I've been out of the blogosphere for the past few weeks, on the heels of having a blast posting the "3 Questions" Series. But for many good reasons. So here's the scoop:

WORK has owned me for the past few weeks. Although after 5 months I have still not made a commission check... and am actually making less than I was this time last year... my activity has picked up dramatically. Lots of work = tired Clay.

FAMILY is my life. When I hit the home... I get the hand-off and am with all my kids from play to dinner to clean-up to baths to bed-time at 8-9ish. It is a blast. I love my kids. Lots of family = extra tired Clay.

SERMONIZING is on tap. Yep I'm preaching this Sunday at Journey. I've been prepping for the past few weeks while awake... and while asleep. It's amazing when your spirit is set on listening to God how your night-time thoughts and dreams are tuned in too. Working title is "How Deep is Your Love" from Luke 7:36-50... but there are still 3 days... so it might change.

American Idol is in full swing. C'mon you didn't think I'd lost my priorities did you. Gotta say it's the guys year and I'm a band-wagon David Archuletta fan.... DAWG.

Friends. For some reason I've had the chance to connect a couple of good college and prior-life buddies. It's been a blast to pull out the pictures and get nostalgic... and pick up where we left off.

These have been good days. And if you ask my wife and kids... they would say I haven't been MIA after all... and I'm happy about that.


3 questions with Phil

Back up to New York State (Troy, NY to be exact) for a visit with Phil Taylor, Executive Pastor of Terra Nova Church. Phil is a family man... husband of straight-shooter (her best trait) Aimee... and loving father of Lily, Eve and baby #3 (who's on the way). Phil is a conservative, normal, Canadian-born (yes there are normal Canadians), pastor's kid ... who is following in his dad's footsteps and finds himself called to this artsy, eclectic, missional church.

Phil candidly describes his role at Terra as organizer/ manager/ preacher/ teacher/ counselor/ shepherd/ systems analyst/ vision implementer. His pet project is Theology at the Taproom, where members meet monthy to discuss Theology at a local bar. In his bio Phil confesses to having 2 life principals which drive him:

(1) Life is about the journey—not the destination. Stagnation is nothing more than the beginning of death.

(2) Life and faith must be lived in the context of community. This is where we learn and love and know and discover and fail and hurt and ultimately, it’s where we will spend eternity.

I've never seen a place like Terra Nova up close, so I'm excited to get onto the questions:

Q: Phil how would you describe Terra Nova?
A: Terra Nova Church is a growing community of historically informed Christ followers intent on discovering fresh ground together. Our goal is to share the ancient truths of Christ in a culturally relevant way through teaching, music, art and media.

Q: In general how do you like to describe the church?
A: As a self replicating network of incarnational access points. Say what? Okay let me explain. Self replicating means that things should grow virally in the church, rather than building a system that constantly requires one-figurehead lead or start every new thing. For example, we tell our New Tribes (small groups) that it is their job to find someone in their group to train up and send out. Every group identifies 1 new leader to develop and send out in 10 months. We as pastors can’t go out and train everyone up… the network needs to be growing it self from the inside.

Incarnational access points means that I incarnate Christ in the place I live Christ. I become an access point to Christ where I do life. The incarnation is Christ being lived out through you. Just like when Jesus took human form.. He incarnated God to humanity in the form of a man so that we could look at Him and touch Him. We are called to live our lives as a sacrifice just as Christ lived as a sacrifice. We are doing what Christ did as he lived on the earth.

We see ourselves as monastics and missionaries. Sunday morning is monastic time. Sunday morning is a time for Christians. It is time for the monastery to come together to be fed, trained and to worship. Sometimes non-Christians are there witnessing out worship. We welcome them as guests and acknowledge them... but we don’t design Sunday with the non-Christian in mind. Then we go out as missionaries. We are the church... we are Christ at the at the local art conference, at the soccer game, etc. We take the church out into our community.

Q: What is the biggest challenge your church leadership is facing in LEADING that type of church?
A: Balancing the wonderfully organic free-for-all with some guidelines for the direction and nature of replication. The great thing about a self-replicating network is that people really latch onto the idea that fulfilling the mission is in their hands. But it is dangerous too because people come up with some really crazy ideas on their own… and they want the Terra Nova stamp of approval on every idea they come up with.

Some things are just too weird and others are not strategically aligned how we feel called to extend our missional footprint. So here are some guidelines we've adopted. We try to affirm individual missional expressions, mobilize corporate mission, and resource strategic mission. By affirming individual mission we are supporting the work of God in the individuals life without dilluting our local impact. By mobilizing and resourcing strategic missions we focus our resources and can really make an impact in a few areas.

