Sustained Through Community

Have you ever seen a coal or log fall away from its heat source? What happens when a coal tumbles out of the grill onto the driveway or the small log is pushed to the outside of the fire ring? The coal or the log get cold. It becomes harder for it to accomplish its mission of warming a burger or toasting a marshmallow. Without other heat sources around it, that log or coal loses its purpose.

We are the same as we follow Jesus. We need other heat sources to keep us on fire for Jesus. On our own, we can more easily grow weak or discouraged, or simply get our purpose and mission confused. However, when we regularly gather with others, we are more easily sustained and kept in alignment with God’s mission. This is why lifeGroups are a part of our strategy here at the Church. Biblically, we see people -- Jesus included -- living out their purpose and their relationship with God alongside others.

Today, we thank the leaders who have invested in keeping those smaller communities on fire. We honor those who give of themselves to make sure we don’t have to walk this road alone and are dedicated to keeping us aligned with God’s mission. Thank you, lifeGroup leaders. What you do matters, and your fellow leaders deeply appreciate the time and energy you pour into your groups.  

In April, we are talking a lot about lifeGroups. We would love to see new commitments to lifeGroups. We also see this as a time of reflection and recommitment for those who are already in a lifeGroup community. In May, some of our lifeGroups will be launching what we are calling “Catalyst Curriculum.” These groups will be taking a close look at missional living and what it means for them as they live life together, on mission with Jesus. 

In John 17, Jesus is praying to his Father, and we hear him say, “Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.” God, by his very nature, is a missional God. He sent Jesus to pursue YOU, to redeem YOU, to connect you to abundant life. The very fact that Jesus was sent to earth to seek and save the lost demonstrates that in his nature, God is a missional God, desiring to connect others to himself. And, as those who follow Jesus, we are then sent as reflections of that missional God into our world. We join Jesus, working to bring the message of redemption to a hurting world. In this Catalyst Curriculum, we seek to understand what these ideas mean. We talk about what it means that God is by nature missional and what it means for us to be called to partner with Him. We aren’t prescribed programs to follow to simply share the Gospel. Instead, we learn to see our world, and ourselves, with a new perspective and then support each other as we live out that new perspective in our everyday lives.

Perhaps you are ready to explore these ideas alongside others. We would love to connect you to a lifeGroup going through the Catalyst Curriculum. Perhaps you are a leader who is intrigued about what this would look like in your lifeGroup. Or, maybe you would love to have these types of discussions and you have some friends who might be willing to do it with you -- we would love to prepare you to be a lifeGroup leader. It’s not too late to join in training! Not every lifeGroup is going to be working on this material. Other groups are going to continue to do what we are calling “Sermon Curriculum.” They gather each week to share their lives, pray together, and read and apply the scripture for the upcoming sermon that week. Are you feeling isolated in your walk with Jesus? Do you desire to learn how to read scripture and live it out in your daily life? We have lifeGroups eager to welcome you and have you grow with them.

Spring is a great reminder that God makes all things new, that he brings new life and restores the world. This spring, I encourage you to make a renewed commitment to staying “hot coals” as you follow Jesus. As always, I’d love to chat if you have questions or concerns.


Check out what some of our Catalyst Leaders had to say about Catalyst groups.


Catalyst from the Church on Vimeo.


The Tangible Kingdom

How do you define “the Kingdom of God?” I’ve been mulling that over lately. Jesus describes it as yeast hidden in dough, seed scattered on good and bad soil, a treasure buried in a field. He urges us to seek it more than the earth-bound “stuff” that captures our attention. On one occasion He said it is within or among us. It encompasses the visible universe and unseen spiritual realms and doesn’t operate by the usual rules of typical, earthly power structures.

It makes sense to have a clear idea of what we’re pursuing when we seek God’s Kingdom and ask God to bring it – but what exactly ARE we pursuing and asking God to bring? And would the answer make anyone want to come along with us?


God’s Kingdom is bigger than any definition we could come up with, but let’s start by calling it the arena where His will is being done, on earth, in heaven, and in and among us. That would include love, forgiveness, healing, rebirth, restoration, justice and mercy, shalom, knowing and walking with Him. That’s our God, and that’s His Kingdom. But it’s hard to make the concept of God’s kingdom tangible. The things we do in God’s name - our religion and practices - aren’t the whole story, but they’re often visible, concrete, and measurable. They’re what a watching world sees. And honestly, sometimes it’s easier to keep doing what we’ve always done rather than to think about the purpose behind what we do. When I read accounts of Jesus’ work on earth, I get the impression this isn’t a new problem. Jesus seemed to make a point of defying religious conventions for the more important purpose of bringing God’s Kingdom in that moment to the those around Him. God’s will: always. Cultural expectations: not necessarily. He embodied the Kingdom, and He calls us to do the same.


