A New Approach to Conferences

11 08 2008

In this new age of online video, endless podcasts and a super-active blogosphere I’ve been pondering the purpose of traveling to conferences.  I know a lot of people get a charge out of “just being there” (I’m not one of them) and others are amazing networkers who can develop deep relationships over the course of a weekend (this is very difficult for introverts like me in large venues) but what about the rest of us?

There are new types of conferences that are worth traveling to but they are few and far between.

So I want to layout three types of conferences and describe the direction technology should be shifting us toward.

Type 1 – Blessing Conferences. About 95% of conferences attendance seems to be represented by this type.  You get 2-5 famous speakers/authors (and assorted workshop leaders) to discuss certain topics and share the expense across a large number of people.

  • Effectiveness Scale 3 – Because there is no real continuity between what many are saying and most of the content is available in books and mp3s it doesn’t tend to change people deeply.
  • Technology Scale 1 – Almost all of these talks are available for free or low cost afterward meaning technology actually makes is more convenient not to go.
  • Networking Scale 2 – The crowd and venues make networking a very tough thing and the schedule is usually fairly full.  But because these draw large numbers there’s a decent chance someone will be there you’ve wanted to connect with.
  • Hype Scale 9 – This is the real secret to these conferences.  The large amount of money allows for high scale marketing and high profile speakers creating an air of “I just can’t miss it” that many fall into.

Type 2 – Brainstorming Conferences (sometimes called summits or mastermind sessions).  About 2% of all conference attendance is this type.  This is where you get a group of 5-20 innovators to develop solutions for a common problem.  These tend to be invitation only.

  • Effectiveness Scale 4 – There is a chance you will leave more confused than when you came but creating mastermind sessions can also lead to unexpected breakthroughs.
  • Technology Scale 8 – Technology can not substitute for the kind of synergy created by a group of practitioners in a war-room for hours with whiteboards.
  • Networking Scale 9 – After these sessions you know each other quite well and learn to rely on each other’s strengths.  Life-long relationships are likely to form.
  • Hype Scale 6 – It’s quite exciting to be invited to these but since no real money is being made it takes a person a lot of foresight to organize these.


Type 3 – Building Conferences
(sometimes called bootcamps).  About 3% of conference attendance is this type.  This is where a group of highly motivated people have decided to do something very narrow and specific (start a business, plant a church, learn a new skill etc.) and they are being trained by one person or team to immediately put into practice what they are learning.

  • Effectiveness Scale 9 – These tend to have a huge impact on people since the training is very focused on a specific outcome and the kind of questions and interaction is extremely practical
  • Technology Scale 6 – You can reproduce some of this technologically but because these tend to be small conferences and you will be implementing what you are learning its great to be able to ask your specific questions and interact directly with people who have been there and have done what you’re about to do.  Also, these sessions are often not made available online.
  • Networking Scale 8 – Since the group is small and everyone in the room has either done what you are about to do (the trainers) or is about to do it (the trainees) the relationships you will easily create will be extremely valuable.
  • Hype Scale 4 – The marketing is usually fairly lax because the target audience is so small and it requires them to be already bought in (so marketing isn’t as important).

Isn’t the conclusion obvious?  If you only have the time or money to go to 1-3 conferences per year go to Brainstorming and especially Building conferences and download 6+ Blessing conferences to supplement.

But this shift has not been made yet and I’m hoping by pointing this out I might do a tiny bit to move this change along

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Living Communally

7 08 2008

“Roomies Rock!” is an often heard phrase as I feel continually blessed by the experience of living with others.

A little over a year ago we started living with a young couple in our community.  It was such an evident blessing and so successful others in our community began to do the same.  My wife and I were reflecting on this sudden trend when we realized that every family with kids in our entire community is now living communally.  Some have bought houses for this purpose others have finished (or refinished) their basements and we’re all experiencing wonderful blessings from it.  But wait, before you try this at home, allow me to outline the elements I feel has really made this work for us and for many of our friends.

