Tag Archives: emerging church

Taking off our Lenses so we can See

Do you believe that you can take a radically diverse group of people and in all that diversity find unity while still respecting differences?

When I wrote the vision of Embrace Richmond in 2005, I never dreamed it would be so difficult to live out.  Our vision is “a city united to embrace all who are in need; a place where people of every race, class and religious background join together to care for one another.”  This is no small vision.  The issues of race, class and religious beliefs have deeply divided, not only our city but our world. These are the things that have brought about wars and terrible destruction.  It would be much easier to pretend these differences did not exist or to simply hang out only with people who are just like us. There are very few places in our society where this level of diversity exists in harmony.  While I believe in the vision, I acknowledge that Embrace Richmond has a long, long way to go in achieving this vision.

While the issues of race and class are often the most visible dividing lines, I believe the issue of religion can be the most divisive if we do not approach it with sensitivity and intentionality.  However, I also believe that if we learn to respect the beliefs of others, and focus on our common values, then our shared faith in God can be a unifying bond that can help us bridge the divides of class and race.

I think all of us would agree that respecting the religious beliefs of others is essential to creating unity across religious divides.  However this is no easy task and I have fallen short on many occasions.  It is not that I sought to offend, I simply forgot to take off my Christian lenses. At times, I act as though everyone around me believes the same things I believe and by making that assumption, I have unknowingly offended others.

I know my evangelical Christian sisters and brothers are getting very uncomfortable, they are thinking “But I am a Christian and I am not ashamed of the name of Jesus!” I am in no way suggesting a kind of Universalism. What I am wondering is if there is a way for us to each be true to our own beliefs while still respecting the beliefs of others?

I am a Christian, every one knows that. I make no attempt to hide that fact.  Embrace Richmond was founded on Christian principals and values and is sustained by the prayers of my Christian brothers and sisters.  I do not want to underestimate the role our shared faith in Christ has played at Embrace.

However, even among Christians we often fail to recognize that we all have different theologies (ways of understanding our faith).  Some believe that the primary reason Christ came to this earth was to save us from the wrath of God and eternal damnation; while others believe Christ came to this earth as the tangible presence of the living God so that we could come to know God more fully through him.  Some emphasize Christ’s life, some his death, and some his resurrection. For some its all about a “personal relationship”, others the “saving of souls” and for others it’s about “redeeming the world” or “ushering in the Kingdom of God.” Some focus on the “sin of man” and some focus on the “grace of God”, some on the “word of God” and some on the “life of Christ.” All of us know that even among Christians, we don’t agree…thus the vast number of denominations.  We will never achieve unity by trying to reconcile all these differences or by coming up with some unifying “statement of faith” that we all agree on.

However, with all the many things that divide us,I have seen individuals from vastly different understandings about faith grow to love and respect one another and each others beliefs. I think often we offend out of ignorance of about what others believe.  This ignorance exists because we don’t make space for honest conversations about faith.  If we always assume everyone agrees with us,they will not feel safe enough to share that they think differently.  This is especially true if we present our beliefs as “the only way of understanding God.”  This simply perpetuates the ignorance about what others believe and prevents honest conversations. To create this safe space we must acknowledge that none of us are God…none of us know everything there is to know about God…there is room in all our theologies for a margin of error.  Honestly, I would not want to worship a God that could be fully understood and defined by man.  Would you?

Brian McLaren’s new book “A New Kind of Christianity” is an interesting read.  I especially liked his analysis  of the “lenses” we use when we look at Jesus.  Some view Christ through the old testament, some theologies view Jesus heavily through the Apostle Paul’s lens. McLaren argues that Paul viewed Jesus through the lens of his day, the Greco-Roman world view which was influenced by Plato and Aristotle.  Most western Christian’s view Jesus through the theology of Augustine.  All protestant Christians are heavily influenced by Martin Luther’s “solo scriptura”.  The list of “lenses” is endless.

