Monthly Archives: September 2011

The problem of growth and the need for discipleship

Growth is only good news if it’s good growth

Adorn passed the 400+ mark a few weeks ago as a new surge of freshmen joined us to start off the third year of our gathering. While numbers aren’t everything, it certainly does change how things work, especially in regards to relationships. Tim Keller writes about this in an article entitled Leadership and Church Size Dynamics,

Size has an enormous impact on how a church functions; that being said, the “size culture” profoundly affects how decisions are made, how relationships flow, how effectiveness is evaluated, and how its staff operates. We tend to think of the primary differences between churches in strictly denominational or theological terms, but that underestimates the impact of size on how a church operates…[the] person who goes from a church of 400 to a church of 2,000 is making a far greater change than if he or she moved from one denomination to another.

Hmm… growth affects “how relationships flow,” or cease flowing. An easier way of saying that is, the more people there are, the less relational depth. Bummer.

So the changes at Adorn may be great on the surface, but not so great if we ignore the change in our culture as a result of this rapid growth. Meaningful relationship in the Bible is often raised under the header of “discipleship.” But how does one make disciples in any large gathering?  I think it will make more sense to split that question into three that are more specific…

1) How do we know if we are disciples?

Before we can make disciples, we ought to be disciples. My most simple definition of a disciple is someone who learns and follows. We must be influenced by someone else to such an extent that we follow them and learn from them. As disciples of Jesus, we must follow him by learning from those who have been following him longer. I give a more in-depth definition of what a disciple is here, how it affects our community here, and the importance of pursuing it here.

Before we start discipling other people, we first must be followers of Christ in community with others. Does our private life exude a relationship with Jesus, including time in the Scriptures and prayer, that we would gladly teach to others?

2) How do we disciple other people?

Exerting effort into mission, evangelism, and worship will not automatically create disciples. The slow act of discipleship must be interwoven in everything we do.

Mike Breen, the pioneer of the missional community movement in England, wrote recently that without discipleship, the missional movement will fail. Discipleship is not a conveyor belt. We sometimes concentrate on width (many converts), but neglect depth (faithful disciples). We can’t afford to do that anymore.

Our efforts are best spent on fewer people, for longer periods of time. That means instead of trying to save the whole world, perhaps we should just invest in three people for three years. And if we had three people, would we know how to instruct them from the beginnings of conversion to mature growth?

3) How do we teach disciples to make disciples?

Discipleship is something we should replicate. It’s not enough to make disciples, for we are called to make disciple-making disciples. Are we teaching those we influence how to influence others? Or will the whole process die with them? How do we make discipleship simple enough so that the average new believer can replicate it, and fulfill their calling to make disciples?

My fear is that if we do not cultivate all three of these elements of discipleship, even the biggest gathering will be nothing but a crowded house of fish in a barrel.

5 ways to discern God’s will

The first thing you should be aware of is lightning bolts.

Being struck from heaven is always a sure sign you’re in the wrong. If you aren’t busy dodging lighting, then it’s safe to continue. Just kidding.

Now for the serious five. Keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list, but when all of these are working in conjunction with one other, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going in the right direction.

  1. The Word of God
  2. The voice of God
  3. The fruit of your calling
  4. The confirmation of your community

That’s pretty much it. These are the four ways I’ve discerned some of the heaviest decisions in my life, not to mention the most trivial. Let’s unpack them…

1) Your ultimate test is the Scriptures.

I know, I know…the Bible doesn’t always address the particulars of life (for example, if you should date that hot girl). But it doesn’t always need to; it gives us guiding principles. Romans 12:2 tells us that our minds are renewed by Biblical truths to such an extent that we are able to wisely discern what the will of God is in any given situation. The way the New Living Translation puts this verse is that the Scriptures change the way that we think! So our fundamental need is not to have particular answers, but to think differently.

2) God will speak to you

We don’t just want to manage life by reason alone. There are times when God will communicate to you by his Spirit. Sometimes it might be audible, or in a dream/vision, and still other times it is more of a subjective impression on your heart. I think this is part of the benefits of the prophetic gift of the Holy Spirit too. But it is in the constant place of prayer with God that this usually surfaces. And just as we practice prayer, we must also practice listening. You will probably mess this up at times. That’s ok. Keep listening, and practice the other four as well.

3) There will be fruit in your calling.

In other words, if I leave a good career direction in life to become an underwater basket-weaver, there should be some confirming signs along the way that I’m good at UBW. Whom God sends, he also equips.

4) We need a Christ-minded community to surround us

Even when the above three are present in a given situation, it is still possible for me to miss God through the lens of my own ambitions, insecurity, or fear. But mission happens best in community, because you are surrounded by others who know God’s Word, hear the Holy Spirit, and will not have the same blind spots as you do.

5) When all else fails, don’t trip.

