faithful and fruitful expressions of church may meet for a time, and then disperse, re-organize later, or move to another place but still find ways to be together as a people. It’s a little scary but not too much.
So, I think churches about to bloom look like this, for starters.
Authentic - seeks to find the original purpose of God's people as a locally gathered people empowered by God's Presence.
Christian - identified with biblical and historic Christianity: to be called, sent, broken, healed, to be serving, loving, living as Christ in their midst.
Community - gathered and identified as the "cultural expression of God's sacramental presence of God in their local context." (My definition of church, btw.)
What do you think?
Looks like I’m headed to Texas.
It started when Megan Pardue, a house church pastor from North Carolina and Duke Divinity School adjunct instructor, came to MVNU to preach on Feb 6. We’ve known each other for a few years with our common interest and work in organic forms of being church. Afterward, I took her to lunch along with a student and staff member both considering Duke for graduate school. A pastor friend from northern California, Mark Lehman, also met up with us. During our conversations, she mentioned that her in-laws’ church in Austin, Texas is looking for a pastor. This caught my ear. I love Austin. But, I always file away these open churches in the back of my mind, especially if someone in ministry or an alumnus calls me looking for a new opportunity. I also love Austin. It’s like Portland, Oregon except with cowboy boots and BBQ. “Keep it weird,” as they say in Austin.
A few days later, I drove a couple van loads of students to Kansas City for the M19 Conference on Evangelism for the US/Canada Region Church of the Nazarene. About three thousand or so people were in attendance. At the end of the first worship gathering, I saw Matt Rice standing in the open atrium outside the convention hall. He is a Nazarene pastor I stayed with during my visits to San Antonio the previous Fall. We talked for a bit. I asked him for the contact information for his district superintendent. I wanted to ask about the church in Austin. He said, “Well, he’s coming up right behind you.” I turned and saw Jeffrey Johnson, the D.S. wading through the crowd, his father in tow. I said quickly, “I’d like to talk to you about the church in Austin.” As he passed by in the crowd, he said, “Get my info from Matt, and we’ll talk.” He passed by, and I figured, well, looks like I’ll find more or maybe not. It’s hard to get face time at big conferences. Matt and I talked a bit more, then I turned to find my students, and I saw a church planting couple I know well - Chris and Lynnlee Moser.
I walked along with Chris and Lynnlee. I congratulated them on their move to Salt Lake City to plant churches. They are perfect for this role. They said they knew it was a God-thing for them since they turned down an opportunity to return and plant churches in San Antonio, where they had lived for a while. I had no idea. So, cool that God moved them to the right place at the right time, right? We then saw Sam Flores whom we all knew from church planting and evangelism task forces. He was also from San Antonio, Texas and is now a D.S. in South Carolina. I asked him about the church in Austin, and Sam said, “But you’re more interested in church planting, right? If so, you need to meet these two pastors.” We all continued to the Young Clergy Meetup. After a while, Sam came back to me and said, “They two guys finished up in here and are out in the hallway.”
Sam and I walked down the wide convention walkway to where Todd Barker and Michael Pigg where talking it up with a few folks. Sam introduced us, and I felt like I met versions of myself from ten to fifteen years ago. They were talking about a church planting movement between Austin and San Antonio: planting 32 churches in ten years. Three were already in place in Kyle, San Marcos, and Jarrell -- all part of the Wayfinders Church network on the South Texas District. They said, “Hey, come and visit this summer for two weeks.” I repiled, “How about for two months?” I really wanted to find out more about what makes these guys tick. I love what they’re doing in Texas. So, I asked, “What do you think are your missing pieces?” They said, “People. We need more people to get some of the work started in new places.” At that moment, my students walked up behind me. I said to Michael, “You mean like these people?” Michael and Todd spent 30 minutes talking up the students in the hallway, sharing their vision.
Later, that night, I told Jared Tucker that I thought something happened tonight when we met Todd and Michael in the hallway. I just wasn’t sure what exactly. It felt like trajectories were shifted, new directions were starting to take place. It was Spirit-led from the start.
I got a text from Michael the next morning from all of their group at breakfast. He said they were talking about me. I was thinking about them, all the possibilities and challenges...all happening in this place in Texas, the I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, where I spent seven weeks during sabbatical. I was just trying to get my head around what my heart already knew.