Having grown up unchurched, I see the church through the eyes of an “outsider”.  I have spent time in seven different denominations and thus have been influenced by the lenses of these denominations, I have dear friends from every specter of the Christian tradition.  I read extensively and thus have adopted the lenses of those I have read.  It is impossible to read the bible, or reflect upon our faith without bias.  If you have only been in one tradition or have only experienced one version of the Christian tradition, I believe it is even more difficult to see these blind spots.

This past week six very devout Christian women read a chapter of scripture and spent time praying about what the passage meant to us personally.  Everyone of us interpreted the same words out of the same Bible passage completely differently.  So who was “right”?  I don’t think “rightness” is the point of reading scripture. The passage spoke to all of us through our own lenses and met each of us where we were.  The key is allowing space at the table for everyone to agree to disagree and fostering a spirit that allows the scriptures to speak to everyone where they are.

McLaren argues that the place to start is to view Jesus through the gospels.  That is the reading of Jesus that is the clearest, least contaminated by human lenses.  I love reading the gospels in my parallel bible which lines up the passages that are similar side by side. By reading the same story in different gospels, you also come to see that even the gospel writers had their own lenses, their own target audience, and their own agenda. Ask any devout Christian and each of us will name our favorite gospel.  My favorite is the Gospel of Luke because of Luke’s strong liberation emphasis.  What is sad is that we even argue about which gospel is the “best”.

My prayer is that we stop trying to prove ourselves or our positions as “right” and begin to simply see them as “different” or “right for us.”  I don’t want to stifle religious conversations, I think our world is hungry for safe places to explore spiritual questions.  I simply want us to engage in these conversations with the utmost respect for everyone at the table and I think context is important.   If everyone at the table happens to be Christian, we need to respect the diversity of the Christian tradition but can find common ground in the person of Jesus.  If we do not know the beliefs of everyone at the table, then we need to respect the diversity of religion in general and find common ground in the loving God who created us all.  This does not mean we have to be shy about our own beliefs, but that we simply need to acknowledge that our way of understanding God is not the only way of understanding God.

Brian McLaren’s blog is very interesting.  In a post titled, “On Emergent”, McLaren reflects on the diversity of voices present in the emerging church conversation which is trying to define what the church of the future might look like.  McLaren writes “The process is awkward and messy at times…. the key issue is to stay at the table when you’re hurt and offended and misunderstood and made uncomfortable.”

This is my prayer for those of us in leadership roles at Embrace; that we would stay at the table, seek to understand one another, be willing to be made uncomfortable, forgive when we are hurt and above all seek not to offend but instead seek unity while respecting our diversity.  It will not be easy, but I believe this is the unique call of Embrace Richmond.


Filed under Leadership, missional church

Immersing into Emerging

What is the future of the church?  Denominations?  Christian leadership?  How is technology and cultural shifts impacting the church and shaping its future?  These and many other questions are being asked and answered through the Emerging Church conversation.

The Emergent conversation is something that I am aware of for many years but have never been an active participant in.  However, in many ways I am living its message. Today I spent much of the day exploring various blogs related to the emerging church discerning how I can position my book within this conversation.

Most of what I found on my journey into the world of countless blogs on the topic was theory and deconstructionist conversations around what should change in the church with only limited examples of what will emerge.  This is where I think Embrace Dreams: A Journey Beyond the Pew could add value to the conversation since we have seen something completely unique grow out of Embrace Richmond.

The one article that caught my attention was “Theology After Google” by Philip Clayton.  While the article was written to promote an event (which sadly I discovered too late), it contained some great insights:
“The new Christian leader is a host, not an authority who dispenses true teaching, wise words, and the sole path to salvation. Today, the leaders who influence our faith and action are those who convene (or moderate or enable) the conversations that change our life — or the activities that transform our understanding of ourselves, our world, and our God. It could be an older Christian who convenes discussions at a church, a house, or a pub. It could be Shane Claiborne leading an activity at The Simple Way on Potter Street in Philadelphia, say a time of gardening in the communal garden that gives you a sense of community that you’ve rarely had but always longed for. It could be a website or a blogger that you frequently go to, where you read others’ responses and add your own thoughts. Christian leadership is about enabling significant community around the name of Jesus, wherever two or more are gathered in His name.”

