13 September 2009

Lake Worth - Strife or peace?

It was a real joy to meet with my friends in Florida, we sat by the pool as the evening light faded, shared salad and chili together, and chatted and sang and talked and prayed and talked. The Fountain of Time, ChicagoSteph and Earl had invited Theresa (a lifelong friend of Steph's) and Tony and his wife were with us too (Tony is a friend of Earl's).

We discussed some aspects of simple church, and we considered the thought that to the Lord, a day is as a thousand years. Another topic was righteousness, ours is worthless, Christ's is perfect, but that's OK as long as we remember that he is our righteousness!

We were also impressed with the idea that peace is everything. There is so much strife - in life, at work, in the home, even in church - if we don't bring his peace we cannot be in peace.

Considering all of this, that we need his righteousness and his peace, we thought that our direction must be first up (to him) and then out (to one another and to the world). We can only succeed in going out if we have first been in his presence.

Right at the end of the evening a question was asked about the Sabbath. If we discover that the Sabbath is Saturday, not Sunday, shouldn't we switch to Saturday? It is no light matter to be disobedient, so once a believer knows that Saturday is the day of rest, isn't it sinful to continue with Sunday?

Several of us argued that it's no longer about the Law, as followers of Jesus we are called to deal with principals, not the letter of the Law. Jesus told the Pharisees that even they are practical about such things, for example by rescuing a donkey from the ditch even on the Sabbath. And he also told us that the Father looks for hearts that are holy, not deeds or behaviour. He has given us hearts of flesh, not stone! If our heart is right so that we love the Lord and also those around us, we need not be anxious about the details of any point of the Law. Paul wrote that some hold special days but others treat all days alike - and that's acceptable.

10 September 2009

Finishing up the H2H Conference

Well, I never did manage to make any more notes on the conference sessions. There just wasn't time for that. So this final post, days after the conference finished, is just to give you some final thoughts and impressions.

I'm writing this in Florida, sitting in the dining room of a friend's house, A session at the House2House Conference, 2009a far more homely and enjoyable experience than the Grand Hyatt in Dallas. Not that I'm complaining, the hotel was comfortable and the company was good.

I wouldn't have missed the conference for the world. As well as the general sessions which were all good, I chose the 'Marketplace' track. This was run by Robert Ricciardelli who presented, facilitated, and encouraged everyone to contribute. In the final session of this track we became church in the fullest sense, sharing life in Christ together with one another. How is this possible? Only through his grace and favour poured out on us as we express his life to one another. He can build us together in just a few minutes, whenever he chooses, with people we hardly know. That in itself was a valuable take-home message, one I'll always remember!

The overall impressions I have are that the House2House Conference 2009 was a time of growth and advancement for us all, a time to make new friends and contacts, and a time to hear the Spirit calling us on to new revelation and fresh insights.

There was a lot of fun and excitement and plenty of encouragement. There were new ideas to ponder and challenges for the future. Now I'm looking forward to the 2010 Conference!

08 September 2009

Lake Worth - A book discusion

On Tuesday evenings Steph has been inviting friends, some of them her students, for a book discussion. From Eternity to HereWhile I was staying with them I was able to join in for just the one Tuesday. It was fun and a privilege to be included.

There were seven of us - Steph and her husband Earl, Steph's friend Theresa, three students, and me. We discussed chapter 12 from Frank Viola's book 'From Eternity to Here'.

I thought it was a really useful time, and something we might try back home. I have a feeling that Neil Carter's book 'Christ in Y'All' would be a good choice for a group exploring what it means to be church together. We'll see!

But back to the discussion on this Tuesday evening in Florida. Chapter 12 of 'From Eternity to Here' is entitled 'The Story of a Homeless God'.

Summary of the chapter - Earlier chapters have established that 'God's ageless purpose is to obtain a bride for the eternal Son'. Now a different perspective is covered, the idea that the Father intends to obtain a home. This idea of a home for the Almighty is a thread running right through the Bible.

