Thursday, January 28, 2010

Long Haul Discipleship

Got an unexpected call from one of my mentors, Dave Buehring, this morning, and he said something that really stuck with me. "Discipleship can't happen in sound bytes." What a profound sound byte!

He said it in a very casual, throw-away kinda way, but I think it's a statement of critical importance. In an age of short attention spans, meals in microwaveable boxes, and life moments reduced to 140 characters, we need to recapture the ideas of longevity and endurance.

Discipleship is a whole life journey, not an 8-week class. It's about developing the fruit of the Spirit and spiritual gifts and looking more like Christ, not about checking off a set of boxes. It's a process of becoming, not a destination. There is no way to short-circuit discipleship. It's about turning every moment of every day into an encounter with God.

Read what Paul's final encouragement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:
"Fulfill the the ministry God has given to you. As for me, my life has already been poured out as a drink offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful."
These are not the words of a man who has just finished a set of sprints. These are the words of a man who is on the last leg of a super marathon. Listen to some of his words.

He has been "poured out as a drink offering to God." Are we allowing God to pour us out? Have our lives spilled out all over those that God has entrusted to us?

He "fought a good fight." If you want to shorten a fight, there are three ways you can do it- die, surrender, or win. Unless Jesus returns, the final victory is not something we can control, and I know I don't want to surrender. So I have to keep fighting until the death.

He "remained faithful." Discipleship is not about us and our schedules. It's about remaining faithful to God and the people he has put in our paths.

If someone discovers a Biblical way to shorten the discipleship process, then I am all for it. Until then, I'm going to have to find some way to follow Paul's example.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Summit

I'm really excited about the upcoming Summit: A Convergence of Small Group Experts, spearheaded and hosted by one of my favorite experts- Rick Howerton- small group expert for Lifeway.

Ten major leaders in the small group movement will be on one stage to answer your questions about small groups. And you can watch it online from the comfort of your office or home. This free live event, sponsored by Small Group Life, runs from 10:30 a.m. to Noon (CST) on Thursday, Feb 18, 2010.

More details below:

What: The Summit: A Convergence of Small Group Experts (a live, free interactive experience/forum for church leaders)
Who: Greg Bowman, Lyman Coleman, Bill Donahue, Steve Gladen, Carl George, Eddie Mosley, Randall Neighbor, Bill Search, Reid Smith, and Rick Howerton
When: Thursday, February 18, 2010, 10:30 a.m. to Noon Central Standard Time
Where: Watch from your own office or home computer or Starbucks or anyplace with an internet connection.
How to Learn More and Register: Click on

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Voices From the Sacred Roads: Clement

Intellectual discipleship burst onto the stage of church history during the Protestant Reformation. It was fueled by a desire to learn and was captured by Martin Luther’s statement at the Diet of Worms, “unless I can be convinced by Scripture or by plain reason…I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Intellectual discipleship happens when we learn something new about God that changes the way we live. But the reformers certainly weren’t the first champions of intellectual discipleship. Clement argued for the reasonableness of the faith back in the 2nd century AD.

Clement (150- 211 or 216)
Known as the "first Christian scholar,” Clement was well studied in the Scriptures, Greek philosophy and classical literature. People called him a "messenger of Christianity in philosopher's garb." His prolific writings include Exhortation to the Heathen, the Instructor, and the Miscellanies. Likely born in Athens, Clement’s search for God led him to study under and later serve as an assistant to Pantaenus, the first president of the catechetical school of Alexandria. Pantaenus sought to combine the Greek philosophical systems with the beliefs of Christianity, but unlike the Gnostics, the Bible remained the foundation for truth. Clement regularly quoted Greek poets and philosophers. Like Paul in the Aereopagus, sought to engage the philosophers of his day (in this case the Gnostics) on their turf using their terms. In Exhortation to the Greeks, he focused on errors in pagan thought and argued for the reasonableness of the Christian faith: "Away then, away with our forgetfulness of the truth!" he exhorted. "Let us remove the ignorance and darkness that spreads like a mist over our sight, and let us get a vision of the true God." He was forced to flee Alexandria under the persecution of Emperor Severus in 201-202 AD. His influence was eventually overshadowed by his most Popular pupil- Origen- who became head of Catechetical School of Alexandria.

To read more about intellectual discipleship, check out Sacred Roads: Exploring the Historic Paths of Discipleship.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In the Heights here I go on another of my theatre posts. Last weekend, I saw one of my new favorite shows on Broadway: In the Heights. Actually, it's one of the best new shows I've seen in a really long time. Original, funny, creative, and packed with great themes. To be honest, the idea of Latino hip hop culture in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood just didn't appeal to me. I was still pouting the early departure of one of my all-time favorites, Ragtime. Luckily, I have a persistent husband who kept shoving the music down my ear until I relented.

