Category Archives: Blog

Laughter Escapes

We received this video from Toni Mello, a church planter from Brazil who is part of ELI’s Cultivate Church Planter training. And, by the way, stay tuned for some exciting news about Cultivate, coming in the next few weeks…


The project Escapa Riso (Laughter Escapes) takes the gospel to the pediatric ward of a big city hospital through creative evangelism. It is an initiative of the Igreja da Cidade (City Church) in Salvador – Brazil. The team consists of counselors and clowns making jokes, doing magic tricks, and speaking of the love of Jesus in a manner sensitive to the reality of suffering of those children and parents.
Everything came from the desire to be missionally active, in a way compatible with the possibilities of  a small church plant. Since then, the team has continued to grow and now has developed training and workshops, and we have been invited to go to other hospitals.


Assessing Trajectory

Carlos grew up in church.  He married a woman he met in the college ministry he belonged to, and today they have four kids that keep them busy.  An advancing career brought them to your community, and they stopped you after service on Sunday to ask for more information. As a growing family, they are faithful in attending church and small group and they volunteer in Children’s ministry.


Kirsten grew up in a broken home where there was no mention of Jesus unless someone was swearing — and that was pretty often.  Without much love or guidance, Kirsten made her own way and lots of mistakes.  She hit bottom last month and found her way to AA to stay alive.  She met a friend there who introduced her to Jesus.  Last Sunday, she found her way to your church for the first time.


As a church planter, how do you think about these two encounters?  Do you focus on where they are or where they are going?  Maybe it’s just my own humanness, but I think we naturally assess where people are.  In church, that becomes: how much do they already look like the people we want them to become? We would be more effective as leaders, and disciples-makers, if we learned to instead assess trajectory.


You see, Carlos knows a lot about the Bible but he hasn’t actually read one in months. He’s hoping to find a small group because he works long hours and if his wife makes new friends, so she won’t give him such a bad time about being at the office until 7 or later every night.  His trajectory is nowhere.  But Kirsten is hungry for Jesus.  She is reading large chunks of scripture everyday.  She has lots of questions, but she also has vibrant simple faith that takes God at his word and is willing to do whatever He asks.  Her trajectory is straight for Jesus and she is moving fast.


You can assess trajectory by looking at three elements:

  • Path – what direction is the person travelling? Towards Christ and Christlikeness? Or away?
  • Pace – how fast are they moving?
  • Proximity – this is very subjective, but, essentially, how close have they gotten? How long has it taken them?

Learning to ask those simple questions might give you very different ideas about how to lead both Carlos and Kirsten to become more like Jesus.

Spiritual Vitality

“We actually slander and dishonor God by our very eagerness to serve Him without knowing Him.” – Oswald Chambers

“I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” - Martin Luther


Andy Stanley has famously said, “Cheat the church. Don’t cheat your family.” He’s making a very important point.  Workaholism is the pain that people applaud. We never want to assume that a church planter has mastered the art of balanced living. In fact, the classic profile of a church planter is a man with his hair on fire! Obsessed with work, he can’t put it down, and lives with a low level anger that bubbles over usually in his family life, or a persistent anxiety that robs him of sleep he so desperately needs to keep pushing this terrifying thing forward.


I remember there being days when I couldn’t draw a deep breath because of the anxiety I was feeling. I remember praying, “God I am scared out of my wits about what’s going to happen next, or what is not going to happen that so desperately needs to happen.”  At that moment, what I believed about God was revealed. Did I believe He could be trusted, that He had my back, that he was a good God that would not rip me off?  Or did I wallow in fear and unbelief?  Did I believe He really could not be trusted?

 “Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart…” Deuteronomy 4:9 NASB


There are moments in the journey where we need to invite the Lord into the middle of everything and not miss what He wants to say. We need to stop and enjoy him. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the first of 107 questions: Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. Perhaps the Presbyterians do better at the second of these statements:  “to enjoy Him forever.” The rest of us would be hard pressed if we were asked, “Do you enjoy God?” Seriously?


If we lose the ability to enjoy Him, we are missing the entire point of what we are trying to do!  I must confess, there are times that I do not enjoy God, and I have found that those times are in direct proportion to the amount of time I spend fellowshipping with God through prayer and His Word.

Psalm 27:4 says, The one thing I want from God, the thing I seek most of all, is the privilege of meditating in his Temple, living in his presence every day of my life, delighting in his incomparable perfections and glory. TLB


Here are 7 suggestions for keeping your spiritual life energized:

  1. Spend time with God in prayer every day, and give him your optimal time.  If you want your people to bleed prayer, you must hemorrhage!
  2. Take a day of prayer once per month.  This is not a day off.  This is hard work.
  3. Read, memorize, and meditate on the Word.  Listen to Bible teachers’ podcasts. Most of the great preachers read massive amounts of scripture annually.
  4. Journal – It’s not just for the girls. To remain an emotionally healthy Christian, you need to stay in touch with your feelings, and pay attention to the work of God in you.
  5. Develop the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. Read great works on deepening your intimacy with God.
  6. Enlist a strong network of prayer cover. The common denominator of successful church planters is the degree to which they honored the need for prayer warriors to push back against the spiritual warfare that all planters experience.
  7. Read Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters to understand the insidious nature of idolatry as a current reality that we all wrestle with.  Habitually ask yourself, “Is the supreme object of my affection God, or is it my church plant?”

