Horse Manure

I heard evangelist Louis Palau say, 'the church is like manure, pile it all up in one spot and it sure stinks, but spread it out over the earth and see what grows!'


The early Church often made the mistake of thinking the gospel was for them. They were very wary of any contact with outsiders, (read for yourself the reaction of the early church to the idea of a mission to the Gentiles on the pages of the Book of Acts). The reality, however, is that the gospel is never for us, it is always for them! One of the major subplots in Luke's account of the early church is precisely the way God of Israel began to reveal Himself as the Lord of all people.

We too, can make the same mistake; thinking the gospel is about christians and Jesus. We retreat to ghettoized seclusion in christian music, suburban homes, Martha Stewart colors on our newly built suburban worship centers, preventing our children from worldly corruption (and so preventing them from engaging in God's mission), informed by all the latest church growth techniques in how to attract all of the christians from other churches to ours...

...hold your nose!


All of us, however, recognize the real beauty of the church acting as fertilizer instead of excrement. Mother Teresa holding dying lepers, William Wilberforce spending his life and health advocating for the end of slavery, untold missionaries who died on the field; there are those who fight child prostitution, those who teach in poverty stricken urban schools, and those who serve in mental health facilities, all without applause.


Manure for its own sake is just a pile of poop...

But when it is used to 'bless' the soil, all sorts of beautiful, fruitful, and nourishing, things are produced.

How could we begin to think this way about the Church?


Dandelions Revisited

What if we were to model our church structure on this image?

What if we saw the Holy Spirit, the breath of Jesus as the compelling wind, blowing the dandelion seeds of the church to the four winds?

The internal compelling of the Holy Spirit is 'GO!' The command of our Master and Savior is, 'GO!' The Father is the very One who sends us; 'GO!'


The first disciples were told to go to the ends of the earth with the gospel. They were promised the Spirit, a Divine Wind that would take them to 'Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the Ends of the Earth!'

We read in Acts 13:1-3 the story of this Holy Breath on a dandelion in Antioch. Believers had gathered, God was present, people grew in God's grace, and now a heathy thriving dandelion-church had grown up, the head was white with seeds; Jesus plucked the dandelion and blew!

We are all sent, each one of us is on mission, sent by God, to a specific place or people. The Church should be modeled on this reality. We need to leverage all of our resources to equip people for their specific mission field. We should be sending constantly; each family, each group, each church, each region, is a dandelion that God wants to blow on, scattering seeds to other families, other regions, sprouting up new groups and new churches, till the whole earth is filled with dandelions.


So how do we incorporate this reality? How could we structure our churches less like institutions and more like dandelions?

Where is God wanting to scatter your group to?

Where are you sent to?

Perhaps you are being sent to another country, or merely across town? Perhaps you are called to leave everything behind and go, or perhaps you are simply to realize that where you currently live is not where you currently live but rather where you have been sent!



You've all seen it, and you've all done it; picked up one of those ubiquitous little weeds, that every owner of a patch of grass longs to eradicate, and you have done your part to help spread the seeds to the four corners of the earth, perpetuating dandelions for generations to come!

I see this image as a wonderful image of church!


John records for us a powerful moment in the life of the first disciples. It is one of those unforgettable moments, where something surreal happens, it seems almost weird at the time, but you never forget it and it takes root in your mind...

Jesus breathes on His disciples.

What do you think that might have been like? To have Jesus breathe on you?

And then he says, "Receive the Holy Spirit, as my Father has sent me, now I am sending you!"


Jesus is the one holding in his hand, with wide-eyed excitement, a dandelion of twelve disciples; and it is His breathe that scatters those seeds to the winds...


Apples Revisited

Barnabas was the first one to see something in Saul; he took a risk and vouched for him. He brought Saul along so that he could see the things that God was doing in Antioch. Barnabas' was an apostle and a church planter, but his true impact was in discipling another man who would become the most prolific apostle. For decades it would have been easy to judge the merit of Barnabas' ministry on the work he had done with his own energy; that mistake is corrected by the view of Barnabas' impact on the entire history of faith, through his impact on Saul...


