My 5 Star Review of Primal Fire

PrimalFireI’ve had the privilege of walking with Neil Cole and his cohorts (Phil Helfer, Ed Waken, Dezi Baker, and Paul Kaak) in varying degrees over the last 15 years. I’ve been an “insider” to the learning that has fleshed itself out into the work Primal Fire. Keen attention to the APEST (apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding, teaching) gifts has been part of my experience with the CMA movement throughout. (http://CMAResources.org). This is the best articulation of a true APEST team that I’ve experienced on the planet.

Many in mission circles are talking about the need for this APEST community of leaders, but hardly anyone really has that kind of community. What Cole and friends express in Primal Fire is the real deal. It is not merely theory, but theology, theory, principles, practice, victories and pains through real life and ministry. It is a treasure to have this snapshot as captured in Primal Fire.

A word of warning: Don’t merely flip to the chapter on your favorite or perceived gift (chapters 9-13) and read about what an apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd or teacher does. I was tempted to do that, but if you do (or maybe when) make sure to take the time to engage with the first 8 chapters of the book! If you don’t, you will be missing some VERY important foundations from the whole of the New Testament. Most importantly, you’ll skip a tremendous exegesis and exposure of Ephesians chapter 4 (which Cole appropriately dubs the “Magna Carta” of the church [primarily chapters 5-8]).

In those foundational first eight chapters, you’ll be challenged in your theology and your practice. For instance, Cole draws out that church leadership isn’t merely to servant-hood, but to truly be servants. And beyond that leadership in Jesus’ church and hierarchy have no place together! Into church practices, elders and deacons are addressed thoroughly. In fact, a revolutionary biblical proposal on deacons will have you chewing through the Scriptures again.

In the portions of the book that expose and articulate the five APEST gifts that Jesus gave (chapters 9-13), I believe that the authors’ hope is that these pages in Primal Fire will affirm what Jesus has given and will draw together fully functional APEST teams. In fact, as I finished this book (the first time), I left it with a missionary team in Chad (Africa) with the hopes that they would be able to capitalize on these insights to fuel a burgeoning church-planting movement there.

Since this is Jesus’ idea and His gifts for the maturing of the Body, I whole-heartedly encourage you to chew on the content of Primal Fire for the greater multiplication of disciples, leaders, churches and movements all over our globe.

 

Gathered and Scattered…can you have it both ways?!?!

I like to describe our church @LosAltosGrace as having a “conventional church skin” and an “organic church soul.” Yes we have a Sunday Morning Worship Service, Sunday School, Youth Groups, and even a Christian School. To the casual observer, we have a very conventional church. But the Biblical principles which are foundational for how our church truly functions are much more organic than conventional. This kind of “animal” can be difficult for some to understand.

One of the things that we have been moving into for the past ten years is seeing the “groupings” of our church family as “mini-churches” or actual “organic expressions of the church.” Those groupings are adult Sunday School classes, young adult ministry, and even our choir! A couple of my friends, Phil Helfer (one of our pastors) along with organic church leader Neil Cole co-authored an excellent book called Church Transfusion which deals with this very topic.

Well, last weekend our church had a family meeting…just like all families do. We talked about what has gone on in the life and ministry of our church in the recent past. We also talked about money and about how God has provided and what it seems He is leading us to do. One of the things that members of our family have started doing is saving towards buying new carpet for the auditorium. We actually took this as an indication that we could invite others to save for that too, and when it’s fully funded, we can do the work. (There are a few other things that we itemized to help upgrade our facility, primarily in the auditorium)

In honest questioning, a very faithful and active member of our spiritual family asked, “If the new normal for our church is “organic” and with churches in homes, why are we renovating the auditorium? You can’t have it both ways!”

Wow, what a great question! A very important question! A question I wrestled with and prayed about for much of the week. I finally was able to string together my thoughts and sent the following response:

I’ve thought and prayed about how to respond to your email. I didn’t want to do so with haste, and I hope that my delay hasn’t offended you.

LookingBothWaysIn short, I do think you can have it both ways. Our facility is merely a facility, but it gets A LOT of use. It houses a preschool and an elementary school whose ministry is important and needs these upgrades as well. Our auditorium is used by our church family at least 52 times each year on Sunday mornings. That is a value for us as a family. It’s a touchpoint for our family — a time touch base each week and do some important things together: worship together with other saints, expose ourselves to the Scripture, connect with others in our family relationally and provide an entry point for others who are looking to find God or a spiritual family. Some people can make it each week, some can’t. It is a gathering time that is an important value. It isn’t the sum total of who we are as a spiritual family though. Our Los Altos Grace family is scattered throughout Southern California. Each of them would know that right now the time when they can connect with the largest percentage of our family would be a Sunday morning.