Q: What is the biggest challenge your church is facing in BEING that type of church?
A: Raising up network administrators (small group leaders etc.). Training leaders is a challenge. But we don't just want to traing leaders... we want to train leaders who train leaders. One of the big mistakes we made early on was that we didn’t train leaders to train leaders. So we went back and had to re-train. The self-replicating part has been the challenge.

Q: What is this I hear about you having an art gallery.
A: That's right... Terra Nova Gallery is probably our biggest incarnational access point. Our office space is in a pretty hip part of town, so it doubles doubles as an art gallery. We let all sorts of artists put their stuff in there. We have new art ever 30 days. It is also where we have our kids classes and stuff... since we rent a space 100 feet away at Revolution Hall for our Sunday worship.

Here's the cool thing. On the last Friday of every month is Troy Night Out. It is a gallery hop event where hundreds of people who don’t come to our church come in to our gallery. We have wine & cheese and music playing. This gallery is part of who we are... it's part of our DNA. We knew that no in the area was reaching the art crowd and we are the art crowd. So the gallery is just a natural thing for us.

Phil good luck with baby #3 on the way.... eh. And thanks for sharing from some of the lessons you've learned.


3 questions with Kurt

Let's head down the Atlantic into the dirty south to Asheville, NC... where Kurt Hannah is the Lead Pastor of the 2 year old community called Missio Dei Church.

I first met Kurt nearly 10 years ago when he was still wet behind his spiritual ears. Since then he's married a beautiful women... got a bible college degree... finished seminary... had 3 kids... and started a church. Not a bad decade if you ask me. His passion for the gospel and heart for his city are unmistakable... so take it away Kurt.

Q: Kurt what would you say the church is like?
A: A community. I take this from the idea that God is developing a people called from and into their culture to live in such a way that they celebrate God's kingdom values already present, but challenge the values that are opposed to God's loving rule. Augustine spoke in terms of the City of God, which I like, but (and I hope this isn't a false humility) I realize that we're not the only church trying to live out the good news of God's kingdom in our town. Our city is made up of several communities which express the beauty and diversity of God's kingdom in various ways. As various Christian communities work together toward the building up of the Kingdom of God, we get a better picture of the City of God.

Q: What is the biggest challenge your church leadership is facing in LEADING that type of church?
A: The biggest challenge is getting everyone on the same page in terms of expectations. Ministries fail more often over conflicting values rather than conflicting visions. We can passionately agree that our people must live in the tension of embracing the culture while at the same time challenging sinful aspects of the culture. Sometimes the reality of the tension proves to be too much. Expectations for intimacy among people in the community are challenged and stretched when folks that don't believe the gospel are brought in and things can sour quickly.

Q: What is the biggest challenge your church is facing in BEING that type of church?
A: The biggest challenge the church is facing is definitely in the realm of balancing maintenance (the taking care of us) and mission (the taking care of those around us). Most congregations at some point have so succumb to caring for their own that they cannot relate to those around them, or they become so consumed with taking care of those around them that they neglect their own. Sunday morning worship expression often becomes the battleground for this tight rope walk. People want to feel comfortable to bring their unbelieving friends and relatives, while at the same time, having their own faith nourished.

Kurt I've got a BONUS QUESTION for you. I recently noticed your church's Lent Blog. Many Evangelical traditions have largely dismissed or avoided celebrating the Lent season. Why have you chosen to (re) introduce this season to your church?
A: As one of our core values states, "we value a connection to the community of faith around the world and throughout history because this is and has been God's primary way of revealing himself." This was a new thought to me several years back. I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller that made me whince. He said, "God gave us a community before He gave us a book." That seemed strange coming out of the mouth of a guy as theologically conservative as Tim Keller, but the more I reflected on it, the more convinced I was of its truth. Our faith is not our own, we didn't come up with it and we certainly are not the sum total of the Christian faith. We share in a rich tradition of liturgies that point to Jesus. Lent is a season that allows us to remember and celebrate the suffering of Jesus as a community in ways that we don't always notice. So as a community, we fast together, we pray together, we "suffer" together and together we reflect the need for, desire for, satisfaction in, and glory of King Jesus.

Thanks Kurt... we'll pray for Missio Dei and Asheville.


3 questions with Leon

Next let's give the mic to Leon Hayduchok. One key decision in Leon's life was to attend Bucknell Universty... where his strongest accomplishment was meeting his lovely wife Anne-Marie. He is now the proud father of 3 lovely daughters.

He is the Teaching Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church in Utica, NY (which history affectionately remembers as part of the burned-over district)... where he has served for 7 years. His control of the English language is formed by the schyzophrenic culmination of his Ukranian roots and his childhood Trenton up-bringing... and includes such winsome phrases as "go pound sand" and "that's bush league". But on to the questons:

Q: Leon what would you say the church is like?
A: A halfway house between the trees of Genesis 3 and Revelation 21-22. Life between the trees is full of broken relationships, false hopes, and feeble gods. The church is a place to honestly grapple with the trials of life so that we can faithfully continue the journey towards Revelation 22.

