A Discipleship Movement!

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“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20

I am not much of a chef – or a baker for that matter.  If I were going to bake something, I’d need explicit instructions … starting with where to find the baking pans, spatulas and ingredients in my own kitchen!  So the truth is out.  I survive off other people’s cooking 😊

When Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, He didn’t give explicit instructions.  He did instruct us to “baptize and teach,” but as the multitude of Christian church styles and denominations reveals – there is a lot of variety in exactly how to do that.  Virtually every Christian church’s mission statement can be boiled down in one way or another to the Great Commission given by Jesus – “go and make disciples.”  And truly, that is something to be thankful for.  We are all trying to carry out what Jesus left us to do until He returns.

In an attempt to navigate the multitude of methods and strategies of carrying out the Great Commission, several myths about making disciples seem to have developed in church circles.  Using an excerpt from the book “From Followers to Leaders”[1] that I received during my most recent PLI Missional Leader training in Cary, NC in February, let me help us debunk some myths about developing disciples.

Myth: developing disciples is about having the right program to run people through.

The reality is that developing disciples is primarily a relational process centered on the individual, not the system. The most effective starting point is the person, not the program. Whether it was Nicodemus ( John 3:1-21, or the woman at the well (John 4:1-26), Jesus started with the person.  He didn’t tell them that his next training program began in 3 weeks; the signup was in the lobby.  He taught them what they needed to learn when they needed to learn it.

Myth: developing disciples is a synonym for training.

The reality is that training constitutes one small piece of discipleship, and it doesn’t always look like classroom training.  There’s a certain amount of knowledge that needs to be imparted, that is true.  But often the most important things that we learn are better “caught than taught.”  That’s one reason why I love our Wednesday morning prayer and study group.  We may be looking at a passage that we’ve all heard before.  We all “know” it – but we all grow by learning how the other person applies it to their life or the situation being discussed.

Myth: developing disciples correctly means treating them all the same and expecting that they will all turn out the same.

The reality is that each potential disciple has different God-given gifts, capacities, and callings. Developing a quiet intercessor will look very different from developing an international missionary. And it should. Disciples do not all look the same, nor do we all have the same work to do.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Myth: discipleship begins with mature Christians.

The reality is that because we are whole beings, developing disciples is a holistic process. Discipleship actually begins with pre-Christians.  One of the most exciting areas of discipleship that Rachelle and I look forward to exploring in our missional community is bringing pre-Christians into our discussion group alongside more mature Christians.  We won’t all be at the same starting point, but we will all grow together.

Myth: discipleship primarily focuses on skills.

The reality is that skills are only one piece of the whole pie. Effective discipleship takes into account the individual as a personal, social, emotional, spiritual being. Any compartmentalization of these areas of our lives is artificial.  One of the tides and misconceptions in the church that we need to combat is that “church stuff” only happens inside the church.  We need to carry our discipleship into our workplaces, marketplaces and homes.  And we need to allow our members to see personal, social and family interactions as valid places where faith is developed and expressed.

After all, this is how Jesus did it.  Luke chapter 11 starts when Jesus was just doing life with his disciples and one of them said “teach us to pray.”  Luke chapter 6 starts as Jesus was going through the grain fields with his disciples.  It was then that they were ready to learn about the Sabbath, and so it was then that Jesus taught them.

I pray that we are all willing to be used by God in the process of making disciples wherever we are.  May this be a movement that starts now and continues until the Lord calls us home!

Making disciples with you,

Pastor Augie

[1] © 2008, by Robert E. Logan, Tara Miller, and Julie Becker

Advancing the Mission

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“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

The phrase “Joining Jesus in our Community” is sounding more and more familiar around Redeemer, isn’t it?  This is what we believe God wants us to be doing as we fulfill our mission to make disciples.  But there is one question that still needs to be tackled – What will that look like when we are doing it?  And so, on Saturday January 28th, we began a planning process that will lead us to greater clarity and unity around this question.

We believe that for us to advance our mission and ministry together, we must have unity and clarity around not just vision, but around values and behaviors. In fact, the single greatest hindrance to mission advancement is what our consultant, Bill Walker, referred to as “Nodding Heads & Folded Arms.”  That’s where well-meaning church members “nod” when they hear the vision (who doesn’t want to join Jesus in His mission?) but then “fold their arms” while they wait for someone else to figure out what needs to be done.  In other words, we not only need vision clarity, but we need substantial clarity – clarity that affects what we value and what we do.

