I Have Resigned

I have resigned as the Lead Pastor of Mt. Laurel Evangelical Free Church in South Jersey. After nine years (June 22 will be my last Sunday) I sense that God is leading me into a new season of life. I thank God for all the wonderful memories and moments that I have had with the people of MLEFC! I am praying that God will richly bless them with a new pastor that loves Jesus, and the church, with all of his heart!

My future is uncertain at this point and time, which drives me absolutely crazy. When I know for certain what is next I will let you know…

Over the coming months I plan on doing a little soul searching and writing when it comes to the highs and lows of pastoral ministry. Blogging about things I have learned, what I would do differently, and other insights as I have time to process the past nine years.

The page turns…

Interview with Author Kimm Crandall (Christ in the Chaos)

I have said it before that I love it when people have the courage to admit their weaknesses. Yet at the same time talk about how the gospel meets them at their place of greatest need and empowers them. With that said, I want to introduce Kimm Crandall; wife, mother and author of “Christ in the Chaos”. Kimm was gracious enough to allow me to ask her a few questions. My hope and prayer is that this encourages you in the middle of everyday, mundane life!

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Hmmm….how do I answer this question without romanticizing our life? It would be so easy to share all of the great things that happen in our home and what fun we have together. There is a time for that, but what you really need to hear is that I am just like you.

When I was young I didn’t want to get married and instead of raising children I wanted to have pet monkeys. Things have changed and here I am in my seventeenth year of marriage and with four kids, Grace (13), Jonah (10), Lily (8) and Jackson (6) (all of which do great monkey impressions). As you can imagine my adult life has turned out much differently than what I had expected.

There is never a dull moment with four kids and there is always a need for much grace in our home. Our family is just like yours and we struggle to believe the gospel just like you do. Our life is a constant cycle of messing up, asking for forgiveness and messing up again. We face the daily challenges of life with kids who argue, cry and don’t want to go to school. We have to make them eat their broccoli, clean their rooms and do their homework. Justin and I are in the trenches and have never seen our need for Christ more clearly than we do now.

Unfortunately, many of us have been taught to think that the gospel is what gets us into the kingdom of God but fail to see how it sustains us every moment of every day. How does the gospel empower you in everyday life?

I used to think that the gospel was just a way in and that the rest of the Christian life was about following the rules and trying harder to be a better person so that God would be happy with me. When life fell apart and I could no longer hold to the standards that I had kept for myself of what a good Christian was to be, I was forced to finally acknowledge that my need for Christ extended into every minute of every day.

The gospel has freed me to embrace my weakness as a means to embrace Christ. Grace is not just a net that catches us when we fail; it is what sustains us. We are in constant need of Christ’s work on our behalf. For example: When we yell at our kids and the condemnation threatens to overwhelm us, we can remember Christ’s perfect life of never having treated others unfairly. We can remember that there is no condemnation for us because his record of always treating others fairly became ours at the cross. We can also remember that the Holy Spirit continues to work in our hearts, changing us and sanctifying us. Just as we have died with him we are also raised in the newness of life with him. He is, in that moment, providing us with everything we need. We are no longer slaves to our sin.

Knowing our freedom through the gospel then frees us to admit that we have sinned and gives us the desire to run to our kids and ask for forgiveness. There is no more shame and no more pride. Just grace and freedom and restored relationships.

Christ in the Chaos Describe how your relationship with your family is impacted when you are not finding joy in Jesus Christ.

When I forget the gospel and try to do things on my own, living by the law, I become demanding and harsh with those around me. It’s when I fall back into performance based Christianity that tells me that I must earn my way through perfect parenting, and rule following, that I become “Monster Mom.” When I forget that my right standing with God is based on Christ’s perfect record I spend my days writing my own resume’ of works thinking that I have to impress my way back to into God’s favor. And when others don’t fall in line with what I believe makes me look good on that resume’, I become angry and more demanding.

 How do you discipline your kids in such a way that is not merely punitive but it leads them to Jesus Christ?

Ha, this is a tough one. I feel like much of our discipline has been in the chaos management area for a long time now. We have so many different maturity levels in our home that it looks very different for each child. As my kids have gotten older we are finding ourselves with more and more opportunity to share the gospel through not just discipline but every day situations. We do our best to help our kids to see that good behavior is not a requirement for Christ’s love or their parents’ approval. This is hard because it is so tempting as a parent to rule over these little people with the law. I find that the use of the law gets me immediate results but the results don’t last very long or change their hearts. It just gets me what I want at the moment. There is certainly an important place for the law in parenting. We use it to show them their sin. We teach them what the law requires and after doing so (and this is not something we do every time with every kid) they often say, “but I can’t.” It’s then that their hearts are ripe for the gospel. I agree with them and then tell them that I can’t keep the law either and that’s why we both need Jesus. There is a lot of sin confessing and forgiveness-seeking on my part throughout our days. I don’t have any parenting answers but I do know that this is how we are to treat our other relationships so I do it with my kids.

