They want God.

They want God.


 It is God with whom we have to do. People go for long stretches of time without being aware of that, thinking that it is money, or sex, or work, or children, or parents, or a political cause, or an athletic competition, or learning with which they must deal. Any one or a combination of these subjects can absorb them and for a time give them the meaning and purpose that human beings seem to require. But then there is a slow stretch of boredom. Or a disaster. Or a sudden collapse of meaning. They want more. They want God. When a person searches for meaning and direction, asking questions and testing our statements, we must not be diverted into anything other or less.

Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles.

The Meaning of Marriage–Discussion Questions

The Meaning of Marriage–Discussion Questions

Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

My wife, Stacey, and I enter into our third year of marriage tomorrow, February 5th. We'll be celebrating our 2nd Anniversary, as we celebrate many things, by going out to a nice dinner.

Eating—as well as ministry—are the two things that bonded us most closely together when we were dating. We like to do both of those things as often as we can to keep that bond as strong as possible. We often fail in keeping that bond strong, because we're deeply in need of the Grace that God provides most readily through his Son Jesus Christ. But as we have failed/fallen/been self-ish/you-name-it, we have found that getting through those failures together has increased our bond even more tightly.

So as we enter into our third year, we want to proactively push ourselves deeper in our relationship both with each other and with Christ—to whom we give credit for bringing us together. When we were engaged, we listened to Tim Keller's sermon series he did in the early 90s on marriage and now that he has published The Meaning of Marriage, we're going to read through it. Keep that bond strong.

Since there are no study questions provided in the book, I'm making up my own and will be posting them here if anyone else is interested in them. I've tried to gear them both for married couples and singles. If you have the opportunity to use them in a small group setting, try to get both married and singles in on the conversation. It would have blessed me to have been around more married couples talking about their marriage when I was single as well as it would behoove me to get around more singles now that I am married.

Introduction Questions:

  1. How did you and your spouse meet? What was your "secret thread?"
  2. What is the longest marriage you are intimately aware of? Why are they still together? The shortest? Why did it end?
  3. If you are married: what do you hope to learn about marriage through reading this book? If you are single: What do you hope to learn about marriage through reading this book?
  4. How has marriage compared to your single life?
  5. What has been your experience with marriage; parents, grandparents, friends? What is your general conception of marriage? How do you understand society's conception of marriage: positive, negative, neutral? (p. 11)
  6. Have you thought of the Bible as a "reliable guide" in your married or single life? Why would you look to Scripture rather than your own "fears or romanticism, particular experiences, or culture's narrow perspective?" (p. 17)
  7. Do you agree with Keller's statement that 3 human institutions stand apart from all others—family, church, and state?
  8. What have you understood the purpose of marriage to be? What new ideas, insights are being raised in the introduction?
  9. Keller states on p. 13 that the Bible begins and ends with a marriage. What, in your mind, is the significance of this?
  10. Keller states that marriage "has been instituted by God and that marriage was designed to be a reflection of the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ. How have you seen/experienced this? How have you not?
  11. Keller states, "the main enemy of marriage [is] sinful self-centeredness. How has your marriage fought this enemy? How have you as a single fought sinful self-centeredness?
  12. Keller states that "marriage is…a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the persons God designed them to be." What do you think he means by this? Why is this important for marriage?

All The Meaning of Marriage Discussion Questions.

Movement & Momentum

Movement & Momentum


What did we all learn in high school physics class? An object in motion will stay in motion, unless acted on by an equal and opposite force? If I remember correctly, this is called momentum which maintains the movement already happening. Our momentum is prayer and for that I am grateful for all of your prayers both past and future. Please continue to create more momentum—praying—for the Gospel and its impact in Chicago.

