leadership

Smoking What We’re Growing: 8 Things That Happen When We Live (or Don’t Live) What We Talk About

1009756_10151692062394929_1314313101_nI was down in Mexico a few years ago for a gathering of peers who are leading faith communities around the world. It was a rich time of conversation, encouragement and visioning. 

Walking through a local Mexican neighborhood between sessions, something struck me. While those of us in the Minority World (often called the 1st or Western World) are thinking and talking about our theology, most of the folks in the Majority World (often called the 3rd World) have no choice but to simply live into their theology. Talking about our theology, faith and practice in lecture halls, church buildings and conference rooms is a luxury that the vast majority of Jesus followers in the world have no opportunity to participate in. 

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is reality. And those of us with this luxury better own up to it, because it is easy for us in the West to think we have a corner on the market of theology, which we then project (whether consciously or subconsciously) onto the rest of the world. But whose to say theology built in academia is any more valid than theology build in the realities of everyday life?

When I’m hanging out with my Jesus following friend who lives and serves in a West Bank refugee camp, it would make no sense for me to debate atonement theories, eschatological interpretations or the latest “hot button” issue. There is no time for my friend to concern himself with those things when right in front of him people are committing suicide from depression, going hungry on the streets and feeling the endless effects of war. My friend believes in the crucified and risen Jesus and is doing anything he can to live out the Jesus’ story in the place he has been entrusted. 

In this context, theological debates not only seem secondary, they seem like a distraction from faithful life and practice. 

Now, I’m NOT saying that academia, study and debate are bad things. No, they are essential for a robust faith than fuels the community of God for mission in the world. Personally, I am enlivened by academia and some of my most formative development has come about in this context. With that said, the classroom of real life relationships -- with those who live and practice in context FAR different than my own -- have been much more significant to my development than any lecture, book or debate. 

In short, I would argue that our theology must be as much formed and informed by everyday practice than it is by academic research. Now, I know there is no prefect balance here, but those of us in the West would do well to at least keep this in mind as we speak and write in our somewhat insular reality. 

Since I had this realization on the streets of Mexico, I have committed to only/primarily communicate “lived content.” “Theoretical content” is somewhat easy to come up with, it doesn’t require a lived expression and, to be honest, there is already WAY too much of this floating around. I want to be known for smoking what I’m growing (I’m sitting in Denver as I write this, so this metaphor seemed especially relevant. Don’t be offended).

As communicators (and we are ALL communicators whether we like it or not), producing “lived content” is an act of discipleship. We have to submit our words to the lives we are actually living as we stumble toward Jesus. 

Are we to be marked by our compelling words and thoughts or by our transformative actions embodied in the realities of everyday life? I don’t think it’s an either/or, but a both/and. 

Lists seem helpful, so here you go:

Damage of Communicating Only/Primarily Theoretical Content

1. We fall victim to a war of rhetoric. It’s easy to have strong opinions if they are divorced from embodied practice in the realities of everyday life. Think of all the ridiculous “debates” we see on social media that not only take away time from real life advocacy, but create the illusion that we are actually offering something constructive and helpful to the community of God. For example, it’s easy to “talk” about abortion or war or whatever. But are we walking with the single mothers who are most prone to abort their babies or just telling them not to do it? Are we only calling out militarism in our culture or actually living out an alternative?

2. Theoretical content is removed from reality and its implications for our global village. What happens as a result is we come out of our “classrooms” (seminary, churches, etc.) with all the “answers” and begin to project our words and opinions on others. It is not formed in the context of relationship and it is not only narrow-minded, it is destructive. 

3. Creates in us a false identity of who we’ve convinced ourselves we are rather than who we actually are created to be. When we talk more than we live, there is a temptation to form our identity around what we think or say rather than who we were created to be in the world. 

4. We live through others opinions of us rather than through a rooted set of practices that create space for us to live out true self and calling. When we communicate more than we live, we will inevitably open ourselves up to the opinions of others, whether positive or negative. If we aren’t rooted in everyday practice, it is easy to begin to believe we are who others say we are rather than our true identity as sons and daughters of the Father. 

Gift of Communicating Lived Content

1. Keeps us rooted in a community of practice. We can’t “go rogue” and begin to live an autonomous life than produces a bunch of content that hasn’t been refined by the fire of real life. 

2. Holds us accountable to lead with a way of life rather than an articulate vision. There are ALOT of good communicators today. While that is a gift, it can also be a curse. A good vision is only as good as the positive implications it has on the lives of those around us. 

