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 Interveiws JR Woodward #2

This is the second of 2 posts taken from an interview Jamie Arpin Ricci did on JR Woodward’s new book Creating A Missional Culture. It was first published on Jamie’s blog here.

Previous Post -Creating A Missional Culture – Part 1

Welcome back to the second & final installment of my interview with JR Woodward about his must read new book, “Creating A Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World”:

JAR: What are the three most significant/common hindrances for Christians to create missional culture?

JRW: Great question. Whether these are the three most significant/common hindrances is up for debate, because I haven’t conducted adequate research to answer that question conclusively.

With that said, I would have to say the first would be an inadequate understanding of what missional culture actually is. It would be important that people understand that missional starts with our triune God being missional in his very essence, and that we are sent people with a robust gospel, guided by a missional hermeneutics, and leading in a polycentric way. It would also mean people understood the different elements of culture, which I talk about in my book, because the language we live in, the artifacts that we make use of, the rituals we engage in, our approach to ethics, the nature of the institutions we are a part of, and the narratives we inhabit have the power to shape our lives profoundly, but we must understand each of these elements.

I would sum up the other common hindrances in saying that as the church has uncritically adopted assumptions in the corporate world, it has distorted her approach to leadership, structure, discipleship and mission. In leadership, it can manifest itself in leaders who try to control instead of releasing to the Spirit; in structure, it tends to be a top-down, programmatic approach, often perpetuating adolescence and consumeristic Christians instead of mature missional disciples; in mission, it often propagates a reductionistic gospel and a church-centric (as opposed to a Theo-centric) approach to mission.

I would be interested in hearing what others think about this question.

JAR: Your website offers a lot of supplementary resources to the book. Tell us about them.

JRW: Glad that you asked.I just finished a series of blogs letting people know the various free resources that can be found on the site. When you go to the site, across the top of the page you will find words that connect you to different resources. The upper left side of the page connects you to explanation of the book, culture, the five equippers, resources and book forum.

In the book section you can find out everything you want about the book, from a synopsis, to a list of endorsements, to reviews and interviews about the book, to a frequently answered questions, to a free sample of the book.

In the culture section, you can learn about the various elements that create culture and by the end of the year there will be a free cultural assessment available. The equipper section has an overview of the equippers, a free equipper assessment, as well as a page overview of each of the five typologies in Ephesians 4, including a short video describing each one. The resource section connects you to the various resources across the entire site, including the equipper and cultural assessments, a connection to free online resources, recommended reading, the book forum as well as links to various book reviews I’ve done.

If you look to the upper right hand side of the page, you can learn more about me, check out the speaking section to see where I will be speaking in the future as well as listening to some talks I’ve done in the past and finding out the areas I love to speak on.

The writing section includes a list of published writings, unpublished papers, online articles and featured blog posts. The consulting section connects you to the various ways that consult. It shares a little bit about how I approach church assessments, church planter assessments as well as coaching and mentoring. And finally there is a place you can contact me.

Of course I blog about 5 to 6 times a week, so you can always find some fresh content. That would be a quick summary of my website.

JAR: What advice would you give young, missional Christians who embrace the life you lay out in the book, yet find themselves alone and discouraged in their passion?

JRW: Another great question Jamie. I think most of us in ministry have not only experienced the pain of loneliness, but also the pain of being alone and discouraged in our passion, as you say.

I know that in the first five years of my first church plantat Virginia Tech I felt both lonely and alone. Among the two-dozen students I inherited in the church re-plant, no one seemed to have a missional heart. Not only that, but it was during this rough season that I experienced financial hardship. I didn’t make enough money to even support a simple lifestyle. I was accumulating consumer debt, I lacked in local mentors and we didn’t’ seem to be moving forward in ministry. To top it off, people were stabbing me behind my back, which was extremely hurtful to me. But more than that, as it started to rip the guts out of the church, it started to rip the guts out of me.

I remember the night I was close to give up everything! I was wrestling with God. I was shouting and crying into the open sky. I felt lonely and alone.

I was in complete aloneness.

After my shouting and crying died down, it seems as if God guided my thoughts to the cross. I started to think about what Jesus must have felt like hanging on the cross. Those he loved perfectly deserted him. The crowds, who cheered him, now mocked him. They spit on his face. They put a crown of thorns on his head. They nailed him to the cross. And in his utter aloneness he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It was in my moment of aloneness that I connected most with Jesus’ moment of aloneness. And it was at that moment that I came to feel his love for me, understanding what he was willing to go through for me, like I had never felt before. I started to realize what Paul meant when he talked about knowing Christ by sharing in the pain of his suffering. And that feeling of love gave me a love for those who hurt me and those who didn’t know Christ.

As we live out our calling in life, we may not always have the polycentric team that we hope around us in every season. We certainly ought to fervently pray for it, continually seek it, and not be shy about inviting others to join us. But we must also remember that God uses both the desert and mountain experiences of our life to help us know him, so that we can better make him known.

After 5 years in the desert, I experienced 7 years on the mountaintop. After 7 years on the mountaintop, I experienced another 5 years in the desert. It seems that God likes to use a mixture of the desert and mountain to grow us to be like his Son, so that we might fully live out our calling by joining God in the renewal of all things.

JAR: Thanks JR.

Order your copy of “Creating A Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World” today!