The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (250 HAL, church library) is the story of a community trying to live out that idea. Their goal: form a core of like-minded kingdom people loving each other and those around them, and make it easy for “spiritually disoriented” folks to get in close to see their Christianity lived out, and do this all while avoiding becoming a typical church. While the authors address their book primarily to pastors and church planters, their experiences are thought-provoking for anyone. My own take-aways include:

  • Individually - We have more freedom to love and serve Christ and others than we take advantage of! God’s Kingdom is likely more comprehensible to our friends when experienced outside a traditional religious framework. If that involves skipping a few church services or “healing on a Sabbath,” you’re in good company.

  • Small groups (e.g. family, lifeGroup) - Keep loving and serving each other and others without expectations. Enjoy life and welcome others into your orbit. Such a lifestyle IS the gospel to a watching world. Talk comes later.

  • Church - It’s really hard to let go of lifelong habits and expectations of what “church” should be and do, even when we’re aware of them.   Moving together as a united body against the cultural current is even harder. But with God, all things are possible.

I’m curious to know what you think - get in touch with me (!


Leadership Board 2017 Goals

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Psalm 32:8

Aren’t these comforting words from our loving God? The Church Leadership Board kept this scripture in mind as we determined our goal for 2017:

For each board member to identify and intentionally build up relationships with an owner segment of the congregation.

We will determine action steps to meet this goal and hold each other accountable for reaching it.

This goal meets several areas of our policy manual, but first let's consider who the Owners are.

Our policy manual describes “Owners” as Jesus followers who invest dollars, time, and emotion with some conscious risk in order to enhance and expand the spread of the Gospel through the Church's mission. These Owners are actively engaged in our strategy (lifeWorship, lifeGroup, lifeServe) and are able to say:

  • I am sustained by the Word.

  • I am dependent on Christ.

  • I am a visible reflection of Jesus.

  • I am the missional heartbeat of God.


Policy that is congruent with our goal includes:

    1.2 Results - this section talks about "owners actively engaged in our strategy" (talking with active owners ought to give us insight in how to forward our ministry),

    2.1.5 - Leadership board members are to work to expand their "understanding of the mission and ministry of the congregation",

    2.1.7 - "make informed decisions by insisting on complete and accurate information"

    2.1.9 - "Invest personal energy and skills in the mission and ministries of the congregation..."

    2.1.10 - "Relate to other individuals with integrity, honesty and straightforwardness"

    2.4.3 Policy Development  - policies are to be active and dynamic...based on the...changing context within which the congregation functions (talking with owners will help us be aware of any changing contexts)

    2.9.4 “Identify and establish relationships with groups that have the potential to have a felt ownership in the congregation.”

    2.11.1 “The Board shall yearly identify the congregation's key Owners segments.  The Board shall discuss shifts in the Owners segments over time and shall respond appropriately to communicate with and address the concerns of the current Owners.”

This goal is also is congruent with Catalyst 100: “By the end of 2017 in true reformation style, we will be experiencing a significant increase in contagious joy, because we will be able to identify 100 people who are re-examining missional living as they practice and experiment what it means for them to live missionally.” What better way to live missionally than to build relationships? We hope this relationship building can be a model for living missionally in our families, neighborhoods and workplaces.

This goal is in addition to all of the regular responsibilities of the Church Leadership Board. Some of our tasks include reviewing the strategic plan, informing the owners of the degrees of success in meeting the Desired Outcomes of the congregation, and revising the policy manual.

We are looking forward to building relationships with you as we all work towards our desired outcome: The people who live in and around the Greater Madison area will be connected to life in Jesus and live a life that is distinct and set apart for mission through our responsible use of the resources that God provides the Church.

As always, if you have questions or comments, do not hesitate to contact me or any member of the board.


Like a Child

Why is it so easy for children, and seems so difficult for adults?  

A friend of mine was so surprised at how easily his daughter talked about how much she liked church and invited her friend with her.  She even prompted him to ask her friend’s parents if it was OK.  Two weeks later, her friend’s older sister was also joining them at church.
Now, it’s not about bringing people to church, but it is about sharing life, and all of it, with our friends and neighbors.   

My friend related how he had been spending time with Mark 10:13-16 and seeing in his daughter the freedom and joy that he and most adults have had beaten down, worn away, and replaced with inhibition over time.  

We can learn a lot from our children, especially when it comes to:

  • Simply trusting God.
  • Expecting good things from God
  • Enjoying the good things God gives.  

Where is one place you’ve seen child-like infectious joy and enthusiasm, and been drawn to it?  

