Thursday, August 15, 2019

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part 2

Faithful readers, I apologize for the long delay in getting this blog up. Between summer vacation, official cross country practices starting, launching a child into Kindergarten, and all the ministry usuals, blogging has been on the back-burner.

So, let's dive back in!

We ended last time with a call for us to move from being in proximity with the people we would reach to becoming a presence. After establishing our proximity (remember, 7-10 hours/week in our mission context), our goal was to become a familiar face, to be available, and to be ready to start meeting people and having conversations. We were to do this for the purpose of establishing trust and building relationships. That was the long and short of it.

Today I want to underline the importance of this process. If you've been in an evangelism or outreach program before, what I've said might seem too slow and time consuming. After all, it could take several months or even longer for you to become a real presence in the place God has sent you to!

So why do I advocate this long-haul approach?

Because we're called to make disciples!

Our job is not just to get someone to say a "Sinner's Prayer," or to believe in God, or even to show up to church one time. We're called to make disciples, which means we're called to walk with people and lovingly show them the way of Jesus and the Kingdom and to integrate the gospel into the totality of their lives. You can't do that without a relationship founded on trust. If there's not trusting relationships, then there won't be new disciples!

Let's take that a step further, and give a preview of what's next for us. In order for someone to want to be a disciple of Jesus they will need to see Jesus in us. Not a superficial, "always-happy-smiling-Christian thing, but a legitimate, "you really live differently in a good way and you care about me" sort of thing. Again, that won't happen apart from a relationship!

So what about inviting people to church and letting the church disciple them? After all, that's a pretty common strategy for churches to reach people. In brief, taking someone to your church is usually not a bad strategy (but it could be... more on that later). But, you are still the one who has the relationship built on trust with the person considering discipleship! You are still the one in the best possible position to help this person become a disciple. Being a part of a church community of some sort is a necessary aspect of discipleship, but it is not sufficient.  So if we take someone to church our job is not done; our relationship is still the primary link between that person and discipleship, and until that changes we are called to continue graciously leading them towards the King.

We often talk about the high cost of being a disciple of Christ. It is high indeed. And part of this cost is in making more disciples. There are no short-cuts here. It takes time and sacrifice to consistently be a presence, develop relationships, and lovingly help another both give and align their life to the King. 


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Welcome to the Team Anthony!

It is my pleasure to introduce the newest member of the Burning Bush Communities team: Mr. Anthony Morgan!

Anthony is 52 years old and hails from Miami, Florida. He served 23 years in the Florida penitentiary system, and about halfway through his time in prison Jesus got a hold of his heart and set him on a new path of loving God, loving others and sharing the hope that he found in Christ. Anthony now operates Mr. Clean Pressure Washing Service (you can find them on Facebook HERE), and has a passion for working with at-risk youth who face many of the same obstacles and pitfalls that he faced as a young man. What excites me most about having Anthony on our team of local missionaries is the joy he carries with him wherever he goes. Anthony will be leading Cultivate this next year, and we can't wait to see how God uses the joyful spirit He's placed in Anthony to bless our friends in Pine Manor.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part One

Today we're back with our baby steps into mission! Here's where we are at:

1. We know that our key question is: Who is God sending me to?
2.  We've identified the places where we have (or could have) proximity and the relationships we have in those places. (Remember, proximity means that others have the ability to access you and vice versa).
3. We've considered if there are other places that God has placed on our hearts, and if we could gain the necessary proximity hours there.

From this point the fun can begin! Here's how we start on mission:
1. Choose a place to engage (your mission context) based on our discernment process. Remember, it's okay to not be 100% certain... we have to be willing to do some trial and error.
2. If we don't have the proximity hours in that place, make that happen (our goal is 7-10).
3.We begin using our proximity to become a presence.

From Proximity to Presence
Proximity- important as it is- isn't enough. It's necessary for mission, but not sufficient. We can spend time in almost any place and remain relatively anonymous if we choose. Our next baby step therefore is to become a presence in our mission context, meaning, that we are known and trusted by the people we have proximity with. To be a presence is not necessarily to be an insider, but it is to be a known entity. If you have presence in a place then you are part of the social fabric there, and it is socially acceptable for people to begin sharing their lives with you: what's going on with them, what they hope for and what they're anxious about. To have presence means you have earned a community's trust and you can freely and naturally engage with them.

