Archives for category: missional

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This is part two of a series I’m writing with my good friend Jason Evans. You can read part one here.

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Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.
— Paul Batalden

Suicidal Tendencies broke onto the punk scene of southern California in 1980. Long before the dreaded rap rock era of loud music1, Suicidal mixed the aesthetics of LA gang culture with punk and metal music. Not long after forming, they would find critical acclaim for their song, Institutionalized.2

The song dramatizes the story of young man who is criticized for his looks and behavior by his parents who think he might be unstable. At one point in the song, vocalist Mike Muir cries out, “I went to your schools, I went to your churches …” explaining that he is a direct result of the systems his parents created for him.

Beyond Critique
Punk has always been defined by a strong critique of prevailing systems and dominant assumptions. But more than critique in song, a punk rock ethic has lead many to seek out accountability of those in power. Through protests, petitions, and other actions punks have often set out to hold the powers accountable for their actions.

Further, they also point out to the rest of us our complicity, or participation, in furthering systems that often disenfranchise those on the margins. Suggestion by Fugazi is a striking example3 — the song decries the objectification and harassment of women in our culture, and calls out our complicity:

She does nothing to deserve it
He only wants to observe it
We sit back like they taught us
We keep quiet like they taught us…
He touches her ’cause he wants to feel it
We blame her for being there
But we are all guilty

American Jesus, Mohawks, and Faux Hawks
Several years ago Jason was watching the legendary Bad Religion play in downtown San Diego, CA. They ended their show with the song, “American Jesus.” At the peak of the song the audience chanted along mockingly, “In God we trust,” taunting the religious establishment that had reared so many of us. In that moment Jason realized something; the American Jesus that Bad Religion was criticizing was not a Jesus he wanted to follow.

We’re both too old to care anymore, but when we were much younger we knew there was a difference between punks that sported mohawks and “faux hawks.” Like Wattie Buchan4 of The Exploited or Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, those that had shaved clean most of their head with the exception of tall, often brightly colored, spikes jolting out of the tops of their scalps radically and obviously identified with punk culture. Their job opportunities were limited, public scrutiny was expected. They were serious punks. On the other hand, those who used a little hair gel to spike up their hair for the concert, only to wash it out at the end of the night could go back to being a normal kid, blending easily back into the culture—no cost, no ostracization.

Hair styles may be the shallow concerns of adolescents but punk rock provided an analog to our faith. Were we taking this seriously? Were willing follow Jesus only on Sundays? When it was comfortable? Or were we willing to follow when it was difficult as well? The Jesus that Bad Religion was mocking blindly aligned with patriotism and consumerism. It was a faux-Jesus; a Jesus that had some veneer of Jesus but none of the substance. That said, it’s easy to critique a shallow theology, the challenge is in choosing a different path.

A Different Path
From the prophets to Jesus of Nazareth, we see the same principle of speaking truth to power, holding those in power publicly accountable. What is more, they called God’s people to repentance which was more than saying, “We’re sorry, God.” Repentance begins with a recognition that we’re headed down the wrong path and is the hard choice to live differently, to count the cost, and to follow Jesus wherever he may lead.

It’s important to acknowledge our complicity in the problems we face today. Too often, we have made decisions based on fear, rather than perfect love that drives out fear. We have loved our lives and comfort in this world, refusing to plant the seeds of the Kingdom through our sacrifice. Rather than welcoming strangers, we have chosen to fortify and insulate ourselves against anyone who looks or feels different from us. We have blended comfortably into the system, rather than following the incarnate Christ, the light who overcomes darkness.

As we journey through the season of Advent, we are reminded of the stories of an unwed girl and day laborer that journeyed to Bethlehem looking for a place to stay. In a barn, the unKing would be born and his first cradle would be a feeding trough. The Gospel narrators do not provide these images on accident. They are intended to remind us that when His name is announced to mean, “God with us” that this means God’s presence would be found amidst the unwanted and outcast; not simply those we find to be comfortable company.

For varied reasons, many Christians are uncomfortable with where our nation stands today. We too are concerned. Yet we feel challenged by our punk roots and discipleship to Jesus to not simply criticize but to choose to live differently, no matter what popular opinion might be. We feel compelled to confess our complicity and to choose a different path. In our homes and Christian communities, will we embody the kind of life that the gospel calls us to?

