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Journal

Asking for Mountains

Mark Junkans

I believe that as humans, we are wired for challenge, and that something inside us dies slowly over time when we just settle for what is easy. That may be overstating it, but I've seen it happen time after time in people, ministries and organizations. I admit, I tend to lean toward attempting challenges that are beyond my abilities. This doesn't apply to every part of my life, in fact there are situations that I run from because they're not comfortable. However, I always pray that I will never limit what God wants to do through me because I preferred only to do what's easy.

I just watched The Evolution of "The Speedgoat" telling the story of professional trail running legend Karl Meltzer, his dedication to the sport, and the sacrifices he has made to do what he is made to do. He has won more 100 mile races in his career than anyone, and also holds the speed record for the Apalachian Trail. Truly an inspiration for me as a runner and as the leader of an organization attemping audacious things for the Kingdom of God.

Three things converged this morning:

  1. I read the devotion below which was for today entitled "Asking For Mountains."
  2. The Karl Meltzer video popped up on my FB feed.
  3. I am in the midst of following God's call to expand our ministry presence around the world and one project that I've been praying for and investing energy and resources into is now set to take off.

God, I hear You. I won't settle for the safe and easy path. When faced with a challenge, I will trust in your power and strength and not my own.

“You heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the Lord said.” Joshua 14:12

Caleb’s faith in God never wavered, though everyone around him doubted. God convinced Caleb that the children of Israel should enter the Promised Land, but the people were intimidated by giants and fortified cities (Num. 13:28-33). Their disbelief forced Caleb to wait forty years in the wilderness before he finally entered the Promised Land. Even after all those years, Caleb was as confident as ever in God’s power.

When God was dividing the land among the Israelites, the people were asking for the lush valleys and grassy plains. Caleb asked for a mountain. The Israelites had driven their enemies into the mountains, where they had built fortresses. This did not intimidate Caleb—he asked for a challenge! He did not trust in his own strength but in God’s presence. Caleb longed to see God work in power, and he knew he would be less likely to rely on God if he dwelt in the easy places. He chose a situation in which he would have to trust in God. Caleb knew his inheritance from God was on the mountain. He refused to allow the difficulty of gaining it to stop him from enjoying all that God had promised him.

If you always choose the easy way, asking for the peaceful valleys, you will never see God’s power displayed to enable you to take a mountain. Seek out the mountains, and you will witness God doing things through your life that can be explained only by His mighty presence.

Excerpt from Experiencing God Day by Day

Yes=Yes

Mark Junkans

As I dropped off my daughter at preschool for her Valentine's Day party, I was reminded again how excited kids are about the littlest things. When a teacher says that they're going to do something, the kids get excited. Her teacher, however, told the class yesterday that if they didn't be quiet she would take their party away.

Her teacher’s words put such a doubt in my daughter's mind that, even after I repeatedly assured her, she was adamat that the party was cancelled. If adults continue to do this in her life, she will soon learn that they can't be trusted. Believe me, I know plenty of parents to use this tactic with their children, and they can't figure out why their children don't respond to their threats.

This situation really made me think about my own parenting style, and question whether or not I give and break promises as a reward and punishment. What about my other relationships? Do I fulfill my promises based on how I feel about a certain person at the time, or based on the fact that I gave my word?

If I am truly honest with myself, I would have to admit that I often behave just like my daughter's teacher. That’s not the kind of person that I want my children, or my coworkers and colleagues to know. What about you?

Because I know people use empty threats to control behavior, I was able to promise my daughter that she was indeed having her party, even though "teacher said." We took her bag of Valentines for the class, and got ready for the party that wasn't cancelled.

James 5:12  Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

2 simple habits

Mark Junkans

Increasing My dependance on God.

Living life in the modern world makes it difficult to depend on God. I start to believe that I have everything I need, and I rarely have to pray for God to provide my daily bread. This is not the case in other places around the world for people are truly concerned for their next meal.

What are we supposed to do to increase our dependence on God? I know that this may sound simple, but here are two things I am trying to do more of.

