Remembering

During the weekend of January 13-15, some of the NieuCommunities South Africa crew took off on a retreat to our old stomping grounds of Pangani.  For nearly a decade, Pangani was a space God used to richly bless countless lives of ministry leaders around the world.  Standing in this position of trying to sell it and honor the past has been a very humbling experience.

Most of those who now participate in NieuCommunities are of an African culture now.  The only person in our leadership team that has experienced living here are Curtis and myself.  It was an important step to give the other members of our leadership team (and some of our other members) that understanding in a tangible way.  What better way to constantly remind ourselves of our past than building an ark with relics from the past?

Just as the people of Israel placed crucial relics of their past, I took the team on a tour of the property.  I told stories as I remembered hearing them from before my time as well as stories I helped to write.  It was painful, joy filled, and emotionally driven for me.  As we worked our way to the coffee shop, I stood in a very important place.  Natalie and I sat with Rob Yackley there a little over two years ago to confirm the vision God had been placing on our hearts to stand next to African leaders in community, helping birth new initiatives wherever God opened doors.  It was in that room that we launched into what we are now busy building today.

Builders build on foundations.  Without the solid foundation, whatever you try to build just collapses.  I wanted to make sure that at this pivotal moment in the story of NieuCommunities, we captured a deep understanding of that very foundation.  I want us to throw our hammers wherever God allows us to while anchoring our identity in what God has already begun.  This ark serves as a constant reminder that we are standing on the shoulders of many tears & celebrations.  May His kingdom come and His will be done so much more deeply as we choose to carry these memories with us.

Body Parts

Boxing is such a unique sport.  What appears as a ruthless brawl is a delicate and strategic dance.  One dancer jabs, the other ducks.  All the while, you look for opportunities to throw the lethal mix of the one-two punch.  Right hook coupled with left jab could win you the fight.

We believe the Church can learn much from this melodic display of agility and force.  When we joined Church Resource Ministries almost four years ago, I was introduced to this article by Ralph Winter.  I thought it would be helpful to post here because of some recent conversations I have been having with pastors at local churches (what Winter terms as “modalic structures”).

Before you read this, here would be my preface…

  • Why it is important: I struggle to understand why various ministries (“sodalic”) and local churches (“modalic”) try to cater to every need around them.  We become bloated trying to cater to every single need in our cities.  This article gives helpful language for the power of collaboration I was discussing in our last post.
  • What he is suggesting & NOT suggesting: He is NOT suggesting that one is better than the other.  There is sort of one-two punch that when applied in sync, can do a lot of good for the Kingdom of God in a city.  When we begin to view ourselves as needing to hold both functions all in one organization, we really miss out on opportunities to see the Kingdom grow.
  • How the Kingdom of God has grown historically: I like how Winter draws on the historical lessons from the Church.  It helps us to see how God has worked in the past 2000 years and what might be similar in our cities today.  It’s at least worth discussing.
  • What if deep partnership is possible: As you’ve picked up in our other post, I am a big advocate for Kingdom collaboration.  I have found that it lets our community be super focused on what God is asking us to do.  It helps other organizations NOT do things we are good at so they can get super focused on what they’re good at.  It’s nice when we all play well together.  Lives get changed and the Kingdom grows.

One-two punch.  When this is done in sync, watch out!

Flag Planting

Some days I just get on my face and thank God for letting me work with Him here.  After a thirty minute conversation with two young leaders here, we agreed to invite them into our community for a season.  The hope is that during their time with us, they will be launching another community somewhere else in Pretoria, taking what they learn and multiplying the movement.

Then I got sad.

“So would this be a NieuCommunities thing, or could we call ourselves our own thing?” He asked me.  I sat up and told him it’d be a Kingdom thing and whatever it took to help them reach their friends for Jesus is what we would commit to doing.

  • Why are we more concerned about spreading our flags (the new version of colonization?) than empowering people to reach people?
  • Who do we want to see win?
  • Why is our status in the world more important than helping other people climb on our shoulders so they can go further than we could?

Just a few points of observation that got under my skin today.  Maybe this is a little blunt or possibly too harsh, but it’s worth checking ourselves on.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Last month, my friend Andrew posted an article I had wanted to write about for some time.  You can check it out here.

I thought he said it so well that I neglected writing anymore about it.  Then some other angles poked their head out at me and I thought it’d be important to discuss.  My questions center around why we don’t collaborate well in the ministry/NGO world.  I have found that I am pretty good at certain aspects of ministry and pretty horrible at others.  Luckily I know people who rock in areas of my weakness though and we’ve become friends.  I think some of them are heretics and I know some of them think the same of me :).  Which leads to my working theories…

  • We forgot which kingdom we are part of.  Everybody’s thing is the way to go.  I see it so much in full time ministry circles.  Everyone has a gap year program, an internship, etc… Much of the time, those things are exact replicates from other ministries down the street.  I wonder what could happen if forces were joined together.  How much more powerful could some of that be?
  • Power dynamics.  This is a natural issue that sits behind the above point.  “Who’s the boss?”  We should really evaluate why we’re so hungry for control in the collaboration room.
  • Insecure views of success.  We define ourselves by what we achieve (well, many of us do).  The trouble is, we measure ourselves against the measuring sticks that don’t matter: each other.
  • Theology.  Sometimes we can’t get past elements of our theologies to work together.  I see that so much and it breaks my heart.

