Yesterday I celebrated my 35th birthday! If you know me, you’ll know I am fairly low key about birthdays. This one was excellent. It was a packed day. I went on a long run with one of my teammates, then took Emily with me to the Valley to watch a baptism, and then our family gathered with our church in Long Beach.
This baptism was beautiful. It was the second one in this network and it was absolutely clear that the young woman being baptized was been transformed and is deeply in love with Jesus! On top of that, I was reflecting on how this unfolded in some surprising ways. Two months ago I baptized someone and modeled it for this family. A month later, I assisted this family in baptizing a new disciple. Yesterday, I got to watch them baptize a new disciple, while also modeling it for that other new disciple. Next week, I am launching them to reproduce it on their own as they will assist their first new disciple as he baptizes a friend of his who decides to follow Jesus while watching his baptism a month ago. We call that process M.A.W.L. (Model / Assist / Watch / Launch). Jesus is really moving and we are just trying to keep up!
We ended the day gathering with our church family. We are so loved by Jesus and our church.
I know from talking with many friends, family, and ministry partners in recent weeks and months that 2020 has not been what any of us expected. None of us could have guessed how it would go, either. Has anyone else gotten tired of the phrase “in these uncertain times?” Me too!
One thing I have not gotten tired of is watching God work in beautiful ways. In the last 2 months alone, we have seen 12 baptisms in LA, including a 3rd generation baptism! We have seen many discovery Bible studies start with non-believing friends and family, multiple new churches start, and leaders mobilized to global cities and to the nations! Jesus is moving powerfully in 2020!
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Last week our family flew to Northern Michigan for a family vacation. There aren’t a lot of places in the US so markedly different from Los Angeles than this rural area outside a town of ~500. Just off a long and isolated county highway is one of a handful of dirt roads. And just off one of those dirt roads was an enormous house on the shore of Lake Michigan.
We celebrated some mile marker dates in our extended family as the reason for gathering, but mostly the 8 kids ages 7 and under played together and with aunts and uncles and grand parents. It was a joy to be together, especially since we came together from 4 cities in 4 different states. These days it is a real challenge to get everyone together, so these few and far between moments are precious.
Even as we ate well, played hard, and laughed a lot, I received updates about things that were happening in the work back home in LA and elsewhere. Troy and Rick were off in Utah leading a Midlevel Retreat. A new believer in Orange County who was baptized just a few weeks ago baptized her mom. One of our leaders I have been walking closely with confirmed their first baptism. A person I just trained in the last week reached out to initiate the next step in training for the sake of bringing others along with him. I received introductions to 3 or 4 new leaders who want to connect to start multiplying disciples and churches.
I love it when I see the Lord moving when we are out of town and on vacation. That means the work isn’t dependent on us – we get to participate with Him as He works!
Just over a month ago, I baptized Rian (left) and Ricky (center) came down from the Valley with our local leaders who live there. At that time, Ricky was interested in Jesus but he wasn’t sure following Jesus was for him. In the last couple of weeks Yann (our leader in the valley) led Ricky to Jesus!
Yesterday Rian and I drove an hour and a half from Long Beach to Malibu to celebrate Ricky’s baptism. Ricky wanted to have his baptism at Zuma Beach, so that’s where we met!
We gathered to eat lunch, worship together, share the gospel, hear Ricky’s testimony and baptize him, and take the Lord’s Supper.
Yann and Mike served the Lord’s Supper to Ricky for the first time and then to the rest of us. Shortly after the baptism, Ricky’s friend he brought with him decided she also wanted to follow Jesus! She also wants to be baptized in the ocean soon! Ricky was the first person to be baptized in the Valley network and now there are at least 2 others to be baptized in the coming weeks!
At the beginning of this month we facilitated a 4 Fields Intensive training with our team in the San Fernando Valley. These Intensive trainings are anywhere from 2-4 days long. They can be really disruptive. The reason for this disruptive effect has everything to do with the posture of the training. We spend a significant amount of time digging deep into the Bible discovering principles for multiplying disciples, churches, and leaders. We get back to the Word and build everything we do from it.