Life between the trees is full of conflict. We constantly fight for control or attempt to align align ourselves with those in control. The role of the church is NOT to be a place where we create or exert control. It should be a place where we are honest and come clean…. and rather than pretending to be better than we are… it should be a place to come out of hiding and taking off the mask… relinquishing our obsession with control.

I believe that the essence of sin is my declaring independence from God and a desire to be in control of my life. And we even present the gospel in a way which plays to people's desire for control. If you respond to the gospel out of a desire to take control of your future instead of relinquishing control of it then you’re placing your faith in a false gospel.

(At this point Leon is really jacked up... I've definitely hit a nerve here... so I give him a minute to breathe before moving on to the next question. To hear more on these thoughts listen to Leon's series "Between the Trees" from July-August 2007)

Q: What is the biggest challenge your church leadership is facing in LEADING that type of church?
A: Exhaustion. It's painful and tiring leading people towards greater understanding that our hope is not in the things of this world. It is tiring because,we are in a culture where we’ve done a pretty good job of mitigating the curse (of Genesis 3). Life is pretty comfortable. It is hard to lead people to believe that this world & it's patterns will pass way. Our churches have assumed the systems of the world and it is hard to lead people to something better... when people are just looking for relief from pain & comfort in this world.

Q: What is the biggest challenge your church is facing in BEING that type of church?
A: Not getting sucked into the ways of the world... running from place to place with no extra time and resources. Our time is in demand these days… Just making it through the normal grind of life can consume us. Distracting us from a maintaining a proper perspective… that our worth & our value is not in any of this stuff we are spending most of our time doing… our worth needs to be in experiencing our trust relationship with God.

Something big recently happened to our church. We moved into the city. Why... because we were too comfortable in the suburbs and felt a calling to the city. It maximized discontinuity. Making a significant shift drew a line in the sand… saying are you in or are you out. The city is eclectic…. artsy… it's the hub of society. People who have needs have no cars. People who have needs live in the city. The widowed & the orpaned are largely in the city.

Once we moved, the challenge has become understanding how different the worldview is here in the city. We want to learn this so that we can know how to love & serve this city.

Leon thanks for thoughts and your passion. We will certainly pray for Cornerstone as you move into the city and serve it and love it.


3 Questions with Josh

Well I'm putting Josh Perry in the Budweiser Hot Seat first... to set the bar real high. I know Josh first of all as a dedicated family man. He puts his wife Sarah and 3 kids (Daniel, Jack & Alli Kate) at the top of his priority list. He is also winsome, funny, edgy, biblical and a darn good leader.

He is the lead pastor of Crew Community Church which is all of 2-3 years old. Crew is in the shadows of Marshall University in Huntington, WV and was started in Josh's living room from nothing more than a dream. Crew's Mission... Pursuing Christ with Passion... Presenting Christ with Purpose. Now on to the questions:

Q: Josh what would you say the church is like?
A: A city. Thank you Augustine (City of God). Thank you Erwin McManus and Mark Driscoll most recently. We are a community of people, a city, that sit under a king who has jurisdiction over every aspect of our life. Sex, marriage, money, career, diet, health, moral choices, environmental concerns. Everything.

We are also citizens of another city Huntington. Who we are also loyal to and has some jurisdiction in our life. We fully engage both cities. In Huntington we promote its welfare while remaining loyal to the King and promoting his agenda. It's both/and. And while living this kingdom life we demonstrate to Huntington that our city is good for Huntington by demonstrating that our city is different and better.

We don't do some things in our city that other city, Huntington, does. We don't have sex with our girlfriends. We don't divorce our husbands. Our wives choose motherhood over career. Our husbands take jobs that give them time with their family rather than the highest paying jobs. We study and work hard with integrity and take the grade that brings rather than cheat. We don't kill babies; we take in pregnant women who are in crisis to live with us. We vacation in 3rd world countries to serve them. Just a few examples of how our city is different than the big city.

Q: What is the biggest challenge your church leadership is facing in LEADING that type of church?
A: Teaching this to our church. This is a foreign concept to many of us. Including mature believers. We're innovative in our methods and so this will attract believers to our church who are from more performance based churches that see the church as a business. That's not us. We attract dechurched folks back to church that grew up in a church around here where church is family. That doesn't define us either. There is a business and family aspect to our community. But that would not be our defining trait. So it's constant vision casting, instructing, keeping on message.

Q: What is the biggest challenge your church is facing in BEING that type of church?
A: Walking the line of being a part of both cities without syncretizing or being separatistic. We don't want to overstep the line and become too much like Huntington so that we lose our message because we're not distinctive. At other times in trying to hold our distinction we could become unnecessarily separated from our city and therefore lose our impact.