It would be easy to mistake the apple as being more important than the tree... we focus on the shiny fruit, the tasty treat!

However, the life of the tree, the reproductive process of tree>apple>orchard>apples>, is more important than the fruit.

Discipleship in the Church is the point of the Church! It is the very commission Christ left us, 'go, make disciples!'

Paul himself models this for us as he invites Timothy and John Mark to follow him as he follows Jesus.


The Church is to be modeled after a healthy apple orchard, with living trees, producing fruit, and that fruit containing seeds that bring forth new trees, and even new orchards...

The local church should be a healthy tree producing 'fruity' people who bear within themselves the seeds of new churches, new works, new small groups, beach heads in foreign soil, new christians...


The point of Church is not to attach shiny fruit to a dead tree, but rather to care for a living tree that will produce others. This shift in focus to discipleship means we will no longer be concerned with 'perfection' or 'excellence' for its own sake, but rather look to give people opportunities to fail and learn!



What is the fruit of an apple tree?

Did you say, 'an apple?'

Think harder!

(Maybe this will help, what is the fruit of an apple!?)

The fruit of an apple tree is ultimately... an apple orchard.


A wonderful life to consider is that of the apostle Barnabas, specifically his relationship to a young man named Saul:

Here is a list of verses in the New Testament that share his story...

Take some time and read through them, asking questions about Barnabas and his relationship to Saul

Apples, Dandelions, and Horse Manure

All of us have a grid for understanding things. Generally speaking that grid is something we inherited from others, and we generally don't think too much about it. It is like the air around us, we don't really think about it unless something is wrong with it, and even then, we might not notice. It takes a fairly perceptive fish to realize he is wet, (after all, to a fish there is nothing that isn't wet, so the distinction between wet and dry isn't even a real possibility).

When it comes to church, my grid growing up was something along the lines of 'ceremony/ritual' mixed in with a little 'school/self help.'

I would imagine that this is typical for most of us?

I would like to suggest three other metaphors, however, that might be a better grid for understanding church. 'Better', here means closer to the picture that scripture paints of church, and closer to God's heart for His church...

These are the metaphors we explored this past Sunday as possible helps to accurate understanding:

Apples, Dandelions, and Horse Manure


The Receding Tide

The previous quote is a wonderful and humorous image...

(It's a quote I stole from Dave Ramsey)

I think it also captures a reality for us: whenever trouble of any sort hits us, it tells us a lot more about ourselves than we often care to admit. For example, when confronted with an opportunity to be dishonest or undisciplined, our choices reveal the character we have. We can easily say, "I normally don't act this way, but a situation came up where I knew I wouldn't get caught, and so I gave in to temptation." The reality, however, is that we are the type of people who give in to temptation in that situation.

Another example is the current US economic reality: so many people were "caught" by the crisis. "If only the economy wouldn't have tanked, I could still afford this mortgage." The reality is, it was an unwise decision in the first place, and people just got caught!

Nobody looks naked when the tide is up...

Character is who you are when nobody is watching. Character is wearing your swimming trunks, even though nobody can tell if you are or aren't...


"when the tide goes out, you can tell who was skinny dipping..."


Let's Play

Ray Hollenbach framed part of the conversation by essentially asking 'where exactly is the playing field?'

I'd like to continue in that vein:

Just who is 'everybody?'

This is largely a strength of the Vineyard. When we say everybody, we really do mean it. We make a real effort to train and include laity in ministry; women and men, even children, people of all backgrounds and social classes.

