I Think God Believes in Cross Pollinating

red zebra tomato

red zebra tomato

A couple of days ago I read an article in the Seed Saver catalogue about the development of the Red Zebra tomato. In 1992, the developer, jeff Dawson noticed that one pant in his row of Green Zebra tomatoes had different colouring. He recognized something new had emerged and saved the seed from that one plant. Planting it out the following year produced amazing results. At least five distinctly different tomates appeared. One became the red and yellow striped red zebra, another a larger striper slicer called Copia and a third green with no stripes became Marz green. A fourth tomato with yellow and green stripes became Lemonhead.

Seed from these varieties was saved and Jeff worked to stabilize the varieties over the next 3-5 years. Some threw off even more unique and distinct varieties. What really impacted me was Jeff’s comment

It is so fascinating to see how one simple act of cross pollination in a garden and a gardener who is paying attention can produce a whole new family of tomato varieties.

Cross pollination, inbuilt in God’s plan for diversity. It produces an ever changing array of varieties of all kinds of fruit, vegetables and flowers. It encourages varieties that can adapt to a range of habitats a fruit may never have existed in before. Sometimes, as in the rich array of potatoes that thrive in South America,  it produces a variety that will only grow effectively in a few fields.

Shane Claiborne tells me Mustard Seed Associates is one of the best cross pollinating organizations he knows so as you can imagine this article really caught my attention. Cross pollination is extremely important in the church too. We learn from Christians of other traditions and sometimes our collaboration produces new expressions of church and faith that looks very different from the parent church or organization.

Unfortunately, we are not always good gardeners. We don’t always even notice the one plant in the congregation that is uniquely different from the rest. And if we do we often don’t nurture that new expression until it stabilizes and produces fruit that stays true. We are more likely to cut it down, or try to force it to produce fruit like all the other plants. 

The garden teaches me that God is a God of rich diversity, diversity that is ever changing, ever adapting to new soils and climates. Why do we think that when it comes to the church that diversity suddenly crashes to a halt? Why do we think that churches should be homogenous in beliefs, ethnicity, age and social strata?

So my question today is how do we become good gardeners in the churches (gardens) that God has placed us in? How do we recognize, nurture and grow the new varieties that are emerging in our midst without trying to squeeze them back into the old models (plants)? How do we become those good gardeners who can both recognize and nurture the new things that are emerging in our midst?



Creating A Missional Culture – Jamie Arpin Ricci Interviews J.R. Woodward

This morning’s post is the first of two that come from an interview Jamie Arpin Ricci did on JR Woodward’s new book Creating A Missional Culture. I had planned to review the book but felt that this interview articulated what the book is about far better than I ever could. It was first published on Jamie’s blog as Creating A Missional Culture.

I had the privilege of asking a few questions of my friend and fellow InterVarsity Press author, JR Woodward, about his new book “Creating A Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World”. His answers are so great, I thought I would split them into two posts. Without further ado, here it goes:

Jamie Arpin-Ricci: When the Christian book market seems to be flooded with books on what it means to be “missional”, why did you think your book needed to be written? How does it stand apart?

JR Woodward: One of the reasons why I felt the need to write this book is that we too often fail to understand the power of the culture of the congregation in forming us. So I take some time helping people understanding what missional culture is, and why it is important. If we want to develop missional disciples, we need to move beyond an individualistic approach, understanding that we create culture and culture in turn recreates us. I address the five kinds of environments needed to create a missional culture – a learning, healing, welcoming, liberating and thriving environment.

In addition I make that case that not only do leaders create culture, but also our very approach to leadership creates culture. A hierarchical leadership paradigm lends itself to an individualized approach to spiritual formation and often perpetuates adolescence in the congregation. While a polycentric leadership paradigm lends itself to a communal approach to spiritual formation mature disciples.

Here are some of the unique contributions that this book seeks to make, and questions that it seeks to address:

  • Understand what missional culture is and why it is important
  • Discover the five environments that unleash the missional imagination of God’s people
  • Learn how to assess the culture of the congregation you serve through the cultural web
  • Understand how the culture of the congregation will help or hinder the maturity of the church
  • Learn how to identify, cultivate and multiply the five equippers (apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors and teachers) in the congregation you serve
  • Learn why polycentric leadership makes more sense than hierarchical leadership or flat leadership
  • Discover the power of stories, liturgies, rituals and rhythms in developing a discipleship culture that reshapes peoples desire for God and his kingdom
  • Get practical tools that will enhance your ability to lead as a team of cultural architects, cultivating environments where good things run wild

My hope is that this book adds to the rich conversation about the missional church, for the missional church is not the latest fad; it has been in the making over the last century. My overview of Van Gelder’s book, The Missional Church in Perspective reveals the need for more missional books to be informed by history.

