It's funny, but for all we talk about the shifting of paradigms, we rarely perceive it in ourselves until the shift is nearly complete. That's what I'm learning about myself these days.
It all started with some online buddies talking about attending a conference in Washington, DC, hosted by Blogstar Mark Batterson.
Before I get into this and generate a ton of confusion (which I fully intend to do...) let me clarify. I love Mark Batterson. I've met him once or twice while we were in DC and found him to be very gracious and humble. He's planting a church in what I think is probably as difficult a place as possible other than some inner city location. His team is making a conscious decision to do what needs to be done in a very difficult place, for all the right reasons. I have zero questions about his heart for God or the fact that he is doing exactly what he is called to do. My only beef with him would have to be that irritating audio file that gurgles upon opening his blog. Mark, it was cute the first time. Not so much the 23rd.
All gurgling aside, Mark is hosting a conference that starts today, I believe. Some very cool peeps are going. It promises to be one of the best blogged conferences. A few years back, I would have been there with them. Not now....not because I think they're wrong, but because my focus has shifted.
In 1997, we moved to Cinci to church plant. My mindset would have put me directly in the middle of the demographic for this week's conference. My heart was to touch the unchurched with the love of God - that hasn't changed, by the way. I still think that way and my most exciting times of writing and teaching are never those directed towards the choir.
Early in the days of planting, I was convinced that we needed to reach people at the areas where the felt needy. People thought their biggest problems were parenting skills, finances, and self image, so I preached for a number of years on those things. The intention was always to draw them deeper to the very serious matters of the heart. Despite the fact that we never saw the meteoric growth we hoped for, we had fairly good results, although to be honest, our pool of people were absolutely stellar and the most hamfisted pastor could probably have felt fairly succesful working with these beautiful hearted folks.
After a while, though, I noticed something. A contingent of people who thought the way I did...I'd go so far as to say most of the people who thought the way I did....had difficulty navigating the sharp right turn that tells people "Your biggest problem is not your abysmal life skills. Your biggest problem is that Jesus is just." I saw a lot of energy devoted to the first portion - and it was making a difference in peoples lives to a point....but I also saw that more often than not, the guy who made that his initial focus found it his only focus. I was shocked when began to feel my calling lay more in the second part of that message than the first.
I felt like our church planting was on the very cusp of Christendom. Even if we were doing it poorly, it felt like the edge to me. I've since changed my view. FeltNeedBasedChurchPlanting.com is certainly an important part of the kingdom, but for me, it's no longer the frontier. Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery would not have been church planters. Planters - who I love and respect, please don't read this differently - are not explorers. They are first generation settlers. By it's very nature, success is perceived as measurable establishment.
For me, what we're doing right now is the frontier. For where God is going, it needs to look like this. Less practical on earth, more practical in heaven. Why on earth would God do some thing as irrational as use a group of people singing and praying in a funky, remodeled grocery store? Unless the cutting edge of His plan all along included them.
A few weeks ago, I was next to Kelsey in the prayer room. I looked at her and thought "If there were anything crazier on the planet than this, we would find it." Church planting felt like that to me, although results were so quantifiable that success would have made it seem very practical. Being a missionary to the Congo, while certainly tougher culturally (and arguably much more dangerous), makes more sense to most people than what we're doing right now.
Praying. Singing. Fasting. Training young people to do the same. This is crazy. Thank God that He says it works. At least it worked at one point. We're banking on it working again.
Buzzboys - have a great conference. If I were there I'd give Scott a nugey on his stylish new hairdoo and give Gary a wedgie just for fun. I hope you all are blessed to do what you're called to do.