I would add “It could be a bunch of crazy Richmonders who gather in public housing complexes and join hands with formerly homeless individuals to be a blessing to their community.”

While so many are writing about the emergent church, I am blessed to be witnessing its birth through the work we are doing at Embrace Richmond.  I doubt many would see what we are doing as “church” but the emergent conversation is helping those trapped in old paradigms for defining church to discover new lenses and to see God at work in new ways and unexpected places.

Take a look at Clayton’s full article and let me know what you think.  It was an interesting read.  What do you think the church will look like in the future?  Do you agree with Clayton’s assessment?  For those of you in the missional communities birthed through Embrace, do you see your role as “host”?   I would love to know your thoughts on the topic.


Filed under Leadership, Urban Ministry

Stop Doing; Start Being

This past week we concluded a three week training session at a local church.  This particular church is very active in urban missions.  They provide shelter through CARITAS, participate in feeding programs, the members sit on a number of non-profit boards, they assist with housing rehab for the elderly and donate money to local charities.  They are a very active church.

At the conclusion of our training one of the comments we got back from a participant was that “We still do not know what Embrace Richmond “does”.”   I wish I could say this was an uncommon comment but I have heard it after trainings before.  It always disturbs me and I am continually trying to figure out ways of overcoming this challenge.  However, this week, as I prayed about this comment, I realized that perhaps the problem is not in the way we are answering the question; perhaps the problem is with the question itself.

We are a society obsessed with “doing”.  When we want to get to know someone, often the first question we ask is “What do you do?”  We define people and organizations by what they do, more than who they are.  However, what Embrace Richmond “does” is empower others by “being present” with people in their own communities and helping them to “do” the things God is calling them to do for the benefit of their neighbors.

Like all non-profits we have programs that are about “doing”, like our Faith Works program which provides youth and families with short term, hands on missions experiences, and our Community Works program that provides transitional employment to homeless and at-risk individuals.  However, all our programs are about empowerment, not about us “doing” something for someone else.  We have no program to provide shelter, no feeding program, no furniture program, no clothing program and no financial assistance program.  We do none of these things as “programs” yet we do all of these things.  We do provide shelter, we do provide food, we continue to provide furniture and clothing, and on occasion we provide financial assistance.  However, rather than create a “program” we choose to provide these services through relationships that empower rather than programs that often breed a sense of entitlement.

I think rather than asking “What do you do?”, we should be asking “What kinds of relationships are you forming?”  Non-profits that spend all their time “doing” and no time “being present” to their participants may have impressive short-term outcomes but programs do not change lives, people do.  Every person I have met who has successfully escaped the cycle of poverty did so by building strong relationships with a healthy network of support and a relationship with a God.  This is the power behind the AA/NA model and why case managed care and peer based programs like The Healing Place are so successful.

So, the next time you “check out” a non-profit, don’t spend all your time reading the annual report, judging the quality of the board members, or evaluating the outcomes; instead listen to those who are a part of the communities where the non-profit works and judge success through those relationships.  Do you see people who are empowered to address the needs of the community themselves, or do you see people dependent on the “programs” of an outside agency?  Which do you think is healthier?  I guess I should be thankful no one can define what we “do”; it means we are doing the right thing by simply being present with those we care about and empowering them to do good works.  To God be the glory…we are not willing to claim credit for any of it.


Filed under Urban Ministry

Has the Light Gone Out?