Churches can suffer from “churn” (where people visit, but don’t connect to the church), “competition” (where ministries within the church vie for attention, resources, and volunteers), and “burnout” (what happens when everything is equally important).  This happens when there are just too many game-plans in play.  Think of any sport you like – got one in mind?  I bet that game has rules and boundaries; and those teams that excel at that sport have a game-plan that they’re all working toward, together.

What this means for the church is that we don’t have to try and find the “right” way of doing church.  In fact, there is probably no single right way to do church.  But we do need to do church one way – together.  Consider a boat full of people with oars.  Everyone can be paddling their hardest … but if they aren’t paddling in the same direction they’ll make a big splash, but will go nowhere fast.

As such, we are setting major milestones for this planning effort.  They are:

  1. Clarity – We are forming a “Mission Advancement Team” that will put a clarifying & compelling case for unity before the Church Council. If the Council approves, Redeemer will adopt that approach.
  2. Movement – The mindset of the leadership, staff and volunteers shifts from “doing whatever is right in my eyes” to “how does my area of ministry support and increase the efforts we are all working toward?” In this stage, we will see grassroots changes begin to take place.
  3. Alignment – At this point, meetings and activities are organized around how to do what is absolutely essential and eliminating distractions, redundancy and sideways effort.

We will not arrive at all of these milestones at once, but these are the indicators we will look for before moving on to the next phase or milestone.

See, God wants unity in His Church.  Why?  Because it reflects His being … God is internally and perfectly united in the Trinity.  The world longs for unity, and therefore seeing unity of mind and purpose within the Church of God is perhaps our most attractive outreach!  The Old and New Testaments agree on God’s desire for this among His people:

  • “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” – Psalm 133:1
  • “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10

Jesus even prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “… May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – John 17:21.  In other words, the more united we are – with each other, and with God – the more the world will see Jesus in us, and put their faith in Him!

It’s a tall order, and it means that we all need to be in prayer – asking God to give us that burden to do what it takes to reach people with the Gospel and to Join Jesus in His Mission to seek and save the lost in our community.  Are you ready?  Let’s go!  … May the Name of Jesus be lifted high among us, and may the world be drawn to Him through our words and deeds.

Joining Jesus in His mission with you,

Pastor Augie

Mission? Or Mission-Like?

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But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus understood the temptation of people to mistake the gift for the giver … to spend their time and energy going after the fruit, rather than seeking to be grounded in God and rooted in Christ.  As He spoke the above words during His “Sermon on the Mount,” He was redirecting His hearers to what was the right focus for their time, attention and efforts.  He understood that if they had their heart set on God and His righteousness – seeking to glorify Him, rather than self – then God would grant them the other things that they mistakenly thought were the main thing.

I believe that the same redirection is valuable for the Church.  Congregations can become so focused on achieving things that represent the fruit of a healthy ministry, but miss what it is that actually creates that fruit in a church.  It is true that a healthy church grows in attendance and giving – but focusing efforts on attendance and giving is not what increases those things. Rather, a church that has a heart set on God’s Kingdom and His righteousness is one that in fact God is pleased to grant growth and resources to.  It’s all about what you’re aiming at.

And so in 2016, Redeemer has determined to be a “church family joining Christ in our community.”  This is a noble vision, and will certainly require us to be on mission in our neighborhoods.  It is good for a congregation to desire to join Jesus on His mission.  However, there is a danger; we can become content with doing things that are “mission-like” without actually being “missional.” I would like to share with you three questions that I recently came across[i]. They are great questions for us to ask of our activities as a congregation and as an individual. These are questions that distinguish being authentically missional from being mission-like.

  1. Is the center on God or on the church? We can often ask questions and engage in actions that are church-centered, rather than God-centered. For example, the questions are “institution” focused and have more to do with what the church is doing rather than what God is doing.  This may seem like semantics, but it is more than that.  We run the risk of just being “mission-like” if we are thinking more about the church and what the church is doing for others.  We end up having the “shape” of mission rather than actually doing Christ’s mission.  To be truly missional, we should be focusing on God and what God is doing in the world around us.  When we encounter people are we trying to get them to look at US (or our church) or to look to God for their deepest needs?
  2. Is the focus on activities or identity? If our focus is church-centered we will see our attention and discussion being about programs, events, trips and other activities on the church calendar – they are things that we can do with the good intention of mission … but end up only being mission-like. The danger with having a mission-like focus is that we can simply add new “programs” without actually affecting our lifestyle. To be missional means that we must embrace a whole new focus to our lifestyle… one that is centered on our identity as children of God, seeking to welcome others into a relationship with God – not just attend activities.
  3. Is the connection to neighbors transactional or relational? How do we interact with our neighbors? If we see ourselves as an organization coming to our neighbors and doing something TO them, and providing a service or resources FOR them in order to meet needs, then our interactions are “transactional.”  The church is remaining in control, deciding who is in need and what is needed and how the need will be met.  Without realizing it, we can actually build a wall, of sorts, between us and the very people we seek to reach.  We subtly believe, and convey to them, that there is an us-them barrier.  They come to us for a good or service and then return to their world, while we remain in ours after the transaction is complete.  This is mission-like.  A better way to join Jesus on His mission is to see that God is already at work in the lives of the real people around us, and they have much to offer.  Being “relational” means that we seek mutually transformative relationships of partnership and reciprocity.

