The Giving Tree

This is a guest post from my daughter, Kathleen Fretwell. She resides in Bilbao, Spain, and as a “millennial,” has some first-hand insight into the generation, culture, travel, and the Christian faith. I am grateful for her input and willingness to have her articles posted here, but, should you feel inclined, you can always follow her other writings or get more information at her blog, Just Trying to Blend

By Kathleen Fretwell

I had an awesome friend say to me once, “You know what?  You’re really nice. I hope later in life you get what you deserve, because you are always giving.”

Even though I am ashamed of most decisions made during the previous years of my life, and not everyone who knew me could whole-heartedly describe me as “the nice girl,” one thing is for certain … I have always given unto others.

But, I can’t help to get bogged down sometimes.

Oh, no. In no way, shape, or form am I claiming to be Mother Teresa; however, when people are in need and I can be of assistance, I do all in my power to help.  I feel a pang of guilt when I know I cannot help “better” the situation. I can not help, but to help. I give things I do not have, and I will more than likely never have enough money to be considerably rich for the sole reason being that I am constantly paying for people, with of course, money I do not have to spend.

I can’t help but to get upset when people are unlike me.  I get a harsh, hard-to-swallow feeling in my chest and something that feels like a sucker-punch to the heart—not when my efforts go unnoticed—but when they go unequaled.  I give, give, and give, but my efforts are not correspondent, and the sad reality of the world is that not all people are like me—but [more clearly] mostly not all people are like God.

I fail my emotions in thinking people are as like-minded as I am. I am disappointing only myself when I come to realize that they are not.

When I feel this way, rather than get deeply saddened and possibly turn to anger to sort out my depressive emotions, I remember these words:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

I have to remember that people were made in the image of God, but it is when I give people “God-like-qualities” that I find myself becoming most disappointed. I need to remember what lies ahead for me, and trust that good people really will, someday, be rewarded.

I thank my friend Isabelle that day, for not only giving me a compliment I will never forget, but for also setting my heart down the right path. She helps me move forward—into the right direction when I am feeling down.

People, please continue to give, even when you feel your efforts are not equivalent. Give, because there are people like me who notice your efforts, and there is a God who promises to reward our selflessness, in due time.

3 Things I learned at Exponential

Last week I attended and lead an equipping lab at the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. The theme this year is Heromaker—based off of Dave Ferguson’s new book. At first glance one may assume that Hero-maker is only a marketing angle for book sales—to the contrary. A hero-maker is a multiplier, a reproducible disciple-maker, a mentor, coach, and/or a person who invests their time, resources, and life, to see others grow in Christian maturity. The leaders at the conference stressed that they were not the heroes, but hero-makers—desiring to see others become leaders in engaging and growing in the Christ-life.

But, let me clarify something I recently read—there’s a misconception regarding the definition of Hero-maker—as if the conference were promoting “superheroes” or creating prideful people—that’s far from the truth and even farther from what I experienced. I saw dedicated individuals humbly pouring out their time and life—selflessly. The main reason I wanted to write this article was to point out three things that I observed—and they’re all very encouraging.

Lostness

Exponential was sold out—10,000 people jam-packed into the First Baptist Church of Orlando. There were numerous Spirit-filled speakers on the main stage, not to mention the numerous breakout equipping labs. One thing that I loved, I didn’t see dry ice vapor-clouds, hear thumping music, and bump into hipsters. I networked and met with a myriad of believers, differing denominational leaders, and church planters—each demonstrating a kingdom-minded attitude.

With nearly every person that I met, there was a sense of urgency in reaching the lostness of their communities—worldwide. With each story I heard, people pouring their hearts out about the lostness within their community and desiring to see their churches engage mission. There were seriously devoted believers seeking practical ways to reach the lost.

But, another beautiful aspect concerning a conference such as Exponential—it’s not merely North America, or a specific denomination—it’s global and multi-denominational; not to mention, multi-diverse, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational. Everyone is working together for the common goal of reaching the unreached—to engage lostness. This one thing gave me confidence in the universal Church.