Several months ago my friend Charles and I were delivering school supplies to a church for inner city children living in Church Hill.  This community was named Church Hill because there is a church on nearly every corner; large stately churches that cast ominous shadows.  I mistakenly missed the turn to the church parking lot and was forced to make the block.  As I turned right on “T” street, it became obvious from the number of women standing on the corners that I had stumbled into territory belonging to the “working girls” and their “business managers”.  As I drove slowly past, Charles said “stop the car”.  He rolled down his window and struck up a conversation with a man who was leaning on a large stick.  As he approached the car, I could see the perplexed look on his face.  He knew Charles from the street, I am sure he was wondering what Charles was doing in a minivan with a white woman loaded with school supplies.  Charles just smiled at him, asked how he was doing and said “Man, I will have to catch you later, I got to get back to work” and we pulled away.

I asked Charles who the man was and he shared that he had been in The Healing Place, which is a recovery program, but had relapsed and gone back out on the streets.  He then educated me about how he made is living by selling his girlfriend who was on the corner across from him.  He offered her assurances that if anyone messed with her, he will kill them, thus the importance of the stick and his presence.

We turned the corner, pulled into the church parking lot but my eyes could not help but return to the half dozen women selling their bodies there in the shadow of Christ church.

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned”, the author in the book of Matthew in the 4th chapter claims that Jesus is the fulfillment of these words originally spoken by the Prophet Isaiah.  I have a question.  If Jesus is the great light to those living in darkness, has the light gone out?

If you stroll through some of the darkest corners of our city you will see some of the most spectacular church buildings ever built in Richmond.  But instead of being a light casting out darkness, many are abandoned and now their shadows only add to the darkness.

We have all heard that “the Church” is not a building but a people, so where are the people?  Sadly the truth is that the original architects of these churches have fled these communities out of prejudice and fear.  The Body of Christ abandoned not only their church buildings but also the people living in darkness in its shadow.

In my work, I visit many suburban churches and it seems that every one I visit is going through some phase of a building campaign.  They usually give me the grand tour, proudly pointing to an architectural drawing on the wall saying “We are in Phase 4” but in “Phase 8” we will have a gymnasium and a new family life center.  I listen to their sermons many of which are simply creative messages aimed at soliciting the funds needed to complete these grand complexes.  I wonder, will they one day abandon these as well?

When I look at the church budgets, I see 30%-50% of the budget going toward buildings, with less than 1% going toward caring for the local poor.  And I wonder, “Why is it so dark in the shadow of the church?”

So how can we restore the light?  Matthew also gives us the answer to that question in Chapter 5 vs. 16 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  The Body of Christ must carry the light into dark places, to the women on “T” street, to the men purchasing their services, to the dealers selling the drugs, and to the children who witness the violence of it all.  We do not carry the light with our words; according to Matthew it is in our “good deeds” that the light shines the brightest.

I asked Charles what we could do for his friend on “T” street and he said “I just did it.”  I looked at him puzzled and asked “What did you do?”  “I let him know that I still care about him and I showed him that the program works simply by me being with you, working an honest job, I am bearing witness that God has saved me and can help him when he is ready.”  Charles is a very wise man.  Sometimes our simple presence in dark places is a light to those living in darkness.

Let us remember Jesus who was and is “The Light of the World”.  I pray you will choose to become little children and live the words we have all sing but seldom embody “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine , let it shine.”  Don’t let Satan snuff it out with fear and lies, don’t hide it under a basket, but choose to hold it high so that it drives away the shadow of darkness and brings hope to a hurting world that thinks the light has gone out.


Filed under Stories from the Street, Top Post's of All Time, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

Empowering a Movement – A search for missional structures

slssLogoServant Leaders, Servant Structures

Elizabeth O’Connor


Insights from Chapter 1

I have been seeking to discern how to build organizational structures that foster creativity and unleash the missional imagination of people seeking to follow Christ in tangible ways in our community.  Church of the Savior is one of only a handful of Christian ministries I have found that has achieved this objective masterfully.  In Chapter One of Servant Leaders, Servant Structures, available in full at http://wp.theoblogical.org/?page_id=3782, Elizabeth O’Connor provides us with insights into the history, successes and struggles in the formation of Church of The Savior and the many missional expressions of the church which have emerged out of this gathering of faithful Christ followers.