What these questions really ask us is whether we are seeking first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness … or if we are seeking “all these things” in other ways.  They ask us to consider whether we have God’s Kingdom at heart or self-glorification (or self-preservation).   It is easy for you and me to want to get busy with activity that helps us feel like we are making a difference, and seeing ourselves as a kind of “hero” coming to rescue and serving the needs of others.  But if we are not careful, then we are making everything about us, and what we do for others than about God.  It can be easier to be mission-like, than to be truly on mission.

May others encounter the heart of God in all that we think, say and do!

Joining Jesus on His mission with you,

Pastor Augie.

[i] http://joineiro.com/blog/2015/9/28/5-questions-to-determine-if-you-are-missional-or-mission-ish?fb_action_ids=1101778946500803&fb_action_types=og.likes

Start New to Reach New

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“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22, NIV)

Have you heard the definition of insanity? … It’s keeping doing the same things you’ve always done, and expecting different results than you’ve always gotten. That’s insane! And yet, so often churches keep trying to use the same programs and structures and then wonder why they can’t reach people of a different demographic than they’re accustomed to reaching.   Even Jesus addressed this with His disciples when He said not to pour new wine into old wineskins – it’s destructive to both the wineskins and the wine! No, if you want to gather new wine, you need new wineskins.

It’s wonderful that we in the church have a heart for those who are on the “outside.” We long to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus, and bring them into the fold. We know that there is so much love, goodness, hope and peace for them in the Body of Christ – if they could only experience it! And yet, often when first contact is made, the church comes across as cold, uncaring, and disinterested in the lost person themselves. We seem to the unchurched only to be concerned with filling our seats, paying our bills, and keeping our buildings and programs going. It’s all about us. Sometimes that’s an unfair assessment, but sometimes it is true – if we’re honest with ourselves. New wine comes into contact with old wineskins, and the new wine is lost.

What’s the solution? One thing is for sure – however we reach new people, we must not ever sacrifice the life-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ! Because if we do, then there’s no point in reaching them at all. No, the only thing that we truly have to offer the lost, hurting and marginalized is Jesus Christ. That presents a problem and a challenge for us:

The problem: The Name of Jesus is a stumbling block. Jesus warned us that the world will reject Him. And it is sad, but true, that many people will reject Jesus. However we cannot allow that to discourage us. We must recognize that as we carry out our God-given mission of being a “lighthouse to the community and the world” that some people will prefer the dark. Jesus said that this will happen. And that leads us to …

The challenge: We are each very comfortable with our own favorite Gospel “images.” Maybe for you, the idea of being forgiven the debt of your sin is very consoling. Or perhaps being freed from the penalty of hell causes you to cling to Jesus. And yet, there are many who aren’t looking for someone to pay their debt or suffer their penalty because they haven’t yet come to grips with the severity and consequence of their sin. It wasn’t that long ago that our culture almost universally accepted the idea of sin and hell. Today, however, fewer and fewer do. It is no longer a cultural norm. So our challenge is to keep the same gospel of Jesus, but to express it in a way that the lost and hurting receive His grace and goodness. How do we do that?

I believe we do this by sharing the age-old Gospel in new ways … new wineskins to gather new wine! But this means that we are going to have to do some things differently – if we don’t, we’d be insane to expect to reach new people, right? So what will we do differently? That’s where you come in – in fact we all do. We must continually ask ourselves if what we are doing will communicate the Gospel with a new generation? If it won’t then we have to get uncomfortable. The “problem” expressed above, means that we’ll have to be uncomfortable sometimes if people reject us because they reject Jesus. That’s ok, Jesus was uncomfortable on the cross – we will need to get uncomfortable at times to share in His work. The “challenge” above means that we will need to get uncomfortable at times when we do things in new ways in the hopes of reaching new people. But, with these possibilities for rejection and discomfort, what, then will cause us to get out of our comfort zones for the sake of others? Only one thing will – love. “For Christ’s love compels us!” (2 Cor. 5:14). Because we are convinced that the world needs Jesus, and that we no longer live our lives for our own comfort, but for the sake of those for whom Jesus died (2 Cor. 5:15), we are moved.