Tom and I did meet this morning. He had many positive things to say about the proposal and I was continually waiting for the "but". "If a stranger had handed this to me, I would think it was a good plan." But? "It shows that you've done your homework." But? "It's clear that you have a Biblical approach and know your context." But? "Your goals and timelines are reasonable." But? The "but" never came. 
There are two things that we are looking at for next steps
First, Assessment. Sometimes a dirty and scary word; however, it is a necessary process that most, if not all, church planters go through. It shows exactly where my strengths and weaknesses lie. It will help to tell me where on the spectrum of church planters I lie—am I solely a church planter and every 3-5 years I will be planting a church, or am I more of a planter/pastor where I stick around a lot longer before moving on, if at all. Where are my blindspots? Things like, my numbers and budget is not exactly nailed down, which isn't a strike against me—Tom said, most church planters that are good with numbers aren't exactly good at planting churches—so I'll need to make sure I have those types of people around me. This will take place by the end of September. 
Second, Presbytery approval. The regional body of elders over Chicago for the EPC is the Rivers and Lakes Presbytery. They have final approval of the plan and proposal. Tom has a lot of influence and sway. Hopefully, there will be no unseen roadblocks. Rivers and Lakes has expressed interest in planting a church in Chicago. The R&L Presby. meets in September, which may be a little soon to get the plan approved, so it may be pushed to January 2013. Obviously, we would prefer September, but everything in God's timing. Once the plan is approved, I can receive my call and be ordained. 
And about ordination, I can take all my ordination exams before I receive my call. I will begin the long hours of study for the written and oral exams which should be completed in October at the MidAmerica Presbytery (with whom I am currently Under Care). 
Tom and I are scheduling our next meeting for the week of August 20th (my birthday, ehem). Stacey and I are moving forward with readying our house for sale and looking toward Chicago. It feels a bit like Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, when Indy goes to cross the invisible bridge.

We will continue to take steps forward in faith as we see God leading us.
Please continue to pray for the process and our faith in the process. Please continue to pray for the hearts and minds of those in Logan Square that God is calling to himself. Please pray that the Spirit would be stirring up their hearts for their ultimate longing which is only satisfied in Jesus. Please pray that God would provide an excellent employment opportunity for Stacey that would help accelerate our move. 
Jesus tells Peter in Matthew 16:18, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." As we pray, we find our way into God's movement and momentum which cannot be stopped. For it is only an opposite force exists (the gates of hell), not an equal and opposite force. It's high school physics. 
"For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD, a God greatly to be feared...and awesome above all...?" (Ps. 89:6, 7)


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Context is King

Context is King


My hermeneutics professors in Seminary repeated this as mantra as we would study different passages in the Bible. "Context is King," they would say, meaning the immediate paragraph, chapter and book would first determine the meaning of a word or phrase, long before a completely separate passage would.

What does context have to do with church planting? It has everything to do with it. When missionaries go out to different countries they learn the culture, the mannerisms, and the language. All of these can be summed up in one word: context. When we go plant churches, we cannot ignore the context that we plant in. The context of the city will look very different from the context of a small town. A suburban context has different cultural factors than a rural context. Even different neighborhoods hold different contexts than other neighborhoods in a city because of the demographic diversity that resides in them. Logan Square, for instance, is roughly 44% Hispanic, while West Town is about 77% White. These demographics will help shape the church that is planted there.

Hard data, like demographics, is great and essential to getting to know the context, but how, as the church, do we learn the language, the values, the hopes and dreams of those we want to reach? Or is it safe to assume that as Americans we all hold the same values? I don't only believe that it is unsafe, but would be damaging to do so. We must go into our context, Logan Square, for us with the posture to learn from the people that are there. If we don't, not only will we be seen as arrogant, we will not reach people for Christ there. We must learn to contextualize. So how do we do this?