So many times, we hear dismal numbers of failure, church decline, and the ever increasing amount of closed doors—but Exponential was different. It was a breath of fresh air—Spirit-filled air—breathed out through the lives of the many who attended.

Disciple-making

My doctoral work was in reproducible disciple-making, explicitly for church planters to reach new converts. I studied and researched ecclesiastical history and what went wrong and what was done right. I studied and research many contemporary discipleship models. I studied and researched small groups, immersion groups, home groups, community groups, and all kinds of missional gatherings. I researched a few North American church planting organizations, too. I also studied and read nearly every book written in the last 100 years, pertaining to discipleship.

I mention that because I was excited to see what was happening at Exponential. While the organization that I’m the director, New Breed, plants churches via reproducible disciple-making, most do not—at least that was part of my doctoral findings. Needless to say, I was somewhat discouraged about the state of the current church—until I hit Exponential.

At the conference, there was a sincere ground swell of thousands of people and leaders dedicated to seeing things change—not for the sake of change, but to see Christ exalted and the church engaged in making disciple-makers. There were speakers who were championing the small church, movements, and innovation—all within the realm of re-discovering disciple-making.

Kingdom-mindedness

While I wished that I could report everything was awesome and smelled like roses—that’s not altogether the truth. I was able to see one thing that I didn’t like—namely, empire building. There are some organizations which are not team players—they’re focused on their own agendas—but, be relieved, I want to help you navigate toward kingdom-minded opportunities.

If you’re like me—a networker, mobilizer, and catalyst type, who yearns to see people grow in Christ and communities reached—then your best opportunity to collaborate is with the smaller organizations. The larger ones may not give you the time of day, nor be invested in true collaboration. It is what it is.

However, I can’t speak for every large organization—but I can say that the smaller ones are hungry for working together, sharing secrets and models, and seeing Christ magnified at any expense—even if it means sharing inside information which may be utilized and adapted by another organization.

The fact is, the smaller organizations are not in it for money—or better stated—they don’t have an overhead to payout. Most of them have passionate volunteer staff—they have a vision they believe in and are committed to see God bring it to fruition. As I stated, I’m the Director of New Breed, but when I met with Patrick O’Connell from New Thing, he was as excited to connecting as I was—even though we both serve in like capacities. I saw this of enthusiasm time and time again.

The smaller organizations seem to be more kingdom-minded because they are collaborative—working with other believers to reach the ends of the earth. Needless to say, I met some fantastic people and would encourage you, if you’re seeking collaboration and encouragement—attend of the next upcoming Exponential conference (www.exponential.org).

5 Great Reasons Why Christians Should Observe Ash Wednesday & Lent

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The Church’s Lenten season begins tomorrow. Lent is a period of 40 days. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (before Easter). Lent was designed as a time for reflection, repentance, prayer, fasting, and meditation on Scripture. It became a time when new believers prepared for baptism and joining the Church.

Some believers view Lent as a move towards works-based righteousness or ritualistic traditionalism. However, the early church fathers expressed the importance of church “seasons,” to help believers navigate life. Similar to the calendar we all use with holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and such, the liturgical (church) calendar provides seasons for believers to reflect in their Christian life.

On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the forehead as a symbol of mortality, remembrance of salvation by grace, and the dust from which man was created.

Here are five reasons why Christians should observe Lent.

#5        Reflection & Mediation on the Word of God

It’s no surprise that there’s a lack of biblical literacy within the church.

Lent devotes 40 days in recognizing the importance of the Word of God to transform the soul. Meditation on the Scripture is not Yoga or some ancient mysticism, but a deeper spiritual awareness. Studying and meditating on the Word of God assists believers in knowing God more, creating discipline, and transformation. In reality, this should be done 365 days, but it may be a good start for some.

#4        Setting Aside Time for Prayer & Fasting

These two disciplines are connected throughout redemptive history.

Placing the spirit in command of the flesh is vital. In a world where food, beverage, and technology rule the flesh, renewal is imperative. Fasting should not be seeking prosperity from God, but placing the soul under God’s control. He is Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Fasting should be joined with prayer—when pangs of hunger arrive—the believer kneels in prayer.