In Hebrew thought, house and home are synonymous. A home is a place of rest, a place where you can be yourself, somewhere that expresses your personality and can communicate freely. It's a safe place, free of fear, and the place where you are accepted and welcomed. It's a place where you can commit your presence and a place where you are lord and king.

Before creation, the Almighty had no home.

Prayer - After discussing all this and having a lot of fun doing so, airing all the arguments and asking one another pertinent questions, we moved on to a time of prayer.

We prayed for a family member who had been taken into hospital with pneumonia (well on the mend at the time of writing). We prayed about college work and career options, and we gave thanks for the fact that our individual strengths and weaknesses enable us to help one another as we live our lives together, and that Jesus' strengths support us too as we live our lives together in him.

04 September 2009

H2H Conf General Session 1

After a warm welcome and our evening meal, the conference got underway with praise and worship, a time to open ourselves in small groups, and addresses by first Felicity and then Tony Dale.

John White demonstrated the SASHET technique for us and led us into using it in small groups. For a short time the conference was transformed into dozens of small churches of three, four or five. SASHET involves talking about our current heart feelings under the headings Sad, Angry, Scared, Happy, Excited, and Tender. It was a quick way of moving to a place of understanding one another better and beginning to feel ourselves to be a team, a unit, a church!

Felicity Dale opened the proceedings by sharing with us how she recently became an American citizen, and how the ceremony had been solemn, emotional, and exciting - all at the same time. Some of the people going through this step with her were from backgrounds of severe repression and for them it was a step into freedom and democracy.

She then talked about how she had also once been accepted as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, and how Jesus himself had stood in her place to make that possible. We have been adopted as members of the royal family, we have access to the King even in his throneroom.

Felicity reminded us that the world sees Jesus through his people. If we are not representing his love and grace and favour to the world, how will they ever be able to see him?

Tony Dale told us that when we wake up in the morning, we wake up at war. He spoke about the kingdoms of darkness and of light that are both involved in our daily lives. If we do not focus on the things of the Kingdom of Light, darkness is already ready and eager to fill the void.

James wrote that the wisdom from below is first natural, then unspiritual, then demonic. There is a sequence here. The wisdom of this world will move in on anything we have built once the wisdom of heaven is not active within it. We may create something good, but if spiritual leadership is removed it soon becomes a merely natural effort. And in time it has the potential to take the next step and become demonic.

We need to guard our hearts. We are not to criticise one another and pull one another apart. Tony went on to look at the ways mega church and house church can help, encourage, and guide one another. How much better to do that than to judge one another. There is only one church! Large or small, there should never be so much structure that the Holy Spirit is no longer necessary.

Finally Tony showed us some examples of the way we can do practical things to help one another, mentioning in particular, Samaritan Minitries, a medical scheme that really works.

H2H Pre-Conf 4 - Mega/micro co-operation

This was a fascinating presentation by a group of mega-church members who, in a variety of ways, have been working with house churches. Northland (Orlando), Apex Community Church (Dayton), and Austin Stone (Austin) were represented.

Stew explained how Austin Stone has been planting house churches amongst the Turkish and Muslim communities in Austin. Now 100 of these are going on to Turkey to continue the process there. This is a situation where traditional, Western-style church could not have succeeded as it would not have been acceptable to the culture. They are also working amongst students on the University of Texas campus, and amongst the homeless poor and seeing real transformation.

Chris Cardiff from Apex in Dayton has been focusing on getting members to do far more than just turn up on a Sunday. 50% to 60% of their people are now meeting in house churches. (This sounded to me very like the cell-church model.)

Rennes, also from Apex, explained that they are trying hard to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. Jesus is the head. It's about relationship, we are in relationship with the Spirit (who is the Spirit of Christ). We are all led differently but by the one Spirit!

Craig addressed the topic of healing. We sometimes get injured in church and big church is more anonymous so that we can remain hidden in our pain. Jesus healed people, and sometime people may need to move from mega to micro or vice versa to aid that healing.

Dan from Northland spoke about resourcing the small. He made everyone laugh with his unforgettable remark that 'rabbits have teeth, please don't bite the elephant'! We need to reconnect and work together even if we have differences.