What are three or four books (outside of the Bible) that have encouraged and challenged you when it comes to how the gospel relates to everyday life?

I’d say that the book that really got me started down the path to the cross would be Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick. It was given to me as an assignment in counseling and although I fought it the first time I read it, this book completely rocked my world.

A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent quickly became a handbook for me. I continue to go back to this book for encouragement when I forget the gospel.

The third book would have to be Gerhard Forde’s Theologian of the Cross. This was the first theology book I had ever read. My husband almost died of shock when he saw it in my hands the first time because I always left the studying to him. Now I can’t get enough of Forde.

Luther on Galatians is another book that I continually refer back to. I loved reading this book so much that I carried it around in my purse for at least a year. It’s like my second Bible. Luther gets me. I love his boldness and ability to admit his weakness.

Kimm’s Blog

Link to buy Christ in the Chaos

Interview with Gloria Furman-Author of “Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home”

Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

momWe moved to Dubai in 2008 to help start an evangelical church planting movement in this region. Dubai is a major city in the United Arab Emirates, a country that sits on the Arabian Peninsula just north of Saudi Arabia and across the Arabian Gulf from Iran. My husband Dave pastors Redeemer Church of Dubai, which was planted in January 2010, and helps coordinate other church planting efforts. When we landed on the sizzling tarmac five years ago we had one child, and now we have four (#4 due next month).

Describe what happens, spiritually and emotionally, to a mother who does not see the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in the mundane activity of daily life.

Speaking from my own experience, what this looks like for me emotionally is a burnt out, bitter frustration with everything—God himself, the season he has placed me in, the people he has placed around me, the things I’m responsible for, and the everyday circumstances that I deal with. Spiritually, this is a recipe for disaster. I’ve experienced flippant apathy toward prayer, evangelism, Bible reading, service, and participation in fellowship among other believers.

What are some practical ways a person can stay focused on Jesus and his ongoing work in everyday life?

This is a great question! We want the affections of our heart to be enamored by the person and work of Jesus. Then, temptations toward distraction are pushed out the heart by the expulsive power of a greater affection. Practically speaking, I think the spiritual disciplines are of tremendous help (especially in a busy home life!), and our conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit in these efforts is a guard against our tendency toward legalism.

What would you say to encourage stressed out, busy people to open their homes and show hospitality to their neighbors?

I’d say, in short, that God has designed showing hospitality to be a blessing to you and your neighbors even in the midst of your stress and busy-ness. The joy we receive in opening our homes and serving with the strength God supplies is joy in Christ himself. There’s much more to be said about hospitality and how God enables us to serve; I’ve expanded on this in a chapter dedicated to hospitality in Glimpses of Grace.

In your book, Glimpses of Grace, you write that the routine of everyday life provides us with an opportunity for spiritual growth and transformation. Can you explain what you mean by that?

To get the answer to this question go HERE and download the first chapter of “Glimpses of Grace” for free.

What are some books that have encouraged you when it comes to a greater understanding of the gospel?

A couple of my favorite contemporary books on the definition and application of the gospel include: God is the Gospel (Piper), Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Packer), Gospel for Real Life (Bridges), Comforts from the Cross (Fitzpatrick), What is the Gospel? (Gilbert), A Gospel Primer for Christians (Vincent)

Gloria’s Website

Gloria’s Twitter

To buy “Glimpses of Grace”

Interview With Mark Sellers About The Gospel, Community, And Living on Mission

Question: Tell us a little about yourself, your family and your role at Summit Crossing Community Church.

I am a native southern boy. I was born and raised in Mississippi and have now been in North Alabama for 13 years. I am a preacher’s kid and have been raised in the church world. Unlike many of my fellow PKs I grew up loving the church! My father is an amazing pastor and lover of the Father’s bride and his own bride and family. I have been married for 13 years to my amazing bride, Staci (also a native southern girl) and have two precious children: Andrew (6) and Ava (16 months). I was a part of the core team (4 families) that planted Summit Crossing Community Church 10 years ago. My official title at SC3 is “Community Life Pastor”. It’s my job to give both vision/ direction and execution to our missional communities. So I am responsible for discipling and equipping MC leaders, getting folks in the general church body connected, and overseeing the multiplication of the MC movement in our city. I also oversee our membership process and reaching out to new folks in our community. So basically, I get to hang out and eat with a lot of folks! Best job ever.

Question: What is your definition of a Missional Community?

In a sentence, a missional community is the family of God’s missionaries on the mission of making disciples who make disciples. We do this quite simply as we go, doing life together, seeing every moment in life through a gospel lens.

Question: What does it mean to be fluent in the gospel and why is this so critical for the spiritual health of every believer?