I cannot overstate the significance of this step; almost all mission and ministry depends on trust. And while this may seem obvious, it is rarely done well, because it requires time, intentionality and patience, and we generally value speed, efficiency and quantifiable success (more on this to come). Furthermore, this step never goes away! Even when we have moved on to other missional tasks and steps we must always be building or maintaining our presence in our mission context.

How does one build trust? Fortunately for us, if we're being diligent with our proximity then we're ahead of the game, as familiarity is step one. Think about it, if you see a neighbor walking, mowing the lawn, getting the mail, and simply doing the regular tasks of life in plain sight you begin to trust them. We are disarmed by people who we can observe behaving in regular, non-threatening patterns. For example, if you decide that God is sending you to your neighbors, you can start by intentionally letting yourself be seen doing the regular activities of life. Take a walk after people come home from work. Mow the lawn when you know neighbors will be outside. Play with your kids in the front yard, instead of the back yard. You might think of this step as "becoming visible."

After "visibility" our next step is "availability." Be available for introductions and conversations as you go about those daily tasks. Put yourself into the social spaces in your mission context where it's appropriate to talk with those who you don't know (for example, the break room at work, a neighborhood pool or park, a pick-up game, a bar, etc.) and be ready to share who you are. Your goal at this point is just to make acquaintances without being over-bearing. Remember, this takes time. We can't rush building relationships. Most of us have experienced Christians who rush this and are avoided by ourselves and others because they are unwilling to allow relationships to develop at their natural, slow pace.

All that I've said thus far might seem painfully basic and obvious to you. If so, great! The truth is though that many of us do not have presence in any of the spaces we primarily inhabit (i.e. the places we have proximity): we're unknown to our neighbors, to most of our coworkers, and to the people we shop next to, workout next to, and do the basics of life next to. This is because we're on our phones, we have headphones on, we rush from from place to place, and we only make space in our lives for people who we have already established common ground with: people at our church, in our hobby groups, or families. And it's also because our entertainment (hello Netflix) isolates us from our neighbors, rather than drawing us together.

So with all that said I'm going to stop here. There's more to come on becoming a presence in our mission context, but first things first. Your job at this point is simply to start meeting people. Establish some routines that make you visible and available to the people in the place you're sent to. Take off the headphones at the gym. Make that neighborhood walk regular. Stop rushing around as you do chores and run errands. Again, as simple as this sounds I believe it's quite hard. We're so used to rushing that it's tough to move slow and lose some of our "productivity." And (admit it!) we're comfortable being unknown and detached from our surrounding. We're tired and being anonymous means saving lots of energy. And some of us are introverts (like me!), and getting to know people is scary and exhausting. I understand that struggle... but God is sending us! So let's start praying, and put ourselves out there! Next time we'll pick up with some what-ifs, next steps and common rebuttals. 

The truth hurts.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Cultivate: Gone Fishin'

One of the big challenges facing our youth outreach ministry in Pine Manor (Cultivate Pine Manor) over the last couple of months has been replacing our volunteer leaders. All the leaders who served with us last year are now transitioning to new jobs that don't fit our schedule, moving away, or working on establishing new ministries in their neck of the woods. For the last two months I have been praying for God to provide new leaders, and wondering if Cultivate would even be able to restart with school in the fall.

So I share with great joy today that God has answered our prayers! He has provided a whole new team of volunteers, and even a new point person, so that I can put my focus on the ministry opportunities open to us at South Fort Myers High School. Thank you Lord- You are much better at recruiting leaders than I am!

This past week some of the new Cultivate leaders took several of the guys fishing out in Estero Bay. A good time was had by all, and here are a few pics from the day:

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Baby Steps into Mission: Issues

Congratulations reader! If you have worked through the relational map exercise and spent some time considering proximity you are ahead of most. However, you are still probably lacking of clarity about where/who God is sending you to. That's totally normal. Today, I'm just going to tackle some basic issues that you might be facing as you think and pray through this process...

Issue #1: "I'm not 100% certain who I'm sent to."  

Welcome to the club! Absolute certainty and clarity are generally lacking when it comes to mission. Though we have goals, and we'll even have strategies, the truth is that we must give up control of the process, starting with our desire for total clarity over who/what/how things will play out. Mission depends on God's leading, and on our faithful following. We have to be okay with trying and experimenting at this stage, even if we're not sure we're in the right place. Trial and error and lots of grace will get us to where we need to be (Paul's journey to Philippi in Acts 16:6-10 is a great example here).