The basic principle: the spirit is in control of the flesh. Pray about your strongholds. Do you have a vice that “owns” you? Lent is the perfect time to begin afresh. Pray through the Psalms. Prepare your heart for remembering Christ’s sacrificial gift on the cross.

#3        Explore The Inner Self

Examining oneself is biblical—not for a better you—but for repentance. The Apostle Paul stated that we should examine ourselves prior to the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:28). What is nobler than examining our motives and actions in daily life—to glorify God?

Why not examine your actions, motives, and thoughts for these 40 days? Ask the Lord to reveal your heart. Is there any unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, or anger in your life? Choose Lent to release ties of bondage. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring beautiful conviction—to draw you closer with God.

#4        Reach Out to the Community

During the Lenten period, dedicate some time to giving to the needs of the poor, hungry, or homeless. Paul declared that he was asked to “remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10). We should be eager to humble ourselves, serving and loving others (Phil 2:5–8).

You never know, being missional may open doors to network for Kingdom growth in your community. But, make sure you do it with a heart of joy, serving others as Christ served. Remember, Jesus washed the feet of Judas, too.

#5        Listening to God’s Voice

By far—this is the number one reason! Many believers lack quiet time with God and have no idea what His voice sounds like. The whisper in the ear while in prayer, the wondrous beauty of the Holy Spirit’s presence in walks, or the sweet surrender to His power. Why not take a vow of silence for a day?

Try a long walk instead of using the car—listen for God—take in His awesome creation (Rom. 1:20). While driving to and from work, turn down the volume and talk with God. When you get home from work leave the television and computer off. Turn off the cell phone and take the ear buds out your ears—take the time to hear the voice of the Almighty.

He loves you and desires intimate time. Choose these next 40 days to transform your spiritual journey with Christ. (Feb. 10—Mar. 26).

How Being Bi-Vocational Engages Better Disciple-Making

For the record, every follower of Christ is a disciple-maker. As well, every follower of Christ is in—quote, un-quote—ministry. None are exempt (Matt 28:18–20; 2 Cor 5:18). Even though I serve as the Director of Operations for New Breed Network, a church planting training organization, this article pertains to all those who serve within the context of church leadership.

I’m not a big fan of the term, “pastoral” ministry, as if there are hierarchal castes within the ministry of the gospel. But, I get it, and from time to time, and I will use the term. While I adhere to a plurality of elders in relation to bi-vocational leadership, I realize that some people view ministry as something only a pastor performs. However, to be biblically correct—pastors train and equip the saints for ministry (Eph. 4:12).

I mention the aspect of pastoral ministry because I believe, like many others, that the church needs to get back to its first-century roots. We (the church) need to be more focused on disciple-making then church growth (btw, disciple-making done right encompasses evangelism). However, we can’t do that if the focus is solely on pastoral ministry.

Disciple-making occurs the best when normal, everyday, relational life, becomes the Christ-life. As my good friend Peyton Jones admits, “I’d sat too long holed up in my office, locked away from the world that desperately needed Jesus, but you can’t change the world from behind a desk.”[1]

Inspired by his words, I’d like to offer two brief ways in which being bi-vocational better engages disciple-making.

  1. Corporate Cognition

Some pastors are forced to become bi-vocational—it is what it is. But, as someone who’s been bi-vocational and still is, I know the up-side is better than the down-side. A bi-vocational (bi-vo) pastor/elder/leader will become missional without even thinking because of the immersion into the environment.

No longer behind a desk or chained to the duties of traditionalism—you’re set free to engage the rest of the image-bearers on the planet. One thing I always celebrate with the church I serve—it is when they ask me to pray for their co-workers. I immediately thank them for loving like Christ and being on mission within the work place.

Corporate cognition is not about businesses, but about the reality that we’re all created for relationships. For a bi-vo leader, an awareness should exist that you are not a time clock puncher, you’re a servant of the gospel—doing all things for the glory of God—surrounded by lostness.

Bi-vocational leaders have a “leg up” in the disciple-making field because of their corporate cognition (i.e. work environment). A higher tendency to speak to unreached people already exists.