The only real 're-thinking' I see necessary at this point is in the inherent tension between 'excellence in ministry' and allowing the visibly broken to play. I have seen new Christians, non-Christians, those with drug problems, and even those presently under the influence of drugs, all ministering in Vineyard churches in some capacity. However, there is a real attempt to prevent these types of people from engaging in 'real' ministry. We will let them hold the door (if they're pretty enough), or let them print fliers, or play the drums (if they're capable enough), but there are real boundaries we place upon just what they are allowed to do.

For the record, I am not advocating placing drunk agnostics in the pulpit, I would certainly agree that there are standards for Christian ministry. The question that must be grappled with is this:

Is the bar we set for Christian ministry about 'excellence' or is it about 'health?' Do we prevent some from certain places in ministry and Church life because they are unseemly, or because they would hurt themselves or others?

I contend that Scripture has no value for 'excellence in ministry' that is ultimately a cover for excluding those people who might make things slower, uglier, or technically flawed. Our decisions to include someone in ministry should be based on whether the individual is healthy enough to step into a particular role, not whether they are skilled enough.

This decision has tremendous communicative properties...

Just what do we mean by 'play?'

It is here that we must give significant energy to re-thinking current practices.

We largely conceive of ministry in terms of practices and care/direction given to Church members or performed on their behalf. Ministry is preaching and teaching, ministry is playing musical instruments, administrating the needs of the church, leading Bible-studies, praying for people, even maintaining church buildings and running technical equipment, etc.

The results of such a definition is manifold, the most problematic are the two following: 1) Christians who are deeply engaged in ministry yet have little or no involvement in mission, 2) Christians who view 'real ministry' as being done by the professionals while viewing their jobs as distractions from Kingdom work.

We must rethink this conception.

Play must fundamentally mean mission! Leaders should be player/coaches who equip others for ministry to the world.

As a pastor I am naturally focused on the local faith community of which I am a member/leader. This must not be allowed to divert my own focus from the wider community that is the object and context for the Church's mission. This must not be allowed to 'leak down' onto the church, causing the stale atmosphere of spiritual inbreeding that is a result of a church that ministers to itself.

Play must include the entire scope of human activity. Almost all occupations can be Christian vocations.

As a pastor I am resourced to take future church leaders through an equipping process. I can teach someone how to lead church activities. I am competent to teach people how to live a life of spiritual disciplines. But when it comes to the single largest fact of most peoples daily lives, I am left with one of two options for discipleship. 1) Quit your job so you can do 'real ministry.' 2) Pray for and witness to your co-workers while maintaining personal integrity at your workplace. What is largely missing is any sense of training people to view their occupations as their vocations.

Scoring Goals

It is here that the Church has the largest problem, and hence, the largest need for re-imagination. Our system rewards and reinforces a view of ministry that is largely out of sync with our stated philosophy of ministry. We say everybody gets to play, but the rules of the game, and the way in which we 'score goals' (ie incentives and definitions of success) are set up to prevent everybody from playing. Of course this is unintentional, but still true!

A 'winning' church (to continue the metaphor) is defined by characteristics that have nothing to do with 'everybody getting to play.' Because of this we simultaneously recognize a need to have everyone play, while attempting to keep the star players in the game as long as possible; in our system you can't score goals with mediocre performance. Because of this, we give some attention to the idea of workplace ministry, but it somehow never really makes it into the playbook; you can't score goals by practicing law, or building bridges, only by proclaiming the gospel or praying for people. In short, our definition of success prevents us from implementing this value more fully.

Our most essential task is to create a system of in which 'everybody gets to play' is itself one of the markers for success, is itself defined as one of the ways in which we 'score points.'


A Christian Nation

"When I ask myself what it might look like for Britain to be a genuinely Christian country I don’t think first of everyone going to church, though naturally I’d like that too. I don’t even think of everyone saying their prayers, though that would be marvellous. I think of a society where the weak and the vulnerable, the very old and the very young, the strangers in our midst, the long-term unemployed, the victims of crime and the criminals who’ve forgotten that there’s another way to live, all know that we are looking out for them and taking thought for how to order our common life for the common good, especially theirs. I think of a world where generous love overflows in voluntary work and contribution which doesn’t ask What can I get out of this person but rather How can I help."