JAR: The subtitle of the book is “Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World”. How does the book equip the church? Does it have anything to do with the 5 symbols on the cover?

JRW: This book equips the church to cultivate a missional culture through a polycentric approach to leadership that releases the five-fold typology that Paul gives us in Ephesians 4. It goes beyond theory to practice.

As you well know, the cover design typically comes late in the making of the book, and so in many ways I was unable to tie the five symbols on the cover directly to the contents, thought they are certainly indirectly linked in many ways. But as you might know, the website reveals the meaning of the five symbols.

The five icons symbolize the five equippers mentioned in Ephesians four, the apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors and teachers. We are told in this passage that Christ has given these people (who are the gifts) to the church that they might equip and awaken the entire body to live out their calling and build up the body until we reach the full stature of Christ.

What blows me away is how Paul ties these five people-gifts to the maturity of the church. So if we have any hope of having the character of Christ and reflecting his ministry, we need to understand the nature of each of these people-gifts and consider how to nourish every person according to their calling. Because Christ was the archetypical apostle, prophet, evangelists, pastor and teacher, we need to nurture and release each of these people-gifts to live out their calling.

I’m with Hirsch, Catchim and others in believing that the best way to read Ephesians 4 is three dimensionally. In other words, every one fits into this five-fold typology in the sense of their calling. That is the first dimension. The second dimension is that all the other gifts mentioned in scripture (Rom. 12, I Cor. 12 and I Peter 4) are gifts that are given to help us live out our calling. In other words, each of these typologies represents a stream of ministry in the church. And finally, some will live out lives apostolically or prophetically or evangelistically, or pastorally, or as a teach in such a way that Christ gives them the capacity to equip others as an elder/leader in the congregation. So we can look at these five people-gifts as a calling for all, with a view to the different ways to minister, and from a leadership perspective.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

Be sure to visit JR’s site for some great resources & material.

Do Churches Contribute to Their Communities – a report from the Barna Group

Barna Group - impact of churches infographic

Barna Group - impact of churches infographic

This report from The Barna Group on how Americans perceive the impact of churches in their communities is interesting.

Although public skepticism of religion has become increasingly commonplace, a new Barna Group study shows that most Americans remain relatively upbeat about the role that local churches play in their communities.

The nationwide study shows that three-quarters of U.S. adults believe the presence of a church is “very” (53%) or “somewhat” positive (25%) for their community. In contrast, only one out of every 20 Americans believes that the influence of a church is negative—either very (2%) or somewhat so (3%). That leaves about one out of six adults (17%) who are indifferent toward the role of churches.  Read the entire article

What is particularly interesting is that what many Christians perceive as the purpose of a church –

There seems to be a disconnect for most Americans between serving the community and helping individuals find their way to God through Christ. Ministry-related goals – such as teaching the Bible, introducing people to Christ, and bringing people to salvation – are infrequently viewed as a primary way to serve the community. Even among many churchgoers, contributing positively to the community is perceived to be the result of offering the right mix of public service programs. Yet, this seems to miss an important biblical pattern: you change communities by transforming lives.

One thing that seems obvious to me is that most Christians perceive the impact of the church to occur within the church building whereas the community focuses on what the church does outside the building.  And if we change communities by transforming lives why isn’t the community aware of this transformation?

I wonder if part of the problem is what we understand by a transformed life.  Christians tend to focus on an inner transformation that has little to do with how we engage in the community.  But in Jesus day a transformed life meant community engagement too.   Individual transformation was not disconnected from the community as we tend to make it.  Perhaps if we became more like that first century church our communities would once more sit up and take notice.

I Didn’t Learn It From the White Males

Some of you have been following the synchroblog initiated by Julie Clawson on What is the Emerging Church. The responses to this have been diverse and fascinating.  I particularly enjoyed this post by Mike Clawson – maybe because like me Mike has learned many of his lessons from theologians outside the Western context.

This effort is partially in response to the recent Sojourners article by Soong-Chan Rah and Jason Mach alleging that the emerging church conversation has largely been dominated by white male hipsters, and partially just to celebrate all the good things that are in fact emerging. So even though I am a white male (though decidedly un-hip), I did want to contribute and speak to my own experience of being led into this conversation through non-white, non-western voices in the first place.  Read Mike Clawson’s entire article here

The first of May I will be in New Haven Connecticut teaching a course on Spiritual Renewal in Missionary Life.  All of my students will be from non Western countries.  It as challenging and renewing time for me too in which I feel I always learn more than I teach.  Part of the wonder of the good news of Jesus is that it can be contextualized into every culture, place and stage of history. Opening our eyes and our ears to voices that are unlike our own is always challenging but so enriching of our faith.

