THIEN FAMILY UPDATE: Moving Forward.

Over the summer, Emily and I took our family on a looooonnng road trip across most of the southern states. Our purpose was to reconnect with old friends, follow up with some ministry opportunities, and to spend time praying in various cities we believed we might be called. It was a giant prayer walk but spanning the nation and dragging our 4 boys everywhere we went. As we wandered:

• We went through 13 states,

• Trekked over 4000 miles,

• Met with 8 different ministry leaders,

• Saw 3 Fourth of July firework shows (the kids loved that one),

• And prayed in 5 cities (Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta, Indianapolis, St. Louis)

It was an amazing and difficult trip but it allowed us to be present in the cities and ask God one main question: “is this our people?” On this side of the trip, we are convinced that God is doing lots of amazing things in all of the cities we visited. We also got to see the Lord’s faithfulness as he brought guides along the way to open up their homes (to a family of 6!) and speak into our lives as we sojourned. Eventually, God led us to a community we felt had a similar trailblazing spirit and a desire to see the Gospel worked out in the trenches of society…

I am incredibly excited to officially announce that I have accepted the Lead Pastor position with Common Ground Northeast (CGNE). CGNE is part of a network/family of churches spread across Indianapolis, IN. The Northeast campus is the 3rd and newest addition to the collective planted about four years ago. Over the last few months we have gotten to know the community, the staff, and the leadership and the culture of the church. We felt a strong connection to the people, their values, and their mission. CGNE is a church filled with bold faith, conviction, and a commitment to the Gospel and we can’t wait to join in on the movement they have begun in Indy! We plan to move in mid-October as we close up commitments in Phoenix, pack up, and relocate.

Thanks to those who have prayed for us over the last few months during our transition and we ask that you would continue to do so as make our move to Indianapolis to begin the new adventure there!

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New Music: Pat Barrett

I love that this new solo album is out by Pat Barrett.  Pat is one of the main songwriters/leaders for the Housefires collective out of Grace Midtown in ATL. His songs are always full of incredibly powerful and prophetic lyrics for the church to sing.

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Along with the familiar, cleaned up versions of Housefires’ hits (The Way, Build My Life, etc), the album has some great new songs.  The songs Better, Sails, and Into Faith I Go are surely standout moments for the album. Give it a listen and tell me your favorites!

My Top 5: Books…

I was recently asked about my biggest influences in ministry and I began to think about all the books I’ve read while at Fuller. Fuller is unique in their attempt to create a diversity of ethnicity and gender by choosing texts which represent many voices in academia. I am incredibly grateful for this and have often said that Fuller’s diversity was an education in and of itself. All of the texts I read have influenced me over the last four years but some stuck with me, challenged me, and changed my views with long term impact. Many of the books are ones I would not have read on my own which stretched me to think outside of the norm. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the views inside of them but they each had something unique and powerful to bring to the table. If you have been around me for any part of my time back to school, it is likely you heard me talk about and quote one of the following authors. Here are the top books that I recommend that every Christian should read…in no particular order:

img_0304.jpg#1 The Epic of Eden by Sandra Richter. Richter pulls together an amazing overview of the Old Testament by giving powerful insights into the cultural contexts. There is consistency and beautiful poetry to the overarching narrative in the Bible. Richter brings this to life without losing theological depth. This book helped me make sense of the O.T. from the perspective of convenient relationships.  This concept plays itself out beyond what I thought was possible even into the new creation account in Revelations.  This book caused me to spontaneously praise God while reading it for God’s incredibly brilliant authorship as He writes the gospel story upon the medium of human history.

#2 The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins. Thinking about the future of the church tends to be a hobby of mine and Jenkins gives a well-rounded and well-researched look into the next few decades. While the direction of Christendom may seem bleak in the west, it is giving way to bigger and (I would say) better result for the global state of Christianity. As a byproduct, this book confronts the Western leaders who have led much of the global Christian efforts in the last few hundred years to consider what they need to learn from the global majorities success.

#3 Churches, Cultures, and Leadership by Branson and Martinez. This text cultivated some of the most difficult questions in my mind during my time in seminary. There is so much to be learned about leadership from the plurality of cross-cultural perspectives! This book is stacked with applicable leadership development suggestions and ideas but it also has a cultural twist to it. While I am still trying to make my way through all of the cultural baggage I’ve picked up along the way, I have recognized my own need to combat tendencies towards ethnocentrism in church leadership (which often lives underneath the surface). This is a must read for any church leader, elder, pastor who is alive and breathing in the 21st century. The fallout from our inability to see past our own cultural bias’ will hit like a tidal wave in the next few decades and we need to be able to recognize it and be a part of the solution so as not to participate in the problem.