To be fluent literally means to be able to write or speak something with ease. Practically, to be fluent means that something is a natural part of you. It flows out subconsciously, without thought. To be fluent in gospel means that the gospel is a natural part of us, both literally and practically. So not only are we able to speak it without much thought, but we are also able to apply it without much conscious thought. So we speak it, we think it, we apply it when we make decisions, when we interact with situations and people, its natural! Why is this critical? Look, we are in a battle, both personally and corporately. And its the same battle that our original ancestors fought in the garden: our ways versus God’s ways. He has given us Himself and in that He has given us everything. But apart from both the purpose and power of the gospel, we are completely unable to choose anything other than ourselves. We must know the truth of the gospel and must apply its truth to our lives and to our communities to be healthy people and healthy communities. The world will not encourage or empower this. Our only hope is found in the gospel and the gospel is the answer for life period.

Question: Loving our neighbors in practical ways can be quite a challenge for people who do not all live in the same neighborhood. What does it look like for the MCs at Summit Crossing to be on mission?

When we transitioned to MCs, we really pushed folks to all unify around an adopted mission. It looked good and sounded good on paper, but it really frustrated many of our groups. That kind of mission is really easy (or I should say easier) for groups that are contained within 1-2 neighborhoods. But it was very difficult and frustrating for groups that were regionally connected but not defined by 1-2 neighborhoods. What we realized was that we were in danger of establishing a “missional legalism” that would take us away from Jesus’ simple words in His commission to us. It was subtle, but it was present. So we took a step back and encouraged our communities to consider asking these questions: “How are we making disciples both personally and corporately, and how does this community encourage and equip us for both?”

So we really want our MCs not to “rate” themselves on whether they are unified around A mission but to ask whether they are unified around THE mission. One of our MCs is localized in a suburban community but is spread out across many subdivisions. They were one of our “frustrated” groups that couldn’t unify around a particular mission. They began to break into smaller discipleship groups based on geography and relationship and found that each of these groups were much more effective in not only discipling each other but in making disciples within their other spheres of influence. So two times a month they all gather to share and celebrate the grace of God in their personal lives and in their missions. So at that gathering there is not only encouragement but the opportunity to partner with others in mission. The rest of the month these smaller groups meet and do life together to make disciples.

Our MC originally started as a neighborhood MC and it was really easy to be on mission in our neighborhood. We experienced a lot of traction early on but grew outside the boundaries of our neighborhoods. Our group was also very diverse and so it was even hard being on mission in our neighborhood with so many different walks of life. So we began to discuss where God was giving us favor or traction with people on mission. This led to some of us really giving time and energy to a rec team that involved a few of our group children. This led to the whole group being able to be a blessing to two families that we met through this rec league. One of the families has now since joined us and is getting to see what a gospel family looks like. Other parts of our group have been able to penetrate the artistic community and many of us have been able to join in with them on mission. Not all of us but a few of us! One of our girls got engaged and our group was able to help plan and execute her wedding which was a blessing to their extended family. So all of us didn’t do everything, but we all have had the opportunity to engage where God has given us personal traction with the help of our MC. And my family has been able to help others in our community do the same thing. So there’s no pressure to do it all, but there’s the freedom to follow the Spirit to engage with others as they live the mission. It’s actually fun and its a delight, not a duty!

Question: What do people study in your MCs?

Most of our groups study the same texts that we are preaching through in our corporate gatherings. Right now, that’s Romans (pray for us!). We have these groups answer 5 basic questions about the text each week that center around observation, interpretation, and gospel application. It is our hope that our people learn to be self-feeders! Many groups are actually studying ahead of what we are preaching so that they hit it before it’s preached. This allows them to hit the text fresh and be led by the Spirit and not just the preacher. A few of our groups do other book studies or other things like The Story of God or Gospel Parenting, etc. Anything outside of the sermon discussion must be approved by the church elders.

Question: How do you train your MC leaders?

Our training is really a two tier approach. On a large scale corporate approach, we offer quarterly workshops for all leaders and apprentices across all three campuses. This is a really big deal for us. We feed them all breakfast, take care of their kids, and give each family a free resource (not free to us usually!) along with the training that we do. In short not only do we try to equip and encourage them, but we try to bless their socks off too. The training generally has four sessions that revolve around these four components:

1. Evidence of God’s Grace (sharing MC stories)

2. Vision Training (one of our 5 community essentials or 4 rhythms)

3. Practical Training (gospel fluency through counsel training or the like)

4. Collective Prayer Time (both for the leaders and for their MCs; divided up geographically)

Our leaders love this and we almost always have every community represented at these events. They are led both by elders and MC leaders, but always by practitioners! On a small scale, our 3 campuses are divided into 9 geographic regions that we call collectives. Each collective has elders and deacons present that oversee individual coaching, accountability, encouragement,and equipping amongst the collective leaders. So the workshops are our air war and the collectives are our ground war for training.

Mark is also on the Executive Team for GCM Collective.

Interview with Caesar Kalinowski

This is an interview I did with Caesar Kalinowski a number of years ago…

Caesar is a spiritual entrepreneur and an avid storyteller. His background includes communications, media production, working with youth, and extensive travel in international missions. He has worked in over 15 countries around the world including Sierra Leone, Sudan, Nigeria, Burma, India and the Czech Republic. Before moving to Tacoma in 2004 to help launch Soma, Caesar and his wife owned and operated several businesses in and around the Chicagoland area.