In what new ways is Christ’s love compelling you to move? What new things might you do to reach new people? What might we do at Redeemer? Start the conversation… and then start something new to reach someone new!

Proclaiming Christ with you,

Pastor Augie

Making Ministry Count

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“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:7, ESV)

As we have been studying the book of REVELATION at Redeemer, we are learning that there is much comfort and hope for the believer in the last book of the Bible… but there is also much warning. In John’s Revelation, believers are warned to stay active in the spiritual battle. We find great strength in knowing that the Lord and His army are victorious on the Last Day, and that all those who have faith in Christ are saved. But we also see that there will be great destruction and punishment for those who reject the Lord. Therefore, as Christians we are compelled to continue sharing the saving Gospel of Jesus, and to bring more people to Christ to be saved.

And so our ministry as a “lighthouse” in Carlsbad becomes even more critical, as we realize that the Lord will be returning for judgment soon (Rev. 22:7, above). We cannot afford to spin our wheels … or worse … fall asleep at the wheel!   Rather, we must be careful to ensure that any and all of our ministry effort is directed at Gospel-oriented mission that will bring both the sobering awareness of God’s Law, as well as the soothing comfort of Christ’s Gospel and His free gift of salvation.  Quite simply, we must work to make our ministry count!

We need to ask ourselves if what we are doing in ministry is just activity … or is it mission? Since we know that the Lord will separate the wheat from the weeds on Judgment Day (Matthew 13:24-30), we cannot allow ourselves to just be busy between now and then. It is a challenging truth that activity does not equal effectiveness. We have to continually ask ourselves how any program or event at Redeemer either brings the light of Jesus to people, or brings people to the light of Jesus – that’s what being a lighthouse to the community and the world means.

Often you may hear me express it this way: we need to “do fewer things better.” This is a direct challenge for us to make our ministry count. We don’t want to just fill our calendars with events and programs that are familiar and “easy,” we want to find ourselves working together on the kinds of things that really make a Kingdom difference – and require all of us working together to make happen. This is our challenge.

At Redeemer, like most churches, it is difficult to give up something good to make room for something better. I believe that when do, however, we will find that several good things happen[i]:

  1. Our volunteers are spread less thin. They have margin in their schedule for family and ministry.
  2. Our members and leaders are healthier. When we are focusing on too many things, too many events, and too many meetings, we have less time for personal health and relationships.
  3. We experience excellence rather than mediocrity. If we focus on too many ministries and programs, usually all of them become average (or worse), but none of them become excellent.
  4. We better communicate the urgency and significance of our mission. With too many messages coming from our church, our community and our own members don’t know what we’re all about.
  5. We are freer to live out our identity in Christ. With less busy activity our members are able to build relationships with people outside our church who need Jesus.

May more souls be in heaven on the Last Day because of the work that we do today.

Pastor Augie

[i] Concept from Michael Lukaszewski (michaellukaszewski.com)

Giving a Reason for Our Hope

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“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”  – 1 Peter 3:15

In church, we talked about sharing our faith in winsome and effective ways.  A quick review:

When witnessing, we should always keep in mind …

  1. Our Attitude – we should be reaching out to them in love, as the father does in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  We also need to realize that sometimes people are antagonistic to Christians because they have some underlying pain. We need compassion.
  2. Share the Truth, not clever arguments – it’s the Word of God that convicts and converts souls, not our legalism, philosophy, or debate skills.  We are in a spiritual battle, not a battle of wits.
  3. Be Humble – Not only does God oppose the proud (1 Peter 5:5), but puffed up arrogance gets us nowhere.  If we can remember that we are just as in need of God’s grace and mercy as they are, that will help
  4. Be Winsome – there is a spiritual “harvest” that is ready (Matthew 9:37), but every soul is not ready for the harvest.  Some need more time.  We must recognize different stages of spiritual growth, and guide people along to take the next step.
  5. Intercede for Them – if you don’t pray for them, who will?  And remember … before you talk to that person about God, talk to God about that person.

These are great things to keep in mind as we prepare to give a reason for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ!

I am praying for you as you share your faith!  May God make you bold, and open the hearts and minds of the people you are praying for, and reaching out to.  May it be for HIS Glory!

– Pastor Augie.

Wiki and District Conference Highlights!