Later that morning, I received a text from Jeffrey, the D.S., asking if we could meet up after the service. “Definitely” was my quick response. We met in the hallway and he mentioned some open churches, and then mentioned he also had “this church planting thing.” This struck a chord. “Oh?”, I asked. “Yes,” he said, “You need to come down and visit us.” I said I had time over spring break in a month, but I would come only if I could bring some students. Serendipitously, the next night a few of the students ran into Todd and Michael in the hotel lobby, and then spent three hours talking about what was happening in Texas. The students were psyched about what was going on there.
I caught the deliberate enthusiasm that radiated from these guys as much the students. We started talking about an informal trip down to Texas over break. We all talked to several more students after we returned. A week before break, I get a text from Paige Hopper, a former student looking for job possibilities. She meant “in Columbus” but I asked if “Texas would be possible.” Her significant other, Ryan Fortner, also a former student, was also looking for a move, so I suggested they join us if she could get a week off. She texted back two hours later with permission to take a week off work granted by her supervisor. And, bonus, Ryan would drive. Two weeks later, we all trekked down to Texas.
We arrived early on Tuesday morning, and joined Jeffrey, Todd, Michael, and Jake, driving a van from South Austin Church of the Nazarene, the same one Megan told me about, so we could visit some of the locations along the I-35 corridor ripe for new church possibilities. We spent a long day in some great places. We stopped at Summer Moon for coffee, hit up a Buc-ee’s once or twice, and met some great people and had those famous van ride conversations that happen on my trips. We gathered with the four pastoral families from Wayfinders for a meal at Todd and Holly's home. I saw how the D.S. interacted with the pastors and students, how the pastors interacted with him and the students, and the students loved all of them. The vibe in the room felt like a gathering of missionary families -- the urgency of the work, the noisy din of hilarious stories being told, and the intense joy of being together talking about Great Big Things.
Later that evening, Jeffrey the D.S. asked, “What do you think about coming down here to help us?” I smiled and laughed. [Edit: I realized this way of phrasing it was not too different than the Macedonian call was phrased as Paul heard it in Acts 16:6-10.] This was the offer -- a Texas-sized offer if I’ve ever heard one. I asked, “Do what exactly?” He said, “Come down to recruit, encourage and mentor some church planters, do some cross cultural training with our established churches, maybe work on a partnership with West Africa since there are so many immigrants, and work on some practicum opportunities for students…We can hash out the details later.” I asked, “So, where do you do want me to live?” He said, “I think it’d be good to live in Austin, San Antonio, or some place in between?” My jaw dropped. I prayed those exact words back in January in another context. I didn’t realize at the time that God would have a bigger purpose in the response to this prayer. Jeffrey asked if I’d like to pray about it. I told him that I already had...but it would be good to have a few more days.
The rest of the week was overwhelming...the pastors--so few of them...working in the midst of such a huge wave of population growth. I found out that 10,000 people a month are moving to Austin. In five years or so, San Antonio will top three million inhabitants--the crowds, getting larger and larger, looking for something or Someone else, needing good news whether they know it or not. The ratio of churches to inhabitants was decreasing rapidly compared to nation-wide numbers. Since the trip I have met and talked with several pastors and people -- well, over 50 people -- and around fifteen of them have already said, “Yes…” They are going to join God in this work and make the long-term move to South Texas this summer or soon after. About fifteen more have said they will consider making a visit to come and see . . .
After returning, I realized that I wasn’t just asking others to make a move. God wanted me to go there, too. It wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when.” So, on the Monday after Spring Break, before there was a job title, job description, salary, or definitive place to move, I texted Jeffrey, “I’m in. I don’t have all my questions asked but I’m in. Or all the details clarified but I’m all in. This is God’s momentum and I can’t wait to try and catch up with Him.” So that began the process and started the next big move in my life...this time to Texas. The District Advisory Board met on March 29 and 30 to discuss this new position and interview me. This date of March 29 is an important one for me; it was the culmination of my self-designated one year of healing and restoration since the divorce process began the previous year. Wow...I love the symmetry of God’s grace. Afterward, the DAB voted unanimous approval for me to join the district staff as Church Planting Missionary. Since it is a district position, the responsible General Superintendent needs to approve it, and so, I heard the next week that the move was given “enthusiastic approval” by Dr. Carla Sunberg. I start June 1, 2019.