At any given moment Caesar is starting a new Missional Community and handing over another to a new leader.  He’s one of the elders in the Hilltop Expression, leads the charge for international missions and helps oversee a lot of the structures and systems we need to keep a big family organized.

He has been married to Tina, his high school sweetheart for over 25 years; they have three children: Caesar, Christin and Justine.

Question: Your Missional Communities in Tacoma are living on mission together in very practical ways. Give us one or two examples of how your MCs are being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in their neighborhoods.

Caesar: One of our missional communities is led by Greg Landon. Greg’s “day job” is as the VP of Network Services in Tacoma. Network is a sister org to Soma in Tacoma and owns and manages 31 low-income and transitional housing. The goal of Network (and the Gospel) is to give homeless families a leg up, get them off the street, in many cases off of drugs, and to see them move on to be healthy families that are no longer homeless and fully dependent on “the system” to get by. Ultimately we want them to come to a restored relationship with the Father through knowing Jesus.

Greg has led his missional community to focus on being “family” to several of the individuals and families within Network housing. The idea being that to just give them an apartment is not enough—we want to be their family and show them the love of God and an active gospel via close relationships.

It has been amazing to watch young mothers and teens come off the streets, finding true community, becoming exposed to the Word via The Storyformed Way (a 10 week narrative, dialogical way to begin to make disciples) and living out the gospel in real time as they grow closer to God and his people. Simple things like shopping and cooking together, throwing birthday or graduation parties and filling out school or job applications can be profound expressions of love as God meets real needs in real time.

Greg is now looking for and leading others to form missional communities right inside the housing complexes as he desires to see the gospel more fully incarnated among the “least of these” people God loves in Tacoma.

Question: From my time with you guys at Soma I saw a wonderful, biblical balance between the Sunday Morning worship service and living together as a community on mission during the week. There are many leaders who would like to grow when it comes to how they live in community Monday-Saturday. What practical advice would you give pastors and churches that are trying to transition from a traditional church model (it’s primarily about Sunday) to a more holistic missional model (every day is sacred)?

Caesar: It all starts with the leaders. Always.

Leaders–the senior pastor…the XP…the elders etc. are going to have to become convinced that living life in gospel community on mission is the life we were created and saved to live out. As men, as women, as parents, as leaders in the church. Then begin to lead others into this life with you. Try using the following common, cultural rhythms to give you some “handles”. Try and begin to live life in each of these daily rhythms with “gospel intentionality”.

Story-formed. Live in the Story of God and get to know others’ stories and how they fit into God’s bigger picture.

Listen. Spend time daily and weekly just listening to God. Listen both “backward and forward”.  Listen backward through “listening” to the Word of God and listen forward by listening to the Holy Spirit and others in your missional community. You’ll be amazed at how much God has to say when you listen instead of talk.

Eat. Try and have 3 (of your 21) meals per week with not-yet-believers. You’ll have great opportunities to live out all of the other rhythms with them!

Bless. Live a life of blessing. Blessed to be a blessing was apart of God’s call and promise to Israel. Ask God to show you 3 people you could intentionally bless each week through words, gifts or service.

Celebrate. Make your Sunday “services” into true celebrations. Also, regularly throw parties, BBQs, and go to others’ parties with “gospel intentionality”.  Look to show them what God is like by bringing the best food and consumables!

ReCreate. This is the idea of living out the gospel through Sabbath rest…al the time. The gospel says that we now rest because of Christ’s completed work on the cross and the work or “create” out of that love and acceptance. Ask the Spirit to help you life in a rhythm of rest–create, rest–create…

End of Interview

I want to thank Caesar for taking the time to do this interview with us! My hope is is that it spurs you on to both know and embody the gospel wherever you live. For me the challenge is how to live this out in our suburban context. I no longer wrestle with the question, “should we should try to live this way?” or “will it work here?” The reason I have stopped asking those kinds of questions is that I see this radical/gospel way of living so clearly rooted in the pages of Scripture.  The question for me now is “how will we make it happen?”  Please feel free to add your thoughts to this ongoing discussion! Do you have a story of how you are living out the gospel in your neighborhood?

Interview with Scott Boren

This interview was done a couple years ago while blogging for Missional in Suburbia…

Question: Thank you for being willing to answer a few questions! Tell us a little about yourself…

Scott BorenScott: Husband of a beautiful woman, father of four kids (all seven and  under), pastor and someone who cannot help but write and research. But  even more basic, I am a hay-throwing farm boy from North Texas who felt  God calling him discover what it meant to be a leader in the church. To  my surprise, I found that traditional church leadership did not fit me  well. This has led me down some wild paths, from extensive intellectual  pursuits to very practical hands on experiments of alternative ways of  being the church.