Issue #2: "I don't have viable proximity with non-Christians." 
If you feel this way then let me first gently push back... really? You really don't even have proximity with any neighbors or with co-workers who are non-Christians? It's possible this is true (I live in a vacation oriented condo community with few full-time residents and I have no co-workers myself), but I would challenge you to really think hard about this before you claim it. If this is your situation, then you have some work to do. If your work is mobile, it might be time to start doing some work at a library or coffee shop. Join a gym or a club or get involved with something that will give you proximity. Have fun with this! I'm giving you an excuse to pursue a hobby as a means of getting to know people.

Issue #3: "I have proximity with people but my heart isn't there."  
I have two follow up questions for this issue:

1. Is your heart somewhere else?
Let's say you don't feel the Holy Spirit tugging on you at all where you already have proximity. But you're losing sleep over the plight of the homeless, or the forgotten elderly in the local government nursing facility, or the migrant families struggling to survive in your city and feel God is calling you there. Great! If God has laid a burden for a particular place or issue then we can go from there. But it's important for you to consider what this will mean up front. You still need proximity, which means you'll probably need to make some significant sacrifices to get that proximity. If you work full-time, can you give up a couple of nights a week and some weekend time to make this happen? If not, then either you are mistaken about this call, or you need to make some lifestyle changes.

2. What if your heart just isn't anywhere?
Assuming you agree with me that mission is critical to being a disciple of Jesus (not sure why you'd be reading this blog otherwise) then I'd gently suggest that this is a compassion issue. If you read the gospels, much of Jesus' ministry was driven by his compassion for hurting, lost and desperate people. If we (I include myself in this) lack compassion, then God's love is not working in us as it should, or is being obstructed by other issues. My experience is that these issues could be:

- Ignorance: we don't know the people around us, and the painful struggles they face.
- Trauma: our own wounds are consuming us and we don't have energy to spare for others.
- Self-Righteousness: we don't think the people hurting around us merit our time and energy.
- Satiation: we're so entertained and comforted that we are not disturbed by the pain of others.

If you're in this camp, this would be the time and place for you to ask yourself some difficult questions. And let me add, please, don't throw in any shame and guilt here. Those won't help! What we're looking for is honesty, and the courage to deal with what we truly find. If we're honest, we've all hit those four categories at various times on our journey.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Baby Steps into Mission: Proximity

Today we're jumping back in with our conversation about how to launch into local mission. Remember, our goal is to reveal the King and the Kingdom, and to invite people to become disciples of Jesus where God has planted us. This isn't a new program, but it is a new focus.

Again, our key question is: Who is God sending you to? We know God is on mission, and we know as disciples of Jesus that He is sending us to participate in that same mission. And we know that we can't be sent to ourselves, so our mission is directed beyond the body of Christ. (We do have an obligation to serve and participate in our local body, but that's not mission.)

So, you have now had a week to work on and reflect on your relational maps. Essentially, the relational map shows you the places where you could begin to engage missionally at this very moment. It doesn't mean you should, but you literally could start this very week in those places. Now that we've named those places, how do we determine where to begin?

People vs. Places
At this point, you might be thinking, "Why is John talking about places instead of people?"

That's a good question, and an important one. Engaging in mission is a long-term commitment. It is a lifestyle, not a program. The problem with narrowing our focus to individual people or even a group of people is that people are incredibly fluid today. Fifty years ago, you could expect people to live in the same place and hold the same job for many years. That simply isn't true today. Furthermore, people have many opportunities and options for how to spend their time, so scheduling around them is difficult. The issue here is access; it's hard to access people today, and especially for the long-haul (which is where we're headed). By choosing a place to dedicate ourselves to for mission, we know we'll have the ability to access it and build it into our schedule (if it's not already there). If we're in the place, we'll find the people.

The exception to this would be people groups who are stable due to other factors. For example, the homeless, a traveling youth sports team, bikers and an ethnic enclave are all groups of people that would be more stable and accessible due to cultural and institutional factors. 

Choosing a Place
So where do we start? Here are a handful of questions that we can use to sort through this:

1. Has God made it clear in your prayers where to start?
If so, you are ahead of the game! But, go ahead and work through the next two steps anyway as a means of discernment.