So, after a decade of teaching at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, I find myself leaving people and places that have shaped much of who I am today. I have spent these years nurturing future leaders into the ministry and serving others all around country and around the world -- one summer I had six students serving on every continent except Antarctica. Last year I became a full professor and completed my first sabbatical. I have done research in urban megaregions including the Texas Triangle, taken a deep dive into the spiritual lives of historic Celtic missionaries, consulted in organic church planting, compassionate and urban ministries, pastored a local church here in Mount Vernon, written about Christian missionary work in the borderlands where cultures collide and blend, guided others through the complexities of cross-cultural life and work, and taught over a hundred students the basics of church planting. Combined with my years as an undergraduate, I’ve spent almost one-third of my life in Mount Vernon. I'll come back to do the annual Spring Break "Matt Price road trip" to KC-Chicago-Indy for MVNU. So, I'll keep a footprint on a campus that I love dearly.
Ohio, it’s not goodbye, but see ya later. Texas, I had no idea you were going to be part of my life this time last year. All I know is that I began this year of transition in May 2018 on a spiritual pilgrimage in Ireland, Wales, and England, studying and living into Celtic missionary spirituality. I asked myself the question at the beginning of this journey, “What is my next step, Lord?”
Looks like I’m headed to Texas, y’all.
The solidarity of brokenness is palpable in this seemingly random meeting. The willingness to risk making a fool of oneself by finding comfort in another person as wounded as ourselves is what makes these words so powerful.
Loneliness may also be shared. This is the twist that pulls me into this song: "I could be lonely with you." This is the hope of every friendship, drawing us into another person. This song could easily be a prayer for our times, and definitely an anthem for recent months in my own life.
My reading of Belden Lane's The Solace of Fierce Landscapes engages the idea that brokenness is part of what it means to be human:
"Our culture substitutes the glamorous for the grotesque, denying this awkward vision of the imago Dei. Our definitions of the human rule out bizarre and broken forms. People dying of cancer possess none of the power or beauty that we assume to be the principal marks of human worth. If we define the person exclusively in terms of rational ability and productivity, someone with Down's syndrome will inevitably appear to be less than whole. The eccentric, the ugly, the abnormal lie beyond the measure of our societal norms. We're left with a stylized and truncated humanity, dangerously imagining itself complete." (1998, page 33)
There is a wholeness that comes only through brokenness. Healing does not need to happen before the wound. There is hope in brokenness, entered into through finding oneself alone and honestly appearing before the other. In this moment of clarity, loneliness finds a friend, and brokenness begins to collapse into something more complete.
This morning I presented a training session on posmodern evangelism to over twenty church leaders from across the United States and from Kenya. The hope is to be humble enough to listen, draw near, and engage people in conversation along the journey toward Christ--the trajectory of grace through the threshold of faith. Below is the downloadable powerpoint file.
Later, I will be able to link to a video of the training session.
Thanks to Black Dog Coffeeshop in Lenexa, Kansas for providing the necessary caffeine for an early Saturday morning. And, to the Lord, for pointing us all toward the Life we all seek.
Link to the video file on dropbox: CLICK HERE
broken by lovelytheband
Life to Fix by The Record Company
From This Valley by The Civil Wars
Sit Next to Me by Foster the People
The Joke by Brandi Carlisle
Friday I'm in Love by The Cure
Small Town by John Cougar Mellencamp
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Round Here by Count Crows
Hunger by Florence + The Machine
Bad Bad News by Leon Bridges
Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra
Somebody to Love by Queen
Don't You (Forget About me) by Simple Minds
Learn to Fly by Foo Fighters
Even Flow by Pearl Jam
Sucker's Prayer by The Decemberists
Lightening Crashes by Live
Holding Back the Years - Simply Red
Everybody Needs Somebody to Love by The Blues Brothers
It's the End of the World As We Know It by R.E.M.
Your Bright Baby Blues by Sean Watkins, Sara Watkins
Refugee By Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Sweet Child o' Mine by Guns N' Roses
Wish I Knew You by The Revivalists
You Worry Me by Nathaniel Ratecliff and the Night Sweats
Soul To Squeeze by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Saturday Sun by Vance Joy
Revolution (featuring First Aid Kit) by Van William