3. Ignites the imagination and practice of those who hear you communicate. The world and the Church is STARVING for content that is actually being lived out. There are more resources based on theoretical proposals than ever before. What we need are stories that inspire and practices that sustain for the long haul.

4. Ultimately, we get to actually experience and live life to the fullest. Our most faithful expression of following Jesus is not spoken, but embodied. 

Producing “lived content” is not only my commitment, it is my struggle. And I don’t think I’m alone. Will you link arms with me and stumble forward together?

Transition, Sending and the Eucharist

NCSendingIt was a bit of an emotional day for Janny and I yesterday as our dear friends, community mates and fellow NieuCommunities staff put together a “sending/blessing” time for us. If you haven’t yet heard, we are NOT moving out of our neighborhood and we are STILL leading our missional community (gathering regularly in our home), but with the increasing momentum of The Global Immersion Project and the invitation to come on staff with mentors and dear friends, Rob and Laurie Yackley (who now lead Thresholds), to coach missional leaders in our city and across the country, there is a necessary organizational transition under way. To learn more, go here

We sat with this handful of friends, mentors and colleagues who have given themselves fully to the work God has set before them in our neighborhood and in coaching developing leaders who have gone through our Apprenticeship. They have been our tribe. When we are with these people, we know they “get” us as they not only share the same deep commitments to King and Kingdom, but inspire us to go even deeper. 
 
We will continue to share a neighborhood, raise our children together, creatively navigate the material simplicity of the life we have all chosen and move together on mission. While we are so thankful for all of that, we will still mourn the days we aren’t sitting around the table with them as colleagues. Things won’t be bad, but they will be a bit different. 
 
Janny and I are moving forward with as much confidence and conviction as ever before in our lives and we are thrilled at the road that has been put before us, but we must allow the grieving to run its course. It is necessary, healthy and leaves us much to celebrate. 
 
As we shared a big breakfast together, each person shared silly stories and offered affirmations of what they have seen in us over the past 4(ish) years. Listening intently, it became clear that these have been the most formative years of our lives. It has been in this context and environment that we have most clearly discovered who we are and what we will contribute long term. It has challenged us, shaped us and refined us, but we have come alive and been given the gift of moving confidently into God’s call on our lives. 
 
Our organizational ethos doesn’t see an organizational move like ours as us “leaving,” but as us being faithful to be sent into what God has for us. While there is mourning, there is far more celebration. 
 
Having already been choked up numerous times, each of our colleagues read blessings over us they had written down. We then circled up, they laid hands on us and we shared Eucharist together rightly placing the crucified and risen Jesus at the center of the season that is to come. 
 
What a gift it has been. One of the blessings ended with these words from a liturgy we often use as a community:
 
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: Wherever he may send you;
 
May he guide you through the wilderness: Protect you through the storm:
 
May he bring you home rejoicing: At the wonders he has shown you:
 
May he bring home rejoicing: Once again into our doors.

My Unorthodox Road to Christian Higher Education & Why It Mattered

I originally wrote this for Fuller Theological Seminary’s website, which was highlighting 2013 graduates.

IMG_5350I had been in paid, full-time ministry my whole adult life. My reputation was glowing, my job security in place and my future bright. In the moment that everything “should” have been perfect, I could sense my soul disconnecting more and more from the life and ministry I poured myself into each day. I couldn’t run one more missions trip, facilitate one more event, or even prepare another sermon. It wasn’t that I was burned out, it was that I knew God was doing something in me that needed space to grow and be cultivated.

Ironically, it was in the moment I stepped away from formal ministry that I had the greatest desire to begin seminary. I wouldn’t be attending to build my resume or reputation, but simply to better engage and be transformed by the Story I had loved all along.

My experience at Fuller not only met but exceeded my expectations. As any responsible higher education institution should do, it taught me not what to think, but how to think. It allowed me to formulate the right kinds of questions that would lead to a renewed set of answers. It created space for me to be captivated by the Story of God and the reality of Jesus in such a way that I couldn’t help but dive deeper into my study and practice. It not only created space for me to identify my calling and gifting, but it equipped me with the tangible resources and networks to be sent into it with both conviction and expertise.

And while I have been deeply impacted academically by my time at Fuller, I have forever been transformed by the highly relational environment that envelops and grounds the academic in the everyday realities of life in our neighborhoods, city, and world. Today, I live more fully into my Kingdom calling not because of the institution of Fuller Seminary, but because of the dynamic network of relationships it represents.

Forming Leaders For Neighborhood Life in the Global Village

The Global Immersion Project from The Global Immersion Project on Vimeo.

