One of the most refreshing projects I’ve worked on since coming to LifeWay is Gospel Revolution by J.D. Greear. J.D.’s small groups pastor Spence Shelton helped us develop the curriculum and it is definitely done with a local church focus in mind. While our Serendipity team has focused primarily on small-group curriculum in the past, this study has even broader appeal. More traditional discipleship groups would benefit greatly and find it easy to use also. Let me give you a little background on the project so that you can get a better feel for it.

Gospel Revolution is really about rediscovering the gospel. J.D. reminds the reader that the gospel is not the diving board off which we dive into the pool of Christianity but the gospel is the pool itself. Building off of the concepts in J.D.’s excellent book by Broadman and Holman called Gospel, the group study really meets many Christians where they are. The list of what “good Christians” should be doing never seems to end. Evangelism. Missions. Adoption. Radical generosity. Bold prayers. Audacious faith. Every time we turn around we’re learning about something else that good Christians are doing. The result is that many Christians find themselves more exhausted than inspired. Jesus’ revolutionary message is that at the center of Christianity is not a list of things we are to be doing for God, but an announcement of what He has done for us. As we stand in awe of what He has done for us, what we should do for Him will come naturally. J.D. incorporates a simple gospel prayer as he teaches and models how to live out the gospel in everyday life.

Here are a couple of blogposts that also discuss this gospel message that God has given to the church through J.D. Greear:

Interview of J.D. by Trevin Wax http://trevinwax.com/2011/09/28/recovering-the-gospels-power-a-conversation-with-j-d-greear/

Overview of Gospel’s Generosity Matrix by J.D. http://www.churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-blogs/154951-jd_greear_the_generosity_matrix.html

What I found most encouraging about J.D.’s teaching is that he is not only biblically sound but culturally relevant. J.D.’s authenticity really draws you in and his illustrations are things to which we can all easily relate. I was not only professionally challenged by this study but personally inspired. The old-time message of the gospel came alive for me and has resulted in the kind of spiritual fruit that God intended the gospel to bear in my life. Well, that’s my testimony. I hope you too will take part in this gospel revolution and rediscover the power of the Christian faith!

Do you appreciate beautiful island ambiance? Are you a surfer? Are you a fan of Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, or AnnaSophia Robb…or even Hercules (Kevin Sorbo)? Do you love Carrie Underwood? Do you like movies that make you cry?  For all of these reasons or just for one, you should consider going to see Soul Surfer this weekend. This is a movie that also models a faith that is not perfect but real.

About a month ago I was invited to a preview of the movie, and honestly my main reason for attending was because it was a free date night with my wife.  Little did I know how my heart would be engaged that night, however. Now, I am definitely not a cryer.  There are a couple of movies with tear-jerking scenes that have caused me to quickly wipe my eye before anyone could see, but this one had my eyes welled with tears throughout.

The film is based upon the real life story of Bethany Hamilton, a teen sensation surfer in Hawaii who lost her arm in a shark attack. The character development that takes place in the movie is remarkable given the length of time they had to work with; consequently, most viewers will come away being able to relate to this family and wonder how their own might have handled the adversity that the Hamiltons are forced to face.

From a faith perspective, the movie is inspirational. While God is directly mentioned in only a few scenes, He is all over the place. Reminds me of the book of Esther in that way.

It’s difficult to call Bethany’s story a tragedy, and she certainly wouldn’t want us too. Conversely, we can view it as a triumph–the triumph of faith over fear and amazing accomplishment in spite of adversity.

If you can organize a trip to see Soul Surfer this opening weekend–with your family or your small group—you definitely won’t regret it. The movie is getting great publicity and the well-known cast should also allow your friends who are not Christ followers to feel safe in attending. You’ll have ample opportunity for conversations about faith afterwards.

