Wednesday, November 11, 2015

where you stand

I have a good friend who is a storm chaser.  He's not a crazy (so he says), but he just loves watching the weather for storms. When the radar is right he jumps in his 4WD, camera in hand, and drives - sometimes hundreds of kilometres - to get close enough for the perfect shot.

Ask him if it's safe, and this is what he'll say:
"If you know where to stand, you can come very close to a big storm, enjoy it's majesty and still be safe. If you're in the wrong place it could kill you."

Our team reflected through Psalm 97 the other day where God is likened to a storm:

Clouds and deep darkness encircle Him;
    righteousness and justice are the bedrock of His rule.
Fire precedes Him;
    it burns away His opponents on all sides.
With His lightning flashing about, He illuminates the world;
    the earth watches and trembles ...

We usually don't like to think of God as dangerous, but it seems to me that He wouldn't be God if He wasn't.

"So, if a prerequisite for God to be God is that He's dangerous, then how can I expect to come close to Him?"

It's a good question.  You might say that it depends on where you stand.

Romans 5:11

God's Story

Saturday, October 10, 2015

today's workshop ...

Hey there - if you were a part of today's workshop and are after the slides - here they are ... and if you weren't and would like them, that's fine too ;)

just stop talking

(this post is a follow on from previous - 'the big story')

The power for learning is in your own hands - literally.   

Last night David Kinnaman from the Barna group shared an interesting statistic at NYMC: “There are more cell phones in the world than toilets.  That means there is more crap going into our brains than we’re getting rid of.”

Aside from the obvious humour of this statement (and some might suggest the obvious crassness), this serves to illustrate a clear reality in the culture of the emerging generation.  That is, that while human desires haven’t changed historically, access to explore those desires has. Technology is more readily accessible to this generation than it ever has been before - and not only technology - information ... and competing worldviews.

In the midst of us bemoaning the danger this might be to the soul - it’s helpful for us to notice what this means for how the emerging generation accesses education.

In my family, when one of our kids asks a hard question, the most common response?

“Google it.”  

Now, we try and coach our boys in testing the accuracy and agenda behind the information they’ll interact with, but this phrase reveals a fundamental shift in who holds the power in education.  

I’ve seen this shift even in my own behaviour - when I read an article, or hear a great speaker - I research, cross reference, and begin to draw my own conclusions on the information being thrown my way - then and there.  I’ve come to expect that my learning is in my own hands.

I can't help but think that this is the reason why young people are so willing to accept the invitation of discovery-based learning.  A key feature of the new paradigm - the new operating system - isn’t just about using technology, but about learning how this technology has changed the behaviour of people.

When we deny people permission from participating in their learning - they will simply check out.  It’s time for us to implement (and some would say rediscover) participative learning in our bible engagement and discipleship.

This is hard - much of our church programming is around the corporate gathering where an “expert” teaches the rest of us - but we must adapt.  There are few arenas left in our culture where we are forced to become spectators OF something - we simply must invite people to be participants IN something.

So, we have decided to stop talking at the outset of learning.  We invite people into a discovery-based process, and as they accept that invitation, the depth of their learning is often far more significant than what it would have been if we just kept on talking.

Friday, October 9, 2015

the big story

(this post is a follow on from previous - 'applications & operating systems')

As we think through reaching a generation with the gospel, it has made sense for us to ask ourselves the question “what do we mean by ‘the gospel’?”  

Probably the most helpful book for me in wrestling through this question has been McKnight’s “The King Jesus Gospel” where he succinctly helps us make the important distinction between the gospel and salvation - without dismissing the latter.  

The gospel - the good news of Jesus - is not primarily about my personal salvation. It is the story of God making all things right under the reign of Jesus - the Anointed One.

A welcome consequence of this story is that Jesus is the way for me to be made right with God - personally.