TGIP_logoThose of you that have been following my life and work through this platform have heard of an initiative I co-founded a couple years ago with my friend Jer Swigart called The Global Immersion Project.  After lots of refining, on the ground experience and clear leading of the Spirit, this little idea/dream has birthed forth into something transformative and lasting.  We have been blown away by the response not only from individuals, but from organizations like World Vision, Fuller Seminary and many others.  More than anything, we are thrilled by the individual response and transformation from both the local peacemakers we have come alongside in Israel/Palestine and the American leaders who have participated in our formal 3-month Learning Lab that cultivates in a 2-week immersion experience into conflict in Israel/Palestine.  
 
Fusing my passion and calling to be a voice for international reconciliation and my everyday practice of forming missional leaders, TGIP’s mission is to cultivate everyday peacemakers through immersion in global conflict. Not only did Jesus call all his people to the vocation of peacemaking (Matt 5:9), he was deeply grieved when his people failed to live out these very tangible, practical ways that make for peace (Luke19:41,42).  In short, we hope to resource an entire generation of leaders with the practices that make for peace.  Not only will we be a presence of reconciliation globally, we will resource leaders to live, love and lead as everyday peacemakers in the way of Jesus back in their neighborhoods.  
 
This week, we formally “unveil” this important work and would greatly appreciate your support by both joining our social media outlets AND by helping us share our work through your personal networks.  
 
1. Check out and share our promo video embedded in this post.  
2. Learn more about TGIP by visiting our re-launched & newly branded website
3. Follow us on Twitter at @globalimmerse
4. “Like” our Facebook Page
5. Join our mailing list for exclusive updates and content.  
 
In Jesus, as the ultimate peacemaker, we acknowledge that there is nothing glamorous about the work of peacemaking.  It is gritty, subversive and requires everyday actions.  Friends, this work can no longer be outsourced to politicians or blind idealism.  As followers of Jesus, we must faithfully live into our vocation as agents of reconciliation fueled by the hope of New Creation.  
 
May we be a people who no longer run from conflict, but follow Jesus right to its center with the practices that make for peace.

My Experience Finding a “Tribe” with Tony Campolo & Red Letter Christians

Most Christians in America (and much of the world) are familiar with the life and work of Tony Campolo.  There is his infamous “curse word teaching” that asks his audience whether they are more shocked at the fact that he said sh&% or at the fact that there are thousands of people dying each day in a world that has more than enough resources to care for each of them if only we were willing to care for the “least of these.” There are the pictures of Tony embracing with decades worth of Presidents as they seek his council and he inevitably finds a way to offer a prophetic word into an institution that desperately needs it.  There is his constant reminder that “Sunday is coming” and that while “We may live in the best Babylon, it is still Babylon!”  

More than anything, Tony is marked by his call of Christians to take seriously the red letters of Jesus in the gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  The red letters aren’t simply to be read as an other-worldly euphoria, but as a framing ethic through which God’s people are empowered to embrace their vocation as salt and light.  If taken seriously, the life and teachings of Jesus allow us to be a living reflection of Good News for the sake of a watching world.  

There began a revolution.  Not a revolution around a charismatic speaker, but a revolution around the person of Jesus.  

Seeing the remarkable impact of a ministry that pointed people back to Jesus, Tony felt it important to mentor, train and come alongside the next generation(s) of authors and speakers who advocated this life and message.  A few years ago he invited a handful of influential leaders into a cohort that would gather once a year and remain networked throughout the rest of the year to support, encourage and come alongside one another as they live and taught the red letters of Jesus.  

This past year, I was invited to join this tribe of radicals, intellectuals, advocates, pastors and all round Jesus-y folks.  I thought, “I’m just a little dude from the town of Prunedale; how did I get invited into a community alongside Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Margot Starbuck, Richard Twiss, Shane Hipps, Brian McClaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, etc…?”

I quickly accepted the invitation and boarded a plane to the East Coast to attend the annual gathering. If I’m honest, I was both honored and a little bit concerned that it would be three days of high-powered leaders posturing and offering subtle promotions of our “stuff.” Rather, it was a time of generative conversation, collaboration and shared vision. It was an experience of being “known” among a tribe of radicals who are crazy enough to live into the story God has for them. It was friendship and soul care. 

Although we were sitting in informal circles rather than auditoriums, every once in awhile Tony would start to crank up the volume and start “preaching.”  We all smiled, looked at each other and often ended up breaking into applause as we continued to learn at the feet of one who has spent his life learning at the feet of the King.  It was red letter leadership being passed down to a generation who isn’t finding their identity in a message, book or program, but in a Resurrected 1st century Rabbi who instigated a revolution that continues today.  

May the revolution continue and may all of God’s children choose to take part. 

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