They have a goal of facilitating a million house churches. They are putting useful children's ministry material online free of charge, making it available for all to use and adapt. They have the resources to do this and feel it is a useful contribution.

They also run about 30 cross-cultural mission trips annually and invite anyone to join these teams. Their worship webcasts to Seminole Prison are another move of this kind. They want to connect to house churches to facilitate further networking efforts. And with Global Media Outreach (GMO) which involves Campus Crusade they invite house church volunteers to become daily prayer and email partners to help a new believer in, say, Algeria get stated with simple forms of church.

Dan mentioned that we need grace towards one another, we need to accept that all of us are doing what we believe the Spirit is telling us to do.

We broke into small groups to consider our presuppositions and ask whether any of them prevents us from pursuing unity. And leading on from that, to consider possible ways of pursuing unity.

H2H Pre-Conf 3 - Regional network development

Neil Cole spoke about this topic. He has asked himself the question, 'What kind of leadership will enable movements to develop?' He understood that multiplication requires simplification and this will be covered in detail in a new book not yet released, 'Church 3.0'. He mentioned 'Church Multiplication Associates' (CMA).

Then he covered some maths! He pointed out maths involves addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division. The church does all four of these things

We'd really like to multiply but often we only add. We're really good at subtraction, taking people from an existing group to add them to our own) and we're also pretty good at division (we are easily offended).

How can we handle big numbers of new believers? Ten or a hundred we can manage, but how would we cope with a million? The church needs to be self-perpetuating and self-propagating. It begins witth transformed disciples and ends with transformed churches and even movements. The Bible never tells us to plant churches, it tells us to make disciples. Jesus himself will build his church.

Chain networks and hub networks are the two kinds that we are concerned with, and they have different strengths and weaknesses. Neil doesn't say that one is right and the other wrong, just that they are different. Chains can reproduce fast and have a global impact.

He also spoke about the different kinds of groups that work in the church (and in other aspects of human society). Groups of 2 or 3 are the best for intimacy and real, depp friendship. 12 to 15 are typical of family groups and house churches. They bring in more diversity. 25 to 75 are good for training, for mission, and for regional leadership equipping. 120 - 150 (12 to 15 small churches) are really the relational maximum that a person can deal with, a simple church network is a good example of this. 300 to 500 is good for a conference or some kind of special gathering. And the multitude is impersonal but can be good for teaching content and for healing.

Larger groups can be composed of groupings of the smaller units. Jesus used groups of all these sizes, each where appropriate.

Groups of 4 to 7 also appear and are a good size for leadership (think in terms of the five-fold ministry - apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist)

Neil suggests we start building groups of two or three and then let these assemble into the larger entities.

H2H Pre-Conf 2 - Tools for meeting

John, Tod and Kent are part of the small team that manages the LK10 community of practice website.

Tod began by describing SASHET (Sad Angry Scared Happy Excited Tender). Originally designed as a method of therapy, Tod and others have adopted the principles to form a simple technique, easily learned and easily passed on. It helps a small group of people communicate to one another how they feel and can open up a deeper discussion once they understand one another from going through the SASHET exercise.

We tried this out by dividing into groups of four, and listened as each one spoke about any of these feelings in their hearts right now. We found it brought us together and helped team building. Some people found it cleared the decks in the sense that once these things have been aired, it becomes possible to set them on one side and move forward. It helped us accept one another as we truly are, one person summed it up by saying, 'It helps us be human beings rather than human doings'.

John White pointed out that in Matthew 10 the disciples are listed, not singly but in pairs. It's easy not to notice this. He also later sent them out in pairs. So it seems Jesus has a 'church of twelve' around him, but the group was made up of a collection of 'churches of two' (CO2).

There are considerable advantages to groups of two and they are noted in the Bible. Two are better than one, we stand together. Two is also the smallest possible expression of church. With two we can encourage one another.

