Letters…from the first century.


Epistles to the Thessalonians written from Corinth. Epistles to the Corinthians. Epistle to the Galations. Epistle to the Romans written from Corinth. Epistle to the Philippians. Epitle to the Colossians. Epistle to Philemon. Epistle to the Hebrews. Epistle to Titus.


Epistle of 1 John. 2 John. 3 John. Writing to the churches in the early chapters of Revelation.

Epistles (Just Letters.)

‘Epistle’ simply means ‘letter’ and was usually a formal and didactic letter. It was something that would be treasured by those that wrote it and by those that received it. Paul sent these formal, didactic letters across the continent in an effort to continue to encourage the people that were living the Christ following life. I can only imagine when they received one of these letters that they would pass them around and tell each other excitedly that they ‘received another letter from Brother Paul!’ There was much to learn from these letters and they hung on every word. Sometimes there was a moment of praise for the community of faith in the letters (Ephesians 1:1) and other times there were critical words that needed to be lived out over a period of time in an effort to know Jesus in a new, different way (1 Corinthians 4:6-13). The people of these communities most likely found themselves going back to the letter that was written and wondering what more they could do with it. They probably had letters that they wrote back, sent, and hoped got to Paul.

These are the letters that the Holy Spirit ‘breathed’ or ‘inspired’ (2 Timothy 3:16) in such a way that when we read them, we are reading the very words of God. God was speaking directly to these communities just as much as he is speaking directly to our community through letters written thousands of years before (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). The Spirit of God is still speaking right now.

I have often wondered what Paul might write to a community of believers in the United States today. I wonder what observations he might make regarding our church, our communities, our way of life. Would it be congruent with ‘the way’ as it were back in the 1st century in regards to the church? Or would it be akin to reading some of what John writes in Revelation to the Church in Laodicea (Revelation 3)? Would he say things like “Well done those that are faithful, you are a model to the Christian community around the world!” (Ephesians 1:1) or might he say ” You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)? I have a sneaky suspicion that our letters that we might receive would feel a bit more like Revelation 3 at times.

I don’t believe for a moment that the church in the United States chose the path that we find ourselves on. I don’t believe for a moment that we wanted to end up where we find ourselves in effectiveness. We are the most entrepreneurial nation in the world and yet yearly, it is costing the church in the United States (on average) nearly $700,000 (The Greatest Religion No One Ever Tried, pg 116). That’s alot of money for a convert, isn’t it? In comparison, the church in India is spending $0.90 per convert and China is unmeasured because nearly no money is being spent. The church in the United States has found itself on a decline for years, numerically. The number of churches that seem to reach those that don’t go to church is clearly on the decline. I would think that Paul might write a letter addressing some of these things. I would guess that John and Paul probably could get together and address some of the core issues at the heart of the problem. I wonder if it would sound like something that follows…?

Letter to the Church in the U.S., Maybe.

“You have tried so increasingly hard. In the midst of incredible change and turmoil, you have kept moving. You continue to develop budgets, continue to staff the church, keep the building doors open week after week, pray for those that are lost at every prayer meeting, and continue to meet on a Sunday morning, even in the face of numerical adversity. Even while people walked away from the church, you continued these activities. You continued to serve in ways inside the church building that are to be congratulated. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first (Revelation 2). This has been demonstrated many different ways throughout your most recent history. Because you have seemed to forsake your first love, you have forgotten the ways of discipleship because you have forsaken whom you are making disciples of. One cannot make disciples, if they are not in a love relationship with the chief disciple maker. While you have planted churches, you have forsaken the notion of planting seeds of the gospel individually because it is ‘difficult’ and ‘awkward’ and sometimes ‘painful.’ You have experienced disunity and fights in the midst of your community of faith even though those communities were at the core supposed to be centered on community. You forsake your first love, took your eyes of the prize and couldn’t move beyond the differences that you experienced in your community. Not just within your immediate, ‘local church community’ but disunity with others that call themselves part of the church, potentially using a different denominational hashtag. In a righteous effort to protect doctrine, you have become separatistic even when the nature of the gospel is holistic and unifying around the things that change the world. Because you have forsaken your first love, you have been consumed with your own consumerism. You have been swallowed up by your new first love and this has effectively changed the trajectory of the church in America. 