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1. Look, even Barbie was “rappin’ and rockin’”

2. Did I see a boneless in that video, amidst all of the powersliding? Ah, the 90s.

3. See this short article from the Washington City Paper

4. Punk’s not dead, oh no! Wattie, after all these years.

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I’m thankful for my good friend Jason Evans, with whom I’m co-writing and cross-posting this series.

Dan and I met several years ago while we both lived in San Diego. We became fast friends; both of us were Christian leaders that were hopeless music fans, particularly of punk rock and hardcore.

After this contentious, fractured election season, the two of us were messaging each other. The rhetoric before and after the election has been disheartening, to say the least. So much hope is put in the office of president. Yet, as Christians, we place our hope in another leader, Jesus of Nazareth. For us, this hope makes us more present to the brokenness and needs of our world today, rather than just trying to hang on until we die and go to heaven.

As we begin the season of Advent, we thought it appropriate to reflect on why we’ve given ourselves to this unKing Jesus and why we feel some things are worth revisiting during this post-election and pre-Christmas season.

Though we increasingly just look like average dads1, we’re both punks at heart. So, we’ve decided share our convictions through that lens. Punk rock is much more than a music genre. There is an important ideology that lies within it that you might miss if you’ve only listened to the Sex Pistols on the FM radio.2 In fact, in our adolescence it was punk rock that kept our faith alive and would nudge us deeper into our callings as Christian leaders.

We both might say that we are Christian because of punk rock. Dan remarked recently to another pastor that the DIY hardcore movement of the 90s was an essential part of his spiritual formation (more on this throughout the rest of this series).

We’re calling this series, “Out of Step” which we are borrowing from an old song by DC hardcore band, Minor Threat.

What Would Ian Do?  
In late 1980, two young men started a record label in Washington DC called Dischord Records. Since then, Dischord Records has released over 150 albums from a variety of Washington DC-area artists. The label has never entered into an agreement with a major record label and has remained fiercely independent to this day.

One of the label’s two founders is Ian MacKaye. MacKaye was a member of the band that provided Dischord its first release, Teen Idles – a DC hardcore, straight edge, punk band. Not long after the demise of Teen Idles, MacKaye formed a new group, Minor Threat. For three intense years, Minor Threat played countless shows, touring across the nation and spreading their straight edge message.

Straight edge, an ideal that grew rapidly during the 80’s era of punk and hardcore, encouraged abstinence from sex, drugs, smoking and alcohol. The proponents of straight edge encouraged punks to think clearly about social responsibility and personal development.

Four years after Minor Threat split up, Ian formed a new group, Fugazi. Labeled as a “post-punk” group, fusing elements of punk, dub and jazz, Fugazi has released seven albums, and toured extensively both nationally and internationally. Even before words like “punk” and “indie” were used extensively in popular culture, Fugazi and Dischord Records were committed to operating their business in a different way.

Fugazi has always maintained a ticket price of five dollars for each performance though, given their popularity, they had many opportunities to charge far more than that. Dischord has consistently ensured that the bands on their label make a fair share of profits and provided fairly for record label staff. In a time when record prices soared, Dischord always sought to be frugal and fiscally responsible in order to keep their prices as low as possible so that young people with little money could afford their releases.

For the entire music industry (and beyond) Ian Mackaye has helped redefine success by refusing to tread the well-worn path. Through his identity as a musician and a business owner, Mackaye has defied market principles and creative definition. But more than simply critiquing the system, Ian Mackaye has also created alternatives to it.

We, as followers of Christ, could learn a thing or two from MacKaye’s example. Sometimes, we need to pause and ask ourselves, “What would Ian do?”

Out of Step with the World  
As David Foster Wallace describes in This is Water, sometimes we need to take a step back and try to comprehend the cultural air we’re breathing. It does not benefit us to keep paddling down the same stream if it’s going to eventually dump us headlong over a waterfall.

In work, finances, business, relationships, and even recreation, our culture assumes that Newer! Bigger! Faster! is the best way to live. At the same time, many Western churches (and not only megachurches) have adopted the “more is better” mentality.3

Scarcity tells us there is never enough, that if someone else gains then I must be losing. Scarcity creates a constant, low-grade fever, a gnawing worry that we won’t have enough. Scarcity points the finger at the suffering and oppressed, blaming them for their condition. Scarcity screams get all you can, while you can. Scarcity is the walker among us, always consuming but never satisfied.