Families have this same phenomenon. Mealtime for example. Supper maybe served at 5:30 or 6pm each night. Everyone in our family knows that, but sometimes Mindi can’t make it because she has class, or one of the kids have a ball game. We have a rhythm and a habit as a family. We set the table, pray, eat, talk about our days, laugh and we clean up after. When someone isn’t at the table we miss them. We don’t doubt their part in our family nor do we think they are being rebellious. We trust that as they can, they will be at the table with us. We like the gathering of our family. It’s a habit, a rhythm, but it doesn’t define our family. Our kids are part of our family when gathered, or when scattered!

I’d suggest that the church is the same…scattered and gathered. Not one or the other. There are thousands and thousands, make that millions of people in Southern California who will never come to our Sunday gathering. Our charge is to go and make disciples…so we are seeking to do that. To “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” and not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together (Hebrews 10). We want to be all things to all men so that by all possible means God might save some. We don’t do this perfectly, or maybe even that well. But it is our calling as disciples, and as a church. Some of our gatherings will be in homes, or parks or schools. We will probably always have a Sunday morning gathering at our humble facility at 6565 Stearns Street.

Also we hope that our spiritual family will become scattered and decentralized, much in the same way as our kids grow up and move away. They start families of their own. This is true of you as your children are scattered from your dinner table now. It is a maturity thing, and we want to see God continue to scatter our spiritual family as well.

I value your investment and leadership in our church family. I’ve learned much from you as you faithfully love our Lord and do His work… Thanks for your desire to call our spiritual family to a heart-felt and obedient worship of our amazing Jesus. I hope that is helpful for you and I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee and talk about this more if you want to.

___

What do you think?

Skunk Works are Needed

Skunk Works

In 1943, at the height of World War II, the engineers coming from the same schools being taught by the same professors were not producing the technological breakthroughs that were needed. To get faster and better results, Lockheed decided to try something different. The company selected its most creative engineers and put them all in a tent set up at the end of a runway next to a plastics factory in Burbank, California. The engineers were told to think together outside the box on a specific project.

The members of this group began to push boundaries and try new things. Without all the red tape of the standard business bureaucracy, they were able to get things done much faster, usually ahead of schedule, and often with nothing more than a verbal agreement and a handshake.

Skunk WorksThey became known as “skunk works” because of the smell of the plastic factory wafting into the tent. The name came from the Li’l Abner comic strip, and it stuck. Today skunk works has become a technical term in research and development and in the diffusion of innovation. It is widely used in business, engineering, and technical fields to describe a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, often tasked with working on advanced or secret projects…. Read the rest here

Excerpted from “Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically From the Inside Out” by Neil Cole and Phil Helfer (Jossey-Bass, © 2012)

Count Your Blessings…and Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude and happiness are inextricably linked. A “Counting Blessings versus Burdens” research study was done on 3 groups who would keep a daily journal. The first group had no instruction on what to write, the second recorded what went wrong in their day, and the third group was instructed to write down things they were grateful for this day.

The conclusion of this study pointed to the results that the third group, who would daily write down items of gratitude, had an increased happiness level of 25%! Their baseline of happiness went up…by being grateful!

These people were rehearsing the things they were thankful for and it made a significant difference in their lives.  We have a hymn which points to this kind of practice: “Count your blessings name them one by one..”

In the Psalms, we see the writer articulating his testimony and it begin with thankfulness!

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:1)

The song writer then has a couple of phrases which are a call to worship of the assembly in verses 2-4. Which is followed by his personal testimony in the next ten verses.
(Read the entire Psalm 118)

What’s your personal testimony of thankfulness? Look for opportunities to express your gratitude! Won’t you think about ways that you can practice or rehearse gratitude each day?

If you want to hear Pastor Phil Helfer talk through this message @LosAltosGrace from Sunday 11/18/2012 and much more, tune in online here.