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I am blessed to be part of a congregation that encourages continued growth and learning.  This Fall I attended the Wiki Conference 2013 hosted by the FiveTwo Network in Katy, TX.   The following week, I attended the annual Pacific Southwest District Pastors’ Conference in Scottsdale, AZ. Both conferences were excellent and brought lots of insights as well as a healthy dose of clarity and conviction for doing the Lord’s work wherever the Lord has you planted!  Here is a brief summary of some of the highlights of those conferences:

At the District Pastors’ Conference: “Seek and Save the Lost” …

Barna Research Group owner/President and author David Kinnaman shared with us some concepts from his book You Lost Me, illuminating what he calls “Nomads, Prodigals and Exiles.”  These are categories of people who are not active in church.  He shared how we live in a complicated and accelerated culture, which leaves many with images of the church as overprotective, repressive, anti-science, exclusive, shallow and rigid.  He challenged us to actually engage the current generation where they are at… to live our Christian walk as did the Jews who were in exile in Babylon.  He asked us whether we love our traditions more than our children.  Put another way … “Do we love our WAY of being Christian more than we love WHY we are in mission?”

Rev. Dean Nadasdy, former seminary professor and pastor, now Minnesota South District President, talked about ministry in the suburbs.  Being a product of a generation who fled the cities as crime increased, he knows well the mind of the suburbanite.  In short, they are looking to live an “ideal.”  They came to the suburbs looking for a sort of utopia.  They are always searching for something more or better.  They are never satisfied.  This can lead them to push their kids too far, have high stress, financial tension, and ultimately live in isolation.  They are the ultimate consumers!  This is the culture and context in which we minister at Redeemer.

Gretchen Jameson from purePR talked about “Reaching the Lost through Social Media.”  Like it or not, the culture has changed.  Social media is now used by over 1 Billion people around the world!  Her challenge to us is to use social media not just as another way to “advertise” … but to truly engage, motivate and stir the hearts of those we hope to reach.

Rev. David Kim from Link Houston talked about “reaching the Nations in our Own Backyard.” Born in S. Korea, ministering in Ecuador, and now in inner-city Houston, he has a passion for helping us cross cultures to reach the lost.  He presented many eye-opening statistics.  Perhaps the most staggering of which is that church bodies that are growing usually show only about 80% “white” in their churches, but churches that are declining show 90% or greater non-Hispanic Caucasian.  The Lutheran church tops the declining church list at 96% “white.”  Jesus tells us there is no longer Jew nor Greek … and our culture is now reflecting that.  The fastest growing population in our zip code is Asian.

At the Wiki Conference: “Start Something New, Do Something Now”

Rev. Bill Woolsey, founder of FiveTwo, CrossPoint church pastor and host of the conference, shared a video “mash-up” of music from the Summer of 2013, and related it to the “mashed-up” culture in which we live.  “Mash-up” is a term used to describe a mixture or fusion of separate songs, or other elements, into a single unified final product.  American culture is the perfect mash-up with elements from so many ethnicities, and even moreso, differing ideologies and values.  He also shared the importance of our churches being “incarnational” in our communities – literally bringing the gospel of Christ in-person to those who need to hear it.  He challenged us to the goals of baptizing 1 person for every 10 in worship, and also to start one new ministry for lost people in the next 10 months.

Dr. Michael Frost, Australian professor and author of the book The Shaping of Things to Come talked to us about how mission is rooted in a through-going belief that our God reigns! … But we must also recognize that we carry this mission out in a fallen world where the capacity to understand and access his reign is fitful, partial and mysterious.  He presented a powerful image of a dilapidated house with soot covered windows.  Outside of that house is a beautiful sunset, but all that can be seen inside is a faint glow.  Our job as missionaries is to clean the windows.  We don’t make the sun rise and set… but we help people see this work of God! Consequently, we must ask ourselves what will the “age to come” look like?  If it looks like healing, hope, wholeness, joy and laughter … then we must work now to allow that Kingdom reality to be seen.  Our mission is not to make those inside the Church comfortable, but to work together to announce the reign of God, and bring more to Christ!

Bob Goff, attorney, bestselling author of the book Love Does, and founder of Restore International was perhaps the most whimsical person I have ever seen!  He said we in the church are like Jesus “stalkers!” What does a stalker do?  They stay at a distance and find out stuff about people they don’t know.  He’s suggesting that we want to learn more about Jesus, but not really have a relationship with Him.  He challenged us to not just “invite” people to church, but to “welcome” them.  In other words, truly embrace those who find their way to our church – being more like a “porter” who asks the question “how can I help you on your way?” His motto is, “Love God, Love People, Do Stuff.” He thinks we should “leak Jesus” like wet tennis shoes leave a mark after skipping through a puddle! His greatest challenge is to move from what we are able to do … to what we are MADE by God to do!  What has God MADE you to do in life? Do that!

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