As we dig deeper and deeper into the word for our motivations and our methods, we come away challenged to reevaluate the things we do based on the Bible itself. It is beautiful to see our hearts, minds, and practices shift in response to the Bible itself. I have been a part of quite a few Intensives and every time I come away with new insights.
In this particular training we gathered 12-15 people for 2 full days focusing on the patterns of Jesus & Paul and looking closely at church identity, function, and health in pioneering settings.
Some of the trainings we do are focused on helping believers begin to make disciples with simple tools. As intensive is much more focused on biblical principles for multiplication. It is common in this setting to see new leaders emerge and existing leader grow in vision and calling.
Two Sundays ago our church and two other NPL churches gathered on the beach to celebrate our first baptism! Our new brother has walked through broken family, prison, addiction, and more. Jesus has set him free and is transforming his life!
I shared my NPL Los Angeles Prayer slides and it struck a chord with a number of people. My hope in sharing that post and the slide deck was twofold:
I want to mobilize more prayer in my city and for my city.
I hope to mobilize others to do the same in their own cities.
I took that initial slide deck for Los Angeles and turned it into a template anyone can use. You can view the slides below and click the link to open the document for your own use. Take it and make it your own. The only rule is that you have to gather a group of people and pray through it together.
COVID-19 has in many ways reshuffled how we view and engage the things we do regularly. Grocery shopping holds a different place in my mind and schedule now. Gas prices fluctuated up as high as nearly $5.00/gal in LA since we have lived here, but during COVID-19, they have dropped to barely over $2.00/gal – yet I hardly drive farther than 5 miles away from my home now. “Meetings” are now Zoom calls. I’ve been kicked off our local beach twice now, because we showed up on the wrong days when it was shut down. The world is doing a lot of reevaluation based on what we are and are not allowed to do. Church is one of those things.
Whether ancient and ornate, simple and spartan, or somewhere in a utilitarian middle-ground, most of the world thinks of church like this building. Even as Christians, we often think of church as what church can be and do. That isn’t equal to a building, but the building often represents that “maximalist” idea. Church can be so much.
Church can be simple too. We have space in our minds to see missionary outpost churches in distant, rural, impoverished communities like this. Minimal, but still qualifying as church – especially when there are no alternatives to choose from. The pioneering nature of the field forces additional clarity on what church must be when it has to start in the harvest, out of lostness.
This is what our church looks like. Well, it used to look like this before COVID-19, and we long for the day we can again gather in person. For us, church is family at its core. These are the people we spend the most time with each week. We are regularly in each others’ homes and lives. We hold each other accountable, and we both weep and rejoice together when someone is weeping or rejoicing. Our church is a church of missionaries, but it is still just a church. And it is simple enough that just about anyone can reproduce it themselves with the people in their lives. That’s actually the point.
Since COVID-19, our family is still our family, but how we gather has changed some. Now we gather virtually, but we still use the same participatory format. In fact, even in the midst of this shutdown, we have seen some new churches start! The pandemic and the shutdown have served as a filter forcing us to clarify even further what we do and how we do it. Jesus is still building His church, and we are still commanded to gather and pursue “the one anothers” of the New Testament. We simply have to approach it differently for now.
One of my most favorite stories I’ve heard in the midst of the pandemic from a church is Bridges Church here in Long Beach / North Orange County. The week before the shutdown started, they represented 1 large gathering of about 300+ people on Sunday mornings, and 4 simple churches of ~10-15 people each throughout the week. The next week in LA County we could only gather in groups of 10 or less, and they were able to shift from their 5 church gatherings to 12 simple churches, all meeting in homes. The following week we couldn’t even meet in groups anymore, and that Sunday they had closer to 19 simple churches meeting all over the city. You can read more about that here.
I long to gather in person with my church family again. I earnestly desire to break bread, sing, pray, and learn from the Word together. But I am also seeing Jesus unleash his Church and his people in some beautiful ways. When we are forced to simplify church, it can magnify the places of health and unhealth in a church. Every disciple of Jesus was meant to be a disciple maker, and many of those disciples would ready and able to start gathering the people in their lives as simple, biblical, healthy churches – they just need to be released to do it, and equipped to be able to.