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Suburban churches sucking the life out of a small town Monday, July 31, 2006 |

I don't usually post entire articles, but this was too much of a commentary on the suburban church mentality of taking without giving back. In a nutshell the town of Stafford, TX is being put out of business because they can't afford to have more non-profits (churches, etc.) sucking up land and not giving back any revenue to the city. Churches are 501(c)3 organizations, which means that they don't have to pay taxes. So the city can't afford to pay for police, fire, etc.

What's most interesting is that the members of the churches don't even live in Stafford! So, not only does the city have to accomodate the churches, they also don't get any benefit from having members of the churches living in the city.

Where is the idea of "shalom" in all this? Where is the concept of "seeking the welfare (peace, prosperity) of the city?" (Jeremiah 29) Why do churches think that they can just rape and pillage resources in order to build their empires? Why don't more churches have a value for being a blessing to their neighborhoods, communities, and cities?

I'm not saying that the central goal here is to help this city make some money. But it is sad that a community like this cannot even sustain its own infrastructure because of the unintended, yet powerful, affects of the self-absorbed decisions of commuter, suburban churches. How can these churches teach and equip their people for sustainable and reproducible mission/blessing in their neighborhoods when the churches themselves cannot live out sustainable and reproducible mission/blessing in their own neighborhood?

2 of my favorite quotes:
"If you can't find religion in Stafford, Texas, you ain't looking hard enough."

Willis said he asked the last six applicants why they wanted to build a church in Stafford. "Every one of them said they prayed about it, and God said to come here," he said. "I can't compete with that, so here we are."

Churches Putting Town Out of Business
Stafford, Texas, has 51 tax-exempt religious institutions and wants no more: `Somebody's got to pay for police, fire and schools.'
By Lianne Hart, L.A. Times Staff Writer
July 31, 2006

STAFFORD, Texas - They are not the words one expects to hear from a politician or a Southerner, and Leonard Scarcella is both: "Our city has an excessive number of churches."

Scarcella is mayor of this Houston-area community, which has 51 churches and other religious institutions packed into its 7 square miles.

With some 300 undeveloped, potentially revenue-producing acres left in Stafford, officials are scrambling to find a legal way to keep more tax-exempt churches from building here.

"With federal laws, you can't just say, 'We're not going to have any more churches,' " Scarcella said. "We respect the Constitution, but 51 of anything is too much."

Stafford, population 19,227, is the largest city in Texas without a property tax, and it depends on sales taxes and business fees for revenue. Nonprofits have been attracted by its rapid growth and minimal deed restrictions. "It's thrown everything out of balance, plus providing zero revenue. Somebody's got to pay for police, fire and schools," City Councilman Cecil Willis said.

In 2003, around the time the 45th church settled in, city leaders began looking for a way to slow the pace of construction. Public meetings were held; "we had people of different religions attending, people in their religious garb, Buddhists in their orange gowns and whatever else, talking about this very openly," Scarcella said.

An ordinance eventually passed that required those who wanted to build a church - and other public gathering places, such as bowling alleys and community halls - to undergo a rigorous review process and obtain City Council approval.

Before the ordinance, "you could pretty much come in here and say, 'I want to open up a church,' and I'd say, 'OK,' " said Gene Bane, the city's director of building permits.

In his office is a large map of Stafford that is dotted with round yellow stickers, each dot denoting a church or religious facility. In some parts of town, the dots are so close together they nearly meld into a big yellow glob.

In one quarter-mile section near the city center, parishioners can choose among 17 churches. There are three small churches in the Quail Ridge Plaza shopping center, and three large brick churches on the street behind it. Down the road, the Evangelical Formosan Church is tucked behind a muffler shop.

"If you can't find religion in Stafford, Texas, you ain't looking hard enough," Bane said.

There are no synagogues in Stafford, but there are religious facilities for Buddhists, Muslims, Chinese Baptists, Filipino Baptists, Spanish-speaking Baptists, and "every other variety of Christian you can imagine," Scarcella said.

"As best as we've been able to determine, the overwhelming majority of people who attend here don't even live in Stafford; they're coming from everywhere else," Willis said. Elsewhere includes Houston, about 15 miles northeast, and nearby Sugar Land.

"I don't hate God. I'm not against America and apple pie," Willis said. "We just have to protect what's left for commercial development."

Lawyers researching ways to stop church growth here will report back to city leaders in about six weeks, Scarcella said.

Lola Onita, assistant pastor at Jesus House Texas, said churches should be allowed to spread unfettered in a country that respects religious freedom. "People need a place to worship and hear the word of God," she said.

But Nilda Martinez, who owns a flower shop between two churches, has had enough. "The churches, they're everywhere here," she said. "There are too many; the city should control it. It hurts the city when you don't have enough businesses paying taxes."

Willis said he asked the last six applicants why they wanted to build a church in Stafford. "Every one of them said they prayed about it, and God said to come here," he said. "I can't compete with that, so here we are."