(And for my missional, country music-loving friends, there’s a great segment with Carrie Underwood leading a mission trip to Thailand that may inspire your group as well! ;-))

missions

I read an interesting article that was tweeted to me recently by @desiringgod explaining the reasons for differentiating between evangelism and missions. Because the term missional is being used more frequently now, I wonder if that isn’t the reason for the timing of Piper’s article. I have seen some great shifts in the way we do church and the way we are being the church because of the missional movement. This article reminds me that as I encourage our folks to be more missional here at home and in fact more missionary, I still need to offer that unique challenge for people to forsake all to go to the dark corners that will never be reached “as we go.” Check out the article and let me know what you think!

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/AskPastorJohn/ByTopic/7/4153/

identityHave you ever had an identity crisis?  A few days ago at a football practice, I was answering a question that I have answered hundreds of times before: “So, what do you do for a living?”  I answered, “I develop small-group discipleship materials for a Christian publishing company” and we went on in the discussion to other topics, mostly about our children.  After some time to reflect, I am realizing that this conversation has occurred numerous times and I’m never quite comfortable giving the little word or phrase that people expect to hear.  Should I have just said, “I’m an editor” or “I’m a preacher” or “I’m a former missionary” or something altogether different?  I must admit that I identify with some of those titles more than others, in ways that bring me varying amounts of comfort.  But should I really be comfortable packaging myself so neatly with any of them… and why does this seem to matter so much to men anyway?  A lot more questions where those came from!

While working in East Asia, I always tried to answer that question in a way that would lead to a spiritual conversation. After all, saying “missionary” or even “Christian” wouldn’t help to define me very well, especially among the Muslims who lived around us. Often I would simply say, “I am a follower of Asa (Jesus), how about you?”  This answer usually baffled the listener to some degree so he would ask, “Why are you here?”  This led to some wonderful conversations about God, Who He is, and how much He cared about the neighbor to whom I was speaking. So why don’t I answer questions about my profession or identity just as creatively here?

Perhaps it’s because I’m still struggling with a bit of an identity crisis… like the guy above.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t understand the culture that I grew up with or the people around me in my native country as well as I did those who were a world away.  If I’m going to be used by God to accomplish His purpose in the lives of those around me, though, I need to get a handle on the most important aspect of my identity:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:20

Pray for me as I continue this journey, and I’d love to hear some ways that you guys use conversation starters to act as ambassadors for Christ.

abtg12_mainpicRemembering some Korean missionaries I worked alongside for a time, I looked up some background on the G12 methodology that they employed in disciple-making. While I know there is some controversy regarding the implemention of this missional strategy, I also can’t help but be impressed with the emphasis that G12ers place upon evangelism and discipleship. Here are just a few of the practices they utilize that can be helpful as we consider our small groups:

• The corporate mission which is synonymous with the personal mission, is to win people to Christ, make them disciples and enable them to become fathers of multitudes.

• Everyone can be a leader and should be developed into one, in fulfillment of Christ’s calling to be a disciple-maker.

• Everyone is mentored so that, in turn, he can mentor others.

• Long term relationships are encouraged. Members are committed to each other and each other’s success for as long as possible.

Not a bad start huh? Let me know what you think about G12 and the similar practices you might be following as a small group leader. Here’s a link to some more info about the movement: : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G12_Vision. Again, this is not an overall endorsement but a recognition that these missionaries I knew were doing some good work by implementing some key principles of multiplication and reproducibility cross-culturally.

I travel a lot. Most church consultants do. I never know what size town or city I’ll be in or where or when I’ll learn more about being the church. And I tend to find out what it means to be the church in the most unusual of places.

 A few months ago I found myself under the gun on a writing assignment. Now writing comes fairly naturally to me but finding the time to do it (without interrupting life with the people I love) isn’t nearly as simplistic as the writing itself. Sometimes while driving cross country I’ll get my Garmin GPS out and find a local coffee shop. These are great places to compose as I will seldom know anyone in that particular town. I get a big ol’ hot chocolate (I know it’s juvenile but I never learned to even slightly enjoy the taste of coffee. No matter how you dress it up when I take a swig the taste bud terrorists attack.) and settle in for a few hours of writing.