Just as the Apostle Paul served as a tent-maker, along with Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, and Silas (Acts 18), working within the community presents us with more lostness-engaging opportunity. And with more opportunity comes more ability.

  1. Cultivating Gospel Trades

Within New Breed, I have labeled (and coined) certain jobs—as “anchor trades.” Anchor trades are professions that meet a community need with the possibility of having the greatest amount of exposure to lostness. While most people don’t think about their jobs in this way—plumbers, barbers, store clerks, chimney sweeps, builders, and even IT gurus, are being utilized in this manner.

At New Breed, we look at disciple-making as a two-fold opportunity. Not only can a bi-vocational leader make disciples of Christ within their profession by meeting new converts, but he/she also has an opportunity to disciple within the trade.

Cultivating gospel trades is a term that I use to identify a profession in which a person can teach a trade, while tandemly making gospel-centered disciples. I perceive that the Apostle did this (although I have no solid proof).

For instance, if I’m hired as a wood worker and have a few helpers to build a table—while we fasten the sides of a table together, I may begin to explain how the Holy Spirit works within my life, or how the wood reminds me of the cross of Christ, bringing humanity and God together. Or perhaps, if I’m sanding down the top, I may suggest that sometimes God places people in our lives that act as our “sandpaper”—somewhat abrasive—but developing our maturity in humility. Regardless, you get the picture.

Mostly any profession can be rendered into a cultivated gospel trade. While we’re teaching the trade itself, we’re also making disciple-makers. These are merely two ways in which bi-vocational leaders better engage disciple-making.

[1] Peyton Jones, Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017)

Beginning All Over Again

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Becoming disengaged in the faith is a common fatality for unfruitful discipleship. In our culture, many things desire our attention and hinder our ability to hear God. Jesus informed us that a believer must be able to hear and go wherever the Spirit leads (John 3:8). A Christian who is unable to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice can only proclaim faith—not live it.

This new year,  start over with the basics, from the beginning. Begin with fresh, new eyes. Below, I’ve listed three practical ways to reinvigorate and jump start your faith.

  1. Intentional Slow Down

In John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping, he advises that the challenges of the world test the depths and elasticity of the soul. When I was young I had a stretch Armstrong doll; it was filled with a gooey gel, and was pliable and very stretchy. My brother and I tried to rip it apart and couldn’t (boy tested and approved). However, when we put in the freezer, the gel congealed and became hard—the elasticity was gone. That’s what has occurred to many believers—they’ve grown cold and become hardened by the world’s busyness and possessions—no longer pliable to hear from God.

We must slow down our thoughts. For some of us, slow is not an option—in that case, we should be intentional about our time. We cannot hear from God without reading the Word or setting aside time for prayer. We must intentionally slow down our minds to soften our souls—to stay pliable. Say to God, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10).

  1. Having Everything, Dying of Starvation

There’s an old story about ten people sitting around a round table with platefuls of food in front of them—however, they had no elbows. While having healthy amounts of food, they slowly starve and die because of an inability to get food into their mouths. As the story goes, if they would have fed each other, death would have been averted.

Christianity is starving—yet engorging itself in everything. While the technology age fattens us, we lack love, fellowship, and mission. Intentionally gathering with one another is imperative for spiritual growth and maturity. Church is not about attendance, but gathering with the body of Christ to share in worship, love, and encouragement. Isolation is a form of starvation—don’t possess everything of the world, and die of starvation.

  1. Location, Location, Location…

I’ve shared this many times—The Celtic Christians called their connection place with God—a thin place. A strategic location that was set aside as holy. Derived from Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven, he declared, “Surely the LORD is in this place” (Gen. 28:16). A thin place is where heaven and earth collide, a place where you and God meet. Find your thin place—removed from distractions—an intentional location of solitude—to arrive at the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16).

It is only in the silence of God where you will hear gentle instruction. It is only in the love, fellowship and mission of God where you will find calling. And, it is only in a dedicated thin place where you’ll enter the presence of God as never before.

Make this new year intentional—make it a new beginning.