Tim Keller, in his Redeemer Church Planting Manual, says we must be doing ethnographic research as well as demographic research. To do this, we must talk to people–not just do research on the internet. While demographics answers the "Who lives there?" question, ethnographics answers the "What are they like?" question. Keller gives several questions to ask people in order to get to know the people in your context: 

  • What brought you to [this place] and how do you like living here?
  • What are the dreams for your family?
  • What kind of church does [this place] need? What would it look like?
  • If you could ask God one thing, what would it be?
  • What's the toughest thing for you when you consider faith and spiritual things?
  • What are people's hopes, aspirations and pleasures?
  • What are people's greatest fears and problems?
  • How could a new church serve your needs?
  • How do people spend their free time? What do they do for fun?*
  • How is this neighborhood unique from others near it?*
  • Who is Jesus and what is his significance to you?*

It's only through personal interactions with those who live, work and play in the neighborhood, do we get to know how to speak the heart-language of those who live, work and play there. We do this research because it gives us a vision for the neighborhood and people who live there; it reinforces the conviction that you and the gospel are needed by the city and its people; and it removes our blindness and gives us the conviction that we need this city and people to teach us much.

And finally, in praying through the answers to these questions, we seek to have God's eyes for community to which we are called. Our goal is to love the city as God loves it, to recognize its brokenness and sin, and see how the Gospel heals and brings hope to the people who live there.

Stacey and I are headed up for a quick visit to Logan Square this weekend. We want to continually get to know our context and pray for it and learn from it. Please pray with us. Pray that God would give us a vision and hope for the neighborhood. Pray that we would be humble and learn from those there. Pray that would we be bold in asking these questions and truly hearing their answers.

*These questions I got from Dan Breed's Fox Cities Church Plant Project.

Who is a Church Planter?

Who is a Church Planter?


What makes a church planter different than a [church] pastor?

This is really a good question. If we don't, we may assume that there is no difference, or that the differences are very minute?  There are certainly a lot of overlaps. Scripture doesn't distinguish with a list; in fact, we affirm lay leaders and professional pastors need to have lives that reflect 1 Timothy 3:1-7. But ultimately what sets lay leaders from pastors is what sets pastors from planters apart: gifting and calling.

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ"

Ephesians 4:11-12

One is no better than another. We need all for the "building up" of the body of Christ.

So what specifically sets apart a church planter? Ed Stetzer lists several qualifications that planting organizations and denominations look for in his book Planting Missional Churches.

  1. Visioning capacity–the ability to imagine the future, to persuade other persons to become involved in that dream, and to bring the vision into reality.
  2. Intrinsically motivated–that one approaches ministry as a self-starter, and commits to excellence through hard work and determination.
  3. Creates ownership of ministry–one instills in other a sense of personal responsibility for the growth and success of the ministry and trains leaders to reproduce other leaders.
  4. Relates to the unchurched–develops rapport and breaks through barriers with unchurched people, encouraging them to examine and to commit themselves to a personal walk with God.
  5. Spousal cooperation–a marital partnership in which church planting couples agree on ministry priorities, each partner's role and involvement, and the integration and balance of ministry with family life.
  6. Effectively builds relationships–the skill to take initiative in meeting people and deepening relationships as a basis for more effective ministry.
  7. Committed to church growth–congregational development as a means for increasing the number and quality of disciples.
  8. Responsiveness to the community–abilities to adapt one's ministry to the culture and needs of the target area residents.
  9. Uses the giftedness of others–equips and releases other people to minister on the basis of their spiritual giftedness.
  10. Flexible and adaptable–adjusts to change and ambiguity, shifts priorities when necessary, and handles multiple tasks at the same time. This leader can adapt to surprises and emergencies.
  11. Builds group cohesiveness–one who enables the group to work collaboratively toward common goals, and who skillfully manages divisiveness and disunifying elements.
  12. Demonstrates resilience–the ability to sustain himself emotionally, spiritually, and physically through setbacks, losses, disappointments, and failures.
  13. Exercises faith–translates personal convictions into personal and ministry decisions and resulting actions.

A pastor may have some of these and even all of these giftings, but a church planters must possess all and to a higher degree than one who is called to the non-planting pastorate. No. 12, for example: a pastor certainly has to be resilient to the congregant who doesn't like the pace of the hymns sung on Sunday–and never does–but a planter has to be faced with the reality that though he may have been good friends with a neighbor, gym partner, drinking buddy, that person may never come to church after a year, or maybe two or three. But the planter loves him just the same.

Oh and no. 14, in my case at least, have a beard.