Dependence…learned from a couple of Jesus Stories

Dependence

In the USA, we love the Declaration of Independence. In fact, rugged independence defines us at a deep level.  In the spiritual world, it is the exact opposite…we are totally dependent! We enter into a relationship with God totally reliant, trusting on Him & Him alone! In truth, we are reliant upon God for everything!

On Sunday, we ventured into a story about Jesus which nails this concept:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 

                        (Mark 10:13-15)

Here are kids…who know more about the kingdom of God because they are dependent! When it comes to our relationship with God we need to always remember that we are kids!

To put even a finer point on this, the very next story in the Gospel of Mark is about the Rich Young Ruler. Jesus doesn’t give the same answer to this man (i.e., “become like a child”). This Rich Young man claimed that he had kept everything in the law since being a child. And Jesus asked Him for something more than keeping the law, “You lack one thing, sell everything you have and give the money to the poor!”

This Rich Young Ruler was self-reliant. The issue wasn’t his stuff, but it was rather Who he trusted in. He trusted more in his own riches, his own youth, and himself than Jesus.

We must trust Jesus! Become little children and depend our our Great and Mighty God!!!

 


These thoughts were spawned from the message by Phil Helfer on 11/11/2012 @LosAltosGrace. Published in the MidWeek E-newsletter  If you want to hear Pastor Phil Helfer talk through this message and much more, tune in online here.

Are You A Christ Follower? by Phil Helfer

It has become commonplace to hear believers refer to themselves as Christ-followers. What does following Christ actually entail? For many, following Christ means following those they see as His designated leaders. It’s as though Christ has delegated His authority to others and all one must do to follow Him is follow the direction these other leaders provide. Since Jesus made it clear that His kingdom doesn’t operate that way, why do we let people go on thinking this is right?  To be a Christ-follower, one must follow Christ. Seems simple enough doesn’t it?  But simple it is not.

Scriptures & Jesus Many understand following Jesus to be synonymous with knowing His Word. In many churches the one who knows the most about theology is considered to be the best disciple. The knowledge of the scriptures is a necessary ingredient in the discipleship process but to equate knowledge with discipleship is a huge mistake. When we do this, we forget that Jesus did not command us to teach them all He has commanded us but to teach them to obey all that He has commanded us. Most dedicated Christians are educated way beyond their obedience. Any form of discipleship that doesn’t focus on helping others to live out their faith in real terms is not discipleship at all. Even those who seem to understand this truth, sometimes fall into the trap of acquiring the requisite obedience by using outside pressure. This too results in producing an anemic follower of Jesus.

The temptation is to teach people to look to the scriptures for instructions on how to live a good life. The Bible is the truth, the inerrant and infallible word of God, but when people search the scriptures for rules to live by they settle for a life that is much less than it could be.

It’s clear from the gospel accounts that Jesus lived His life for the will of His Father. You will find Him saying things like, “I only do the things I see the Father doing” and “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak… the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.”  And again, “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me.”  Jesus lived His life in constant connection with His Father. “I and the Father are one.”  He was perpetually obedient, even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus came to fulfill a specific mission. How is it that we seem to think that a life of generic good works is all God wants from us?

1 Corinthians 12 further supports this thinking. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. And each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  Isn’t it obvious that this infinite variety of gifts, ministries, and results is indicative of an infinite variety of works God intends to accomplish through His children?  Leaders often take it upon themselves to prescribe the work to be done by each individual and most individuals are happy to let them?  Jesus is the Head of His Body and He must be allowed to direct each member as He sees fit.

The scriptures have much to say about God, life, and the principles they contain. When these principles are observed and practiced can be of infinite value. But to substitute a relationship with the Bible for a relationship with Jesus is a fatal mistake. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the churches of Galatia that to live by an outside standard or set of rules is to seek a gospel other than the grace of Christ. Jesus, in a comment to the religious leaders of His day agrees, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life but it’s these that testify of me.” The scriptures are meant to bring us to Jesus so that He can write His words on our hearts.

The essence of discipleship is a vital personal relationship with Christ. This personal ongoing encounter with the Creator is the cornerstone of what it means to be a Christ-follower. Commit yourself to following Jesus and helping others to do the same. If you make this the cornerstone of your life, you will find that God will use you to further the fulfillment of the great commission.

_______

©2012 Phil Helfer

Originally posted in the February 2012 edition of The Messenger Newsletter for Los Altos Grace Brethren Church (Long Beach, CA)
On Twitter @PhilHelfer
Used with permission. All Scripture quotes from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

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