Friday, March 30, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Wheat in heat

::: I am the Nameless African from Your Last Instagram Post

::: It is Time to Reckon with Celebrity Power

Good Friday in Sydney

Cross equals love. Thank you Hillsong.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pinetops Foundation - The Great Opportunity Report

Some of you might be interested in this report entitled "The Great Opportunity - The American Church in 2050.' Published in February from the Pinetops Foundation, it is a very interesting and dense [139 pages!] read and I found it via a tweet from Jon Tyson. In essence, the Foundation asked themselves what the best use of their money. What they found was that the American church is at a pivotal moment in history, what they called 'the largest missions opportunity in American history.'

Their recommendations circle 5 major initiatives: Church Planting, Youth Missions and Formation, Digital Platforms for New Audiences, Caring for the Poor, and Cultural Leadership. A few highlights and suggestions from the report:
::: Starting New Churches
+ Need to triple church planting efforts for the next 30 years
+ Average church size - 186 people
+ Median size is 75 people
+ One church per 680 Christians in America today
+ 4000 church plants start every year. 3700 churches close every year - net 300. Not even close to keep up with population growth.
+ New churches are the most effective form of evangelism.
+ Real estate investment trust - hold properties for church planting.

::: Mission for Youth [obviously the section I was most interested in]
+ "However, we are learning from the data that a youth-group model as the primary means of forming young people in a culture that is increasingly at odds with the Gospel is not enough. What does work is actively serving together on missions (domestic and foreign), active training in what following Jesus means, and serving alongside other adults in the church."
+ Surprisingly, one of the least impactful factors on substantial faith was a teen’s peers. It is the adults in their lives that ended up having the most impact, contrary to what we may think of teen culture.
+ "Historically, great movements of faith have been catalyzed by mission minded youth. In many cases, the very act of moving out in faith creates the context for faith to be strengthened and confirmed. It is our desire to see the next generation mobilized for missions for the sake of those both inside and outside the church."
+ "Critical opportunities for youth formation are missed when youth are not integrated into the fabric of the church, encouraged in their faith by multiple adults, and given opportunities to lead in corporate worship and missions."
+ Creation of a gap-year program prior to or during college that emphasizes cross-cultural evangelism or integration into a church plant.

::: Reaching New Audiences for a Digital Age
+ PewDewPie - 55M youtube subscriptions, 15B views. 75x more than total number of people that heard Billy Graham preach live over his whole life.
+ Casey Neistat - 2B views, 7.6M youtube subscriptions. Would constitute second largest denomination, behind the southern Baptists.
+ 2% of all people on Twitter follow a religious leader, house of worship or pastor.
+ "There is a conspicuous lack of Christian innovators and communicators among prominent social media innovators and leaders, and none that we could find with a substantial presence focused on those outside the faith about the faith."

::: Caring for the Poor
Increase church-driven care for the poor via better approaches to resource mobilization
Increase the effectiveness of church-driven care for the poor via investments in social entrepreneurship, cross-church collaboration, and more effective tools
Help the broader society see the good works already being done via awareness building

+ For example, time and time again empirical data demonstrates that people give more:
In response to an optimistic vision and hope for change, instead of an appeal to guilt and shame.
When there is a compelling vision instead of an appeal to “keep the lights on.”
When there are social proofs—people know that their peers and people they respect are also giving.
When they can connect with the recipient on an individual or emotional level

+ Mentions for
Praxis Labs
[I've been following Praxis Labs for a few years now and love what they are about and how they do it.]
When Helping Hurts
+ Elevate PR efforts [see Dan Pallotta - The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong]