All four of these elements were present in my decision to leave photography, and pursue a different calling. But it wasn’t overnight. This whole process took maybe 1.5 years, and I spent many nights struggling with God. Look at what the Lord said of Israel, when they began trusting in themselves,

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt. They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’ – Isaiah 30:15-16

At the end of the day, you must be able to hang up your drama, and rest in the identity you have in God through Christ, rather than in a spectacular calling.

Have you been able to put Spirit-led decision making into practice? Would you add anything to this list?

“And Can It Be” (Hymns with Lazo)

Words by Charles Wesley, 1738.

Music by Thomas Campbell, 1825.

Arrangement by Chris Lazo, 2011.

And can it be that I should gain, an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain— for me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, my God, should die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, my God, would die for me?  Read the rest of this entry

How to approach your future (part 3)

I wanted to save the best for last…

Put your identity in Jesus

You will undergo failure.

Everything will be ok if your identity is secured in Christ. Consequently, if your security is in anything else (like your job),  you will crumble under the weight of failure and disappointment.

But you don’t have to spin your wheels trying to justify your reason to exist, when you are, as Paul declared, “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24)

Boom.

(image © Washington Post)

How to approach your future (part 2)

Be ready to go

Some college students are perfectionists. And since they cannot make up their minds, they forego every opportunity (even some great ones) because they are not sure if it’s exactly “What God has called them to.” I’ve seen people crushed by anxiety over decisions like this.

Perfectionists, sometimes God will call you to mediocre opportunities before he brings you to your dream job. If you keep looking for the perfect job situation to drop from the sky, you risk missing out on a lot opportunities for God to glorify himself, not to mention relief from your need for perfection :-)

You still need to hear the voice of the Lord, because not every job is the right job. But seek the Lord in every opportunity (or lack thereof), even if it’s not what you were hoping for. It might change your life.

How To Approach Your Future (part 1.of.3)

Be ready to let go

(Not everyone has a problem with this. Some of you are itching to let go of what your doing in pursuit of something better. I wrote something for you here).

This post is for the Millennials who are content with life as it is.

Whether you are working a regular job, or hibernating in your mom’s house playing World of Warcraft, you are satisfied with the way things are, and are not particularly open to other opportunities. This isn’t a bad thing in itself.

But God may want to cause a disturbance in your system.

Below is a photo that I took from the top of the Mason Street campus at Brooks Institute of Photography, where I used to work. You can’t see it, but across the street and to the right of this window is the original Channel Islands Surf shop where Britt Merrick used to work. At different points in life, we both had dreams. I worked at Mason Street Studios aspiring to be a professional photographer, and Britt grew up across the street, awaiting the day he would take over Channel Islands.

Ironically, we now work with each other in the white warehouse pictured in center of this frame, doing what we thoroughly enjoy, yet never envisioned. God moved us from one side of the block to the other.

My new career path is not always something to romanticize over…I would probably have an easier life doing what I planned on. But ease in life is not a good motivation. Nor is it necessarily fulfilling. You don’t want to go through life settling for what’s “good” when “outstanding” is available.

We had to let go of something good, to get a hold of something better.

More importantly, we had to obey God. And from my own experience, there is no sorrow in that at all. There is never a regretful aftertaste in obeying Jesus.

The joy is always worthwhile.

There will be times when you know God is speaking to you about his plans for your life.

You just gotta let go.

Have you ever been in a place where you had to choose between two things? How did you handle it?

Missional Millennials (part 5) ~ The Narrative of Mission

In the past three years of pastoring a college ministry (Adorn), I have been overwhelmed by God’s grace to send his Spirit and his presence upon us on a weekly basis. We started as a prayer meeting of three people that used to meet at the Mason Street campus at Brooks Institute of Photography to pray for college students. Now, it is a worship gathering of 400+ twentysomethings that meet on Friday nights in Carpinteria, coming as far North as Isla Vista, and as far south as Malibu, Thousand Oaks, and Newbury Park. Out of this group have come restored identities, passionate worshippers, overseas missionaries, builders of community, beautifiers of culture, and lovers of the King.

I’ve noticed five elements that are prevalent in these young adults who are cultivating a lifestyle of a Millennial on Mission…

  1. They are always having their identity renewed in Jesus (identity)
  2. Their new identity forms their worship of Jesus (worship)
  3. Their lives influences other lives (discipleship)
  4. They bring everything back into community (community)
  5. Their community reaches outsiders (evangelism)
Notice that this is not a systematic, point-by-point outline of steps you should take. It’s not, “Ok, first lets go evangelize at Target, then let’s go disciple some people at the coffee shop, and then let’s have an outdoor concert, and how about a bible study on Thursday, and then…”

Rather, these elements seem to happen all at once!

It’s not a system, but a story.

But wait, you say, “where is the ‘missional’ element in this series on Missional Millennials?”

All five of these elements encapsulate mission, because in order for mission to work, the messenger must be identified with Christ, a worshiper of Christ, wanting to draw others to worship Christ through every area of life, and in a community that is just as concerned with outsiders as they are for each other. It’s a culture.

It’s communities of 18-30 year old men and women that are living in this story, not only through Adorn, but across the Coast, that have captured my attention, and they seem to be making a difference, by the wonderful grace of God.