Kent described how this can work in practice and pointed out that a CO2 can be a husband and wife, two friends, parent and child. And it's not exclusive. In other words a person can be in more than one CO2 at any particular point in time. It works best if there's an intention to share together daily, even if it's just by phone. A larger group, a house church for example, cannot hope to meet daily.

03 September 2009

H2H Pre-Conf 1 - Tribes and leadership

The first session of this year's House2House Pre-Conference was interesting and raised a lot of questions. It was led by Tony Dale and he began by demonstrating with a show of hands that perhaps 10 or 15 percent of those in the room were from megachurch or medium size church organisations, with one or two in mission work and the remainder house church people.

We watched Seth Godin's video from the TED Conference, you can view it yourself below.

The pre-reading for the House2House network leaders meeting was Seth Godin's book 'Tribes' in which he goes into much more detail.

With this to set the scene, Tony led us through a series of thoughts based on Seth's analysis of what a leader does. He referred to Romans 15:18-21, Paul felt what Seth describes as 'I can't stand the status quo'.

Here are one or two of the key thoughts.

We need to be heretics. Jesus was a heretic. He had a lot of trouble with the establishment of his day. We change things by telling a new story, people are waiting for something new, we need to connect people who share the same vision. Jesus did all these things.

Here are some quotes from Seth's book.
  • Heretics are the new leaders, they get out in front of their tribes.
  • It's more fun to make the rules than to follow them!
  • It's profitable, powerful, and productive to make change.
  • Managers make widgets, leaders make change.
  • Great leaders embrace deviants by catching them doing something right.
  • Growth doesn't come from persuading the most loyal members of other tribes.
  • Tearing others down is never as helpful to your movement as building your members up.
We then did a number of exercises in small groups, testing some ideas out and commenting on them. Why wouldn't we do things the way Jesus did them? Should we focus on the masses or on the ones who stick out as different?

Pita chips in bulk

Ho hum, I'm in the USA. Food comes in larger quantities than I'm used to!

Last night I felt peckish, not hungry enough for a full meal, I just wanted a light snack. Morning over Dallas AirportThe hotel offers these in an area with comfortable seating and low tables around the TV between the dining room and the lobby. I ordered pita chips with houmous and olive paste - just a light snack.

I was served a very nicely presented dish containing enough pita chips for four people (I kid you not!) and as much houmous as you'd expect to put on the table back home for six. It was delicious but it was not a snack, not in my terms at least! Nor was it healthy eating, too much salt in the chip coating and too much deep-fry oil - but very tasty. I didn't finish my 'snack' although I made a pretty good attempt.

I'm still not hungry this morning.

Grand to be in Dallas, though. I'll take a stroll in the morning semi-cool and spend the day relaxing and getting organised for this evening's pre-conference session. I didn't take a photo of the pita chips, so I've included one of the Dallas sunrise instead.

Israel's New Disciples

This is the title of Julia Fisher's latest book, the subtitle is 'Why are so many Jews turning to Jesus?'Israel's New Disciples.

It's a very good question! Julia provides some intriguing answers in the book by publishing edited interviews with a number of key people living and working in Israel.

Although I haven't yet finished the book I want to draw attention to a couple of brief mentions that struck me as particularly significant.

First, as someone interested and involved in networking small groups of believers in Eastern England, I was fascinated to read about the same sorts of things happening in Israel too. On page 56 Julia quotes one of her interviewees,

I see, alongside the traditional congregational structure, a growing number of smaller groups of believers with a greater focus on community living.

And secondly, on page 79 she refers to Islamic Indonesian followers of Isa actually praying for Israel and a real need for believers in the West to get more involved in prayer and interaction with Messianic Jews.

These two factors mesh amazingly well with things I've been watching elsewhere. Namely the growing trend in the West to meet at home informally and become more involved in practical ways of real community living, and the trend reported by Wolfgang Simson of rapid growth of small, close-knit groups of new believers in Asia.

We live in very exciting days!

By the way, I strongly recommend anyone interested in events in Israel to read Julia Fisher's other books, 'Israel - the Mystery of Peace' and 'A Future for Israel?'.


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