::: Building Long term witness - Christians on the university campus
+ We believe that if we are to see millions of youth come back to Christ, and millions more accept him for the first time, we need both a strong ground game of local church ministry reaching one person at a time and a strategic long-term effort to articulate the Gospel in our culture. To do both well, we believe we need to reinvest, like we once did, in leadership development pipelines that equip emerging leaders to articulate the Gospel persuasively and with distinction in the world. We also think we need to invest in and help convene Christian academic and thought leaders who inhabit the front lines of thought and discovery and are wrestling with the ideas of our time. It is as Mark Noll wrote over two decades ago: “The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that there is not much of one.”
+ Dense networks
+ Clapham Sect [see more here]
+ Top 40 colleges, Christians comprise less than 5% of professoriate
+ Christian tutors in the Roman Empire
Obviously lots of other great information in this report - I highly recommend downloading it and at least skimming the Intro and the Summary. Here's a few other reflections with regard to The Ember Cast:

+ The gap year idea is a big win. We've sought to do this when we can even though these have been either a summer or semester in duration and these have been some of our most fruitful projects. Whenever we have done it, it has been centered around a church plant. [Summer Sends - Poland, Arizona (1 and 2)
+ Designing a gap year, helping drive more funds to the poor, serving in a church plant, creating a digital platform - all of these require someone that can dream and execute. Both of these skills are exceedingly rare but both can be taught and learned. If anything is needed in the global missions space, it is future leaders that can dream missionally and then roll up their sleeves and get to work. We at The Ember Cast see both of these skills as vital for the emerging generation and they form a subtle backdrop to our culture.
+ These kinds of initiatives and the people involved will push the imaginations of the leadership for many existing churches. Big challenge.
+ If you start a church, you should start it with the DNA that you will reproduce, right from day 1.
+ Lots of adults that work with students, me included, default to the perspective that peer identity is the most important thing to a teenager. But the fact is adults can make more of a difference when we invite, engage and challenge students to live lives that are bigger than themselves. Those of us that work with students need to be reminded of this often.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Raise the Bar - Mission Support Letters

If you've been around Ember, you know I am extremely overly critical on this every Spring: the average mission support letter is an example of mediocrity. Most letters encourage the prospective missions person to spend minimal time and effort presenting an idea to someone else. We see others blast social media with links to GoFundMe pages and then just wait for funding to roll in. We do the minimum when it comes to engaging people that are normally thrilled to support us. Sadly, a lot of people have turned support raising into sales transactions.

Instead, my suggestions - take them for what it is worth:
1 - Spend 4 hours designing a nice looking letter. Get some ideas from newsletter templates on Google Docs or Microsoft Word. You can ask me too - I have about 25 great examples.
2 - Resist the urge to blast your socials with links for support. People want to hear from you, but not like that.
3 - Lean on sending your letter to people that you know would be thrilled to support you and what you are doing - you know who these people are. Save a small percentage of your letters to give to people that would be long shots - they might be interested but might not.
4 - Follow up when you get support - thank you note, email, text message within 24 hours.
5 - Seriously consider using your talents, gifts and network to augment the support you need to raise. But that is another topic.

If you see yourself in vocational ministry or nonprofit work for the long haul, you will need to raise money. And many times, this is a leading indicator of whether or not you can actually do the work. Get in the habit now of doing it right.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Everything You Wanted to Know about Shipping Containers and More

::: MIT's New Device Can Pull Water from Air

::: The Rise of a non-Christian Europe

::: We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims. - R. Buckminster Fuller

Photo: Lunch. Highlandtown Baltimore. March 2018.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Steeple to Street - Notes

I made it to the Steeple to Street conference for just Saturday last weekend which was put on by an org called Fresh Expressions US. Obviously interesting to me:
"More and more churches are taking seriously the call to engage with their communities...and many more would like to. But this new mission landscape is going to need new skills of leadership. Bold, risk-taking, creative, discerning leadership. Leaders who will move to the mission edges and foster fresh expressions of church. Leaders who will take on the adaptive challenges within existing churches to catalyze new energy for mission. Leaders who will make room for experiments and risks for the sake of the gospel."

The real reason that I saw this was because Alan and Deb Hirsch, whom I consider mentors from afar, were speaking at the event and I am drawn to the same types of people they like to hang with. Their thinking and writing has informed a lot about how we do student missions leadership and in the summer of 2008, they were so gracious to spend a little time with a student team we were leading. When you know you are responsible for your own development and growth, you'll go out of your way when a mentor is speaking close to where you live.