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Friday Foto Friday, July 28, 2006 |

La Seo
Friday Photo Group

What missional North Americans need to read Monday, July 24, 2006 |

If you're North American, or from the West, you need to read this article in CT:
Experiencing Life at the Margins
An African bishop tells North American Christians the most helpful gospel-thing they can do.
Interview by Andy Crouch

If you want to ask the Rt. Rev. Dr. David Zac Niringiye what's new in his ministry, allow some extra time. As assistant bishop of Kampala in the Church of Uganda, Zac oversees churches that are enjoying tremendous growth and confronting pressing needs. He and his wife, Theodora, counsel Ugandans who have suffered the trauma of war, advise startup businesses throughout Africa, and nurture Christian student movements and evangelistic efforts. His contributions to spiritual and cultural renewal in Africa alone would make him a valuable respondent to our big question:

How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?

But Zac, a protege of evangelical leader John Stott, also has cultivated deep relationships with Christians in the West, beginning with theological studies at Wheaton and Edinburgh. As a senior adviser to Geneva Global-another product of Stott's far-flung network of students and friends-Zac is creating international partnerships that model the candid challenge he offers to American Christians in this interview.

[ read more... ]

[ HT: Dan Sheffield ]
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Missional Church + technorati Thursday, July 20, 2006 |

Here's the technorati chart for blog posts that have been tagged with the "Missional Church" tag over the last year. You can see the steady increase of blog entries for "missional church." What does this have to say about the resurgence in interest in living missionally?

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Keller on Justice Wednesday, July 19, 2006 |

Reform & Resurge audio: Tim Keller on Doing Justice. This was the 3rd message he gave at the Reform and Resurge Conference. Message 1: Being the Church in Our Culture. Message 2: Preaching the Gospel.

Watch the "Doing Justice" vodcast here.

[ HT: Reformissionary ]

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Edwards, Philippians Tuesday, July 18, 2006 |

Stephen J. Nichols, speaking about Jonathan Edwards and the book of Philippians with WorldMag, had this to say:

Some take this text (Paul's statement to the Philippians that "Our citizenship is in heaven") to mean that we should have very little to do with this world, with life on earth. Heaven is our home, this interpretation argues, and that is where our allegiances lie. Recently, however, some New Testament scholars have made a compelling case for thinking about this text differently. Citizens of Rome who lived in Philippi were not to pine away for Rome. Instead, they were to bring Rome to Philippi. We shouldn't pine away for heaven. Instead, as citizens of heaven living on earth we should bring heaven here, even if it is only in miniature. Remarkably, Edwards was preaching such an insight to his Northampton congregation three centuries ago.

[ read more... ]
[ HT: Justin Taylor ]
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Missional Church indicators |

Dale Zeimer, a member of the Gospel and Our Culture Netowork,compiled this list of indicators of a missional church. Although not exhaustive, it does give a fairly comprehensive look at some of the major threads of this movement:

The following statements of participating church leaders have been gleaned from a series of conversations and interviews. They indicate honest and candid reflection about what is occurring as they are cultivating their congregations to become missional churches. They are offered for encouragement to travelers on a similar path.

1. Efforts to become more faithful seem to start up and then fall, start up and then fall. Often, they are not consistent, met with resistance, hard to keep at center and as top priority, often crowded out by operational concerns for maintenance of present program.

2. Conversations are being held where people are beginning to realize that "Christendom is over and it isn't coming back."

3. There is ambivalence: People are sharing their interest in as well as their fear of change.

4. The conversation is beginning to move away from "bucks and butts" to "how can we become more faithful?"

5. There is movement among people from "giving answers" to "asking questions."

6. Existing groups are beginning to use their time together differently. Sometimes they're even choosing to meet longer or more frequently for study.

7. People are beginning to embrace the idea that we need to spend more time on issues that are of more importance than issues like "what doors need to be locked."

8. People are beginning to beg to talk about vision not in terms of programs, but of what God is doing in the world. Others are doing their best to try to understand that.

9. People are beginning to work through a lot of local church history and experience that seems not to have much to do with what we're facing now.

10. People are beginning to imagine about their church, "What if we were really chosen by God?"

11. It feels like we're putting some of the first few spades into the earth, turning the earth over just a little, little bit at a time.

12. People are meeting in small groups and find them to be very meaningful and important.

13. There are little bits here, little bits there.

14. People are sitting around the table talking about things they otherwise wouldn't talk about in church, they are in conversation and relationship with those they wouldn't be otherwise.

15. We're no longer talking about the "black hole of money" or the "black hole of the steeple."

16. New ideas are being entered into discussions and not swatted down immediately.

17. There are a number of people who are able to picture their church in their mind as a sent body of people rather than a place where certain things happen.

18. People are finding it difficult to pull away from the table because of the meaningful conversation and relationships that are taking place.

19. Church leaders admit that there is less resistance than they thought there would be to spending so much time.

20. It is being observed sometimes that those who have "always been there," and are dependable givers, are the biggest resistors to change.

21. Some people are willing to give time and thought to the question, "what's happening to the church today?"

22. Pastors are questioning all of their working assumptions, they are trying to distinguish between what is Christendom thinking and what is not.

23. When it comes to helping people move out of Christendom thinking it is like a redundant process–it tends to move two steps forward and three back.