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:10).”

My response to all this is simply: Love God first. Learn to love him again. Love people as Jesus has loved you. Serve the world as this is the antidote to consumerism. When you do these things, new expressions of the church will be able to form,  function and form will still matter but with revitalized disciple making meaning, and God will be glorified rather then man! Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)”

A Brief Disclaimer

I don’t know. Maybe that isn’t the letter the Paul or John would write to the church in America but there are times when I wonder about these things. There are literally thousands of facets of the American Church and their are millions of different expressions of the local church. To write a letter to the American church to get to the heart of the issue would be to say that there are no local churches that still have their first love. I have to think, though, that when John wrote his letter to the church in Ephesus that there were still some that loved Jesus first. There was just an systemic pandemic that was happening that needed to be addressed. There are churches here in the United States that would not and should not be categorized into the above (though some of the things might apply) and certainly no church desires to be told these things.

My prayer has been for years, and will continue to be, that the church in America would do the things that it does well but that the heart of the matter would center on Jesus and his glory, not the growth of an entrepreneurial endeavor. We should not be focused on ‘saving’ the church, rather, we should focus on building God’s Kingdom as we make disciples.

The same spirit that spoke to the community of faith long ago, indwells those that know and follow Jesus and he desires to give incredible movement and direction forward in the life and expression of Jesus’ bride, the church. May we be people that listen, love Jesus, and are controlled by the Holy Spirit.



The “Cultivate Wheel.”

Alot of folks ask what in the world we are teaching church planters in our Church Plant residency so that they are seeing themselves as missionary to a local context and culture. I thought I would attempt to fly at 10,000 feet and attempt to answer that. I want to start by saying that nothing is new that is under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and that what we are doing and training toward in our Church Plant Residency was developed and implement by “Craig Whitney” with Emerging Leadership Initiative. Craig has been active in the Church Planting for years and has helped many folks start churches. He has a dream of helping to plant thousands of churches across the United States. Craig has helped us (West E. Free Church) in our development of church planting Wichita and in our training of Church Plant Residents that we assess, train and equip, and then send to plant a church.

The image of the wheel that you see below is the training pattern and the rhythms of life that the church planter has to live in the residency process. I’ll briefly describe them more below.

The Cultivate Wheel

The cultivate wheel is built on the ‘solid foundation’ piece of the image. The planter that is going through residency must have a solid foundation in their own life before they are able to lead others toward what it means to be a missionary to the culture. They must have

  • Calling – The planter must be aware of and convinced of calling in his life so that he can withstand the crazy things that will be encountered as they plant a church. They must be totally convinced that God has called them to ‘plant a church.’ 
  • Context – Who is that God has called the planter to reach? If the planter’s heart doesn’t break for a specific people in a specific place, then there may not be a clear calling to that place. Developing this heart is an important part of the process. Understanding information about an area and group of people is important here.
  • Clarity – What sort of church will we create? This has to do with the philosophy, the understanding of what the church plant will have in it’s DNA and culture creation. If there isn’t clarity with this, then mission drift and mission extraction has a likelihood of occurring.
  • Core – The church will be started by a group of people gathering. But the planter needs to be aware of who is strategic to starting. If the planter has weaknesses that need to be shored up by someone’s strengths, thinking through this is important for the planter.

The wheel itself is simply a description of rhythms that the planter will need to live in the residency time period (and beyond) and then train and equip the core team to do the same. The outcome of living the cultivate wheel is that a church should be planted ‘out of culture’ meaning the people that are gathered are new believers and there is a conversion growth rate that happens. When this happens, and they are seeing people come to faith, we can celebrate the fact that church planting is doing what Tim Kellar points out that it should do, and that is reach people that will not go into an established church context.