Question: Please define a Missional Small Group and explain how it  is different than what we typically think of when it comes to Small  Group life.

Scott: Definitions  of experiences are hard in some ways, but I know they are necessary so  that we can try to get a common understanding of what we are talking  about. In my book, I talk about four stories of group life, the first  two being normal and the second two providing stories of missional life.  Missional small groups are about living a story of life together that  steps beyond the normal group experience. By normal, I mean the small  group that is a Christian add-on to the normal American way of living,  the nice weekly or bi-weekly Bible study that helps us be better  American Christians. Missional groups live out an alternative story.  This story is shaped by a set of rhythms of life that we practice as a  community.

Question: I really enjoyed this quote from page 139, “We no longer  need haphazard gospel sharing that is not supported by visible  community. We need much more than good sermons, big buildings, and  professional video presentations. We need a people committed to specific  places who are called to bring redemption to those places.”  Explain  why you believe it is so critical to missionally engage our  neighborhoods “together” as opposed to an “individual” approach?

Scott: I’m finding that many people want  more than the normal American church experience. They realize that they  should be living differently, but they don’t know exactly how. The  practices that I offer in my book aim to provide entry points for groups  to discover together what it means to move into this “more” experience  or this “missional story.”

Question: I was excited to see that you explained that being  missional is not just another thing we do in the church, being missional  is a actually part of our identity as followers of Christ. Why do you  believe this is so important for us to understand?

Question:Personal  or individual evangelism has been a major thrust of the church for  decades. However, the “good news” of Jesus is much more than a message  that I as an individual can offer one of my friends. The good news of  the Gospel is a way of freedom, an alternative life to the entrapment  and bondage of the normal life that we typically live today,  characterized by isolation, individualism, rampant debt, fear, etc. The  only way that people can receive the good news of the Gospel is when  they see it. There will be a few who can see what the Gospel through  words alone, but most people need to see and outpost of heaven in a war  torn world. And they need to see it happening on their streets, in our  neighborhoods and apartment complexes, in our schools and playgrounds.  They need to see the good news lived out as we love each other and enter  into honest conversations with people around us. This is the reason the  word “engagement” is so crucial to being missional. But that gets into  the next question.

There  is a lot of talk about “missional” right now and many a using the  Mission alongside the words Communion and Community to help clarify  three parts of the life of a missional community. I find this highly  problematic primarily because when we conceive of mission as part of our  life we turn it into something we do for outsiders. Communion and  Community is insider stuff, mission is outsider stuff. But “missional”  is a being concept, not a doing concept. This is rooted in a rich  theological heritage. God is a God of missional being, not of doing. He  is a sending God, in that he sent himself through the incarnation and  through the sending of the Spirit. God is an overflowing fountain of  love who send himself out of his self gift.

Question: You write on page 49 that “When the focus of group life is  on the meeting, we limit the gospel…” Explain what you mean by a  “limited gospel”.

Scott: This  is the reason I talk about the three rhythms of missional small groups  in different terms: Missional Communion, Missional Relating and  Missional Engagement. Some might think that this is unnecessary  verbiage, but I think it is absolutely crucial. And my experience  reveals this. When we think of missional as something we do, then we  have strategic plans and activities for reaching people for Jesus. But  when it is something we are, then our praying has just as much impact  upon our way of sharing Jesus with our world as anything else. And our  way of loving each other can be as good if not better than the best  evangelistic sermons. Being missional is about living an alternative way  in conversation with people in our neighborhoods. The point of my book  is to help people enter into that life.

Question: What would you say to encourage the average busy Christian  who just does not think they have the time to commit to a Missional  Small Group?

Scott: A  limited gospel might get us into heaven but we don’t allow it to change  our lives now. A limited gospel has enough good news to forgive our  sins, but not enough to set us free to actually love and sacrifice for  those around us. A limited gospel opens the door for a personal  relationship with Jesus but lacks the power to challenge us to be  disciples. A limited gospel calls us to go to church or go to a small  group but does not call us on mission with others.

Don’t  discount this idea by using the excuse that you are too busy. You might  look at this idea and think it is too radical for your life, but I  guarantee that if you really consider it that your heart will resonate  with the possibility of living on mission. Just consider it. Pray about  it. Listen to your heart. And let the Spirit of God do the work in you.  Don’t start with action steps or trying to make something happen. Start  by listening to the Spirit of God within you and a new hope arise within  you from the inside.

One final note: I have  written a new study guide to help groups work through the ideas found in Missional Small Groups. If provides a simple and realistic process to  help groups get started on the missional journey. And one more thing:  It’s free. It can be downloaded at http://www.mscottboren.com/id5.html

Interview with Tracey Bianchi

I did this interview with Tracey quite a few years ago while blogging for Missional in Suburbia…

Question: Thanks so much Tracey for taking the time to dialogue with us about being green in suburbia! Please tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Green MamaTracey: My husband Joel and I have three young children (ages 3, 4 and 7). Two boys and a girl. And a goldfish named Stinky Pete. I work part-time at my church serving in Women’s Ministry, part-time as a freelance writer and speaker, and work all the time I can with my family. So that makes me completely harried and more than a little frantic at times. But it keeps life interesting. Caffeine makes it all possible.