It won’t really be a surprise to say that we’re seeking to reach a generation who have no idea who Jesus is.  Sure, they might hear the name thrown around as an expletive once in awhile, but aside from that, there’s no real familiarity with Him or His story.  

So, in the face of broad-scale biblical illiteracy the church has brought out some really cool “apps” to help engage the emerging generation.  It’s been so encouraging to see really good resources emerge that present “the whole story of God” - but app development without an upgrade of our operating system is always going to be a problem.

For some years, missiologists and leaders have stressed the importance of “telling the whole story” when we present the gospel - helping those far from God hear the message of Jesus in a larger context.  But this needs to be more than just a neat gospel tract, this is more about our operating system than it is our applications.

Something needs to change inside us.

Often we are trying to convince people of their need to step into God’s story when we ourselves are hardwired with a “bridge to life” or “four spiritual laws” operating system alone.  A true presentation of the gospel as the whole story of God will only have integrity if those presenting it have wrestled with the gospel as the whole story of God themselves.

If we truly desire to reach a post-post-Christian generation, then our discipleship and equipping should reflect a framework that accounts for the entire narrative of Scripture.  The gospels and the book of Romans should no doubt receive their deserved attention, but in the context of the whole story.  We need to raise up a generation of “meta-narrative theologians” who are able to inherently discern how the story of God fits together, and how to engage those who are far from God and His story.

This is something we have discovered in facilitating Verge - when young people are given the space and permission to wrestle through the narrative of Scripture, it’s often like pressing the reset button.  

You can see that in a Facebook message I received yesterday - Jed was keen to share with me his story from his current Bible College application:

“Around 2010 I went on a youth camp. The camp told the story of the bible, but instead of just viewing all the separate stories of the bible ... it linked them all together into a bigger picture, I hadn’t really thought of it that way before. The gospel was no longer just the story of Jesus Christ, but the story of God from beginning to end and the story of us. With this newfound understanding I spent my last two years at school being comfortable with who I am through Christ, caring more for how God saw me not the world, and stoked to be different.”
(Thanks Jed!)

As people come away from our flagship experience, not only have they been able to engage with God, but they re-enter their own mission field with new eyes, new language, and renewed passion.

A primary feature of the new paradigm is seeing followers of Jesus equipped in “The Big Story.”

Thursday, October 8, 2015

applications & operating systems

Apps are easy.  Find something you like, download it, use it.  Simple.  Maybe you pay for it, maybe you don’t - maybe you tango with the in-app purchase cycle in the process.  But by and large, access to apps isn't all that complicated.

Operating systems can be a different story.  You get the notification in your settings, or, if you’re super-keen, you read up on the latest version through the company press-release … and you make a plan. If you’re like some people I know, you may make a plan to avoid the download … or you make a plan by scheduling in some device-free time (horror of horrors!), plugging it into the charger, and letting the update loose on all your not-yet-compatible applications.

And, once it’s installed, the time has come to discover all the new features (and the features no longer available!)

Whatever you think of it, your operating system is the thing that enables all your cool applications - it might be inconvenient to update it once in a while, but unless you hit download, your device will soon be behind the game.

I remember a conversation along these lines with the National Director of the mission organisation I was a part of.  Back in 2011 I was appointed as National Leader of the youth ministry arm of the organisation, and I received some sound advice: “Trav, you need to be clear on your applications and operating system.” 

I’ve thought about this conversation - a lot.  I was recruited into the mission organisation for the specific development and implementation of a new “ministry application” - and now I was faced with the responsibility of guarding the integrity of the “operating system.”  But I carried a tension - from my perspective, the development of the application revealed the need/opportunity for an upgraded operating system - and not just in the organisation - this was something far bigger. 

For over 30 years faith-based organisations across the globe have been extremely successful in delivering an excellent operating system.  Building spiritual movements through principles based on the life of Jesus, in my opinion, has revolutionised the paradigm through which ministry practitioners operate in countless places around the world.  These principles will continue to shape the practice of kingdom work for generations to come, but I’ve become convinced that for them to continue to take root in the emerging generation, the operating system needs to be upgraded.