Starting with

  • Building Relationships – This is everywhere a planter and his core team go. They are meeting new people, building new relationships, attempting to see people and hear their stories, and connect with those. This is a step in the cultivate wheel that can’t ever stop. When it does, the water that is moving can become stagnant. 
  • Create Community – As relationships are built, inviting those relationships together to experience some sense of community is healthy and helpful. Making sure that the community that is created is intentional can be a key part of the strategy.
  • Serve Your Neighbors – This goes along with building relationships and creating community. As we add the element of serving, it’s a peculiar part of the process, but there seems to be a part of scripture dedicated to the notion of serving people with the love of Jesus. It’s an important part of the process.
  • Lead People to Faith – This is an important part in the training process and the life cycle of a church plant. If this isn’t happening, then there may not be any conversion growth. If there isn’t conversion growth, then the purpose of planting is thwarted.
  • Help them Grow – We want to make disciples. Helping people grow after conversion is important.
  • Develop Leaders – To continue a movement of disciple making, we have to have leadership development. Others who are sent to start this cycle again is extremely important.
  • Gather to Grow – This seems weird in light of our recent church planting efforts in the United States, because generally this is one of the first things that happen (Gather a group of believers, meet together, and invite others to the gathering.) While this element is crucial, the order of this element is also crucial. Putting all resources into the gathering is both unhealthy and damaging to the life cycle of evangelism for the core team. It’s important that the gathering be a part of what the church does, not THE thing that the church does.

I’m excited about what God is doing in the life of our two residents and in the lives of their core team members. May God continue to work and draw people to himself in Wichita for his honor and for his glory.

Be a Blessing

Could simply blessing people be a strategy for sharing the message of the gospel? Dave Ferguson shares what the experiment lets us understand. There were 50x more conversions when people were focused on blessing rather then on converting. How in a very practical way, that is theologically grounded, could we be a blessing to people?

B– Begin with prayer. We want you to ask, ‘God how do you want me to bless the people in the places you’ve sent me to?’
L– Listen. Don’t talk, but listen to people, their struggles, their pains, in the places God sent you.
E– Eat. You can’t just check this off. It’s not quick. You have to have a meal with people or a cup of coffee. It builds relationships.
S– Serve. If you listen with people and you eat with people they will tell you how to love them and you’ll know how to serve them.
S– Story. When the time is right, now we talk and we share the story of how Jesus changed our life.


The folks at Redemption Church here in Wichita, KS  use a similar method and idea of blessing people and living the rhythms of a missional life. Sometimes, I think I make ‘evangelism’ this complex crazy thing that only ‘super christians’ do. But when it is boiled down to blessing and serving people, I quickly realize that this is simply what God did for his people, for us, and wants to do for so many more people.

Be a blessing somehow, with someone, today.

A Three Stranded Cord? The Dilemma of Evangelism

Lately, I have had more people around me talking about the difference between someone who is an evangelist and someone who is a disciple of Jesus. The argument that seems to be prolific is that evangelists are ones that share the gospel, but shouldn’t all disciples of Jesus be sharing the gospel? I mean, shouldn’t that be a normative part of a disciple of Jesus’ life?


Parallel to this discussion, I am reading a book called “Total Church.” The books asserts that we share the gospel as a community of faith with our different gifting. Those that have the gift of hospitality should be using that in light of sharing the gospel. Those with the gift of service, the same. The gift of evangelism is a proclamation gift that is given to some, just like the gift of ‘mercy’ is given to some. (Mark Driscoll does a nice job with the gifts of the spirit through preaching here.) With that said, I don’t think that proclamation is reserved only for the evangelist. I think each and every disciple of Jesus is to be ready to answer questions and give an account for the love that they have. If we are madly in love with Jesus, how could we stop talking about him? Even the greatest introvert (and at times, I might be that!) , when in love, will share about their greatest love or new hobby that has captured them. Even the person that is shy will somehow communicate what is happening around them when love is involved. What if we began to see evangelism how “Total Church” sees evangelism as a three strand cord toward sharing the gospel with a culture that is far from God? What if we thought about evangelism as proclamation, serving, and inviting into community? If this was a three strand cord that needed to be wrapped together, I wonder if we would begin to see our gifting (even those of us that are not evangelists) as necessary in the area of evangelism?