#4 Center Church by Tim Keller. Keller’s efforts are best understood as bringing the reader up to speed on the different veins of Christianity over the last few decades with all of it’s twists and turns. His intention is to create a “center” target for church leadership to aim at while navigating the many trends, fads, and buzz words thrown around. It was a little daunting at parts because it feels like a textbook (because it is) but serves as a great overview of trends and ministry perspectives to gain a comprehensive understanding of the modern state of ministry. It works well to fill in the gaps for those who don’t have time to keep up with everything that’s happened in the last major movements of ecclesiology.

#5 Reconciling all Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace, and Healing by Katongole. Zeroing in on issues of justice in our culture today, Katongole shares a wonderful perspective on bring peace and healing to those who have been caught up in systemic oppression, poverty, and marginalization. This text does a great job at untangling incredibly complicated situations which are pertinent to modern ministry issues. It’s hard not to see the influence of Walter Brueggemann in his writings (which I am not complaining about). The end goal is to land on a theological outworking of Shalom as opposed to temporary fixes. His insights were invaluable for someone like me who wants to get at root issues but needs the wisdom and perspectives of those closer to the situations than I am.

All books are available of Amazon and regular book outlets.  There were many more books that I couldn’t mention in this post. Maybe I’ll have to make another post with the next 5…

APEST: To Equip The Saints

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WHAT IS APEST?

Over the last few years, an emphasis has been placed on the Five-Fold gift of Christ (or the acronym APEST) listed in Ephesians chapter 4. It says:

…Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and the teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:11-13)

I use these 5 gifts (separate from the other gifts because they are the “gift” of Christ) as a way to identify and activate others to work effectively as the Church. Each aspect of Christ brings a valuable component to the Ecclesiological table:

  • Apostles (lit. “sent ones” for the Kingdom)
  • Prophets (Kingdom hearers and heralds)
  • Evangelists (recruiters for the Kingdom)
  • Shepherds (Kingdom caretakers)
  • Teachers (Doctrine keepers for the Kingdom)

Each aspect is necessary for Christ’s Bride to thrive as she accomplishes the mission set before her by King Jesus. Representation of all 5 aspects diversifies a leadership team and allows a divine “checks and balances” to occur amongst the body of Christ; this creates synergy between pioneering into new territory for the Kingdom and cultivating Jesus’ followers into “maturity.”[1]

WORKING TOGETHER.

Each role complements the other but there will be tension just as you see with any collaborating team.  The struggle is worth it though because utilizing one or two over the others creates an imbalance in local church expressions. In fact, I think denominations are largely a result of imbalances in these 5 areas. For example, hyper-charismatic churches are overly prophetic/apostolic driven, doctrine hammering churches are led by unchecked teachers, and evangelists make just leave to start non-profits and mission organizations. It would be humorous if it wasn’t so divisive. Furthermore, the purpose of each one is not to be the representation of their role on behalf of the church. The purpose is to equip everyone else to become better at each one in order to build the “saints” up into the fullness of Christ who possessed all five!

GOING DEEPER.

If you want to learn more about APEST, I spoke on Eph. 4:1-16 here (Click on the Sept. 10, 2017 sermon) and created a PDF handout with a little more information.

Which one are you and how do you develop the use of the five-fold ministry in your organization? You can dig further with these resources. Each have similarly defined the roles but added a personal twist and all of them have influenced my use of the “APEST” model for ministry. Check them out:

[1] Breen, M. (2017). Building a discipling culture: How to release a missional movement by discipling people like Jesus did. Pawleys Island, SC: 3 Dimension Ministries.

Quiet Waters

When we are walking through difficult seasons we often conjure up images from Psalm 23 and cry out to God: “…lead me beside quiet waters!”  Serenity is the goal when life is filled with busy-ness, chaos, striving, and conflict. These things have inertia and it is difficult to run at 100 miles an hour and downshift to 15.  I have found that, when God leads me to quiet waters and gives me rest, my mind is still pacing, I am unnecessarily battle-ready, and don’t know what to do. Think of those in the military who come off deployment and have to re-acclimate to civilian life. It takes time to adjust and to re-engage in “normal” life.