Who Was The Woman With the Perfume?

Today I am winding up my time at OMSC where I have been teaching a course on spiritual renewal.  Yesterday we were reflecting on the story in Mark 14 about the woman who poured the perfume on Jesus feet at the house of Simon the leper and I thought that I would share some of my thoughts with you.  It happened 2 days before passover and the day before the Last Supper.  

My thoughts focused on “Who was this woman?”  Though we are given details about where it occurred, the extravagant cost of the perfume and even the container that it was in, we are given no details about her.  There has been much speculation over the centuries about who and what she was but no one can be sure.  And of course most people tend to assume the worst and think that she was a prostitute.    

To the disdain and rejection shown by those eating at table with Jesus we add our own disdain and rejection to this woman.  It is possible that her rejection was just because she was a woman.  After all we forget that in Jesus time and culture the women would not have been eating together with the men.  Or she might have been rejected because she was doing something that made the dinner guests feel uncomfortable – the generosity and extravagance of her gift might have been contrasted with their own lack of giving.  Or perhaps she was someone unacceptable within the society – if not a prostitute then maybe ill or poor, or maybe she was a Gentile.  We don’t know for sure. 

This story occurs in the same chapter as the account of the Last Supper and the foretaste of the communion feast and yesterday morning as i read through this chapter, for the first time I found myself asking why.  And I wondered is it because this story challenges us to think about all those that we still exclude from the communion table.  Jesus has embraced the outcasts and is eating at their table – the tax collectors, and Simon the leper are there but they are unwilling to welcome this woman.

I think that this woman is unnamed because she represents all the nameless and rejected ones in our society whom we still refuse to welcome to our table – people that we arn’t willing to listen to because they are different from us or unacceptable in our own Christian culture.  

This is something that has been very much at the forefront of my mind as I have interacted with my very diverse group of students. This has been a good time for me to evaluate again my own willingness to include and exclude.  Who, I wondered am I still unwilling to welcome to my table?  Whose voices am I unwilling to listen to and whose offerings am I unwilling to embrace?  I think it is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves periodically

What Have We Done With Jesus?

Easter Sunday is over.  Jesus is risen but what have we done about it?  How have our lives changed because of the life giving presence of Christ?  How many of us are still sitting at the empty tomb with Mary weeping because we are worried about what has happened to the dead body rather than focusing on how to encounter the risen Christ in our lives?  Or perhaps like Peter we have gone back to our pre Christ encounter jobs totally unchanged by all that Jesus has said and done.

It grieves me that so many people who call themselves followers of Christ live in exactly the same way as their non Christian friends.  And it grieves me even more that the United States has the highest infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation and the second highest poverty rate.  (Only Mexico has higher )

Jesus’ last command to his disciples was “Love one another as I have loved you.”  and by that he meant give up our selfcentred, self involved lives and give ourselves to the things that really matter – the work of God’s kingdom – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, setting the oppressed free and preaching the good news in both word and action.   

If we really believed that Christ’s resurrection meant that the world was changed and that his resurrection life now flows in us too surely we would live very differently.  We would live by the law of God’s love which is the only law in the kingdom of God or as NT Wright calls it – love is the language of God’s kingdom.  If we truly lived transformed lives like those early disciples who gave up homes, jobs and sometimes family, maybe our world would be a very different place.  And if we truly lived as citizens of God’s kingdom speaking the language of love maybe we would see our world transformed in the ways that we say we want it to be.  

But of course that would mean we need to change our lives and become people who care for those at the margins in deed as well as word.  And it would mean that we don’t think about our own needs first but we live into a culture of mutual love and care – one that provides abundantly for all peoples and places particular value on the vulnerable and despised.  You know a little like it talks about in the book of Acts.  

What do you think it looks like to live as God’s resurrection people?

Deepening Recession Ready Or Not


MSA is getting ready to host another brainstorming session to help provide resources for churches that want to be God’s compassionate response to those who are suffering from the deeepening recession.  We are hoping to produce a video presentation as well as written resources from this session but to make this a sucessful we need your help. We hope that those of you who are in the Seattle area will consider joining us, but those who are more distant can still be involved.

  1. We would like to be able to network churches that are already producing resources and help spread the word about what is already happening.  What are you aware of that churches are doing that should be highlighted in this session and in the resources that we produce?
  2. What ideas do you have that have that you would like to put into action and would like to share with others?
  3. Who else should be invited to this event?  Please spread the word so that this can be a highly effective event and a useful resource.

For more information