Remember, Jesus told his disciples, all of them, that they were to ‘love one another’ and that the world would know that they were followers of his by their love. Before they were to become teachers, preachers, evangelists, and church leaders, they were to be lovers of people and of God. I wonder if we forget this (and church leaders may be more highlighted here) and therefore experience fallout of ministry or burnout in life. I wonder if it would be important to ‘remember our first love’ so that the foundation of ministry can be strong rather then making ministry THE foundation.


Before the disciples were teachers, preachers, evangelists, and church leaders, Jesus told them to go and make disciples. And we inherit that directive as followers of Jesus Christ. All of us, not just the evangelist. “Go, and make disciples.” So, thinking about evangelism as a three cord strand that we can all be a part of wrapping, what is your next step in disciple making today? What is your gifting and community of faith contribution to helping someone take a step toward Jesus Christ and the community of faith?

Total Church

I’m currently reading the book “Total Church” with Caleb Hastings, our church plant resident. When Caleb recommended that we read it together a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t convinced that it was going to be a helpful read for us. Then I started reading!

The authors (Tim Chester and Steve Timmis) assert several timeless truth principles in the area of ‘church’ and I have found myself captivated by what they are saying. I could quote some of what is said, but the reality is that it is so simple that it is captivating.

If you were to ask me the one thing that I have walked away with so far, I would tell you that

“The church needs to be “word centered, mission centered, and community centered to be gospel centric.” Simply put, we find all of these things in the gospel and we find all of these things present in an early church environment. As I partner some of these things with 7 characteristics of a missional church, there are places where overlay clearly happens.

Here are the 7 characteristics of a missional church as pointed out by missiologists and folks that are studying what it means to be missional. These are not measurable outcomes that we should focus on, but observations made of current ‘missional’ communities of faith.

1. Reliance on God’s Word – Simple, but true. If we aren’t reliant on the very word of God that has produced all that we believe, all that we practice, and which has literally changed the world, then we may be living heresy and within the power of ourselves. When you share the gospel, when your church shares the gospel, do they use a man made tool? Or do they use a man made tool to point back to the word of God, which is powerful, active, sharper then any double edged sword?

2. Sensing the power and presence of the Spirit of God – You see sometimes, we pit the first against this one and say, “We must be word centered” because we are afraid of the implications of what it means to be ‘spirit led.’ I understand the fear here. We don’t want to be simply led by emotions or how we feel. But to trump being spirit led by using the excuse that we are ‘word centered’ would be out of characteristic from our beloved ‘word.’ Clearly, in scripture, there are moments where the control of the Spirit is overwhelming.

3. Intentional missionary Evangelism – When a church possesses this and it is happening, there are kingdom results. When a church is focused on reducing the lostness of a city or zip code, there begins to well up within that church a heart for those that are far from God. No longer is that church focused on the inside and what it can do to please itself, rather, it becomes outward focused and becomes a change agent in its community or demographic.

4. Leadership Development – A church that is missional is observed to have a way to develop leaders. This is not developing leaders with the sole purpose in mind to make them elders, Sunday school teachers, or church planters. This is developing the potential within any leader to be used for the sake of the gospel, however God might use it!

5. Expanding Network of Small Group – This has to be with the sustainability of a missional church. There are people that need Jesus and when a church is simply planted on the foundation of a public gathering, that becomes the primary DNA piece that drives the ship in whatever future happens with that church. If a network of small groupings are created, DNA of multiplication is developed, a place to grow and invite is cultivated, and there are alot of people that are far from God that are reached with the gospel because of these networks of small groups.