Advent tells us a completely different story, one that is out of step with this world. Advent heralds the coming of our unKing Jesus, whose generosity was so great that it frustrated, annoyed, and drove mad the scarcity brokers of his time but delighted and enchanted the marginalized and broken. Advent reminds us that, paradoxically, life is found in giving all we can, just as our unKing Jesus gave himself away completely. Advent pulls back the curtain to show us there is a better way to live, a way of freedom, grace, and wonder.

In the Book of Acts, Saint Luke writes of the early church, “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” Instead of scarcity, the Early Church practiced generosity, putting into practice the Jubilee and Sabbath principles that Jesus echoed at the inception of his ministry from Isaiah. They functioned on an economic paradigm of abundance. They were determined to make sure all had access to what they needed.

As MacKaye writes in his history of Dischord Records:

In the beginning it was basically a volunteer arrangement as there was no money to pay anyone, but by the early ’90s we were not only able to pay everyone, but also able to provide them with health insurance and other benefits. I’ve always considered this one of our most important achievements. Most businesses, including record labels, have used profits (or at least the fear of losing profits) as their guideline for operations. Because we have tried to approach the label as a mission of documentation as well as a community-based entity, we have managed to avoid many of the industry-standard practices. The fact that we are able to help support the people who work for us as well as pay royalties to the bands seems to be proof that such an approach is possible.

Perhaps MacKaye’s example can help us, as followers of Christ, reimagine what success looks like and help us reclaim the heritage of the Early Church. Like punk rock, the Early Church did not simply critique and challenge cultural norms, it offered an alternative. A generative community, whether the Early Church or punk rock community, is shaped by particular values and habits. Over the next three weeks we will share a post a week on our blogs that explores countercultural community, practices and ideals all through the lenses of our Christian faith and punk rock. We hope you will read and engage. May this season of Advent become one of abundance, generosity, and wonder as we celebrate our unKing Jesus.

Let’s go!

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1. These days, before heading out to a show, Dan’s daughter (wisely) reminds him, “Please don’t hurt yourself.”

2. Simply reading the word “punk” might evoke the mohawked miscreants of the fictional band Pain playing “all the way from the hills of Hollyweird” in this particularly surreal episode of CHiPS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLyMjIccjL4. Pro tip: The song borders on listenable if played at 1.5x speed.

3. Bill McKibben offers an important critique in his book, Deep Economy (Times Books, 2007).

Anyone who has been in full-time vocational ministry in a church setting will know firsthand the knife’s edge of burnout and disillusionment.

In some ways, we respond to God’s call because we are open-hearted to his purposes, but it is that very open-heartedness that can leave us wounded, jaded, and burned out.

I am grateful that God, in His grace and wisdom, opened my eyes to see that pastoral work is about a whole lot more than preaching in front of big crowds very early in my ministry life. It’s certainly not wrong to have big dreams for God; we just need to be careful how we define “big” or “important” in the Kingdom.

One of my most powerful moments of “re-conversion” came as I dug into Scripture and saw God’s passionate heart for justice. Not the flavor-of-the-month activism that fills your social media stream, but the kind God declares in Amos 5:24:

Let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

This awakening to justice breathed new life into my relationship with Jesus and my heart to serve God and others.

The Gospel encompasses personal righteousness, but never at the exclusion of compassion or justice for others. The fullness of God’s Shalom, where Christ rules and reigns as King, leads to the flourishing of all people as God renews all of creation. Followers of Jesus are invited to participate in that mission of restoration and redemption, through our words, actions, relationships, and stewardship.

Way back in 2009, I heard the origin of the One Day’s Wages story at the very first Idea Camp (created, curated & hosted by Charles Lee).  There, I heard Eugene Cho tell the story of how his family, on a very ordinary pastor’s salary, had committed $100,000 toward the fight against global poverty. I marveled as Eugene shared, “We’re not asking people to do anything we’re not willing to do.”

From their very real personal sacrifice and leadership, ODW has become a powerful force for good, “a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.” I am thankful for ODW’s partnership with Justice Ventures International, on whose Advisory Board I serve.

I have eagerly anticipated Eugene’s book, Overrated and, though painful to read at times (because of the level of self-reflection it requires), I highly commend this book to others.

A quick heads-up, though. Eugene is not passing out trophies to everyone just for showing up. He asks himself, and all of us — particularly in this age of celebrity causes and slacktivism — one sharp, insightful question:

Are you more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing the world?

