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You are cool because you are “missional”. It’s true. Face it. Forget the “mega”churches, the “seeker-sensitive” people, and those darn “prosperity” guys. They are all wrong.First of all, they are not at all “organic” and cannot hang with our beards, pipes, and brews. They obviously didn’t read “Total Church” or “Tangible Kingdom”, know nothing of church plants or gospel rhythms, and they most certainly are not “in the city for the city“. Nope. We are.
In celebration of our collective coolness I propose we play a game called: “Put your hand in the air, and if any of the statements below are true of you, put it down.
  1. You have used the word “missional” and you have no idea what it means, none whatsoever. Hand down.
  2. You have a“heart for the nations” but have never left your homestate for anything other than a trip to Disneyland. Hand down.

One of the dangerous things about publishing and writing online is that you can get an exaggerated presence. People begin to inflate your ideas, your church, your leadership well beyond their actual capacity. I think this is a real danger among church planters. We’re all “trying to make a mark for God” by employing the latest missional thinking. We comb the web for innovative ideas, best practices, and training in order to make the “best mark for the glory of God.”

I want to deflate any exaggeration that might be out there about Austin City Life or my own leadership. Not just to deflate, but to bring balance and realism into the picture. A lot of young church planters are captivated by methodologies and best practices. These methods and practices are often downloaded without any effort to rethink them for their own vision and context. That, too, is dangerous.

At the risk of promoting more uncritical downloads, and with the hope of bringing realistic balance to what I write, I thought I would point to some actual stories of Gospel, Community, and Mission told by our own people on a Sunday morning. We often bring people up to share about how God is working in their life during a SUnday gathering. We do this, not to be cool, but to a) As the psalmist says “tell of the works of the Lord b) to reinforce that church is a family not an event c) to encourage others.

This past Sunday was a vision/story-telling Sunday. I brought three people up from our community, who are not leaders, to share how they experienced God’s goodness in 2010 in the areas of Gospel, Community, and Mission. The stories are earthy, inspiring, real. They are not canned. And because of that, I hope you’ll find them helpful. They are little windows into an imperfect church, clinging to a perfect Christ, that is trying to live by the gospel, in community, on mission.

The end of a year brings about a time of reflection. We reflect for newsletters, sermons, and donors. But most of all, we should reflect for Jesus. As I have reflected on the clear evidence of God’s grace in my life and our church, I’ve been both encouraged and discouraged.

I’m encouraged by a growing church, a repenting church, a missional church. I’m encouraged by strengthened and renewed marriages, deep community, new leaders, and sincere love. By…

  • A culture of repentance and faith in Jesus
  • Elderly Loved, Abused Cared for, Broken Counseled, Homeless fed
  • Baptisms and Conversions
  • Church Growth doubled from 70 to 150
  • 130 in Sunday attendance
  • 125 people in City Groups
  • 45 people in Fight Clubs
  • 8 Church planters coached
  • 60 African Pastors trained
  • 11,000 sermon downloads
  • ACL Worship EP: ONE
  • Fight Clubs: Gospel-centered Discipleship (10,000 free downloads; 700 sold)
  • Music for the City launched

Wow. What a remarkable pouring out of grace in our church. But when I compare my experience of grace with other’s experience of grace, I begin to get discouraged. There are other pastors, planters, and churches with more influence, more depth, and more mission. And the minute I do this is the minute I move from worship to idolatry, from worshipping God to worshipping influence or reputation. Because of this idolatrous tendency, I was blessed by the following words from my new church planting coach and all round godly pastor, Jeff Vanderstelt:

  • “Don’t be concerned about position or power, the world longs for these things. We don’t need them because we are already seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
  • “And don’t let what is so great about Acts 29 Austin City Life ever be any of us – it is Jesus and the way he is loving his church through each of you.”

May you end the year in worship, not idolatry, in enjoying God’s grace not coveting other’s grace. May we not be concerned about position, power, esteem, or influence but rather rest in the abundantly sufficient grace of God in Christ, who accepts us with an incorruptible love, a Christ who is our everlasting righteousness!

At Austin City Life Mission is our churchwide focus this quarter. We preached through a six sermon series on Mission: the point of the church. The first three sermons focused on motivation for mission; the second three sermons were on practicals for mission. Here’s how we trained our people on Sunday morning for everyday mission. We advocated doing “everyday things with gospel intentionality” (phrase from Total Church) by using some memorable phrases and attaching stories to them.

Don’t Eat Alone. Last time I checked we all eat at least three meals a day. Most Christians eat them alone or with other Christians. What would it look like for you to intentionally share meals with non-Christians. To get to know them over food? 21 meals a week, just start with one meal a week. I challenge you, 1 out of 21. Share it with non-Christians and be intentional. Don’t hide your faith but don’t force it either. Live with gospel intentionality in your meal eating.

Be a Regular. One family in our church are regulars at a coffeeshop where they have gotten to know the staff. As they got to know them, they invited the staff over for pizza and got to connect outside of work. This has continued. This couple hangs out with some of the staff regularly now. One girl drops by their house and just hangs out. Apparently she’s pretty down on the Church, but she’s willing to hang out with a family that shares, shows, and embodies the gospel. They even have spiritual conversations sometimes. Now, this would have never happened if they weren’t regulars. It wouldn’t have happened if they were normal regulars, treating the staff as workers, people who exist to serve the customer. Instead, they treat them as people who have worth outside of work, people who have fears and dreams that only the gospel can sufficiently address. They loved them; not just used them. It’s not just being a regular but a redemptive regular who bring grace into everyday life.