  1. Make Scripture reading a daily habit.

I know this should be a given, but even I sometimes fall out of the daily habit of reading scripture. Yes I read devotionals, books and look at spiritual memes on social media, but this is no substitute for digging into the Scriptures on a daily basis.

Without hearing from God its easy to forget him. Without digging through the Scriptures to find internal truth, it's easy to Think that I have everything figured out. When I read the word of God, I understand that many people throughout history have been in the same situation as I, but still had a deep dependence on God. I can learn from them in their example. I'm also reminded that Life is tenuous, and that without Christ my future is insecure. Only his death on the cross and his atoning sacrifice for me can give me any security. Everything can be taken away tomorrow, but Jesus will never leave me. This is what reading the Scriptures reminds me of among other things.

  1. Practice prayer and meditation.

In any relationship, when you stop talking or communicating with someone, then you begin to lose your deep connection to them and thus stop depending on that relationship for anything significant. The same happens in our relationship with God. Whenever we stop talking to him, bringing our cares and burdens to him, meditating on his word and confessing our sins, our dependance on him begins to weaken. Spending time meditating on His word and truth not only helps free our mind from the lies that we tell ourselves, but also helps center our thoughts and actions on the things that really matter. The less we do this, the more independent we become. The more we practice this daily spiritual discipline, the more God becomes a necessary part of our life.

Yes, this is elementary. But just doing these two things daily will grow your faith and help you to depend more on God and less on yourself.

Seek The Lord - Thoughts on Isaiah 55:6

Mark Junkans

Is. 55:6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near."

I take for granted that God will always be there when I need him. Sometimes he appears to distance himself from me just like a parent does for their child when wanting them to grow and mature.

It also seems sometimes that things just to go well while at other times they don't. A worldly phrase maybe, "get it while the getting's good." But is more than just getting what we want. This is the very presence of God, his present help in our time of need.

Sometimes I look back on my life and it seems that God was very directly involved in what I did. I had a real sense that he was with me, guiding me and I can say without a doubt that he was near. Other times, I'm not so sure that I could say the same, even though I know he never left me.

Why does God seem to be involved more directly in some circumstances and less in others? Is it just my perception or is God really more distant at times?

“Seek the Lord." If I could just remember to do this, to truly seek Him, then I would be much closer to him and he would seem much closer to me.

You need more adventure in your life.

Mark Junkans

Our modern lives have become a little boring haven’t they? The most excitement most of us have during the week happens on our commute to work and on our Facebook feed. Like a homebound senior citizen, we end up living our lives vicariously through media and through our conversations with others.

Here’s the thing, I believe that we are hard-wired for adventure.

Humans have always longed for adventure, it’s in our nature. Without adventure, our world becomes incredibly small and our lives are reduced to mere existence.

Life is either a great adventure or nothing. —Helen Keller


See - 8 SIGNS YOU’VE LOST YOUR SENSE OF ADVENTURE

But, how exactly does one begin to add more adventure into life?

1. Sign up to do something you’ve never done before

This doesn’t have to be something extreme like an ultra marathon (although I would personally recommend it), or some exotic trip that costs a fortune. It could be something as simple as eating a new type of food or going camping. If you don’t like it, at least you have a good story to share about how bad it was. That’s the thing. Living a life of adventure isn’t about being comfortable all the time. In fact, the most memorable adventures are usually the ones that take far outside our comfort zones.

2. Don’t be afraid of discomfort

In fact, adventure and discomfort are often inseparable. So are Joy and Pain, Sunshine and Rain (‘cause this is how the Rob Base feels.)

Think about the best adventure story you’ve heard from someone. Did they only recount the wonderful things they experienced? Didn’t they also tell you about the challenges, obstacles and discomforts?

That’s the point! Adventure opens us up to a whole new realm of possibilities, both good and bad. It forces us to face our discomforts, our dislikes, our fears and our limitations. A REALLY good adventure stretches us beyond what we previously thought possible.

Stretching yourself hurts, but it’s the only way to grow.