Thanks for your keen answers Josh and we'll be praying for the Crew. Hey... now that Rich Rodriguez has gone to the team up North... does Marshall have a chance in this years "Friends of Coal Bowl"?


3 questions... Kick-off

I'm kicking off a week long series called "3 Questions" where I will pose three questions about the church to a different pastor each day, then share their answers with you.

Each guy is different. They are in a different part of the country. They are in a different cultural context. They have different roles in their church. They have different likes and different opinions... but each has a strong opinion about the church.

Each guy is similar. Every one is seminary trained and is quite comfortable reflecting on and critiquing their own tradition. Every one is a local church practioner... meaning they are hands on in the ministry of the local church. Every one is in there 30's... and in my opinion represent the next generation of church leaders.

Every day you'll be introduced to a new young church leader and some of their ideas. So I'm excited to hear what they have to say and possibly to introduce you to the future of the church. Oh and to give you a head start... here are the 3 questions:

1. The church is like a _____. Explain.
2. What is the biggest challenge your church leadership is facing in leading that type of church?
3. What is the biggest challenge your church is facing in being that type of church?


Tim Keller once said something like, "What makes the Bible different that other religious scriptures is that it is story sprinkled with instruction, not instruction sprinkled with story."

So I think my biggest challenge as a Christian father is tell my kids God's story sprinkled with istruction. And I think I've found some awesome tools that help me do just that. We use these tools as part of our nightly bed-time ritual. It is story and instruction... every night.

I use the Jesus Storybook Bible to tell my kids the story of the Bible. I first heard of it from my reformed brother, Kurt, who once bragged that he'd found the Best Kids Bible Ever. And you know what... I think he's right. Here's a snippet:

No, the Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne - everyting - to rescue the one he loves. It's like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!... There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stoires are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.... It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name.

I use the Foundation Verse Pack from Desiring God Ministries... in the English Standard Version (of course) for biblical instruction. We call them our fighter verses... because we fight sin and fear and the devil with our verses. Each card has a picture on the front and a verse on the back. Sometimes we turn the verse into a song or I come up motions to go along with the verse. Those verses tend to sink in the deepest.

So that is how we are trying to tell the Story sprinkled with instruction in our house. Happy storytelling!


I received a bit of pushback on my suggestion for a good church slogan the other day. He's a friend and e-mailed me off-line. But his thoughts were valid and I think quite common, so I'd like to share them with you. He basicly said... I don't trust church people enough to share personal things with them. I've been hurt in the past and I'm tired of feeling judged. So how do you actually find people... in the church... that you can trust.

Can anyone identify? I didn't think so. Well his experience is I think more common than he may actually feel. But I don't want to allow church to throw in the towel and only be the LND floor of the hospitol for sinners. That's the floor where everyone is happy because new babies are born every day. No the church should also be an ER where people might die quick, or the terminal diseases floor where people are slow to die, or the psych floor where people don't play with full decks.

So how would you council my friend to find people he can trust... because he seriously wants to find them. Well here are 4 ideas from me:

(1) Don't make it all about you: If the church is just a place where you vomit all your needs, wants, wins and losses you will drive people away. If you want to find true friends... then first be a true friend. Go out of your way to show your concern for others and in the process you might find someone willing to return the favor.

(2) Look to and point others to Jesus: The good news of the church is that we've have been, are being and will be rescued through Jesus. If we spend all our time focusing on our problems without moving on to the resolution, we are just a support group. We should balance the lamentations of our circumstance with hope infused trust on the one who will dry our tears... Jesus.

(3) Remember we are all broken: Period. Those who are most broken are the ones who don't realize how bad off they are. Look for people who do the first two well... because they will make good friends. And remember, those you look up to are broken too.

(4) Proceed with caution: We've all been burned... so don't be naiive. Allow time for relationships to deepen. Take small steps with self-disclosure and before sharing BIG things... share your fears.


The morning after prayer

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy;
when I fall, I shall rise;
when I sit in darkness,
the LORD will be a light to me.
I will bear the indignation of the LORD
because I have sinned against him,
until he pleads my cause
and executes judgment for me.
He will bring me out to the light;
I shall look upon his vindication.
Micah 7:8-9

Church Slogan

If you've been around a church long enough, to get past the smiles and the casual conversations about the weather... you've seen how broken people really are. Everybody has issues... the problem is that we tend to be great actors. So I've landed on a new church slogan...

Real People
Real Problems
Real Messy

Isn't that a great? In the church... when we encounter Jesus... we are exposed for the hypocrites and fakes and posers that we naturally tend to be. We can't get away from Jesus... without our inner thoughts and feelings being challenged. And that can be real messy. That is why we need others. Others who can see us for who we are... others we can be honest with... and others willing to help us work through the messiness of following Christ wholly and authentically. But watch out when you step into it... because its messy... the church that is.