And a few personal convictions that were part of the flavor of this gathering: there is a limited lifespan left in the church as most of us know it, "all kinds of churches for all kinds of people" and most of us have no idea how to prepare students today to be leaders for the future.

Steeple to Street had a sweet ethos to it - gracious, a posture of learning, and an open hand to let the Lord lead. Lots more young people than a usual church leadership gathering. Mostly white people. Not your standard evangelical stream either - lots more Methodists and Episcopalians than I am used to.

Below are my notes - feel free to skip, skim or borrow with attribution.

+ Plenary - Iosmar Alvarez
People talk about the Holy Spirit like He is a dog or a river. He is a person.
Key to prayer is a clean heart and a clear mind.
Not about quantity, passion, posture.

Questions that we use to release people to do as God leads them:
1 - does it glorify God?
2 - is it ethical and legal?
3 - does it make disciples?
4 - does it expand this church?
5 - is it Biblical?

+ From Equipping the Organized to Organizing the Equipped - Alan Hirsch, Evelyn Sekajipo and Matt Lake
A committee keeps minutes and loses hours.

Begin with the end in mind
The church has deep muscle memory when it comes to change.
It is the end of the line for the church in default mode.
Movement thinking - the way we think about every believer.
Seed - potential for a forest
Spark - potential for a forest fire
[one of our favorite Ember mantras - In every apple, there is an orchard.]
You must see people as potential movements in the making.
Dunbar's number - most extroverts know 150 people. If they discipled 15% of their network, we would have a movement.
Movement - every person can reproduce the whole movement.
Everyone is in the game
Starfish vs Spider

Movements are DNA based organizations.
- core ideas and values
- low control high accountability
- discipleship culture

Dee Hock - VISA
Decentralized, not headquarters

Picasso - the best way to preserve tradition is not to wear your father's hat but to have children

Centered set vs bounded set
Perhaps there is a forum for both to meet

Movements begin on the fringe but they need pathways of learning

Matt Lake
Easier that we worship the teachings of Jesus rather than the person of Jesus.
We can organize the teachings, but Jesus call is messy
We have flattened Jesus to doctrine.
How do we build cultures to release people:
1 - Everything that talks about org talks about our R&D, apostolic side.
2 - 4 step DNA that we try to build into people:

We have organized people so well that they have lost their imaginations about mission.
Church culture - we train people to be good volunteers.
No imagination or dreaming - can't even get to that level.

Everyone is already failing in institutional culture, might as well try it in entrepreneurial culture.
In movement thinking, everyone has been given everything to get the job done.

How do you change culture
1 - Wendy Kopp - TFA - larger purpose and story
2 - my influence as the leader from every dimension possible

Evelyn Sekajipo:
Sometimes do not need to reinvent the wheel - find someone who is already doing what you are interested in and come alongside them
Invite the people you want to serve to the leadership table. We actually sometimes ignore the people we are serving or want to reach.

+ Mission Among the Hard to Reach - Alan and Deb Hirsch
"Microphones were created by misogynists" - Deb

Bounded set vs centered set - social theory
Bounded set - who is in and who is out is very clear
You are in and out based on if you
Believe like us
Behave like us
Belong to us

Clearly we are going for an encounter with Jesus where someone surrenders their life. And there is an element of who we think is in isn't in at the end. Jesus addressed the Pharisees in this same manner - you are good on the outside but your heart is awful. There are indicators to - know you by your fruit.

Centered set - concentric circles surrounded something at the middle - Jesus
Every human is in relation to Jesus somehow. He is calling of all humanity to Him.
Not about closeness, but rather their orientation, pointed to Jesus or not. Our job is to point people to Him.
Mt 28:18 - a discipleship text vs an evangelistic mandate
Pre and post conversion discipleship - disciple someone, teach them to live like Jesus before they actually make the decision
Humanity made in the image of God first and foremost - not terrible sinners in need of redemption [so important see Eldredge on this]

Incarnational Principles

Where you stand determines what you see.
3rd places - fertile way of looking at the world.
American - narrow vs extended family
Use your home as mission - house church movement
Pub outreach team - to be on the team you had to be able to say the F-bomb without flinching. Most couldn't do it - subtle way of alienating yourself away from the regulars in the pub.
The 3rd place for most Christians is their church, leaving little room for engaging the world.