It might sound a little pretentious, but as I reflect on the last few years, this is the reason why I stepped away from the larger organisation and founded AccessTheStory - to help others in their discovery or recognition of a new paradigm.

There will be a number of well-researched people who may articulate the dynamics of this new paradigm far better than me, but over the next couple of days, I’d like to suggest two features that we have discovered to be key in the delivery of our initiatives.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

illusion of power

I think my head would have been spinning.

The deal had been done - payment was up for grabs in just a few hours - now to keep up appearances in the Upper Room.

Judas was passionate about seeing the Romans overthrown, and frustrated at the possibility of a missed opportunity.  Jesus seemed intent on speaking truth, but reluctant to take charge and make the changes that were so desperately needed.

So, this was him taking matters into in his own hands - whatever his motivations were, Judas was bringing things to a head - time for talking was over, revolution was nigh.

But no matter how you look at it - this was betrayal ... and somehow Jesus knew.

"Not all of you are clean."

Those words burned deep into his conscience as he endured the humble touch of this 'Messiah' washing his feet.

He dries his hands, "a servant is not greater than His Master."

Here was Judas' Master - the Master of all things - reminding him who was truly in charge.  Not the Romans, not the religious leaders who promised the 30 pieces, and not the Zealots.

The One who had been given all authority kneels before His betrayer and unravels any illusion of power by becoming a servant.

The One with authority is so secure in what has been given Him, that he has no reservation in lifting up those who have stooped the lowest.

John 13:1-16

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


VERGE SA 2015 - Victor Harbor.

Yesterday, one of the girls shared how the idea of tabernacle struck her.  She discovered for the first time that the word 'tabernacle' means 'place of dwelling'.  It struck her as significant that the God of the Universe would choose to dwell in the midst of His people - literally, the tabernacle was set up in the middle of camp.  Whatever the people of Israel faced, God dwelt with them smack bang in the middle of wherever they were - facing whatever they experienced, with them.

My hope today is that as we spend time reflecting through the life of Jesus, that we can begin to come to terms with the beautiful truth that Jesus has come to 'tabernacle' with His people.  To dwell with us - to be with us in the midst of victory and defeat; hope and loss; stress and peace.

"Emmanuel" = "God with us"

The more I think about this picture, the more I wonder whether this thread in God's story is what the story is all about.  God longs to 'be with' us.

I wonder what it would look like for us to shift our thinking from an emphasis on waiting for the day when we will be with God, and towards the emphasis that He is already in the midst of us ...

Yes, it was through His presence in the tabernacle, and it was through His presence in the physical person of Jesus - but this story emphatically leads us to how He is with us today as well.

Ezekial 36; Revelation 21

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

my problem with authority

I have a problem with authority.
Not in the "don't tell me what to do" kind of way. (Well, maybe a little!)
My problem is bigger than that.

I live in a time where the notion of authority isn't just questioned - but ignored.  Resisted.  Mocked.

Today I sat and listened to a leader present to a group of 20 other leaders on the subject of leadership - and I found myself internally asking the question: "who gave you the authority?"

Now, if he asked for the input of others, that would've been different.  But he didn't - he monologued - and I struggled to affirm what he had to say (even though his content was excellent).  Why is that?  Why would it have been different if he asked me what I thought?

Because I would have been participating.

"I believe there is ... a new way to find an authentic story of faith from within the trajectory of evangelicalism and the biblical story.  To do this requires a new paradigm: a paradigm of participation." - matt valler

Over the last eight years I have seen hundreds of young people vigorously engage in the content of the bible story when they've been granted permission to participate in the process.

Removing the expected authority figure from where he or she normally sits has enabled rich, robust and genuine discovery EVERY TIME.