NT Wright



Hope is bigger than fear, life than death, joy than suffering, peace than chaos, faith than doubt, freedom than bondage; the former have weight and length and depth, existence, the latter lack any real (that is spiritual) mass, in fact lack existence.

(This is to simply say that, “God is,” and that “what is not God, or from God, is not.”)

God is true substance, all else derives from Him and is infused with His weight, His glory; and whatever refuses that infusion ceases to be, crumbles and becomes dust, less than dust, simply the absence of something that should have been...

We are in His orbit, unless we would rather choose to careen off into abyss...



"truth is what you believe it to be"

Saw a bumper sticker that said this the other day, and I was tempted to go ask the guy about it.

"The truth is that the car you are driving is actually mine, so give me the keys, buddy!"

That sentiment works fine in the realm of cute bumper sticker philosophy, but it is an unfortunate disaster as a basis for understanding reality.


Yet Another Note on Submission

"...so he circumcised him..."
Acts 16:3

You can read the whole story here.

Isn't it interesting. Paul had Timothy circumcised so that he could bring him along for the task at hand. And just what was that task? Proclaiming to the Churches that circumcision was not required!!!!

Can you imagine the conversations that Paul and Timothy had on this?

...after all, it is only a small piece of skin, right?


As followers of Christ, we go the extra mile. We bear the burden of others. We gladly suffer pain for other peoples misconceptions, so that they might not stumble...

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."
1 Corinthians 9

You can imagine that if Timothy read these words before he met Paul, and then read them again after he joined Paul's ministry, they would cary much more personal significance the second time!


Another Note on Submission

When you think of sin, do you think of your own? Or of other people's iniquity?

When you think of virtue, do you think of your own good deeds? Or of someone elses?

This certainly reveals much about my heart!

A mature Christian will always spot the virtue in her friend, and the sin in herself. It is a sign of immaturity to find sin in others, while highlighting virtue in oneself.


Do we seek the good of others? Or of ourselves?


La Republica Dominicana

(Click the title link to the Vineyard Church of Santiago)

Here are some pictures of me hard at work on the mission field:

But then again, I was just trying to stay culturally relevant:

Don't worry, I really did do something other than sleep:

I will post some more photos, and a real recap of the trip soon!



A Note on Submission

We read about the Phoenician and Samaritan Christians as they respond to reports of Paul's mission to the Gentiles:

"This news made all the brothers very glad."
Acts 15:3


And then we read about other responses to that same work:

Peter's response when God instructs Him to share the good news with non-Jews:

"Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean."
The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him.

Acts 10:14-15 & 28

The early church responds to Peter's preaching to the gentiles with skepticism:

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."
Acts 11:1-3

The Jews are scandalized at the idea of God acting on behalf of the Gentiles:

On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.

But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

Acts 13:44-45 & 50

The Jews respond to Paul sharing his calling:

"Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' "The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!"
Acts 22:21-22


In general the Jews were jealous and bitter towards the Gospel going out to the Gentiles. Even Christian Jews were turned off at this notion. Peter himself, even when directly commanded by God, found the idea less than desirable. Time and again we see this response, and it is the very thing that lands Paul in prison, and ultimately beheaded in Rome.

It would, however, be a mistake to view this as a Jewish problem...

People just don't like the idea of 'those people' receiving blessing.

I don't either, and if you are anything like me...


We are admonished in scripture to "consider others better than yourselves."

How do we respond when other people are blessed?

Do we ask, 'what about me?'

Do we think through the reasons they should be disqualified from blessing?

Do we compare ourselves with them?

...are we jealous?

Or does the news make us "very glad?"


I want my heart to be like that of the Phoenician and Samaritan Churches...

I want to genuinely desire the blessing of other people, and rejoice when they receive it!

...Jesus teach me!