Hobby with the City. Ever notice how churches tend to create their own Christian version of hobbies in their city? If they like to cycle, then instead of joining one of the countless Austin cycling clubs, they create at Christian cycling club! Instead of joining a Run-Tex club, they form a Christian running club. Church League sports. It’s pathetic. Instead of joining a city league, churches create their own leagues so they can play one another! One guy in our church cycles regularly with city club. He participates with the city, shares a common hobby. He hasn’t joined a Christian cycling club; he just hopped into one that already exists. Over the miles they cycle together the talk about life. He gets to share, show, and embody the gospel with them. He’s had some of his cycling buddies over for dinner. Another example. There’s a group of women in our church who hobby with the city by throwing girly parties–Crafts, Bunko, Baby showers. It’s not a Christian party; it’s a good party. All the women bring food, hang out, play games, and share life, stay late. Lots of good conversations and social connections. These women are hobbying with the city.

Be a Good Neighbor. Another person in our church has been very deliberate about getting out of their house. They walk the neighborhood. Walk to the mailbox instead of drive over. Play with their kids in front yard instead of the back, and engage their neighbors in conversation. Over time, the neighbors have warmed to hearing the gospel because they were loved and accepted first. One guy, a committed postmodern, theist, homosexual recently had a crisis. Partner left, his health is in decline, some pretty big issues. Who did he call? That neighbor. Why? Because that neighbor consistently loved him and listened to him. He got to show, share, and embody the gospel over and over again. This neighbor hangs with his family and has come to the Parish. Why? Because he had a good neighbor. Be a good neighbor.

Serve Your City. We brought someone up to share about a recent missional project with a non-profit. The answered these questions as they told the story and shared pictures with the church.

  • What is Safeplace/non-profit? Who do they serve, details?
  • What did we do? Where was the need?
  • What kind of people did it take?
  • How did is demonstrate the gospel?
  • How were people affected?
  • How you can do this by being a part of a City Group?

On Sunday the Riverside Meadows City Group cleaned 5 apartments for homeless women and children. This City Group is working with VINCare, a great social organization that houses, equips, and ministers to homeless women and children.

I’m excited to announce the June 28 release of Austin City Life’s first worship cd One. You can preview the tracks at our ACL MySpace. The mp3s and chord charts will be available around June 28, (perhaps sooner). Keep an eye on the usual places: iTunes, CD Baby, Rhapsody, Noise Trade, and so on. You never know when stuff will leak out 🙂

The EP is a product of worship from a community for a community. Each of our three worship leaders have contributed to this 6 song album, drawing on their unique gifts and artistry to produce songs that don’t quite fit within the usual worship stream. Some of the distinctives include:

  • City focused
  • Gospel-centered
  • Martin Luther on the Spirit
  • High Colossian Christology
  • Ancient hymns to progressive tunes
  • Reflective worship that builds and crescendos
  • Integration of Gospel, Community, and Mission in the song writing

I hope you are compelled to worship  God in all of life through the power of his Spirit in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ through this music. May we lift our voices and our hearts in Christ-cherishing praise all our days.

On Sunday, we installed the first deacons of Austin City Life, 5 months after they completed training! Church planting! We introduced them as lead servants in our church who have demonstrated a commitment to the character, theology, and service of deacon. It was a sweet time to reflect on the gospel growth in our church, and to celebrate our deacons commitment.

As I introduced each person, I asked them the following question: “Do you pledge, by God’s grace, to serve this church with the character, faith, and service fitting of a deacon? If so, say ‘I do’”. This question simulateously called each person to sober commitment and to God’s all-sufficient grace in serving the church. I am thrilled to have such fine deacons dedicated to the good of our church, the good of the city, and the glory of God!

Here are the Deacon Resources we used and developed along the way. The newest contribution is the manuscript and outline of what I said during the installment. Hope it helps.

Check out our new church website. 99% of the photos are taken by our own people. Feel free to give us some feedback.

In the coming weeks we will be adding new sermon archiving features, fresh content, and new pictures. The plan is to keep the site fresh with content, resources, and images. Notice the blog feed at the bottom of the homepage.

Shout out to Dave Cummings, Hollie Meador, and Jesse Lovelace for their work on this.

The Austin Statesman ran a piece on downtown churches that are committed to renewing the city. The cool thing is that Eileen connected it to other church planting efforts in our local network Here’s an excerpt:

Some are part of a local church planting network that includes about 40 leaders who aim to spread the message of Jesus throughout the city — not just within the walls of already established churches — and to be a renewing presence both socially and spiritually. These churches are cropping up all over the Austin area, but for some leaders, downtown venues hold a particular appeal.

Similar efforts are happening in cities such as Minneapolis and Seattle where church leaders have established sanctuaries in downtown bars, coffeehouses and warehouses.

Jonathan Dodson, pastor of Austin City Life, said his congregation chooses to worship on “common cultural ground,” the idea being “the church goes to the city. The city does not go to the church.”

Oh, and Austin City Life is covered in about a third of the article. Read the rest here.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis have developed a new narrative statement of faith for the Crowded House. This is something I have been working on for Austin City Life. The Crowded House offers a good one.