It's a show about identity, community, and dreams, and it ends on such a high note of hopefulness that it is kinda shocking. Especially in the midst of so much theatrical angst and cynicism these days.

If you're in NYC, this one is worth checking out. If you've got teenage kids, it will provide great conversation afterward-- especially if the conversation is over a sour cream apple walnut pie at the Little Pie Company.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Story Resources

Our fantastic media pastor, Matt Ortiz, just posted the resources and Week 1 video from The Story. We'll try to grab better footage next year, but for now, this works.

Check it out here:

Information or Impartation

I'm off-site today doing some studying and writing for our Annual Leadership Retreat. And I'm praying that the retreat would be a time of impartation. Our leaders don't need more information. They need an impartation of anointing. They need the infilling of the Holy Spirit. They need inspiration from the Word of God.

All of the information from the retreat will be posted online in a few weeks, but I'm praying that what the retreat will really be about is a supernatural move of God that cannot be fully captured in a review post on a blog.

Operation Ka-Boom

I thought it might be worth throwing out an update on Operation Kaboom. A number of churches have been asking what we are doing, how we are changing things, and when new stuff will roll out. Basically, Ka-Boom was launched to completely re-think the structures we have in place for recruiting, caring, coaching, and training small group leaders at NCC. We will be announcing the new systems and structures at our Annual Leadership Retreat at the end of this month, and then I will start rolling out information here on the blog.

Basically, the new structure will consist of three teams: Connections, Coaching, and Training. One of the major changes is that we will be putting the bulk of our leadership training online-- including our Leadership 101 experience.

I'm really grateful to our Kaboom team and all the folks that are helping re-build our small group environments at NCC.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Voices From the Sacred Roads: Johann Sebastian Bach

As the church transitioned from a movement to an institution in the late fourth century, the Relational mode of discipleship gave way to a more Experiential mode of discipleship. Buildings for worship were constructed, incense was burned, music was composed, and the mass, or the re-creation of the passion narrative, was celebrated every week. In experiential discipleship, people were taught about Christ and grew in their relationship to him through a full immersion into a medieval multimedia experience. Johann Sebastian Bach engaged in experiential discipleship hundreds of years later.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Johann Sebastian Bach composed some of the most technically and spiritually important pieces of the Baroque period. A devout Christian, Bach desired to create music that enhanced the preaching of the Word. He said, “Music's only purpose should be the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” Trained on the organ and violin, he became the cantor at St. Thomas’s School in Leipzip, Germany, and he served as the organist and music director for two Lutheran churches. During his first six years in Leipzig, Bach wrote up to five annual cantata cycles, many expounding on the Gospel readings for the Sunday worship in the Lutheran church. His composition style seemed to match the style of preaching in the Lutheran tradition. Dr. Paul Minear of Yale Divinity School said, “He had a life-time calling from God to create forms of music appropriate to God's praise. His love for the Bible and the church was translated into a passion to fuse faith and music, theology and liturgy, perhaps we should say, to choreograph "the dance of God." He set to music the biblical story in such a way as to reveal God's presence to the congregation and to elicit an intimate, though often also disturbing, conversation with the Almighty.” Bach produced over 1,000 works, including The Passion of St. John, Christmas Oratorio, and Mass in B Minor.

To read more about experiential discipleship, check out Sacred Roads: Exploring the Historic Paths of Discipleship.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Leadership Retreat 2010

Today is an exciting day-- one I look forward to all year-- registration deadline day for our Annual Leadership Retreat. I love getting that final list of people to start praying over. It just makes the upcoming retreat seem more real (even though we've been working our butts off on it for a couple months now)

Each year, we take our leaders offsite for 22 hours to worship together, pray together, cast vision for the upcoming year, and do some leadership training. It's my favorite event of the year.

This year, the theme is LXVI: From Garden to City. We are asking every NCCer to read through the Bible from Lent 2010 to Lent 2011, and our weekend sermon series will revolve around those readings. The Leadership Retreat will equip our leaders to engage the Word on an individual basis as well as inspire those they lead to dive into the Bible. We want our leaders to be captivated by the Story of God.

Primal Leadership

I recently completed Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence. Book #2 of my leadership-focused reading list for 2010.

This heavily researched and referenced book by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee explores the "soft skills" of leadership- energy, enthusiasm, attitude, positivity, etc. They posit, "The fundamental task of to prime good feeling in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates resonance-- a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people. At its root, then, the primal job of leadership is emotional.

On the Meyers-Briggs scale, my "T" far outranks my "F," meaning I'm a total thinker. One of my co-workers once labeled me an emotional corpse. Great. For those reasons, I thought this would be a good book for me to read.