Incarnational Contextual questions they have used
Pennies - rich or poor economy, how does money flow
Power - what is the power dynamic
Pain - who is struggling and why, find out what sucks and fix it
Parties - get in the middle of these
People of peace

Context forces you to contextualize
If you just start the same kind of church in your home, you do church badly - think worship band but done poorly. Can you worship somewhere in a public space without repelling people? How can you worship that draws people in?

+ Pioneering Panel
[Two terms the conferences uses a lot:
'pioneer' - the apostolic, entrepreneurial, trying it first, etc.
'Inherited church' - the already existing, more institutional church]

Q - Describe that first moment when you realized God was calling you to be a pioneer and advice around that idea
I started thinking of the term 'church unusual'
Noticing the marginalized
Don't negotiate with the Holy Spirit - obey immediately
Our community had the gift of desperation - term used in Recovery Community

Q - Words for people just a bit behind you in the journey
Do it with teams
Frustration can lead to callousness unless you are careful - sabbath, hobbies
Realize that you are maybe one of the permission givers - speak life into other pioneers

Q - Lonely moments - what keeps you in it?
God's call
I love my city - no one loves Denver more than I do
Doing what we do is not everything about us - have a life. Keep sure that ministry is not everything.

Q - Imagine you are speaking to another pioneer's leadership - what would you say to them?
Lead, follow or get out of the way but mostly get out of the way.
Make sure they know you have their back and come through with it.

Monday, March 19, 2018

IG Team Meeting #3

+ The Myers Briggs Type Indicator
+ Bridges video series
+ Check in for support letters

I use the MBTI religiously with teams - it is a fast forward for relationships and provides great and specific talking points for being a team. As you can see here, half of our team likes to improvise. Well, that should be fun.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Here Come the MegaCities
By 2100, at least 10 cities are predicted to have populations over 50 million.

::: Affordable 3D Printed Houses
Debuted at SXSW, also check out some of the other cool social missions start ups are tackling.

::: Steeple to Street
The Church is rediscovering its identity in mission. More and more churches are taking seriously the call to engage with their communities...and many more would like to. But this new mission landscape is going to need new skills of leadership. Bold, risk-taking, creative, discerning leadership. Leaders who will move to the mission edges and foster fresh expressions of church. Leaders who will take on the adaptive challenges within existing churches to catalyze new energy for mission. Leaders who will make room for experiments and risks for the sake of the gospel.
I'll be at Steeple to Street on Saturday, would love to say hi if you are there.

::: Fortune sides with him who dares. - Virgil

Photo: Mt. Etna, and the 9 passenger van.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Ember March Dinner

Notes from dinner with special guests K and D.

Took Perspectives in the 1980s. Couldn't travel so started helping coordinate the class. Got involved in a bunch of mobilization stuff at home. Then could travel. Began making friends in the Middle East. Have traveled to a specific region there now 19 times over the past number of years.

Most exciting thing going on with missions these days:
Insider movements
Discipleship Making Movements
Fast growing church right now is in Iran.
Disciple people before they are believers.
Discovery Bible Studies - organic simple way to study the Scriptures.

Advice for young people:
Faithful - faithful in the small leads to being faithful in the big.
Available - you have the most free time right now when you are young. Availability is also related to financial availability - do not incur a lot of debt for college - this directly reduces your availability.