I could tell you dozens of stories about how miserable or uncomfortable I felt when I tried something or went somewhere new. And while sharks will never have a week dedicated to me, I would also tell you that I’m a much more interesting and well-rounded person because of those situations.

Want to be more interesting? Have more adventures! In fact, risk having more adventures that could potentially turn out horribly bad.

3. Bring someone else along for the ride

While it may be easier and more efficient to go on your own little adventures, the adventure becomes bigger when others join you. Different people experience things differently. That means that their recalling of the story will ad nuances and layers that you alone can’t. Whatever happens, it will be multiplied (literally) when others are part of it.

“Remember the time we almost ran out of gas in the middle of a lonely desert in Mexico?”

For example, I could tell you about a wonderful trail run I took that ended at the most beautiful high mountain lake scene I’ve ever seen. I could even show you a picture of it, except I forgot to take my camera along. This was a great adventure for me, but I’m the only one who can truly know and express what it was like.

Adventure is a lot more fun when exciting when someone else is living it…

The trails I hiked with my family, however, were even more memorable. That’s because I experienced the whole situation differently than they did. I was totally in my comfort zone and enjoying the sites, while my daughters were probably thinking more about the miserable temperatures and endless walking. I also had the added burden of caring for their well-being (and survival) as we walked along cliffs and risked potential dehydration. It was an adventure for all of us, one that we still refer to.

Note: Adventure makes you more valuable to others

I love this story about Jephthah from the Bible in Judges 11. He didn’t come from a “normal” family. His mother was a prostitute, he was cut off from his family inheritance, and he fled to a new land. He was forced into a life of adventure. Then, “a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.”

But here's the kicker. When the Israelites needed help, they went to Jephthah and asked HIM to be their commander.

Judg. 11:4 Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, 5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”

Some people will never allow themselves to be stretched, and in so, they will never have great adventures. Because of this, they also won’t have honed the skills necessary to do great things or to face bigger challenges. That’s where someone is needed who has those skills that have been honed by experience, hardship and adventure.

As a person of adventure, you now bring stories and experience, and frankly, make things more interesting. People will begin to live vicariously through you, and will come to depend on you for advice when attempting to do new things.

I believe that our lives should be in service to others. I also believe that having more adventure in your life actually gives you the ability to better serve others. It opens up new opportunities, grows your base of skills and gives you more courage to face challenges.

Why not plan (or just improvise) your next adventure today?

It could possibly be both the best and the most uncomfortable thing you could possibly do today.

LINC's Philosophy and Mission Model

Mark Junkans

Our Mandate

We the church have been given a mandate by our Lord Jesus Christ. That is, to make disciples of everyone everywhere.

Everywhere we look, there are people who don’t yet know how much God loves them. They haven’t heard the Good News that Jesus died for their sins so they may have peace with God. Instead, they try to make it in this world as best they can. And this world can be a very difficult place, causing many to lose hope.

Because of wide-scale poverty, families in our urban communities struggle to even put food on the table. Children grow up in neighborhoods where the streets have more influence on them than their parents and teachers. Families struggle to stay together and most children grow up without a single positive role model.

Immigrant families struggle in much the same way. Language barriers, lack of education and higher lever job skills make attaining a well-paying job extremely difficult. Most piece together multiple part-time jobs, which leave little time for their families and provide very little money to sustain them.

People from everywhere around the globe now live in our cities, and they bring with them their own cultures, beliefs and values. The city is a challenging mission field to say the least. But this is the mission field where LINC has been called by God to focus all of our efforts, the communities that are the most unreached and underserved by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

We also wanted to expand our ministry into new cities where the same challenges are present, but in order to do this well, we first had to figure out how to overcome three basic challenges: the Challenge of Impact, the Challenge of Sustainability and the Challenge of Scale.

Impact:

When most people think of ministry in the city, they think of charity work and service projects.

But charity work among the destitute actually serves a very small percentage of individuals in the city who are unable to function normally in society. The vast majority of the poor throughout our city don’t fall into this category of needing charity. Instead, they need empowerment and opportunity.