One of the most fascinating components of the book was the research that showed that women received less constructive feedback in men. And significantly less feedback that could be construed as "negative." I'm not sure how we change that, but I wonder if that's the reason we don't have women leading more-- their leadership development is stifled because they aren't receiving the critical assessment necessary to improve their performance.

Some things I will try to incorporate as a result of reading this book:
  • Pray the vision and goal of small groups every day
  • Regularly make stop-doing lists
  • Make sure the vision connects to the hearts of those I lead
  • Seek out, take advantage of, and create more opportunities to reach out at a more personal level with those I lead

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prayers for Greatness

At the beginning of this year, I found myself whispering a prayer that kinda caught me by surprise. I said, "God, I don't want to do great things for you; I want you to be great in my life." That prayer gripped me, and I've found myself praying it every day.

Now, I certainly want to do great things for God. But it's not nearly as important as God being great in my life, and I want that to be my central pursuit.

Colossians 2 tells us: "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy."

I pray that Christ would reign supreme in my life. When people look at me and my life, I don't want them to see great works. But the evidence of a Great God.

Sabbath Thoughts

I celebrated Sabbath yesterday-- a great mix of good breakfast with old friends, reading some books I've been looking forward to, going for a run on the elliptical, laughing at some good comedy, etc. Every Sabbath looks different for me, but I have two primary guidelines:

1. What fills my tank? (in other words, what places, people, or activities leave me feeling full and re-energized?)
2. What stirs my affections for Christ? (in other words, what places, people or activities make me love Jesus more?)

I heard a great quote by Rabbi Abraham Heschel on Sabbath: "A men who works with his hands will sabbath with his mind. A man who works with his mind will sabbath with his hands."

I thought that was a great framework for thinking about it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Voices From the Sacred Roads: Dawson Trotman

Relational discipleship was the primary approach to spiritual growth in the early church. There were no church buildings, hymnals, financial campaigns, or even creeds. The church was just people. And people grew closer to God as they grew closer to one another. Relational discipleship continues today through small groups, campus ministries, and mentoring. Dawson Trotman championed relational discipleship and founded the Navigators.

Dawson Trotman (1906- 1956)
Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, experienced the power of relational discipleship early in his ministry when he was approached by a young sailor in the U. S. Navy. Daws, as he was called by his friends, began to invest in that sailor over a period of several months. One day, the sailor brought a shipmate who hoped Daws would disciple him, as well. To their shock, the answer was no. Daws was adamant that if the buddy was going to be discipled, then the young sailor would have to do it himself. A chain of one-on-one discipleship relationships started and multiplied as sailor after sailor passed their faith on to others. Over time, the atmosphere on the ship changed so significantly that the F. B. I. was called in to investigate the strange behavior of these formerly normal sailors. Tim Elmore shares the story in his book Mentoring, and he states that it took the F.B.I. six months to peel back the layers of discipleship relationships to find its origins with Daws.

At one point, there were Navigators in over 1,000 U.S. naval ships and stations. His friend Dr. Billy Graham said, "I think Daws has personally touched more lives than anybody I have ever known."

To read more about relational discipleship, check out Sacred Roads: Exploring the Historic Paths of Discipleship.

Monday, January 11, 2010

2009 Book List

I promised one of our leaders that I would post my 2009 book list. I only read about half the books last year that I normally read in a year, but I will blame that on the Sacred Roads writing project. Here is my list in no particular order:

Church History in Plain Language (Bruce Shelley)
Water From a Deep Well (Gerald Sittser)
The Shack (William Young)
August: Osage County (Tracy Letts)
Love is the Killer App (Tim Sanders)
Save the Cat (Blake Snyder)
The Rest of God (Mark Buchannan)
Unstoppable Force (Erwin McManus)
God in the Gallery (Daniel Siedell)
A Little Bit Wicked (Kristin Chenoweth)
He Is Not Silent (Al Mohler)
Simple Small Groups (Bill Search)
Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
The Drama of Scripture (Craig Bartholomew)
Sticky Church (Larry Osborn)
Holy Discontent (Bill Hybels)
Servolution (Dino Rizzo)
Art and the Bible (Francis Schaeffer)
A Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God (Larry Osborne)
Math and the Mona Lisa (Bulent Atalay)
Sabbath (Dan Allender)
Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln (James Hume)
The War of Art (Steven Pressfield)
Transformissional Leadership (Steve Ogne)
Scouting the Divine (Margaret Feinberg)
The Medici Effect (Frans Johansson)
Building the Bridge as You Walk On It (Robert Quinn)
Primal (Mark Batterson)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Unknown White Male

I watched a really interesting movie this weekend: Unknown White Male. It's a documentary following a man who suddenly awoke on a New York subway to the realization that he didn't know who he was. The movie chronicles the first few terrifying and disorienting days of amnesia and the year-long process of re-learning who he was and re-acquainting himself with his life and his community.