There may be many more.  Feel free to comment and keep a dialog going.  These are the main areas I’ve seen for why collaboration in ministry/NGO world tends to fail.  Sometimes, collaboration could hinder a process.  But I would venture to say our efforts to be “jack of all trades” might be holding the larger kingdom movement back considerably.  Be the best ___ that God enabled you and your community to become.  Then find some friends who do other things you can contribute your radness too… and let’s bring on the revolution!

The Patience of Mary

Since the robbery in October, God has been overwhelming me (Joe) with some uncomfortable revelations of Himself in my life.  Natalie and I have said several times in these past three months that the robbery may have been more of a gift from God than a curse of the fallen world.  I don’t really know about the theology of that, but it’s obvious God uses these moments to take us to deeper places of transformation.

I can’t really go into the depths on this blog as to where I’ve seen my need for resurrection in my life (because it’s embarrassing and far to vulnerable for the internet).  But I thought in light of this Advent season I should share this piece:  There are moments in my life where I feel like God is rather lazy.  If He would just act a little more quickly, then His kingdom would come that much more quickly.  Why doesn’t God do that?

During these last three months, I have intentionally submitted myself under the prayerful support of two older followers of Jesus.  Their prayerful words into my journey have been both incredibly painful to receive and yet utterly transformative (it kinda happens that way every time though right?).  One of the words they gave me was this :

“I realize you feel anxious about the pace of God.  That makes sense.  But for a second, I want you to imagine Mary.  A terrified teenager holding the Son of God in her womb.  God chose to enter the world the same way we all did.  That nine month progression was important for his full submersion into our world.  And Mary waited.  She let Christ grow in her and when the time was right for Him to emerge, He changed the entire world.  What would happen if He had been born pre-maturely in that stable?”

Letting Christ grow in us.  Christ is growing in us, forming in us, and emerges around us in the perfect moments.  When He does, it usually blows our expectations.  We’ve experienced that, we know that, but for whatever reason we lose it so quickly.

This advent season is reminding me again to wait as Christ is formed inside.  The invitation is deep and the hope is wide.  Blessed Advent season everyone!

Church in the Foster Home

Several months ago, one of the churches we connect with in Pretoria launched a very exciting initiative.  We call it “Family Trip”.  The idea was to start a church with our kids and incorporate all of our family in the process.  No childcare workers needed for this one.  It’s an all hands on deck opportunity.  It’s a brilliant way to assist parents in the spiritual upbringing of their kids and really challenges the adult consumeristic tendencies.  One of the hardest church planting projects I have ever been part of.

After a while of trying this out at the church’s space, we realized we were in the wrong environment.  Enter our beloved friend and Afrikaaner Mother Teresa, Lina du Plessis.  She’s my dear friend Pierre’s mother.  She’s been the house mother at ReConnect Foster home for many years now and was busy bringing the kids with her to the space as we were launching this new effort.  When we found ourselves needing a more homey environment, she offered the foster home.

So for the last several months, we’ve been having church with some of the most beautiful kids in their home.  The hospitality they offer us is like nothing you can manufacture.  Even in the midst of their pain (HIV, lost parents, etc…) they just get Jesus.  All of the kids… they pastor us more than I think we pastor them.

I’m not one to push models, but for whatever this is worth, doing life in community with my kids… I just don’t want to do it any other way now.  I want to bring them up in the way they should go WITH my community.  It’s why Ezra will start sitting in on some of NieuCommunity’s gatherings next year (until mom kicks him off to bed).  He won’t understand everything, but neither do I sometimes ;).  But you would be surprised how NOT understanding leads to other conversations.

Kids on Mission

In July, my parents made the long flight down to Pretoria to hang out with our family for a few weeks.  We had such a blast.  Then towards the last day they were with us, we had a family Christmas.  One of the toys they brought with them was a baseball pitching machine.  You put six plastic balls in the top and it spits them out at you.  I think I was more excited than Ezra was for that one!

Several times in the course of the week, we take this very strange toy to the park by our house.  Lately, we’ve been taking the Zimbabwean kids who stay on our property with us as well.  You wouldn’t believe how many conversations get started as I stand and proudly watch my boy belt another shot towards the swings.  It takes all of 30 seconds for every other child at the park to rally around and get a little game of “chase the white ball down”.  It’s awesome because none of these kids have ever experienced baseball.  (They play the ugly step sister game cricket… just kidding ;)).

I’m convinced that way too much money gets blown on strategy meetings for becoming more missional.  I think we forget how simple a plastic ball can bring people together and kick off really interesting conversations.  I think we’ve shoved our kids off on the chid care workers instead of incorporated them into mission.  Ezra teaches me that every time he asks me to take him to the park and I’m just too tired to do it.  I’m always glad when I submit to my ministry partner.  All of our kids get it.  Keziah plays mommy with the other little kids, Malachi chases the balls with the other short people (demanding his turn to swing the bat from time to time), and Ezra sits back coaching the other kids how to hit it.

What a tool for the kingdom.  We didn’t have too many strat meetings with the kids for that one, and it cost us whatever Grandma blew at Walmart that afternoon.

Lesson: listen to the kids, because they take you into the spaces where life is happening… and that’s where the kingdom needs to get to.