2. What places do I already have relationships with people who are not disciples of Jesus?
If you are already well-connected somewhere, then it makes sense to start there. For many people this could be a work-place or neighborhood.

3. What places are there opportunities for relationships with people who are not disciples of Jesus?
This could be a gym or a place where you participate in a hobby or go to relax (coffee shop, bar, etc.).

Step One: Proximity

What we've done up to this point is determine the places where we have or could have proximity with those who God is sending us to. Proximity is simply sharing a space with someone. You have proximity with people who workout near you, who walk around the park you take your kids to, or who sit in the waiting room at the doctor's office near you. You have proximity with the people who live on your street when you're both home from work. It doesn't mean you interact at all; it just means you are near enough to each other to potentially interact. Proximity is absolutely vital! You cannot establish relationships and reveal God's love without proximity.

So how much proximity do we need?
Here's where the rubber hits the road. One of the hard lessons I've learned is that establishing proximity is easier said than done. It's easy to get proximity for an hour or two at a cafe, gym, or recreational area. It takes commitment though to get the level of proximity we're looking for. Our goal is 7-10 hours per week in our mission space. Remember, we're just talking about being near enough to those who we are sent to that we could connect. That means we're available and accessible, and they are too. If we are spending ten hours a week in our missional space people have plenty of opportunity to interact with us and to get to know us. Now you can understand whey we are probably going to choose a place we're already at... Most of us can't afford to add on these hours to our schedules! Look back at your relational map. Where do you already have proximity with people? Meaning, where are you already in that 7-10 hours a week zone? Where could you have that sort of proximity?

You may be asking, "Why so much proximity, John?" Great question... and I'll answer that in my next post! Until then keep praying, discussing and discerning!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Baby Steps into Mission

I have spent a fair amount of time on this blog critiquing individual Christians, churches and
If Bob can do it, so can you!
ministries for failure to engage in mission. However, I recognize that I have not offered much in the way of help for folks who want to do mission but aren't sure where to start. Over the course of the next few blogs I'm going to try to remedy that, and lay out a few baby steps for you to take if you are ready to move into mission. (Of course, if you live in Fort Myers and are ready to dive in you can just write or call me!)

First, a couple of disclaimers:
1. I'm assuming that you are already praying about this... keep praying!
2. I'm assuming you are attached to a community of disciples.
3. When I say mission, I mean revealing the Kingdom of God to people who are not disciples of Jesus in word and deed, with the goal of inviting them to become disciples of Jesus.

Okay, now that we've got that out of the way let's get to it.

The number one question we need to answer is: who is God sending you to?

I'm assuming you're not sure about that (otherwise you'd be doing something already, I hope). That's totally normal. That is the baseline question though, and one that we will come back to again and again. So start praying about it.

As we begin to think about that, let's take on a couple more questions:
1. What people are currently in my life?
2. What sort of relationships do I have with them?

A great way to answer this question is to create a relational network map. Here's are instructions on how to do this:

1. Put your name in a circle in the middle of your paper.
2. List your different network “locations” in other circles (work, neighborhood, gym, etc.).
3. List all the people you have a relationship (of any sort) with around these circles.
4. Determine (roughly) how many hours a week you spend in each circle.
5. Create a simple ranking of relationships. Like 1 for an acquaintance, 2 for casual friend, 3 for close friend, etc.

Now, look at your relational network. What names on the paper stand out? Who is a believer without a community? Who is a nominal Christian? Who doesn't know anything about Jesus?

What needs or issues do you see in your network?

What common interests or passions do you see in your network?

The reason we do this is because, more often than not, God sends us to the places we already are. And this is a good thing for a variety of reasons. One, because we already have an insider's level of understanding in most of the places we inhabit. Two, because we are a known entity (and hopefully in a good way!) in these places. And three, because most of us lead busy lives and are not ready to make the scheduling sacrifice necessary to engage a new mission field. (See previous post. Of course we will be looking hard at our schedules in future posts, so be prepared!) By going on mission where we are we don't need to add a whole new program- we just change our focus in the places we're at.

Note: However, if your relational network has very few people in it who are not already disciples of Jesus then we're going to need to get you in some new places! 

So, start working on your relational map, start praying over it and asking for God's leading, and I'll be back next week with next steps!

Baby Steps into Mission: Presence, Part 2

Faithful readers, I apologize for the long delay in getting this blog up. Between summer vacation, official cross country practices starting...