We live just outside the city of Chicago in an older suburb. It’s an easy-going, walkable and historic community. We’ve all lived in the Chicago suburbs on and off for most of our lives and have spent well over ten years in the community where we currently live. I believe it is significant, in our transient culture, to set roots down and invest in a community. This has been our goal for many years.

Question: Being green has become the trendy thing to talk about these days (similar to the idea of pursuing justice). As soon as a topic becomes trendy I know that many people tend to disregard it merely as a passing fad. What does the Bible have to say that should compel us to live green lives?

Tracey: There is of course not a single passage that says “God is Green.” All our “eco-friendly” conversations did not exist in Biblical times. But the Bible is filled with so many stories of God’s interaction and engagement with his people through Creation. Starting with the Creation story itself in Genesis 1 & 2. We see that God Created this world, gave us a gift to sustain ourselves through it. So right away on page one we see God’s concern for the natural world. God speaks to his people through the natural world, from burning bushes to statements that rocks will cry out. The Psalms are also filled with statements about awe, wonder and worship that come because of experiencing the vastness of God through the sun and moon and stars, the natural world. Paul tells us in Romans that Creation itself has been subjected to the sin of humankind and groans to be released.

Question: How would you define being green?

Tracey: Living wisely by knowing that our lifestyles impact others and then taking steps to  keep that impact as minimal or positive as possible. For some this means driving less or turning to alternative energy sources, for others it can mean just ditching disposable water bottles and recycling. It’s more about creating an ethos, a culture that is aware of others and how our lives impact people all over the world.

 Question: What makes a Christian response to the topic of being green distinct from a secular response?

Tracey: The impetus for going green, for the Christian, is about God and about worship. Culturally, going green can be political, anxiety producing, or just an attempt to be trendy. For the Christian it is about honoring God by treating well the gift he gave us. Also, the impact of our environmental actions often lands indiscriminately on the shoulders of the poor, something Christians should care greatly about. Caring for the poor and needy among us.

Question:  I think that many times (urban or suburban) we just start going with the cultural flow and lose sight of how God is calling us to live differently. Please give us some examples of how you see suburbanites not being very green.

Tracey: The suburbs breed a culture of convenience. After time we just assume that everything should be quick and easy. That wider streets, bigger cars and drive thru windows or even bigger homes should be the way we live. We forget that taking our time, walking places, or passing by the fast food outlet is a better option. That the often coveted, 4000 square foot “McMansion” is not always the most convenient for our neighbors and others with whom we share the planet.

Question: What are some simple steps we can take in suburbia to become better stewards of God’s creation?

Tracey: We can advocate for simple changes in our communities. Idle-free parking zones in front of our schools, encourage children to walk to school or parents to walk to errands. Petition for curbside recycling if it does not exist or for community-wide hazardous waste recycling events for the whole community. Waste-free lunchrooms and eco-friendly fundraisers at our schools. The opportunities are vast for making change!

 Question: One of the characteristics of suburbia is the chaotic busyness of everyday life. So the idea of adding “being green” to our to-do list seems overwhelming. How do we make it a priority when our plates are already so full? Is it possible that being green can actually simplify and slow down our lives?

Tracey: No one wants more on their “to do” list. Being Green is less about adding things to the list and more about doing what we already do each day, and just doing it smarter. Fill up a water bottle from home rather than buying a disposable bottle at work. Walk to the store rather than drive. Pack lunches in reusable bags and snack bags rather than disposable items. Turn off your car engine in the school pick up line, ATM, or dry cleaner. All activities that we do each day/week, just doing them smarter and with a greater awareness of our impact on the world.

Question: Do you have any other thoughts or ideas you would like to share with us?

Tracey: Just an encouragement to think about green living as a way to connect with God and others. It’s less about trends and climate change or politics and more about a way to get in touch with God’s desires for our lives. That we would be wise people who care for others. Our environmental impact plays a very important role in the lives of others. If God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, being environmentally conscious is a way to do this.

Thanks Michael for the opportunity to share some thoughts! If people want to follow up they can visit me over at http://traceybianchi.com or via facebook and twitter.

My Interview with Shannon Sedgwick (The Mom Who Stopped Joseph Kony)

I did this interview with Shannon quite a few years ago while blogging at Missional in Suburbia…

UPDATE: Since I did the interview with Shannon I found HERE an article about how she helped stopped the reign of terror of Joseph Kony. Definitely take some time to read this fascinating, inspirational story! There is another link HERE from Christianity Today about Shannon.