  • Same 100% commitment to Jesus as Lord.  All have gone through our Story-Formed Life discipleship training which deeply tests our foundational beliefs particularly if we are living a life surrendered to Jesus as Lord.  Living with others when you are all serving the SAME master works but even if everyone calls themselves a Christian, if they are serving another master things could get ugly.
  • Same Christian culture – Our community has a very strong, unified culture that includes weekly rhythms, holidays and common values.
  • Deep Appreciation for Diversity – Our community is universally obsessed with the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) not so we can label each other’s personality and discount one another but so that we can love each other.  This goes way beyond the 5 love languages.  We study the personality type of those who live with us.  What happens when 3 extroverts are living with 1 introvert?  What happens when one J (structured and clean) lives with 3 Ps (values freedom and spontaneity).  We study each other’s personalities for the purpose of honoring each other and openly discussing possible issues early.
  • Household Meetings – Once per week we meet and ask questions to draw out issues before they become a problem
  • Serve Together – For us church happens in our homes multiple days of the week (The Gathering, Discipleship Trainings, Sabbath Meal, etc.)  We want to aggressively practice hospitatlity but that can be a lot of work.  Having a team of 4 who works together and mixing young marrieds without kids (or just 1) with larger families creates a balanced team.
  • Strong Household Heads – When you have a highly trained and motivated father/elder at the head of every household who is dedicated to building a Christ-centered household they set a stable tone that skillfully handles the complexities of communal living.

So what are other blessings to this arrangement?

  • Deeper discipleship – Living life together causes many more discipleship opportunties where iron sharpens iron.
  • More adults training kids – My kids best friends are usually the couple who lives with us.  What better friends can they have than committed mature disciples who love them and love to play their silly games.
  • Sharing the physical burden -“When I cook you clean” is the best thing that ever happened to my evenings.
  • Creating a Common Space – This is huge.  When people live with one another an area of the house (usually the kitchen and family room) become common space which greatly increases the number of others who feel free to stop by and hang out in your common space creating a more daily life together as a community.
  • Fostering body life – In our culture of radical individualism we are desperately trying to find a way to live life like a 1 Cor. 12 body that is interdependent and demonstrates radical love and service. Living communally brings you instantly into that interdependent life and reshapes you from an obsessive individualist to one who loves to live for others.
  • Showing the world the redeemed community – “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love each other”.  Our neighbors get to see first hand the love we have for one another.  Many of them cannot imagine living with another family in a peaceful blessed way.  They’re having a hard enough time living with their spouse.  This demonstrates the real power of the Gospel.




Raising Kids to be Leaders – Homeschool vs. Public school dilemma

6 08 2008

If you have school age children you are probably familiar with the long lists of pros and cons for both homeschooling your kids and sending your kids to the public school.  For the time being we’ve settled for doing something a bit odd and that is to be 3/4ths homeschoolers.

This is how it works.  Every Fall, at the beginning of the school year we send our kids to the public school and we present it to them as a mission.  They are there to –

  • Make Friends
  • Train how to learn in a social environment
  • Test their ability to resist negative peer pressure
  • Develop their leadership skills
  • Get involved in a team sport
  • Demonstrate the Gospel to their class mates (primarily through acts of kindness and service)

We are going to use the following tools to assist them:

  • Building them up for and reminding them of the mission everyday before they leave
  • Discuss daily how it went (not asking “how was your day” but asking specific questions like “how were you a leader today”, “did you face any negative peer pressure?  How did you respond”, “Did you deepen any friendships?” “How did your actions demonstrate the Gospel?”)
  • Weekly Family Discipleship on Monday evening where we Worship, Encounter the Story, Midrash, Apply and then Intercede for their classmates.
  • Boys Club and Girls club – We want to watch them and help them develop their leadership skills so once a month they will invite all their classmates and any parents who want to come to our house where we’ll have a huge party complete with things like group games, activities, camp fire, tea party (for the girls), Bible story (taught by our kids) etc.