Defining “Home” for a Missional Family


, what is our address?”


That was me asking the question after four years of living out of a station-wagon prior to moving to Brazil at age five.


Dad said, “If anyone asks you for your address just say you live on 4 firestones.”


And that’s what I did say, to the amusement of many, (only I misquoted my dad, saying, “our address is 4 styrophomes”) as I experienced the series of transitions common to missionary kid life. After four years at three different addresses in Brazil, at age nine, home became Atlanta, then French Lick, Indiana, Minneapolis, a Ford Granada on the road, and finally Southern Brazil. In all that movement, the stability we found as a family was in relationships and memories, pictures and stories. Christmas 2011, dad digitalized his thousands of family slides and gave them to us kids as a present.



These memories became our home even more than the many roofs we slept under while growing up.  And this is a legacy Erin and I hope to continue with our family. Although we have had only one home in Brazil over the past sixteen years, we have stayed in many places across the USA during furloughs and we have learned what it means to have important moments that create home-defining memories.

We have just enjoyed one of the best of those. In Latin American countries, a girl’s fifteenth birthday is considered a wedding-sized-event. In the secular realm it’s the time the girl is presented to society as a woman, and in the Christian culture it becomes a celebration of all that God has done and is doing to prepare her for womanhood.

Camilla turned 15 on August 2nd and after a year of preparation (with Erin and my mom sewing, family friends helping with the dress, the food, the organization, Erin’s parents coming to Brazil to help with the cake and logistics) we invited one hundred and twenty close friends to my parents’ (redecorated/transformed) house for a night to remember.


Is it worth the work?

During all the setup and take down with the help of both sets of grandparents, our family discussed the implications of spending time and resources on a fifteenth birthday which few would invest on a wedding. Here are the main points we came up with:

  • In the highly transitional life of mission work, home is not where you hang your hat as much as it is the where you place your heart. Relationships are the cornerstones of the life worth living.
  • Moments of celebration are worth great investment when they become worship, as they reflect (dimly though it may be) the future eternal fellowship we long for.
  • These kind of important life moments should be full-on definitions of what we believe and celebrate most, not run parallel to our Christian testimony.

The individual speeches from the pastors’ wives, from fifteen of of her youth group friends, along with the video of testimonials from across America, together formed a montage of affirmation through which we were declaring to Camilla “you are loved”,  “God made you beautiful”, ”you have many gifts to be thankful for” and “you were created for a mission that is worth great effort and celebration.”



Setting the Bar

I attended a very small Jr. High School.  One of the benefits was anyone who was willing, got to play a sport.  There were no tryouts – only invitations to try out a sport so there would be enough players.  Which explains how I ended up on the track and field team as a high jumper.  I still remember what that bar looked like.  If you set it low, you approached it with a confidence that “anyone could jump over this.”  If you set it high, it felt like Impossibility.  No one could jump that high – certainly not me.

One of the most common questions I’ve faced from church planters is: where do you set the bar?  I hear things like:

  • “I met this amazing drummer who wants to play in our band – he also lives with his girlfriend, isn’t sure what he things about Jesus – but he really wants to play.”
  • “There is this great couple who want to join our core team and lead our hospitality ministry, but when I talked with them about our core covenant they said they didn’t think giving 10% was a New Testament thing.”

These are tough questions, but a simple axiom can help you navigate these decisions:

“Lower the bar of community and raise the bar of leadership.”

Many churches have the bar of community set way too high.  To someone on the outside, it looks impossible to get in.  You’d have to perfect like Jesus.  Which is why we say “No Perfect People Allowed.”  There are no perfect people.  Anyone and everyone should feel like it is a place they could belong, make friends and explore faith and even use their gifts to serve others.  So lower the bar of community.

At the same time, it is vital to raise the bar of leadership.  Too often, in a desperate attempt to fill spots, we act like my Jr. High track coach – lowering the bar so anyone can lead.  The problem is that lowering the bar of leadership is ultimately lowering the bar of discipleship.  If you let people lead who are not committed to Jesus nor submitted to His leadership in their own life, you communicate that discipleship isn’t really important.

Doing both simultaneously – lowering the bar of community while raising the bar of leadership –  will help you create a culture where everyone is welcome and everyone encouraged to keep moving towards Jesus.