I entered a coffee shop in Bardstown, Kentucky (population 11,150), home of the Stephen Foster Story musical, Federal Hill, and the town that houses the first diocese of the west. As I looked around the room I was ambushed when I saw a few slips of paper on each of the tables. Each read…

 Beginning the Daily Grind with God at the Java Joint Café

8:30 a.m. Wednesday with the Reverend Kirk-Norris

 November 5, 2008  Lesson: Luke 13:1 – 9

            Repentence, this is the message.

The parable is a storied example of how you and I sometimes view our situations in life. We desire instant gratification but we forget and become impatient when the results we expect are slow in fruition. Our timing is NOT God’s timing. What we must remember is that all life, physical and spiritual, requires each of us to devote our time and our energy to the nurture and care of not only our own lives but also others on this journey. Then we will reap the fruits of our labors and the blessings of God Almighty!

I asked the barista what the deal was. She explained that this was a note from her pastor and that that church leader came in every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. to do a very short teaching then the individuals seated around each table would answer questions that had been created.  

 If you’re a pastor you may want to give it a try. Below you’ll find some of the outcomes of such a ministry.:

  •  Word of mouth ministry. As people mention this to friends they too can join the group.
  • If you do this early enough, this is a great way for people too busy to attend a small group or who work evenings to be part of a small group.
  • Your church will be known as missional… your reputation will become that of a church that goes outside the church doors to be in the community and with the community.
  • This is a great way for church plant pastors and leaders to meet people who might become part of your new church.
  • Pastors are perceived as caring enough to go to those they want to connect with rather than demanding they come by the church building.
  • This is a win/win for the church and the coffee shop. The coffee shop has a full house without hiring a marketing agency and the church leader gets to sell those who show up the life transforming story of Jesus.

 How would you go about getting something like this going? Easy…

  • Choose a well-established coffee shop.
  • Drop by and ask the manager if they’d be open to something like this. Let them know you’d like to place slips of paper, a short paragraph, on each of the tables for customers to pick up through the week. Even if the manager would rather you not place these reminders on the tables, you can still meet weekly and have a very meaningful experience. If you get an affirmative answer to meeting there…
  • Begin promoting this opportunity with the people who make up your church.
  • Get commitments from at least 10 people, people who will commit to being involved for twelve months and will tell the people they work with and their friends. Ask these people to join you in this endeavor. Ask them to make it their goal to fill the place.  
  • Choose a starting date and get going.

 If your local coffee shop will join you in this, I don’t think you can go wrong.

 A word to church planters… This is a great way to become known in the community, especially if you’ve planted in a small or medium-sized town. I’d love to get to know you. Give me a call at 615-251-5862 or join me at the Exponential Conference in April.

In my opinion, small groups are the most effective way to introduce people to Jesus. In this post-modern culture people are more apt to join a dialogue about spiritual matters than they are to get up early (It’s early to many people.) on their day off and drop by a church building to hear a monologue declared by someone they don’t know or trust. Great dialogues can be had in a small group. Not only that, pre-Christians are much more willing to allow their hearts to be penetrated by kind acts done for them and the people they know than they are by representatives of Christianity on television demanding our country return to Judeo-Christian values. Small groups allow a non-believer to make their needs and the needs of their friends known so the small group can react. But the most potent proclamation of all to many of our friends, co-workers, neighbors, and family members is authenticity and sincerity. The video that you find in this blog is Penn of Penn and Teller. He is a self-proclaimed atheist. But listen to his words as he speaks of his encounter with a fan after one of his gigs. It’s obvious, he was completely overwhelmed by this man’s sincerity and authenticity.

Many of us will be going to be with family members and friends who have not yet considered Jesus. Many of them may be like this very gifted performer. Be yourself. Look them in the eye and honor Christ by simply being authentic and sincere. You may be shocked at the amount of respect you gain for yourself and all Christians.