Service projects by outside groups are a tremendous blessing to people like the elderly and those who are truly helpless. The problem is that most of the projects that outside groups come to do in the city actually take initiative away from proud and able -bodied individuals who could learn to do these things for themselves. Instead of helping people fix their situation, it helps keep them there waiting for the next handout.

Most service projects create a lot of good will among the volunteers, but make very little lasting positive impact in the local community.

And possibly the biggest challenge for the church, is that we’ve come to equate relief work with mission work.

Let’s look at what mission work is: To take the message of Jesus Christ to places where the His kingdom of grace isn’t yet established. In its narrowest terms, every heart without Jesus is a mission field.

The outcomes for all mission work ultimately results in new disciples and new churches. At LINC, we seek to accomplish these outcomes by training new leaders for ministry who plant new churches that reach, impact and transform their communities with the Gospel of Christ.

We believe that this focus provides the best potential Kingdom impact in our communities.

The outcomes for all mission work ultimately results in new disciples and new churches.

Sustainability:

Another challenge to work in the city is sustainability. Usually the communities that need the most focus and attention also have the fewest financial resources.

In low-income communities, families often live day to day or week to week, not knowing where the money will come from for tomorrow. When whole communities are living in survival mode, its extremely difficult to sustain even basic services without outside assistance.

Mission work in these communities faces the same challenges. Outside resources are instested into new mission work in an new community. When those resources eventually go away, that mission is typically left unsustainable and struggles to even survive. In fact, most don’t, and that community is left without a mission presence until the next outside group rallies the resources to start new work. This cycle repeats itself over and over until the residents stop trusting any new work, and outside supporters stop believing that their contributions will actually make a lasting impact.

By focusing on the development of local leaders who can properly leverage their own resources, we know that our work will be more sustainable. A missionary leader who learns to develop the resources God has put in front of him primarily needs the proper training, coaching and incentives to do the work they’ve been called to do. That is precisely what LINC provides in order to create a sustainable mission field.

By focusing on the development of local leaders who can properly leverage their own resources, we know that our work will be more sustainable.

Scalability

Because of the unique challenges in each community, a ministry model that works in one location rarely replicates itself into another. It typically takes such an incredible amount of energy and ingenuity just to make something become effective and sustainable that the idea of scaling or multiplying is unfathomable. That, or we try to scale ideas prematurely with little success.

LINC has been working in the city of Houston for 14 years, and has helped other LINC organizations begin around the country. This isn’t based on a single model that is difficult to replicate, but on the basis of principles that are universal to mission work in the City.

The first principle is that the main goal of all mission work is to make disciples, who in turn make disciples. The second principle is that planting new churches is the primary means of making new disciples, through the Means of Grace, Christ’s Word and Sacrament. The third principle is this, that mission work is best done through local leaders who are indigenous to that community. The fourth principle is that work in the city must be holistic in nature in order to truly be impactful. In other words, that community transformation should be an intended outcome of all urban church planting.

Because of the unique challenges in each community, a ministry model that works in one location rarely replicates itself into another.

We’re now doing everything with the end-goal of multiplication. Multiplication of disciples, ministry leaders, churches and community transformation work here in the cities like Houston where LINC already works, and into new cities across the world.

We’re networking leaders on a local and a national level for encouragement and the sharing of best practices. We’re producing programs and materials that are teachable and reproducible in every community. Finally, we’re building a back-end system and replication model for launching LINC ministries in new cities.

Only by God’s grace are we able to move forward so that more lives and communities will be transformed by the power of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

That God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.

Courage

Mark Junkans

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. 1Cor. 16:13

I don’t see myself as a very courageous person, even though some may say otherwise. Yes, I tend to jump into new challenges with both feet, often not considering the potential consequences. This may be interpreted by some as courage, but I would sometimes disagree.

If I would know ahead of time how truly difficult something might be, I may or may not have the courage to attempt it. Is seeing challenges through rose-colored glasses the same as courage? I don’t think so.