Below are a few insights I found interesting.

O’Connor shares that “In time [founder Gordon Cosby] was to believe even more deeply in ordinary persons who, in turn, were to believe more deeply in themselves. This is probably why the community that has come into being under his leadership gives so little attention to credentials.”

Paradoxically, this community which takes so little notice of degrees gives inordinate attention to education. In every eleven-week semester… classes dealing with some aspect of the inward-outward journey are offered. They vary in content and focus, and range all the way from “discovery of self” to journalizing and contemplation. Most of the classes are conducted in the manner of a seminar with each student presenting findings from the application of the week’s assignment in the living out of his or her life.

Gordon Cosby was to say that this concept [annual recommitment to the disciplines of the church], perhaps more than any other, was the one destined to be the most helpful in retaining integrity of membership.

As we grew in our understanding of silence, we gave more emphasis to the contemplative life. When we become too busy, Dayspring is always there as a reminder that there is no true creativity apart from contemplation.

If the church was to find servant structures, the small groups had to be formed around focused and defined missions with each mission also committed to an inward journey of prayer, worship and study.

Gordon Cosby still feels that the churches, in their quest for structures that nurture life in people, must know that they are venturing into new territory, and that the resources for their exploration rest in the tremendous untapped potential of their own people. The difficulty is that we so often lack confidence in ourselves and in our companions and search for the answers in some other place.

In his preaching and in his conversation he was reminding his own little band that the call of God was a call to create a new kind of community that would be distinguished by its humanness. It would be so human that those in it would do whatever was needed so that everyone in the world might be free. He was reissuing the call to which we had first made response. Later he was to tell the moderators of newly formed mission groups, “A time comes in the life of every group when it loses sight of its goals and must choose them again. Your job will be to sound again the call, to be the bearer of the vision-articulating it in your own life and helping others to see it.”

We formed classes in Christian Vocation. In these classes we were taking a deeper and longer look at the whole matter of call as having to do with the transcendent-the being grasped by that which is greater than we. We began with the basic assumption of the New Testament that there was no way to be the church except by the call of Christ, and that there were a number of dimensions to this call.  The class dealt primarily with the fourth dimension. If the church is a sent people, where was Christ sending each of us?  The call was to move out-to discover where we were to lay down our lives-to take up the stance of the suffering servant, and make witness to the power of Jesus Christ’s work in us.

Actually call was to come to most of us through the ordinary events of life, which were to be extraordinary events because we brought to them a new quality of asking and listening.

Our sermons, classes, and conferences were all concerned with helping others to hear call and discern gifts. We found ourselves so often asking, “What would you like to do?” is a question we still ask indiscriminately-of the very young and the very old, of poor and rich, oppressed and oppressors, and then we listen very carefully and take with utmost seriousness what a person says.

We worked out a procedure requiring every mission to be confirmed by the Church Council. This never meant to us that everyone had to be enthusiastic about every call. Oftentimes we have had to be willing to let another move even when we have large reservations.  Our learning to do this with a certain degree of ease, probably more than any other factor, accounts for the proliferation of mission groups in the community of The Church of The Savior.

We have found it incredibly hard to hold to the concept of the inward and outward journeys. We early discovered that not many persons want them both. Weighted heavily on one side or the other, most of us struggle intensely to keep these two dimensions in any kind of creative tension in our individual and our corporate lives.

[When Cosby was] asked, “What do you think the future of the church is?” He replied, “I have never had a helpful answer to that question. Have no idea. I do not know what the judgments of God are or what will be the breakthroughs of God’s power.” Then he stopped for a long pause and added, “I do not need the church to have a visible or successful future in order for me to feel safe as a person. I’m glad to leave it to God’s sovereignty. It is his church-not mine.”

To fight for integrity of membership within existing structures is certainly extraordinarily difficult, but there is hardly any path that frees one from that struggle. In all of us something powerful is at work which seeks to remake the new concepts into the old. “Community” can quickly be changed into “conformity,” and “call” into “duty.”