6. Intentional Disciple Making Process – There may not be one “right” way to make a disciple (the reality is that Jesus makes disciples, not me…) but as a church, we need to choose a process toward disciple making that is clear, helpful, and healthy for the context that we lead. One of the questions that we could ask in this vein is “if the church were the only way that a disciple of Jesus were made, what would we HAVE to do to cultivate disciple making?” When a church is missional, there is an intentional disciple making process laid out.

7. Biblical Stewardship – This makes the observation that those churches that are living on mission as missionaries are actually putting their money where their mouth is. They are giving it away to help those that need it and support those that are doing the same thing. They are not internally focused with their cash flow and resource but external in their focus.

If we want our churches to be gospel centric, then we must be ‘word, community, and mission centered.’ This is clear. When we balance the three of these things, we may find that the 7 outcomes begin to happen because we are letting God do his thing, we are anchored deeply in truth and we are running hard after Jesus in relationship with other people. It is only in this environment that Jesus found himself with his disciples. I mean, think about it. They were anchored in the very word of God (Jesus quotes scripture multiple times) they were living in desperate dependance on God as they sought to share the good news with people (on mission), and they were living closely in community with one another, as a band of brothers. It resulted in a ‘missional church’ with some of these observations being made of the early church (Of the 7 things above).

We are not going to have perfect churches (probably because imperfect people are a part of our community). But we can have balanced, gospel centric churches as we seek to make disciples. “Total Church” has been a great read toward this end. If you haven’t read it, pick it up!


My wife pointed out to me the other night as we drove that in the book of Acts “evangelism” seems so simple. Paul doesn’t use the four spiritual laws or have some exegetical commentary on the book of Job to lead people to the saving grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Rather, Paul simply tells his story. He had a radical story of transformation as he came to faith and came to Christ and so he shared it, he shared it with anyone who would listen, he shared it anywhere that he went. The book of Acts records him telling his story several times, but the feeling that I get from this is that it wasn’t recorded EVERY time he told it, just enough to know that this was his norm. The grace and mercy of Jesus had impacted his very core.

It had changed him.

It had messed him up.

The grace and mercy of Jesus had him so excited that he was willing to die so that others might experience these things.

He took advantage of every single opportunity that he had to share. It was as if we was saying to the people around him, “Look at the Jesus Christ who radically shifted my life in a new and wonderful direction! He continues to do that today…Just look at him, marvel at his wonder!” You see, the relationship that Paul continued to experience with Jesus was one to share, was one to proclaim to the nations.

It wasn’t until Paul was transformed from the inside out that he was able to share to his culture from the outside in. 

This is challenging to me. Am I letting God transform my heart and mind in such a way that I can’t keep quite about the saving grace and mercy of Jesus Christ? Am I, for some reason, scared of being transformed for his honor and glory? He deserves it, I don’t, and yet, for some reason, I hold back in this process of transformation.

Maybe that is the reason why our nation and our world doesn’t hear the message of the gospel from our lips or from our lives?


Psalms : The Problem of Pain

Years ago, I read a book called “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis. I walked away with many more questions than answers in the quest to answer the questions,

“If God is so great and all powerful, then why is there incredible pain and hurt in our world today? Why is there evil and sin? Couldn’t God simply just take all of this and dump it in the dumpster out back of the proverbial heavenly gates?”

As I read through the book, it was clear to me that the answer, the solution, if you will to these questions was to discover who I was as a person. I was to discover that one of the reasons that we have pain, evil, and junk in our world was because of me and the race that I am born from. I am human.

C.S. Lewis says, ““We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved:  we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms.” 

Clearly, we are far from just being messed up, we are rebellious. Then, we wonder why things are all weird in our world. When we are rebelling against the God of the universe who breathes and defines perfection (in light of our free will) it would make sense that our world around us would be in utter chaos.

This next week, in our Sunday School class, we will look at what the Psalmist does to really bring clarity to the utter chaos that is happening in the world around us. We will see the character of God really shine through and we will discover God for who he is as we discover us for who we are.

We will look at Psalms 10; 13; 74; 77; 79.