Then sometime in November or December at the latest we’ll pull them out and begin again our homeschool rhythm but keep doing the boys club and girls club once per month.

There is so much we do to train our kids at home I want them in that rhythm for 8-9 months of the year (and we travel a lot as a family) but I feel this is a better balance.  Yah, the school district will think it strange but I’m sure they’ll get used to it.

What things are you trying to help your kids form a powerful family identity and missional identity?  How do you balance the need for advanced education and peer socialization?





Go First to the Pastors? – To the Jews first then the Greeks

5 08 2008

During Paul’s initial missionary journeys you see a repeated pattern –

  1. Paul reasons with the Jews at the synagogue
  2. Those who believe he trains and they form churches in homes
  3. Those who don’t believe get jealous and stir up persecution against the Apostles
  4. When the persecution gets really intense (or when training is established) they move on

As I’ve mentioned before, I place a lot of stock in what the Spirit of God was doing in Acts and what he inspired Luke to write.  I believe we need to at least ask the question why?  Why did Paul use this pattern and if we were to do this today, what would it look like?

Today church planters are encouraged to avoid other churches like the plague and to focus on serving and reaching unbelievers.  When persecution got increasingly intense Paul did end up starting outside the synagogue with God-fearing Gentiles but something in him always said to go first to those who already know God.  Why?

It goes to the very nature of apostolic ministry.  An apostle wants to see the Kingdom of God take root in a whole city or an entire region.  He doesn’t serve a fraction of the church in that city (one denomination or a single congregation) but the entire church in that city.  So if he’s called to start a disciple-making work, why not work with cooperating churches?

The pattern might go something like this –

  1. Arrive at the new city and go meet with the ministerial association
  2. Offer to serve them for the purpose of creating a unified disciple-making work in the city
  3. Any who will listen cooperate with
  4. Begin the disciple-making work
  5. As people are being transformed some pastors may become jealous especially if many of their people are being built up
  6. Stay there until discipleship training and house church planting is established (or until persecution becomes intense and makes you the focus)
  7. Move to the next city

If we have no chance of creating controversy with the way we’re starting new works I have to ask, are we using the correct pattern?  Maybe, like Paul, we were not meant to see the denomination lines man, in his sin, has created.  Maybe we should see the church in the city the way God sees it – all of his called out children as one people.





Are we a People?

4 08 2008

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” – 1 Peter 2:9

I was listening to a speaker relay a conversation he had with a Jewish man where the Jew pointed out that the biggest difference between Jews and Christians is that Jews see themselves as a people.  They feel a sense of oneness and unity with fellow Jews and don’t immediately assume the fellow Jew they are meeting for the first time probably belongs to a different tribe.  Christians, on the other hand, have splintered into a thousand groups and look with suspicion on one another, not feeling any real sense of unity with their fellow believers unless they subscribe to their particular brand of the Christian faith.

So do you identify with other believers over a set of specific doctrines or does our oneness in Christ cause you to look at all the churches in your city and say, “we are all one people”?  I must admit this is a strange idea to me.  I have very little real faith in our oneness as a people and so I’m afraid I might be part of the problem.  What do you all think?

Our current attitude is perfectly summed up in the below joke that so ironically described the Christian attitude toward each other it actually won the funniest religious joke of the year.  Funny, but quite sad…

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: “Stop. Don’t do it.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.

“Well, there’s so much to live for!”

“Like what?”

“Are you religious?”

He said: “Yes.”

I said: “Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?”

“Christian.”

“Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

“Protestant.”

“Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”

“Baptist.”

“Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”

“Baptist Church of God.”

“Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”

“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”

“Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”

He said: “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915.”

I said: “Die, heretic scum,” and pushed him off.





Gandalf the Grey – Tolkien’s Apostolic Archetype

2 08 2008

(Warning: If you don’t enjoy fantasy you probably want to skip this post.)