24. People entrenched in Christendom ways of thinking about the church are leaving the church. And it's often a surprise about who those persons are. Not everyone is being converted.

25. Participants in the church are struggling with many other complex life issues and demands, and often make only sporadic time commitments.

26. Churches trying to become missional churches are looking for, finding, and discovering great collegiality with other churches looking for and struggling with some of the same things. They form a strong bond together, bonds that are not formed with other congregations.

27. An increased number of persons are willing to participate in Bible study, sometimes as much as 75% of the worshiping congregation.

28. There is ferment, the foundations are being shaken.

29. Old ghosts are being buried.

30. People are experiencing the benefits of praying together and meeting together over struggling alone.

31. Pastors are meeting together and are "pealing the layers off the onion," they are getting deeper into identifying their working assumptions and working theology, discovering what they really believe and how they practice that. They are beginning to share openly in a trusting group.

32. New behaviors are being tried in the congregation, such as dialoguing about core issues.

33. We are growing more comfortable with "kingdom" or "reign of God" language, that is, "bible" or "faith" language.

34. Older long-time members are becoming open to new experiences, but also report that they are scared. There is a lot of anxiety expressed about where this is going.

35. Pastors are preaching differently. They're asking for sample sermons on "missional church."

36. There are intentional efforts to expand the conversation and exploration, not just keep it within the confines of a few people.

37. Leadership teams seldom take votes and are becoming more comfortable with deciding most things by consensus; they're discovering "you can't find Robert's Rules of Order in the scriptures."

38. Church leaders are discovering at some point that they can't go back anymore to where they were.

39. Sometimes clergy are labeled by other clergy as having a certain way of thinking that is not acceptable.

40. It involves a lot of frustration at first, an unbelievable amount of frustration.

41. Church leaders are starting to have frank discussions about the church's past–what it was and what it wasn't.

42. Church leaders and members are moving beyond the blaming stage. (They are moving through stages of grief, a la Kubler-Ross when a death has occurred.)

43. Significant times are blocked out for conversation. They are structured, planned, and held consistently over a long period of time so that a pattern of expectation is slowly built up that we will talk together. After a while they reflect, "a year ago we weren't talking like this." They are able to talk about the changes that have occurred.

44. The church is identifying and prioritizing the strategic (most urgent, important, and significant) issues they are facing as a church.

45. Energy starts to snowball.

46. Persons are coming forward to contribute more money so that the process can continue.

47. A sense of great urgency occurred that preceded any change or even any movement or interest in change.

48. Bible study is going on everywhere. People are praying like they never prayed before–using what's familiar to their religious tradition (e.g. liturgy, free prayer, etc.)

49. Conversation, consistent conversation. The church is learning "you have to talk," "it takes talking and it takes time."

50. Great impatience and frustration precedes the change–people are "sick and tired" of those who are blocking and holding the church hostage.

51. Every meeting is started with at least a half hour of bible study and prayer. Nothing is done without it anymore.

52. A church does a 180 degree turnaround on willingness to be in meetings and acceptance of how much time it takes to be together.

53. People discover with thanks the difference they experience by engaging around the Bible as compared to engaging around the boiler.

54. "Not rushing to solutions"–people have a new appreciation of knowing the difference between operational band-aid applications and thinking strategically, with transformation in mind.

55. Sometimes there is six months to a year of work before an "aha" occurs. And there is indication that when the light turns on, it never goes off again.

56. There is now opportunity for conversations where deepest yearnings of the heart for the church can be expressed.

57. Churches that are or are becoming missional have leadership (the pastor) who gets it and is on board. Where the pastor doesn't get it, any efforts seem to get sabbatoged.

58. On our Mission Church Team we often do 90% study even while doing our business, wrestling with what we are to be about.

59. My preaching has been difficult. What I used to do, I can't do now. So much had been aimed at individualism, individual piety.

60. We're involved in lots of theological reading and study–it's now an ongoing thing in this congregation.

61. Some of the main obstacles have been time, lack of focus, and not being real organized about structuring time for conversation.

62. A major learning for us has been how much time actually is involved in discerning God's call as a congregation.

63. My mantra is this, "We're still learning the ropes." We're learning how to discern God's call. My other mantra is this: "We're learning how to sail this thing. And we're going to get to practice for the rest of our lives."

64. Definitely our church has more of a servant attitude. There's a change in perception about what we're after as a church.

65. Another outcome has been our insistence on consensus, listening to alternative voices and minority voices, not using power plays. We are more patient, we look for further wisdom.

66. Now we are doing something about learning to swim in these new waters that the world has cast us into.

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Sally Marie Stewart Tuesday, July 04, 2006 |

Sally Marie Stewart was born on Sunday, July 2 around 11:30am. We named her after Kimberly's mom who just passed away last month.

6lbs. 12oz.
19 inches long

She is very healthy and we now have her at home. Wesley Grant loves the new "bayyy-beeee" and has already given her lots of hugs and kisses.

Thanks for all the prayers and support!

oh baby... Saturday, July 01, 2006 |

Sunday morning - 6am. That's when we will be at the hospital, and Kimberly will be induced. Lord willing, we'll have a healthy baby girl that afternoon or evening. Here we go!

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