Over the last few years God has taken me through a challenging season and now He has stilled me. I am able to focus on 4 things instead of 40. I am not sure how often you get seasons like this but want to rest well while I am here. I do not want fill my life back up with empty things-to-do nor do I want to become idle and lazy in the midst of the calm. So, I asked God, “what do You want me to do?” My mind was drawn to a book I read years ago by Bruce Wilkinson called The Dream Giver. Wilkinson wasn’t writing a fine piece of biblical exegesis but a beautiful parable that maps out the journey of faith for those who follow Jesus.

In chapter 5 the protagonist gets out of the barren “WasteLands” (which are never a waste by the way), the “Dream Giver” brings him into the “Sanctuary.” Wilkinson writes:

“Come to the water, he heard the Dream Giver say.
Ahead of him in the clearing he saw a small waterfall that fed a pool of still waters. He walked to the edge, then slipped into the purest water he had ever seen. He floated and splashed, sending diamonds of light spraying through the air
Time passed. But it didn’t seem to pass at all.
When (he) emerged from the pool, the last traces of the WasteLand had been washed away.” [1]

We often take remnants of the Wasteland (the dirt of frustration/bitterness, the thistles of bad habits, the sunburn of anger, the pride, striving, doubt, cynicism, arrogance, etc, etc, etc…) and we bring it out with us when we leave.  God invites us all into His quiet streams to listen, to rest, to heal, and to be washed clean of everything that doesn’t come from Him. Shedding these things can only happen when God brings your awareness to the wounds, to the walls you’ve put up, and to the sins you’ve committed so that you can heal, tear walls down, and confess. I have been asking God to speak to me and surface the things He sees that I don’t. This has been difficult but restorative work to do.

Embracing a season of “quiet streams” means sitting in the pools of God’s word and allowing it to wash over us.   2 Timothy 3 says the scripture is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It’s hard to believe that moving forward means stopping and listening but God’s word is so powerful and pure.

There is an art to accepting the Quiet Streams that is both difficult and therapeutic but worth every part it has to offer because, when you do emerge, you are cleansed from the remnants of desert with a renewed spirit, a fortified strength, and the wisdom of the WasteLands to continue into the next leg of the journey.

[1] Bruce Wilkinson. The Dream Giver: Following Your God Given Destiny (Multnoma, Colorado Springs, CO ). Page 43.

Walk With You

What an incredible expression of unity from The Village Church!  I love their ability to step into the difficult conversations, appropriately challenge instead of running from them or be unnecessarily inflammatory.  This kind of humility and repentance will be the future of the church…everything else will burn like chaff.

Lyrics:

Our sovereign King gave a dream to Martin Luther King Jr.
A concept so beautiful hard to belive it could be true
But that dream was just a glimpse, like a flicker in the night
From the northern star pointing to where the freedom is
This dream it spoke of revelations of a nation
That no longer operated under a hierarchy of different races
Justice, unity, equality were realized
Like you could see it with your real eyes
Wake up! We’re so far from that in real life
And right now you and I are in this real fight
There is work to be done, starting with the household of faith
Created, saved to lead the way, to hesitate would be a grave mistake
(I’m sayin’)

Broken mirrors give us all a false perception
Broken systems teaches us all false lessons
And the evil one so crafty in all of his deception
To keep us divided is to keep all of his lies protected
So you can’t see that your treated as superior
While I’m left fighting off the lie that I’m inferior
We’re the precious children born into this world where lies are taught as truth
Father, we need our minds to be renewed by You
Cause it’s a daily fight to remind myself that I am worthy
When microaggressions lie behind every other corner lurking
We been hurting for a long time, weary souls
Why’s it seem like my brothers in Christ can’t understand it though?
(I don’t know)

Oh Lord. I didn’t know what I didn’t know
Looking through my own eyes
But now I know what I didn’t know
Help me see. Help me see through your eyes

I will walk with you no matter what it takes
Keep in step with truth by the gospel of grace

Our God is a God of justice on the cross that was displayed
If we live for just us, we don’t do justice to His name
It’s like a shoulder shrug at our debt that Christ already paid
Like saying Lord we’ll keep the comfort and you can keep the change
But imagine every tribe and tongue singing God how great thou art
Then I look at my sister and say God how great is thou art
And she can look at me and proclaim the same
Because we’ve learned to stop comparing and start celebrating
That we’re all His workmanship created for amazing things
Distinctly different on purpose, equally made in the Imago Dei
We won’t be perfect ’til He returns to make it right
But how we steward what He’s given us, thats up to you and I
(let’s walk)