Ever since my friend Luke Crook forced my to read The Lord of the Rings in 7th grade I’ve been enamored with the character of Gandalf.  What is it about him that resonates so deeply with me?  As I’ve been studying the nature of apostolic ministry I continue to be struck by the similarities between Gandalf’s role (and the role of the 5 wizards) and the developing biblical picture I’m getting regarding God’s apostles.

Here are a few parallels:

“The Wandering Wizard” – Gandalf is itinerant and insists on building up other groups but being beholden to none.  He takes REAL responsibility for his role in providing guidance and strategy without settling down in any one place (the flaw of Saruman).  In the Silmarillion there is an interesting narrative about the White Council (Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, Saruman etc.).  Galadriel wanted Gandalf to be the leader of the White Council but Gandalf refused because “he would not be subject to any summons”.  He will not be rooted to one institution because it would interfere with his ability to serve many (this also must be true of apostles) which leads to my second point.

“Servant of the Secret Fire” – My favorite scene in The Fellowship of the Ring is when Gandalf faces the Balrog of Morgoth.  Gandalf is already visibly shaken by being hit by a counter spell at the tomb door and suddenly Legolas cries out Ai! Ai! A Balrog!  And you know when the powerful, wise, hundreds-of-years-old elf freaks out you’re in serious trouble.  But when Gandalf faces off with the Balrog on the bridge he tells the creature “I am a servant of the Secret Fire” and the second I read that for the first time I was entraced.  Tolkien has amazing literary restraint.  He tells you very little about the history of Middle-Earth but just enough to give his works a sense of almost endless depth and history.  Now I’m a big enough geek to read Tolkien’s other books and notes and I know that Gandalf was sent by the Valar to Middle-Earth to counter the growing threat of Sauron.  But Gandalf’s self-identity as a servant of something secret and unseen by those who knew him is exactly the kind of self-identity needed for an apostle.  Apostles are not superstars they are servants of the unseen Kingdom of God, not building fortresses like Saruman but on the move, tirelessly serving and building up the forces of God’s people to face their enemy which leads to my final point.

“Stormcrow” – Gandalf was given the name Stormcrow by some because his arrival always seemed to be perfectly timed with a season of war of either expansion or defense.  Likewise God’s apostles often arrive to shake up foundations and move God’s people forward which can be unsettling for those who are desperately trying to defend the status quo.

There are many others but I thought I’d list a few and expose my hopeless geekdom for public display once again.





Strategy vs. Revelation – Striking the right balance?

1 08 2008

My whole life I’ve been an obsessive strategist by nature but many in the church have looked with suspicion on my gift believing that there is something inherently ungodly about strategy.

Statements like “we just need to be faithful” or “God doesn’t care about how you do it He just wants your heart” have shut me down making me feel less spiritual because I deeply care if what we’re doing is the best method.  As I entered the business field I was greeted with the exact opposite response where strategy is highly prized and respected.

This is one reason I think God is going to call many of his apostles from the business world.

But does focusing on strategy breed an unhealthy independence from God and dependence on man and his plans?  I believe there is truth to this concern about strategy as some have embraced ungodly strategies and have justified their independence from God as a “holy pragmatism” and have built forms of church that have no chance of creating a biblically functioning body.

So what’s the balance?

I believe the answer may be a need to work from revelation to strategy not from pragamtism to strategy.

God has given apostles an ability to understand how God’s revelation builds a God-given strategy that will have the unique ability to allow the church to function properly.  God is beginning to release the apostolic ministry in our day in a way never seen since the first century and you will know an apostle by their unique ability to understand how revelation impacts strategy.  This will bridge the gaps created in the previous generation by the faithful but strategy-less pastoral church and the revelation-ignoring pragmatism of the evangelist led church.

We’re about to see why God’s divine order is not to build the church on the gifts of the pastor, the teacher or the evangelist but to build the church “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2:20-21)