True courage is knowing the pain and struggle required, but still making a commitment to act. Courage is putting yourself on the line and staying put when others bail. Courage is something that doesn’t come naturally to most people, but must be rallied either from within or externally.

Many people allow their fear to keep them from even attempting something. Fear of failure, pain, loss and embarrassment is often at the root of the roadblock. But, courage is not the opposite of fear. Courage is feeling fear and still choosing to act.

Courage is being realistic about the potential for failure and still choosing to act.

Courage is knowing that you may totally embarrass yourself and still taking a chance at accomplishing something great.

Here are four ways that I can think of to gain courage:

  1. Look for an example of courage in someone else.
  2. Imagine the payoff or end goal.
  3. Concentrate on the reason you are doing it in the first place.
  4. Surround yourself with encouragers.
  5. Just don't think about the consequences of failure (my personal favorite and probably not the best).

Where do you find courage when you need it?

For me personally, it's looking to Jesus when things get scary. He is my rock.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Matt. 14:27

Making small changes to your daily habits

Mark Junkans

I have to admit that I talk a lot about things I'm “going to do,” but never get around to actually doing. There are things that I do, that while small and seemingly insignificant, either lead me toward fulfilling my purpose or lead me away from it.

Ultimately, who you become is influenced by what you are currently doing. The small habits, the daily routines, the little things that you do each day all add up to become the whole of what you are.

1 Pet 1:13 says “therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled.” Many people allow their actions, or lack of, to sabotage their lives. Every positive action you take is something to build on, while every negative action tears away at your foundation. Being self-controlled is difficult, but in the then, is what makes the difference.

“Prepare you mind for action” means to think through what you are going to do. The context of this verse is about avoiding doing evil and doing what God wants. This simple step by step process is something I’m trying to get better at doing with regards to doing what is right.

  1. Read God’s word and ask Him what He wants for you.
  2. Pray and seek God’s will for your actions today.
  3. Stop doing the things that go against God’s will for your life.
  4. Begin doing the things that glorify Him and accomplish what He desires to do through you.

This is easier said than done, because our sinful nature rebels against God’s will. Only through the Holy Spirit’s power can we do what we are supposed to. Pray for His power and guidance.

The Basics of Christian Community Development - Part 1

Mark Junkans

Doing Community Development Work is In Our DNA

The church has historically been at the forefront of community development work. It was Jesus and his disciples who preached a radical new equality for society.  It was the early church that was famous for its love in action, both for those within the church and those outside of it.  Throughout history the church has built hospitals, looked after the poor, helped widows and orphans survive and make a living, was leading the fight for civil rights and has provided jobs through social enterprise. 

The Christian church takes a holistic view of community.  In other words, that the people in communities are both physical and spiritual beings and should be treated as such.  It is our view that it is not simply enough to address one or the other, but rather we should seek to better our communities in both realms, the spiritual and the physical.  While many of us would like to think that our responsibility for the surrounding community is simply spiritual in nature, Jesus showed us on numerous occasions that how we respond to the physical needs around us are of high importance.

While this holistic approach may seem common sense to some, as a church we have largely moved away from this practice.  With the rise of public services, many of us who follow Jesus have abnegated our responsibility for the well-being of the community that surrounds us. Also, as many of us have been insulated from true poverty for most of our lives, and as such it is more and more difficult for us to relate to those in need.  After all, we have what we need. Why can't others just work harder and get what they need?

The truth is that, in many communities, the basic building blocks for personal and professional development are simply not there. While we can point to some exceptional individuals who have risen out of poverty to become successful, we have to ask ourselves why this is not the norm? The other question we have to ask ourselves is "What is the churches responsibility for its community?” and “What should be our response?”

As a primer for Christian community development, we should look at a few key points to remember.

The first issue we need to deal with is the root cause of poverty in communities. While there are several possible causes, and each community is different, there are some common themes and issues in underdeveloped communities around the world.