I first heard about Shannon Sedgwick Davis by watching her do an interview with ABC News. The title of the interview is “The New Face Of Evangelicalism.” (This link use to work. When I tried it recently I had little success. If you know where I can find the video please let me know). What struck me was her passion when it comes to using her life for the good of others. Shannon agreed to answer a few questions for us at Missional in Suburbia…

Question:  Shannon, tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Shannon: I’m a “normal” working mom of two young boys- which are the joy of my life and continue to amaze me every day! My husband Sam and I have been married for 6 1/2 years. We enjoy spending as much time as possible with our boys and playing tennis together (although don’t tell him I told you; he’s a lot better than I am!) This year I learned to surf which was challenging but a lot of fun.

Question: What do you do for a living?

Shannon: I’m a Human Rights Lawyer and President of Bridgeway Foundation. I also serve on several advisory boards: The Elders, Eastern Congo Initiative, Humanity United, TOM’s Shoes, Blueprint Ministries and Relevate.

Question: Clearly you are a person who personally strives to see justice brought to a hurting and broken world. What motivates and compels you to live this way?

Question: My relationship with Christ. Not because I am a Christian but because I believe Christ’s life was about showing up. When I read about Jesus’ time on earth, I see a constant theme that runs throughout- He showed up. In every situation or person he encountered, Jesus was given knowledge and then responded by doing what God put on his heart. The knowledge I have been privileged to receive and the faces of people along my path, compel me every day just to show up and say yes to the life God has called me to.

Question: What do you see as the greatest challenges for families living in suburbia? Or to spin it this way; what are some of the things you believe keep us from living the radical life that Christ is calling us to?

Shannon: Fear. I think innately we know that knowledge equals responsibility. The atrocities of the world are overwhelming and we become paralyzed in fear because we don’t where to begin. Yet all God asks of us is to bring what we have to him. To be obedient and bring our gifts and skills to bear on these problems then trust the miracles to Him. There is nothing more powerful in the entire world than when a person finds himself caught up in a cause far greater than himself.

Question: Mothers today are so incredibly busy! Soccer practice, work, errands, managing a household, church, etc…With all the busyness of daily life is it even possible for moms to be thinking about issues of justice and the needs of a hurting world both locally and globally? If so, what are some first steps you would recommend to a mom or a parent to participate in God’s redemptive mission in this world?

Shannon: Yes, I know it’s possible first hand! A first step could be, to pray and ask God what you are supposed to do. He is faithful and will lead you. As Christians, as people who love God and love His people, we must not sit idly by and watch evil triumph! Even if we are incredibly busy with day to day life, we must do something, we must show up!  Whether that means to pray, to become more aware of the issues that people face in the world, or to give of our time, talents or treasures, God has placed in each of us a purpose that He will use for His glory. (end of interview)

Thanks again Shannon. I loved this line, “There is nothing more powerful in the entire world than when a person finds himself caught up in a cause far greater than himself.” It truly is liberating when we embrace the gospel truth that life is not about us, it is about losing ourselves for the good of others.

The picture of Shannon was taken from Christianity Today.

Interview with Helen Lee (The Missional Mom: Living With Purpose At Home And In The World)

I did this interview with Helen Lee a couple years ago while blogging at Missional in Suburbia…

Helen LeeHelen Lee is a busy mom living in the Chicagoland area and she is also the author of a wonderful book that is soon to be released; “The Missional Mom: Living With Purpose At Home And In The World.” Helen has graciously agreed to allow me to interview her and  my prayer is that this interview, and her book, will be a tremendous encouragement to all the moms (and dads too!) who are working hard everyday to raise up and train their children in the way they should go!

Question: What motivated you to write, “The Missional Mom: Living With Purpose at Home and in the World”?

Helen: I had been aware of the growing trend of churches calling themselves “missional”, then had the chance to write about this trend in more detail for Leadership Journal. As I began to speak with missional church leaders and understand more about what the word meant, I was captivated! At the same time, I’d been thinking for a while about writing a book about Christian motherhood, and one day the idea came to me that being a “missional mom” was exactly what I wanted to think and write about. So for the past year and a half, I spent time finding a number of women I felt embodied the spirit and substance of living missionally, learning from them and from their life choices, and I finished the book this summer. It comes out in January 2011 from Moody Publishers, and I am hopeful that it will be encouraging, inspiring, and challenging for today’s moms in their own life and faith journeys.

Question: You mention in your book that many women today are not finding joy and fulfillment in their role as mother. What do you have to say in this book that will inspire and give moms a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in their day-to-day life?

Helen: I think that today’s moms are pulled in so many different directions, and one of the reasons they have a hard time attaining a sense of joy and fulfillment in their lives is due to a sense of internal tension; “am I living the life that God intended me to live?” Part of that tension comes from either not knowing their calling, not feeling the freedom to pursue it, or erroneously misunderstanding their calling. In the book, I write about this idea of calling and suggest how today’s moms might consider rethinking their own sense of purpose and mission. I think once you have the proper perspective about your own mission in life, you can live with much more freedom and passion than if you are constantly struggling with the question of, “Is this what God has intended for my life?”