Involved in Partners for Transformation - a group of pastors that have prayed for Baltimore every week for over 10 years. Two incredible nonprofits sprung out of relationships in that group.
Don't make people your projects. They know when they are. Just build bridges of love and love them as friends.
Middle Eastern culture loves to talk about religion. Take advantage of that - don't be scared of it.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Vision, Budget and Cattle

That phrase will echo on my auditory cortex forever: vision beyond your resources.
That phrase has become a mantra at National Community Church and is inspiring us to continue dreaming irrational dreams. We certainly practice sound financial management, count the cost of every vision, and steward every penny in a way that honors God, but we refuse to let our budget determine our vision. That would be poor stewardship because it's based on our limited resources rather than on God's unlimited supply. Too often we butcher our God-given dreams because we forget the simple fact that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Don't let fear dictate your decisions. Letting your budget determine your vision is backward. Faith is letting your vision determine your budget. And if your vision is God-given, it will most definitely be beyond your ability and beyond your resources. Why? Because then God will get all of the glory! And I promise you this: the God who gives the vision is the same God who makes provision.
- Mark Batterson, Draw the Circle
NCC and PM impressed this upon me in 2013. It is absolutely true and when The Ember Cast dreams of projects, the viability of them are never based solely on the finances.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Dolly Parton Donates 100 Millionth Book to Children in Need

::: A New Generation Redefines What It Means to Be a Missionary
Link via Justin Long

::: Muslim Connect
My friend Shane writes a Muslim Connect, a 300 word, weekly email that I enjoy about how we can trade apathy, anxiousness or anger toward Muslims for biblical love and engagement. It’s super short, very practical and sometimes funny. Sign up here.

::: The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck. - Paul Virilio

Photo: Highlandtown, Baltimore. March 2018.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

2017 In Numbers

1 ProtoGuide for 3 months
1 short term missions team training event : 6 hours of missions team building for 60 people
2 local church based missions conferences : teaching 6 sessions for 120 people
2 student team community impact projects : 12 hours of community impact service learning for 30 students
2 summer teams including 2 team members sent to Poland for 6 weeks and 6 team members to Italy and Poland for 2 weeks
2 Ember monthly dinners involving 13 people
3 missions leadership events : 36 hours of coaching and practical training for around 70 people
4 Perspectives classes teaching - 12 hours of teaching for a total of 75 people

This is pretty informative picture on everything The Ember Cast was involved in last year and I'm super proud of just about all of that work. Thanks to many of you for your portfolio of support, including prayer, financial and moral support.

It is however, very important that we balance that picture with one of our favorite mantras:
"Disciples are made on the road, not in rows." - Kim Hammond

Monday, March 05, 2018

IG Team Meeting #2

+ Icebreakers during the drive from the 25 Best icebreakers ever
+ Serving with a refugee weekend program which included games with kids, futball with high school kids [Sam made numerous goals and was the only girl], English lessons and lunch.
+ Our team knows that in some contexts like this, we will have to be very friendly and make our own fun. These are integral skills for people that are interested in starting things from nothing in different cultural contexts. This day was good practice.

* Missing a few pieces of our team

Friday, March 02, 2018

Friday Burn

::: The Pineapple Fund Has Given $86M to Charities so far

::: These are the World's Most Miserable Economies
Link via Justin Long

::: The Student Activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
Now it’s time for them to change the conversation around education in America, and not just as it relates to guns in the classroom. The effectiveness of these poised, articulate, well-informed, and seemingly preternaturally mature student leaders of Stoneman Douglas has been vaguely attributed to very specific personalities and talents. Indeed, their words and actions have been so staggeringly powerful, they ended up fueling laughable claims about crisis actors, coaching, and fat checks from George Soros. But there is a more fundamental lesson to be learned in the events of this tragedy: These kids aren’t freaks of nature. Their eloquence and poise also represent the absolute vindication of the extracurricular education they receive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

::: Romantic love will get you to the mission field but sacrificial love will keep you there. - Deb Hirsch

Photo: Decompression, Union Station DC. Feb 2018.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Training Plans

California, Italy, Maryland, Virginia. It has never been easier to connect.

This is a planning session for the Ember IG team discussing some elements of training. Our local on the ground team requires teams go through some specific training so we are bringing in some other guests for specific cross cultural topics. If you are involved in student summer missions, you should be doing the same kind of planning right now. In fact, you are a little late.

But there is hope. The statistics bear it to be true, teams that prepare, even with the smallest amount, do far better than teams that don't. Reach out if you need some simple suggestions.