Where would you like God to restore or give you child-like trust, joy and enthusiasm?
“Dear God, restore my joy today.  The world seems to tell me to keep it to myself, to even hide it.  Return, or bring me to the place where I can’t keep my excitement and joy about You and what You do to myself.  I want to play, again, Daddy.  Amen.”

Let me know where you see unbridled joy.  If you have a story or feedback, please Share It with me in the comments or via email:


Sabbatical: God is Faithful

And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28


We are four and a half months into this time of sabbatical. While in the big picture it is a blip in time, for those of us who are owners of the Church it has been a time of journey and reflection, possibly seeming to be a much longer time. God brought this verse to mind, and I have spent some time reflecting on what it means for us as the Church.


Friends, from what I can tell, God is good and faithful and keeps His promises. During the past four months, God has faithfully kept this promise outlined in Romans 8. He DOES work for our good, and He does this regardless of our intentions or desires.


Pastor Jeff’s sabbatical came as a surprise to most. It was not something we had prepared for or anticipated. And so, our responses have been varied. Some understood and supported this time of reflection and space, while others didn’t agree with it for this time in our church. For some, it has caused great frustration and sadness, while for others it has been a time of experimentation and engagement. Perhaps you have been in a place of wondering, “Why?” or “Was this right?” Most certainly, across the board, we all experienced some anxiety and uncertainty to some degree.


None of these questions or emotions are right or wrong. We each have a unique story and journey at the Church, a unique perspective and reason for our time and place in this ministry. AND YET, in the midst of these varied perspectives, God is good and faithful. He has worked good here. Whether you view the sabbatical as right or wrong or the appropriate timing, God has worked good.


Consider what has happened at the Church in the past four months:

  • We have incorporated new communication methods to help make information more accessible (family minute, monthly calendar update emails, Meet Your Leader booklet)

  • We have gathered in forums to help us learn more about the leadership at the Church and to give us space to openly discuss concerns. (Coffee With…, Horizon check-in)

  • We have at least 20 people committed to being trained in a new lifeGroup curriculum. With this curriculum, more lifeGroups will have the resources they need to have more intentional conversations and accountability in missional living.

  • We are using faithBuilders time to continue to build the skills and tools we need to love God and love our neighbors as effectively as possible.

  • The Elders and the Mercy Ministry team have strengthened their partnership with each other to better meet the care needs of those at the Church.

  • New leadership has emerged in our ministries for youth and children (Kids Connection, tweens, new parent teachers in Life in the Word, new adult leaders in Higher Ground)

  • We have launched more opportunities for gathering with each other socially, to encourage and build relationships with each other.

  • We have had hard, open, reflective conversations with each other. This kind of reflective dialogue is healthy and good, and helps us to continue to refine each other.

  • We have people serving in new roles within the Church.

  • Ministry leadership has taken on new roles and flourished within the challenges undertaken.



God is good. He WORKS FOR OUR GOOD. Regardless of our feelings about the sabbatical, I truly believe that God has been using this as a time for His good and our good. Struggles aren’t a bad thing. Our response to those hard times can be questionable, but struggles themselves are a way of being shaped and molded into the image of Christ. Hard conversations allow for growth. And when we are weak, God’s strength and mercy is ever more present.


These are truths that are constant in all areas of our lives. We don’t understand cancer. We feel defeated because of a broken relationship. Whether it is a situation in our church or pain in our personal lives, the question stays the same: Will we be open to acknowledging God’s good work, even when it stems from a place that we don’t understand?


The hard part about a time of struggle and uncertainty is that we can’t always see the other side. We don’t know the outcome or even, at times, what we are working toward. But we do have this promise that God will work for our good. And so, we trust Him. And as we learn to trust Him more, step by step, we relinquish more of ourselves and see that the good that God works is often right in our own hearts. I have seen this happening at the Church. We all have our own learning curve, but I believe that God is teaching us to trust Him and give our church to Him.


And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. God has called us, church, to join Him in HIS purposes. Sometimes we struggle to trust God or see him at work. Sometimes that is part of the journey we are on -- to better know God. And sometimes, we need to ask ourselves if we are seeking God’s purposes or our own.


When we recognize that our homes, our church, our whole lives belong first and foremost to God, then we seek His purpose and we can more closely live out the call He has given to us. We become less. The desire to know and seek God becomes more. That is how we live in unity, even during times of uncertainty.


As the sabbatical comes to an end, we still have questions. Will Pastor Jeff come back? What will the Church look like? What will happen? Will things change yet again? I can’t answer those questions. But I can know this with certainty: God is good, and He WILL continue to work for our good. Whatever happens in the next few months, we will still love God and He will still love us. He has carried us thus far. He has been faithful to His promises thus far. He will continue to be the foundation of the Church and He will continue to work for the good of His church, who loves Him, and has been called according to His purpose.