1.    Why Are Communities Poor?

Indeed there are many acute causes of poverty like war, natural disasters, famine, drought, etc.  In these situations the church’s response should always be to help provide for the immediate needs of those affected.  Poverty in traditionally poor communities, however, is normally fueled by ongoing factors that inhibit the individual's ability to become successful.  These factors are both systemic in nature and chronic.  

Major factors leading to poverty in communities include (but not limited to):

  • Lack of skills and knowledge
  • Poor health
  • Lack of opportunity
  • Lack of resources

          Ref: http://www.gdrc.org/sustdev/causes-poverty.html

It is true that not every middle class caucasian is a racist, we also can't deny the fact that many of these poverty factors are due to historical and ongoing inequality, injustice and prejudice.  If the church is going to be serious about addressing poverty in communities, then it also must be honest about the causes and the part it has played in promoting those up to this point. Doing so can go a long way in the church’s ability to actually deal with real issues, and not just those on the surface as seen from our viewpoint.

So why are communities poor?  The first step in community development is to discover the answers for your particular community. Only then can you address real issues that can build up your surrounding community and not just continue to put Band-Aids on the symptoms.

2.    The Church’s First Response

“They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”  When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”  (Neh 1:3-4 NIV)

The first response of the church when faced with the reality of broken communities should be the same as that of Nehemiah.  We should actually feel something when we realize how broken and under-resourced our communities truly are.  It is not enough to talk clinically about statistics, however, we must be moved to action through our God given compassion. Nehemiah sat down and wept when he saw the broken down gates of Jerusalem, but he didn’t just stay there.  Nehemiah fasting and prayed seeking God’s help for his community.  

An emotional response to the reality of poverty in our community also shouldn’t lead us to knee-jerk reaction just to feel better.  As followers of Christ, we must first seek His will and His help, knowing that Jesus is the only source of all goodness and hope for a better community.

So What Next?

So if we believe that the church should take responsibility for the well-being of it's surrounding community, that there are identifiable causes for brokenness and poverty in community, and that we should seek God on behalf of our communities, what do we do next?

 

Erring on the side of Grace

Mark Junkans

I admit, I don't always treat others with grace.

I've been forgiven so much in my life, yet I am often critical of others who I don't agree with, or who don't agree with me.  Everyday for me is a reminder that for someone like myself who has been forgiven so much, I need to learn to forgive faster.  Even more than that, I need to treat others with respect and love, no matter how unloveable I feel someone is being at the time.  

Here are five things I will try to do to show grace:

  1. Daily remember the grace that God showed me in my baptism
  2. Re-read the Scriptures that remind me of God's forgiveness and grace for me.
  3. Be slow to criticize others for thinking differently than I.
  4. Put the best construction on everything, including perceived insults.
  5. Stop using sarcasm as a defense mechanism and be respectful of others, even if they don't sense my snarky-ness.

Eph. 2:8 Because by grace you have salvation through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is given by God:  9 Not by works, so that no man may take glory to himself.

I'm like totally famous.

Mark Junkans

"Just look at how many followers I have, and how many likes I get."

It seems like the biggest ambition of many is to be famous on the internet. The fallacy of the imprtance of social media followers has caused many to believe that the simple face fact that they're alive and breathing means they should be followed and adored by thousands.

I can only imagine the monster I would've been if social media was around when I was in high school. I was completely self-absorbed. I truly believed that the whole world revolved around me, and that everything I did was awesome.

Is this something that people will grow out of, or do you think this is a trend that is unlikely to wane?

Either way, if I had a cat that looked like this, I would be pretty famous.

Dancing With An Elephant

Mark Junkans

Kenyan Pastor Muriithi Wanjau shared this parable at the Great Commission Summit 2014 at Concordia University, Irvine. It paints a very painful, but accurate, picture of how Western Christians generally approach partnership with are brothers and sisters in other countries.

Needless to say, his whole talk was amazing, and I was so grateful that he made the flight all the way from Kenya to address the conference.

Click here to watch his entire message to the conference, which I highly recommend.

