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    Impact through Relational Networks

    Yesterday we took our first dive into some of the realities we need to grapple with if our ministry is to thrive in the emerging America. As I’ve said countless times recently, I am very mindful that we cannot equip our church to minister in a world that will not exist in a few years, and in many places, no longer exists at all.


    Pastor Steve did a wonderful job tackling our opening conclusion: relational networks are vital to tackle local realities.


    The Joshua 22 passage (verses 9-34) shows how important it is to allow local leaders to make decisions that tackle local realities. The geographic, tribal, and missiological realities the Gadites, Reubenites, and half-tribe of Manasseh had to tackle led them to find a local solution to a local problem.


    This localized decision-making almost caused a war!


    The central office in Shiloh (including Phineas, son of Eleazar the priest, and the other tribal leaders) never stopped to consider the unique dynamics of the Transjordan tribes.


    As Pastor Steve shared yesterday, that was not their fault. Everything they were doing was new to them. Besides, they had no way of knowing what the Reubenites and Gadites were facing since they didn’t live anywhere near them!


    The dialogue between the representatives of “the center” and the “three-tribes network” leaders, reveals that the Transjordan tribes saw something the rest of the “denomination” couldn’t see. In the end, the three tribe’s commitment to the integrity of the corporate mission won out and everyone was able to see that these three tribes were the boots on the ground who understood their context better than anyone else. As a result, it became clear that they were uniquely positioned to lead a spiritual movement in their own backyard. They fully respected the other tribes and considered themselves to be a part of them. Even so, they believed their “three-tribes network” was the best equipped to make strategic decisions for their region. For them, the model altar is a symbol, a story that ties them all together. 

    Something else strikes me in all this. The “three-tribes network” leaders clearly didn't make the decision simply because they felt they were the best placed to do so. It wasn't their 'leadership position' that drove them. No, they made this decision because the success of the project, possessing the land and living there in ways that glorified God to the surrounding nations, demanded it. They weren't driven by their authority as leaders, but by the mission to which they had been called.


    It’s stories like Joshua 22 that have led us to build out our relational network, the Water’s Edge Network, the way we have; local leadership and decentralized decision-making are two of the three critical distinctives of our network family. We’ve built relational bridges with like-minded partners to move the mission of God forward. We partner with these people because they aren't driven by leadership authority but missional responsibility. Every leader in our network family believes that we are stronger together than we are alone. Even though each of us accepts our calling as leaders, there is not one of us who puts our leadership rights above the collective mission we share.


    What's made our network family work is that we, like the three-tribes network, have decided that we are not going to be reactive, but proactive. We’re not going to wait for our families to drift away, lose their faith, and stop believing. We are making steps now to address a problem before it emerges.


    In our Impact journey we are taking time to share how the changes we are making are driven by emerging realities that will challenge what the church will look like a decade from now. There are many, but we've selected six for this series:


    1. Engagement not Attendance: In a post-Christian/pre-Christian context, coming to Christ means engaging in community not just attending church.

    2. Larger and Smaller: As society becomes more pre-Christian, the church that will thrive will do so by becoming bigger and smaller at the same time. 

    3. Variable and Flexible: Rites of passage will need to become increasingly more evangelistic and facilities increasingly more flexible to maximize moments that bring people through the doors “naturally.”

    4. Heterogeneous Churches: Future generations will embrace heterogeneous churches because they represent what is normal to them.

    5. Giving Potential: Future generations will have less giving potential than their parents.

    6. Relational Networks: The next generation of leaders will think relationally, in terms of networks, before they think theologically, in terms of denominations. 


    In our morning prayer meeting today, two staff members shared stories that have happened since our Impact series launched.


    One staff person shared how, when a person they knew heard us talk about rites of passage, that it was that very experience that led them to Christ. They had attended a service in our chapel at Easter, a rite of passage service for them, and realized that they knew of Christ but didn’t know Him. In that chapel service that person responded to Jesus for themselves. As they heard us share about rites of passage that person resonated so strongly with what was being shared.


    Another staff member shared how they’d recently met a couple who hadn’t been attending our church long. Even though they lived in Holland they didn’t know much, if anything, about Jesus. They certainly had no understanding of what we call, “the Gospel.” They started attending Central and have been coming a few months now. They’re still on their spiritual journey but are seeking to move beyond attendance to engagement. They want to serve.


    Right here, in these two stories, our staff caught a fresh glimpse of what’s coming our way. 


    Our staff recognizes the blessing we have and the privileged positions we hold. We have front row seats to such stories. We’ve all heard stories like this before, I’m sure. The thing is, we’re starting to hear them a lot more frequently. Something that tells us that the tide is changing on the Christian culture in “Church City.” Yes, the Christian culture is strong in parts, but the younger generation, those the Transjordan “three-tribes network” had in mind when they built their model altar, are growing up with less being known about Jesus. Even in our own town there are churched people who haven’t heard the Gospel and there are non-church people who’ve neither heard the name of Jesus nor had the Gospel explained to them.


    I urge you to consider this: if this is true now, what will it be like a few years from now? 


    Friends, everything we’re seeking to do at Central is driven by the fact that we do not want to be found a few years down the line having ignored the consequences of what we’re seeing happening. We refuse to equip our church for a world that no longer exists.

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