The fascinating thing is that the theological discoveries and life-change outcomes of these people haven't been "whacked out and anything goes", but beautiful expressions of the life that Jesus calls us to.

Orthodoxy being fleshed out in a new generation who have heard the call of God through the voice of their peers.

"What about the authority of Scripture?"  "Doesn't a participation paradigm open us up to 'truth by consensus'?"

I wonder where this question comes from though ... I wonder whether it comes from the need I might have to legitimise my apparent voice or position of authority - which is likely to be more about power than true authority.

Perhaps the use of the word "authority" has become misleadingly synonymous with power - self-presumed and self-protecting.

True authority is found in the person of God as revealed through Jesus - as recorded in the Scriptures.

That kind of authority is not fearful of stepping down from a perceived position of power, and is willing to invite plebs like me to participate in the discovery of the Divine.

My problem with authority isn't around whether it should exist or not, but around what we mean when this word so readily stumbles from our faltering lips.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

stepping in, in faith

What if the boat was "out", and not "in"?

What if Jesus' invitation to Peter was less about stepping OUT of the boat, and more about stepping IN to the water - where Jesus already was?

What if we came to accept "outrageous" steps of faith as "normal" steps of obedience?

What if our own kingdom investment was less about helping others out (of the boat), and more about a lifestyle of obedient faith steps IN to God's mission with the time, talent, and treasure that have been entrusted to us?

I've been pondering this a bit lately - wondering whether we view the boat as "in" ... and then, when someone "steps out in faith" we make such a deal of it that we conveniently avoid normalising risk, sacrifice and change.

And we miss the invitation to join Jesus on the water - IN the adventure of the mission of God.

So, I've decided to give "stepping out in faith" a miss - it's time to start stepping in.

"Without faith no one can please God because the one coming to God must believe He exists, and He rewards those who come seeking." (Hebrews 11:6)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

bold thanksgiving

I'm pretty sure that Jesus' friends didn't see themselves as a catering service.

But there they were, wrestling with an outlandish measure of compassion - again.  The heart of God thrusts them into a scenario that dwarfs their own resource and capacity. And they let Him know.

"How much do we have left?"

Not, "how much do you think we need?" or, "Are you sure there's not a market nearby?".  He doesn't run a survey on the relentless deficit - He starts with what they have - what's in the asset column.

Once it's clear what is available to them, He goes public.  He shifts his attention from the 12 to the 4000 - instructs them to sit down, makes it obvious to the crowd how much he has, then He gives thanks for it.

Bold thanksgiving.

I don't know if Jesus knew how this vision of His would be resourced - but it seems pretty clear his first priority wasn't a needs-based assessment, or a fundraising strategy.  He asked what they had, drew attention to it, and then displayed observable and genuine thankfulness.

It's no small thing that the multiplication of the resource didn't take place until distribution started.

Everyone there knew that the only way this need could be met would be through God's provision.  Jesus had invited the entire hillside into faith.

In the context of being aligned with the heart of God I need to start with the asset column, throw myself into an unhindered thankfulness for what has been given, and step into 'distribution'.

It might be surprising what we're left with when everyone has been fed.

Mark 8:1-9

Monday, March 2, 2015

my leviathan


This is a fascinating intersection I'm learning to come to terms with, wrestle with, and sometimes [if I'm honest], just plain avoid.

After some years of initiating and observing genuine transformation through a story-formed approach to discipleship, I have become convinced that through AccessTheStory we have landed on a healthy PROCESS (our four rhythms).  This process is showing early signs of becoming a fruitful and transferable model for ministry practice - but in order for the process to be caught, it needs to be seen.

So, we have a PRODUCT (Verge).  This product provides an excellent experience of the process, but the very existence of a product has the potential to run counter to the original intent of passing on the process.  The likelihood of having the Verge experience consumed as another product on the Christian calendar without seeing ministry paradigms and practices change sends shivers down my spine - and yet, unless there is a product, the process cannot be experienced.