Practicing the Way of Jesus – by Mark Scandrette #3

This is the third and final post in a series from an interview with Mark Scandrette on his book Practicing the Way of Jesus.  Mark is the founding director of ReIMAGINE, a collective that invites people into integrative spiritual experiments and practices, (with an emphasis on creativity, community building and social action). Each year he hosts a series of projects, retreats and workshops that explore and inhabit various core themes in the way of Jesus. He lives with his wife and three high school aged children in an old Victorian in San Francisco’s Mission District.

A new way is possible

A new way is possible

In the second part of your book you talk about specific areas of experimenting – identity, purpose, security, community and freedom and peace.  This is pretty radical experimentation.  Can you share a few stories of how people have lived out experiments in these areas.


Asking the what if questions

Asking the what if questions

This book is full of stories and examples of what groups of people have actually done to take steps to practice the Way of Jesus. Our original group started out by imaginatively asking “what if questions.” What if instead of just talking about prayer we actually prayed?” This led to our first group silent prayer retreat. “What if instead of just learning about God’s heart for justice we take tangible steps to help affected people?” This led to intentional friendships with homeless friends, a neighborhood safety campaign and initiatives to address local human trafficking.

Or, “What if instead of just confessing our areas of brokenness we took steps to support each other in making positive changes?” This question led us to a shared practice called “Experiments in truth” in which we each commit to a radical life change over 40 days. Through this many of us discovered the power of taking vows and applying disciplines of abstinence and engagement to our persistent issues.  We discovered that in the solidarity of a group we could make life changes that we hadn’t been able to on our own.

Our neighbourhood matters - lets keep it clean

Our neighbourhood matters - lets keep it clean

In the opening chapter of the book I describe one of the most memorable experiments we’ve done. In response to Jesus instruction, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor,” a group of us decided to sell or give away half of our possessions and donate the proceeds to global poverty relief. That provocative step opened up deeper questions of heart motivation, spending patterns and the accumulation of debt. As a result we saw people in our group pay down their debts, learn to practice contentment and gratitude, live more simply and sustainably and experience great freedom and simplicity in their lives.


Our neighbourhood - what we do matters

Our neighbourhood - what we do matters

My challenge to readers is to think about a change you want to make in response to the vision of life Jesus offers and then ban together with others to take a practical step. Although some of the stories I share in the book might seem radical, the deeper point I’m trying to make is that we can each take a next step, even if its a baby step,  to practice the way of Jesus.

Say no to violence

Say no to violence

Podcast with Missional Monks

On Saturday I had the opportunity to record a podcast with Missional Monks Chris and Brett.   It deals particularly with the challenges of sustaining faith and spiritual practices in today’s world.

Following Jesus Each Day

As we move towards the end of the 4th week of Lent I will be posting several reflections on Walking with Jesus Toward the Cross: How Do We Follow? that I have received from around the world.

Today’s post” Following Jesus Each Day comes from Lynne M Baab. Lynne is the author of numerous books, most recently Reaching Out in a Networked World which considers the ways congregations can express their identity and values in an online world. She has also written several books and Bible study guides on spiritual disciplines, including Sabbath Keeping and Fasting, and lots of articles that are posted on her website, She is a Presbyterian minister with a PhD in communication, and she teaches pastoral theology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

“Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day”

(Richard of Chichester, 1197-1253).

Lately I’ve been thinking that following Jesus is a daily affair, and that each day we need to consecrate our lives anew to Jesus. When I wake up in the morning, I usually lie in bed and pray for a while. Recently I’ve been trying to pray something like this, “God, my life is yours. Help me to do what you want me to do today. Help me to hear your voice and follow you today.”

Last year I taught a course on the missional church, so I read dozens of books on that topic. One of the things I appreciated most in the books was an emphasis on listening to God for specific guidance. Congregations that want to become missional, some of the authors write, should be trying to notice where God is already active in their community and join in to that movement of the Spirit. They should endeavor to figure out God’s call to them specifically and follow it, rather than trying to do a lot of good things or nice things.

Those authors were part of my inspiration as I pray each morning for God’s guidance and God’s help to follow that guidance. This day. Now. Let me hear your voice and follow it.

It has been fruitful for me to grow in that practice of daily submission. We don’t follow Jesus so he can help us live the life we want to live. No, we follow him so we can live the life he wants us to live. I believe that. I know that. But I still worry a bit that a strong emphasis on hearing God’s voice for me will push me further in the direction of individualistic, consumer faith, an all too common malaise in the church today.

So, then, what are the checks and balances that keep me from an individualistic perception of God’s will for me? I’d love to hear from other people what they believe are those checks and balances. I’ve come up with the notion that as long as I’m trying to submit to scripture, and as long as I’m sharing with other Christians my sense of God’s call to me—and listening to their feedback—I’m less likely to run off in some random direction that has little to do with the Gospel of Christ.

Human capacity for self-delusion is so powerful. Complacency that I have figured out God’s will for today comes far too easily, particularly when it seems that God’s will is something I enjoy and find satisfying. Therefore, the Cross of Christ plays a role as well. Am I willing to hear God’s voice to me in a way that will lead me into something challenging, difficult or painful? Or am I only willing to listen when God calls me to do something pleasant and comfortable?

O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

A Primer on Today’s Missional Church

I recently came across this great resource on JR Woodward’s blog Dream Awakener.  It is the most comrehensive resource on the missional church that I have come across and I am amazed at the amount of work JR has put into compiling this.  From the number of comments I think that others appreciate it just as much as I do and I hope that you will too.  Thanks JR for the good work that you have done here.

Read A Primer on Today’s Missional Church