Other factors that weigh today’s moms down are the strong cultural pressures on moms to produce “perfect,” “successful” children. In the book I try to identify some of the more insidious of these pressures that moms might not even realize might be affecting them–hopefully as they understand these cultural influences better, they will be able to make choices to free themselves from those influences, which I believe will help them attain more joy and fulfillment in their lives as moms as well.

Question: What would you say to all the busy moms out there who don’t think there is enough time in the day to be missional?

Helen: I understand all about busyness! I have three young sons, 8 years old and younger. I also homeschool, so you can imagine that my life is very full. But there are so, so many ways we can be missional that won’t even add a minute to our day–there are lifestyle and attitudinal changes you can make that can make a huge difference in your life and especially in the lives of your children that will have longstanding effects. For example–you can start talking more in your household about the global needs in the world, and help your children to be aware of those needs. You can pray with them on a regular basis about children in other countries who are suffering and who are in great need, and this opens a child’s heart and mind to the idea that we have a responsibility to care for “the least of these.” You can encourage your kids to donate their own money to help others, you can reduce consumeristic and materialistic attitudes in your own home, which can all help your family live more missionally…the list goes on and on! Being missional isn’t just about “doing” missional things–although that is part of the picture–it is a way to live and those are just a few examples of changes that can any mom can start making regardless of how busy she is.

That having been said, though, we all make time for the things we care about. Even if it’s only an hour a week or month, every mom can take steps in her life to build in active missional living–which, as Scot McKnight says in the book, comes down to a simple question: asking “how can I help you?” in every situation. We can all take time to help a neighbor, a friend, someone in need. And we need to build that discipline in our lives, no matter how busy we are, no matter how much we would prefer to just live our own private lives, because ultimately loving and caring for others is at the heart of what it means to love God.

Question: Highlight some of the cultural pressures you see at work today that makes it difficult to raise children who love God more than anything else on earth.

Helen: I mentioned a couple above that are worth repeating: materialism and consumerism are two huge pressures. It’s very difficult to live counterculturally to the constant messages in our culture that we must always attain more wealth and more stuff in order to truly be “happy.” Achievement-orientation, I feel, is another. Here in America, we like saying that every person has a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What that usually means here in this country is the pursuit of material success. But I don’t see anywhere in the Bible that we are either entitled or guaranteed happiness or material success. I see a Christ who sacrifices everything to save the world, and who calls us to be willing to do the same. God may choose to bring material blessings into our life, (and many of us are blessed beyond measure, compared to the majority of the rest of the world), but it’s not something to seek after, or to train our children to seek after.

I have a friend who is a pastor of a missional church, and he regularly asks his congregation, ‘How many of you who are parents pray for your children to be missionaries or to go to full-time Christian ministry?” It’s a good question to ask ourselves as parents, to test our desires for our kids and see if we are wanting for them a future that is based on a specific idea of success that might actually not be God’s ideal. The issue is not whether our child will end up in ministry, but whether we ask ourselves, “Are we as parents praying for our children to fulfill God’s calling on their life, whatever that calling might be?” It can be a very challenging prayer–but God is not asking us to do anything as parents that he did not do himself, which was to offer up his own Son to give his life for the world.

Question: What are one or two things that you hope moms take away from your book?

Helen: One: that God has a purpose in mind for you, and that motherhood–while vitally important and a critical role in your life–is not the only purpose and not even the primary purpose for you. (The book will explain that concept in much more depth!) Two: that as mothers, we have an incredible opportunity to help our children embrace missional living. Three (sorry, I couldn’t stop at two!): that living missionally can be the key to helping a mom experience more joy and fulfillment in her life as a mom.

Thanks to Helen Lee for taking the time to join the conversation here at Missional in Suburbia! Wonderful stuff, lots to think about! We would love to hear your thoughts, questions and comments…

Leader or Manager?

The following is a quote from “Leading With A Limp” by Dan Allender

The difference between a manager and a leader is the internal urge to alter the status quo to create a different world.  In that sense leaders are prophets.  They see the present as incomplete and inadequate and are willing to risk the comfort of the present for the promise of a better tomorrow.  A manager, on the other hand, is content to keep the organization running as smoothly and efficiently as it can function. A manager serves to keep the plane in the air, whereas a leader wants to put a new engine on the plane midair.

A manager wants to approach the inevitable chaos with the tried and true methods that have worked in the past. In contrast, a leader knows that as difficult as it is to bring about change, not to do so will destroy the community. There can be no freedom from the bondage of the daily rut without the chaos that comes from leading people out of the status quo.

Dan Allender, “Leading With A Limp”

A leader who desires nothing more than the status quo becomes an ostrich with its head in the sand. A leader must be troubled and discontent, and he must ask the question, How can tomorrow be better than today? He must be a visionary, living in the tension between how to honor what is good and true today and yet be discontent with today in light of what could transpire tomorrow. He is torn between what is and what could be, yet he speaks the future into the present due due to his compelling desire for change. P. 58