The film raised a few interesting questions.
  • Life events and identity- how much of our identity is made up of our past events? If we are the sum total of experiences in our lives, then who are we if all of that is stripped away?
  • Community and identity- how much of our identity is inextricably linked to the people we live in community with? Who are we apart from those who are our closest family and friends.
  • Wonder- the most fascinating part of the film to me was watching Doug embrace new experiences with the appreciation of an adult but the wonder of a child. Whether it was his first sight of the ocean or his first taste of Italian food, he approached life with a fuller passion and embrace. What if we could live with that sense of wonder?

Intersectional Discipleship

In the book The Medici Effect, author Frans Johansson introduces the idea of “intersectional innovation”—the creativity that emerges at the intersection of two seemingly disparate ideas, concepts, or fields of study. During the Renaissance, artists, scientists, poets, and philosophers converged, breaking down barriers between disciplines and cultures and ushering in one of the most explosive eras of creativity and invention. In more recent times, architects design energy-saving office complexes by studying termite mounds. Engineers collaborate with biologists to understand the toughness of the conch shell and apply the principles to tank armor and automobile bodies. These innovators are re-imagining life at the intersection of ideas.

Jesus was the master of intersectional innovation. He combined law and grace to give us redemption and salvation. He brought together Jews and Samaritans to paint a picture of community in his Kingdom. And He fused humanity and divinity to give us the Incarnation—a God who had walked in our shoes and was tempted in every way and yet remained sinless and held the authority to save us from sin. He re-imagined grace for the prostitute, re-imagined righteousness for the Pharisee, and re-imagined life for the sick.

What happens when we allow ourselves to re-imagine church at the intersection of ideas? Movie theaters and coffeehouses transform into places of worship. Martial Arts meet compassion and a small group smashes boards to raise money for a homeless shelter. Faith and doubt collide on Monday nights to create a safe place to hear a dangerous message and ask difficult questions on Monday nights at Alpha. We discover intersectional discipleship.

At National Community Church, we believe that the church should be the most creative place on the planet, and we are committed to relentlessly re-imagining discipleship, community, missions, and ministry for the culture and generation to which God has called us. No two small groups look exactly alike because they emerge from the collision of a leader’s interests and passions and commitment to discipleship.

What do you find at the intersection of ideas in your life? It might be a new idea for a small group or a ministry or a missions trip. What happens when your skills collide with the heart of God? What happens when your greatest passion meets the world's deepest need? What happens when the eternal Word of God intersects our daily life? Think outside the box. Re-imagine community, mission, ministry, and discipleship.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Voices From the Sacred Roads

In the study Sacred Roads, I introduce readers to five discipleship trends- relational, experiential, intellectual, personal, and incarnational. While each seemed to play a dominant role in a specific period of time, all of them have been practiced throughout Biblical and church history.

Over the next few weeks, I want to introduce you to some individuals who characterized each of these types of discipleship. Some of them receive a brief mention in Sacred Roads, but I wanted you to know more about them.

They include the contemporary voice of Dawson Trotman, the church fathers Clement and Basil the Great, the artist Johann Sebastian Bach, and medieval mystic Thomas a Kempis. Join me over the next five weeks as we learn more about these voices from the Sacred Roads.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Story

I'm really excited about kicking off The Story next Monday night. It's a 3-week journey through the history and chronological story of the Bible.

Session 1- Exploring the Backlot (discovering the origins of the Bible, the cultural and historical context, relevant geography, structure and composition)

Session 2- Act One: Exploring the Old Testament (we start in Genesis and end in Malachi, putting the prophets and the poets into the context of the history of 1 Samuel - 2 Chronicles)

Session 3- Act Two: Exploring the New Testament (we start in the Gospels and go through Revelation, putting the epistles into context of the history of the book of Acts and the early church)

If you are in the DC area, here is the information:

The Story
Ebenezers Coffeehouse
Mondays - January 11, 18, and 25
7- 9pm
To register, email me.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Through the Bible

We are encouraging NCCers to read through the Bible in 2010. But we aren't starting on January 1.

Clarification- we certainly hope NCCers will read their Bibles on January 1, and 2, and 3, and the entire month for that matter. But our specific Bible reading plan will begin on Ash Wednesday and run from Lent 2010 to Lent 2011. In January, we will offer THE STORY-- a 3-week overview of the chronological story of the Bible-- to give folks a good foundation before diving into the readings. And then we'll dive in during Lent- the traditional season of life review, reflection, and spiritual goal setting.

We'll make it available online...with Bible reading helps and supplementary material. Stay tuned!