The inward-outward structure of the mission groups defines the church as a servant people called into existence to be the community for others.

What we did at that important juncture in our life was to face the importance of structurally implementing a description of “Who we are.”[as defined by their disciplines]

The Council as the governing body of the church was reorganized as a “Mission Council,” comprised of two representatives from each confirmed mission group, who served in rotating order for a period of a year. Representatives reported to their groups what transpired in Council meetings. Any decisions made were binding on the whole membership. When the Council determined that an issue was of such nature as to require confirmation by the total membership, a general congregational meeting was called.

Our mission group structures are tougher and more durable because they have had to cope with the financial dimension. A group responsible for its own finance is not likely to close shop for the summer or to show laxity in ways that it might if someone else were footing the bill. Furthermore, when the money is ours we relate to the whole sphere of economics in a way that would not otherwise happen. This became increasingly evident as our missions in the inner city placed us in the midst of the poor. We returned to our homes at night feeling less easy with our own life styles.

In our small church community the mission groups began to multiply. They were structures that Gordon Cosby had helped to form and that were, in turn, forming him. Although his life was given to working with all the small groups, he was a member of only one, subject to its covenant, under the authority of those whose gifts had been confirmed, his heart and mind enlarged and stretched by commitment to the few. He believed too passionately that strong leadership existed within all the groups. He was, however, and still is available to any group as guide and counselor. Sometimes he is called in at points of crisis to be a reconciler. More often he counsels a group in the early stages of its formation when members are defining their strategy,

The mission structure gave us a people to companion us in our individual freedom movement. Everyone struggles to break away from the oppressive inner structures that make us all prisoners of one kind or another. We need a people to journey with us out of our own Egypt into the broad land that is promised to all who believe in Him.

Summary of Insights that I think may be helpful in empowering a missional movement in Richmond

  1. Commitment to integrity of membership by insisting on a high level of commitment to defined disciplines which shaped corporate identity
  2. Strong commitment lay leadership and belief in ordinary people
  3. Strong emphasis on education around both the inward [contemplative] and outward [missional] journey
  4. Missional groups as the organizing structure [Mission Council] and mission as organizing principle; unwavering commitment to the church as sent people existing for others


Filed under Leadership, missional church

The Tangible Kingdom

If you are interested in what God is doing through the Missional Church, I highly recommend, The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.  Below are a few of my favorite quotes:

“We have preached and listened to the preachers who tell us a story we’d all love to find ourselves in, yet we feel the gap between what we hear and talk about and what we experience.”

“ The idea of God’s kingdom is now relegated to the realm of heaven, the afterlife, and we just assume that we won’t get to see God and His beautiful redemptive plan until we pass over. The church therefore becomes something we may not need any more something that at its best is worth only our recreational enjoyment. Our massive hope about God, His Kingdom, and our place in a unique community of people who change the world is all but dead, and we are left feeling like the searcher who wants in but who is reluctant to face the dangers of navigating our collective faith and purpose.”

“I had became a card-carrying member of what I call the “jaded” denomination. You know, people who have a hard time finding coherence between their faith in God and there experience in the church; people who are sick of that same old song, same lingo, same methods, same discouraging results, and same spiritual emptiness. No, I did not leave the church entirely, like 25-million plus and growing, other dechurched Christians are doing in America. But I wanted to. “

“ We want to let you know that the unsettling feelings you are experiencing are ones that hundreds and thousands of people are also working through.” 

“Our goal isn’t to attract Christian people to our worship service but to be the faithful church in small pockets throughout our city. We are creating places of inclusive belonging where God’s alternative kingdom can be experienced.”

“You might expect, therefore, that we ask you to leave your safe harbor and sail off into the stormy seas. But the harbor does not represent safety. It represents God’s kingdom. His life. His reality.  What we believe we should find and what church can direct us to. In actuality, it communicates exactly what we believe is the call of the church: Find and help others find Gods beautiful city.”

 “If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of behavior, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like heaven, would you be interested?…What people are asking for is the kingdom of God made tangible.”