For this reason, I sometimes refer to them as Missional Millennials.

Missional Millennials (part 4): Evangelism through community

Not all Christians know how to have a good time, but they should. We’ve cornered the market on “piety” and “reverence,” but in the process, lost our God-given sense of “joy” and “fun.”

Christians should repent of their inability to party.

Evangelism is the proclamation of good news! Why so dreary all the time?? Is it just me, or does the thought of “evangelism” sometimes provoke in us the imagery of a door-to-door salesmen, trying to sell a product he doesn’t want, to a stranger he doesn’t know? Perhaps if that’s the way you feel about the caricature of street-corner evangelism, you should try a different method of spreading our “good news.” May I suggest relational evangelism. It’s simple. You get to know people, you live life with them, you suffer with them, you party with them, and along the way, you teach them about Jesus. Of course, this takes quite a bit more investment than door-to-door sales, but it has a better return too. And Jesus rarely preached to people from a distance; he hung out with them, ate in their living rooms, and shared meals with them. Guess what…he often got to know them at parties. (gasp!)

We’ve already looked at the discipling effects of a Christ-centered community on a growing Christian. Now imagine what that would do for a non-believer?

In recent months, I’ve seen people who have been redeemed from many variations of oppression by the power of Jesus Christ. But I’ve also seen some of those same people fall away within less than a year, because they were not connected to the body of Christ in meaningful community.

Many of these people start their new life in Christ (identity) by leaving the old groups that are damaging them spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.

But you can’t just stop hanging out with the old crowd; you’ve got to replace it with a new one.

And a Christ-centered community must be more engaging to newer believers than their former one. Otherwise, when young men and women who are still maturing in their faith encounter a life situation they can’t handle, they will often fall back into their old social patterns, in order to fill the void of support and community that WE should have provided. I never use all caps, but this is begging for it…

EVANGELISM SHOULD NOT BE DONE IN ISOLATION OR IN A RUSH.

To evangelize someone is to introduce them to a new identity in Jesus and walk with them through the rhythms of worship in community for as long as it takes.

We get into trouble when we focus “discipleship” only on Christians, and only “evangelism” for the non-believer. The two become a sweet mixture, however. When you have an opportunity to bring an outsider into Christ-centered fellowship and celebration, you are beholding something beautiful: God’s expansion of God’s kingdom through God’s Church.

Britt Merrick once said, “God chooses to work alongside people, not independently of people.”

So what are you waiting for? Throw a celebration with your Christian community, and invite some visitors!

Come Thou Fount

This Tuesday calls for a little break from the daily grind…

I got lost in Garage band with a MIDI keyboard, treating this classic hymn. I could sing to hymns for days.

Come Thou Fount

Come Thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise His name I’m fixed upon it
Name of God’s redeeming love

Read the rest of this entry

Why crowding your calendar with good things is a bad thing

I only do one big event a year.

I often get baffled looks from people when I tell them that Reality’s young adult ministry (Adorn) does few programs or events.

I guess I can understand why—aren’t college groups supposed to be filled with a lot of activity? Shouldn’t we be offering something for college students to do during the week in addition to our main worship gathering?

3 years of doing Adorn has made me confident in saying “No.” In fact, college groups should be simple for similar reasons that OUR personal schedules should be simple: mission.

Here’s why Adorn keeps the calendar clear…

1. It allows us to stay on mission

Adorn exists so that people can know Jesus together and expand his Kingdom. Anything that does not directly affect these objectives is clutter. And clutter waters down our mission. Any programs we do have are all focused tightly on our mission. For example,

  • Our weekly worship gathering brings people together to get resuscitated on Christ in community with one another. It’s weekly, because regularity is an important aspect of cultivating our worship of Jesus.
  • Our annual Lake Trip is the one big event of the year for us. It brings strangers together who would not ordinarily cultivate relationships at our weekly gathering, and results in dozens of baptisms in Christ and his church.
  • Every four months a crew bands together for a small recreational activity called Assassins! Essentially a grown-up version of hide-n-seek, it helps us to enjoy life together as a community, and also serves as an easy form of mission in expanding the Kingdom of God in Santa Barbara, as hundreds of people who would never enter a church, show up to participate in the game.

2. It allows us to be on mission

Wait, wasn’t that the first point?? Well, kind of, but with a different nuance.
  • The first point has to do with Adorn’s mission as a gathering, and the opportunities we are going to offer the members of the gathered Friday night community.
  • But this second point deals with what we do outside of Adorn on Friday nights.
See, if we crowd your calendars with a bunch of frivolous activities (or even productive ones), you won’t have time to be on mission throughout the week.

How are you going to reach your neighborhood, school, workplace, friends, and family if we require you to participate in Adorn events and programs throughout the week? Busyness is counter-productive to mission.
Simplicity allows us to be with vision, and on mission, not just in ministry, but in our personal lives.

How about you? What are some of the most difficult things about creating simplicity in your life?

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