And for a product to be accessible, we need to build a PLATFORM.

There is no doubt that the best platform for growing something is relationship - life on life, face to face relationships.  And yet we also have the awesome tools of social media - twitter, Facebook, blogs - not to mention the prospect of speaking engagements and publishing ... and so the conflict of this intersection continues!

At what point do I become the antithesis of my original intent?  How can I hope to see the idol of consumerism unravelled in a generation if I yield to that idol by vying for the consumptive attention of that generation? 

Rather than concede, unplug my modern-day tools of mission, and find a hole in the ground to occupy - I'm thinking that what Mark Sayers has to say is really helpful:
"There is a line that can be unwittingly crossed today when it comes to understanding what it is to lead.  We can forget where our message begins and where we end.  We can forget that we are communicating the gospel and end up broadcasting ourselves." (p109 - Facing Leviathan)

My prayer is that when I hit publish on this post, it might be an expression of me knowing where the line is.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

my dilemma isn't the problem

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancĂ©, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. - Matthew 1:18-19
Our weekly team rhythm saw us reflect on this passage this week.  Matt asked us a number of great questions - one of them had me thinking:

"If Joseph conceals Mary's pregnancy, he will be opposing the law of the Lord. What is a "righteous" man to do?"

What is a righteous man to do?

Someone said, "If he was 'righteous' then he'd marry her anyway."

Someone else, "It's not as simple as that - the Jewish law dictated that he should 'divorce' her."

It was an interesting conversation. 

Joseph had a dilemma - and his heart was good - but hindsight reveals that his well-intentioned plan would not have ended well.  

Joseph's dilemma was not his problem.  Joseph's problem was that he did not yet have the full story.  That's where the angel comes in - Matthew 1:20-21.

Action based on information without revelation never ends well.  

In the sliver of time between assumption and perspective, I'm hoping that I can remember:  

- my dilemma is never the problem - 
- my problem is that I may not yet have the full story -

Sunday, January 11, 2015

what we publish ...

I've come to a conclusion.

What we write about (and what we share on social media) reveals what we think about.  The volume of what we publish betrays the sum of our fears, and features the scope of our vision.

It's not rocket science, I know ... but let's think about this for just a moment.  What we publish conveys more about where our thoughts converge than what we might first suspect.

In 100 years time, digital archaeologists (if they exist) will paint a picture of what primarily concerns us through what we publish - our internal motivations can be ascertained through the mass of material we create, comment on, like, and share.

Here's an example.

The last couple of weeks I've noticed something - there seems to be a number of articles being shared by Christians about why people are leaving the church, what to say to those who have left for the 'wrong reasons', etc., etc.

If what we write about and share reveals (or betrays) what we focus on, then what do these sort of articles reveal and betray?

I wonder  - if it's true that our focus is on the need (or our failure)  to contain people in what we call church - then we have a problem.

And the problem is bigger than music style, personal offense, and meeting people's felt needs. The problem is that thinking about this problem means that we're not thinking about something else.

If our energy is being poured into the containment of our sheep, then it might be that the pen we're keeping isn't big enough, and the story we're telling probably isn't big enough either.

When I think about the movement of Jesus and the early church, I struggle to find any occurrence where they felt they needed to strategize about how to keep people ... It seemed like they were more concerned about reaching people and loving people.

Reaching people means extending beyond where I would normally go.

Loving people means ... Well, it means far more than finding ways to bring them through the doors of my purpose-built edifice.

Anyway - my challenge for us is this: publish other stuff ... Write about how awesome Jesus is; or about a local community need; or find an unsung hero and tell us how you're seeing God shine through in unexpected places.

It might even be that as we focus on living and telling the gospel, the numerical decline among young adults in genuine expressions of church could turn around in the meantime.

Let the digital archaeologist in 100 years time discover that we imagined something more than the need to justify our declining existence.