“Hundreds of thousands of Christians believe you can’t get into heaven without “praying the sinners pray,” even though Jesus granted salvation to many without one reference to a person praying a prayer. Even post resurrection, there is no precedence for praying a prayer as the ticket to eternity.” 

“By starting with Christology (the life of Jesus), which informs our missiology (how we live), we’ll have a better chance of finding common ground with our ecclesiology (how we do church).”

“To move forward, we can’t keep everything we’ve always had. We have to pick what to take, what is absolutely necessary, and leave behind some things that have been important to us. What used to provide comfort now may only take up space or be a hindrance to getting where we need to go… This is right in step with God’s usual way of engaging His mission. He just packs light! He loves to trim off anything that would slow us down, hinder us, or make the journey more difficult….When you don’t have all the “stuff” you’re left with a lot more time to spend with people.”

“Church must not be the goal of the gospel anymore. Church should not be the focus of our efforts or the banner we hold up to explain what we’re about. Church should be what ends up happening as a natural response to people wanting to follow us, be with us, and be like us as we are following the way of Christ.”

“Influence does not happen to us by extracting us from the world for the sake of our own values, but by bringing our values into the culture….We must go out and then let church reemerge as a reflection and the natural outgrowth of our missional way of life…We knew the message would make more sense if you  saw it lived out in our lives.”

“The incarnational big-story gospel will require a place of discovery, where people will be able to see the truth before they here about. This place will not be a location but a community of people who are inclusive of everyone.  These people will be making eternity attractive by how they live such selfless lives now,  and will be modeling life in a New Kingdom in ways that will make it easy for other people to give it a try. People like this are not desperate to convert everyone; they are desperate to be like Christ and to be where Christ is. There heartbeat to be transformed into the image of Christ, and to pray and work for little specks of transformation in everyone and everything they touch. Success is faithfulness. The rest is up to God.”

“I think we should start by looking for ways to witness to this gospel by bringing tangible slices of heaven down to life on earth, and continue to do this until those we are reaching out to acknowledge that our ways are “good news” to them. If you  are really living the good news, you will have plenty of opportunities to explain the theological aspects of the gospel. But if we continue to lead off with words about the gospel instead of acts of the gospel we will continue to jip people… The incarnational way culminates in this primary difference: belonging enables believing.”

“I am not sure how we got where we are, but it’s amazing  that we think our most powerful times, our most intimate spiritual experiences, are supposed to happen within in the comfortable confines of our church services. The biblical evidence is overwhelmingly and is crystal clear that god’s power is most naturally meant to happen “out there”!”

 ‘Remember, Jesus came not to judge the world but to save the world. You can’t save the ones you judge. You can only save the ones you are connected to.”

“Did you know that we are all created with a built in desire to love the world, to bless people?  Way back when…God set up a deal with humanity.  Genesis 12:1-3: “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

 2 “I will make you into a great nation
       and I will bless you;
       I will make your name great,
       and you will be a blessing.

 3 I will bless those who bless you,
       and whoever curses you I will curse;
       and all peoples on earth
       will be blessed through you.”

Ultimately, Gods offer to us to share his blessing with others is how we find our deepest sense of personal meaning and satisfaction.  Jesus said it this way:For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8, 35)… Jesus mentions blessing as giving sight to the blind, captives being set free, debts being paid off, food for the hungry, friends for the lonely, meaningful employment for the discouraged and self doubting,  rest for the weary, and anything else that could be felt or touched on terra firma. The Tangible Kingdom! Blessing wasn’t just nice things you said to make people forget about their problems. It was actually doing something about their problems.”

“The call to community is not about finding people just like us, or at the exclusion of other people. Community in the biblical sense is clearly about unlike people finding Christ at the center of their inclusive life together…Mother Teresa said this: “if you have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we  belong to each other.”

“Consumerism is based on the belief that I can’t help others until I help myself, that my wants and needs trump the needs of others…We all fight the same consumer tendencies, and we must struggle as a community to limit what we need inside the church so others can get what they need in the world.”