I appreciated Eugene’s pastoral reflection on justice as discipleship:

A gospel that not only saves but also serves;
A gospel that not only saves but seeks to restore all things back unto the one that ushered forth all that is good and beautiful;
A gospel that not only saves but ushers in the Kingdom of God;
A gospel that not only saves but restores the dignity of humanity — even in the midst of our brokenness and depravity.
This gospel is not just for us. The gospel is good news for all.

Eugene shares with honesty, humor, and grace. As a local pastor in Seattle, Eugene is keenly aware that justice is not about jumping on some kind of bandwagon. That sort of activism leads to burnout. However, when our eyes our opened to see God’s heart of and for justice, we are transformed in the process:

We need to pursue justice not just because the world is broken, but because we’re broken too. Pursuing justice helps us put our own lives in order. Perhaps this is what God intended — that in doing His work serving others, we discover more of His character and are changed ourselves.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book as a free review copy. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” And, in the interest of full disclosure, I also purchased a copy of this book because I believe its message is that important. 

Today’s headline comes with a grateful tip of the hat to my friend Dan King, author of The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew-Warmer to Poverty-Fighter.

“Adventure” almost sounds too simple to describe our church planting journey over the last nine (!) months, but I’m not sure there’s a better way to describe what an unexpected, joy-filled, nerve-wracking, and humbling journey it’s been so far!

When I read my friend Wayne’s recent blog post, I felt a deep resonance with his words:

I stepped back, sat down in my chair and watched it unfold(ing) before my eyes. I didn’t have to do much. The people are doing it. It’s high collaboration, and requires minimal management, because we all are heading down the same track: that of a missional church with a multiethnic mission in the suburbs of west Houston.

Switch out H-town for sunny San Diego, and you’ll get a pretty good sense of our Anchor City story.

I’m beyond grateful to plant along my extraordinary wife: A truly gifted pastor, preacher, teacher, and developer of leaders. I’ve loved seeing God work through her to unleash the people of God to join Him on His mission of redemption and reconciliation. I often tell people (and only half-jokingly) that my job around church is to set up chairs (and, humblebrag: I’m pretty good at it!).

From time to time, you might see church leadership articles ask the question: If you were not on staff at your church, would you be part of it? For me, as I look at the amazing things God is doing through Anchor City, the answer is a thousand times yes!

Our community has taught me so much about generosity, devotion, laughter, and hard work. I believe in our friends so much — and when such a gifted group is willing to share their kindness and talents so freely, quite frankly, it’s easy to believe in them. I can only pray that God will shape me into a pastor worthy of such a church community.

We’re far from perfect, but God is raising up a beautiful family through Anchor City. If you are in the San Diego area and you’re looking to become part of a church community, we invite you to be a part of the story God is writing in and through our lives.

Following Jesus’ call to plant Anchor City Church in January has been an adventure all the way!

Please take a minute and watch this short video (filmed and produced by some very talented creatives from our community) that introduces our heart & vision for Anchor City:


May God’s will be done in San Diego as it is in heaven!

I met Dan King (perhaps better known as @bibledude) through the Idea Camp, a unique tribe of idea-makers who collaborate for good in their neighborhoods, and around the world. Dan’s love for his family and for the church to rise up and become the force for good that God intends stood out to me as we shared a meal together.

The title, The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew-Warmer to Poverty-Fighter, captures the essence of what Dan seeks to do with this book — to move people from lukewarm church attending to passionately following Jesus to serve those He loves. For a more in-depth conversation on why Dan wrote this book and what he hopes to accomplish through it, read this interview I conducted with him for ChurchLeaders.com.

Read the rest of this entry »

Our church community will be partnering with Amor Ministries this summer to build a home in South Africa for a family in need.  As I learn more about South Africa, I see a story that is both broken and beautiful.

The oppressive apartheid regime ended in 1994, and yet economic and social problems continue to linger today.  One third of the population lives on less than two dollars a day. Almost ten million people live in poverty housing, crowded into townships in shacks made of whatever people can piece together — cardboard, scrap wood and corrugated iron.

Our church has partnered with Amor over the last couple of years in building homes in Mexico.  We appreciate the heart of service behind their ministry — Amor works with local pastors to listen to the needs of their communities and to find ways to bring long-lasting hope and transformation.

I designed a graphic below to give supporters a quick glance at our South Africa trip.  I deeply appreciate your prayer for our team.