“The goal of our missional life is not to grow churches. The goal of the church is to grow missionaries. The goal of the gospel is not to get people to church. The result of the gospel is that people will find each other and gather because of deep meaning of a common experience.”

“In Hebrews 10:24-25, we have the only direct encourage for people to gather: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”  Mission creates meaning and a context for the gathering.”

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What’s Next: Plant a Church or Empower a Movement?

8caqajb4ocalwnoawcapnyswjcah3r7sqca7wdwzocatg5lzocasw01q4caq8a4cocaym6ps4ca7o2xcfcaklwculca7fjgqrca34n7eacazta7orcang1at7cac6qdx5cav8ql1dca9vljx1ca3audlb1I am entering into one of the most exciting seasons of my life.  God has allowed me to see and do so much over the past six years but I feel certain that it has all been preparation for what is yet to come.

In September, Embrace Richmond transferred the Furniture Bank element of our organization to CARITAS and CARITAS hired me as the director of the program.  For the past eight months, I have worn two hats; Executive Director of Embrace Richmond (www.embracerichmond.org) and Director of CARITAS Works (www.caritasworks.org).  In that time the furniture bank program has grown significantly and so have the programs operated by Embrace Richmond.  I realized last month that I could do both jobs half way or put all my energy into one direction.  After much prayer I felt led to slowly move out of the CARITAS Works role and focus solely on Embrace Richmond.  I am now down to 12 hours a week working on CARITAS related programs and I have taken considerable time off in the past month to ask “What’s next?” for Embrace Richmond.   This transition would not be possible without the addition of Karen O’Brien to our staff and the support of Karen Stanley the Executive Director of CARITAS both of whom have been incredibly supportive of me over the years.

In December 2003, I was faced with a similar decision as I wrestled with my call to vocational ministry.  At that time I began writing “The Journey” which was originally sent out to a few close friends who committed to pray for me.  As that list grew, I put the emails on a website and they are now available through “The Journey” page of this blog.  Basically, The Journey writings helped me to discern what was next for me.  As God revealed new pieces of the puzzle; I wrote about it as a way of publicly recognizing where I saw God at work and as a way of remembering.  These pieces were the building blocks for what eventually became Quest Women’s Ministry and Shine Groups for Girls which eventually led to the creation of Embrace Richmond. As Embrace Richmond moves into a new season; I feel called to do the same thing; look for God at work, figure out how it relates to my call and Embrace Richmond’s mission and share those insights with others.  Those of you who know me personally know that I am full of ideas and as an extrovert; I feel the need to communicate as a way of fleshing out all these thoughts.  However, I do not want to frighten anyone…I know Embrace cannot respond to every need or fulfill every dream or idea that pops into my head.   So relax and just dream with me a little.

For those of you who are joining me on facebook; I will be posting the entries on my facebook page as I write them.   If you are not yet my friend yet, please “friend me” and join me on this adventure.

This past week I attended the Emergent Conference which is the largest church planting conference in the country.  I went thinking I was going to help my friends Lewis and Doug who are both church planters but something happened at this conference…my mind was expanded.  I think my idea of “church” was way too small.  As I sat in the conference listening to some of the most innovative Christian leaders in the world; I began to get excited about what God was doing.  God has started a movement across this country; a missional movement much like the one identified by Eric Swanson in his book Ten Paradigm Shifts Toward Community Transformation which I wrote about in The Journey emails back in 2004.  (You can download this paper for free from www.leadnet.org) This idea is what gave birth to Embrace Richmond and is still the vision that I long to see manifest in Richmond.

I still do not feel church planting is my call…but fueling a missional movement; that gets me excited!

What is a missional movement?  I will attempt to share what I think it is in my next post .  In the meantime you can catch a glimps of it in Eric Swanson’s paper or through The Journey entries.   Please pray for me and for the Embrace family as we move into the fullness of what God has for us.

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