I've Got This Great Idea

Mark Junkans

That’s great, I have a hundred. Come back when you’ve done something with it.

In an interview with Rich Roll, Casey Neistat said that ideas are worthless. This is coming from a guy who makes insanely creative and engaging videos. He is full of ideas, but says he doesn’t value them until they actually get put into action.

It’s all those steps from idea to plan to production that are difficult. The thing is, not all ideas are supposed to be acted on because some are just unrealistic or impractical while others are just terrible. Some ideas, however, are gems that should be acted on.

How do you keep generating ideas and not get caught in the mindless trap of chasing everything down a rabbit hole, or driving other people crazy?

Here are the steps that I take.

  1. Write down every idea that comes into my mind into a notebook, (i use evernote).
  2. Wait.
  3. Wait.
  4. Wait some more
  5. Go think of some more ideas

Ok, so sometimes I actually choose to tell someone about the idea, especially if it seems to be a good one, or if it seems to apply to a certain situation. The point is that we only have so much energy to actually produce something, and starting too many things means we will probably let other things drop.

So why keep creating ideas?

Here’s the key, if you’re an idea person, that's what you do. It's your contribution to the world, and it gives you energy.

Idea people should keep creating new ideas because one in a thousand just might be awesome.

Write them all down...

...but act on very few of them if any at that moment.

I try to write down at least 10 new ideas a day, and find that really difficult to do.

Maybe your ideas are meant for someone else who needs it. Most of your ideas won’t be all that good or original, most ideas aren’t.

There is the occasional idea, however, that is pure genius. It won't become reality, however, until you or someone else has the time, energy and resources to actually carry it through.

The only truly great ideas are the ones that meet a real need, and that you or someone else can actually execute. Everything else is just an idea.


Why no church planting movements in Western Democracies

Mark Junkans

From "An Interview with Dr. Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History (Part 2)" - Ed Stetzer

Ed: There are 34 Western industrialized democracies in the world. And among the majority peoples of those nations, missiologists have not seen a break-out church planting movement. Would you say that is because the way we think and relate to one another or is there something missing that in our context that prevents it from happening?

Dr. Jenkins: If you're in a country where there is basically no Christian presence then something can grow very, very rapidly. But in a country like Britain or Germany, it grows and defines itself up against an existing church establishment. In fact, I would argue that there have been movements like this in Western countries.

I agree with this assessment, it's more difficult to do truly missionary work when you're battling against the established norms of the church at large in society.

This is also why, I believe, a house church model hasn't really picked up steam in the US either. There are just so many "real churches" to belong to.

Why is Criticism So Easy?

Mark Junkans

“I wouldn’t have done it that way.”

“What are they wearing?”

"What they are doing sucks."

As a pathetically self-absorbed human, I continually find myself criticizing other people based on what they’re wearing, doing, saying, singing, etc.  This comes in the form of thoughts, jokes, quips and judgment statements.  Why is this a natural weakness for me, and why does it matter how someone else has chosen to do something?  In a nutshell, because I’m human, and because criticizing someone else is easier that actually doing something myself.

We humans are continually asking ourselves the “who am I” question. As social beings, this most often becomes “Who am I in comparison to that person?”  It’s like an automatic process that happens in our brains, because the whole world revolves around “me.”

My question for all the criticizers out there, including myself, is “But what are you actually doing yourself?”  It is really easy to sit back and talk about someone else, and very difficult sometimes to actually do something of value.

Go ahead, put yourself out there and do something that you believe will make a difference in the world, not just something that makes you look good to others or that simply gives you pleasure.

You may find that when you become totally absorbed in serving others, you stop needing to compare yourself to the rest of humanity.  Sure, others may criticize what you are doing, but if you are truly doing something meaningful, then it doesn’t really matter does it?

The next time I begin to make fun of someone or criticize them in my head, I WILL stop myself.  Unless, of course, they aren’t doing it how I think they should. :)

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
— Jesus from Matthew 7:3-5

Small Urban Churches: Accepting Reality Without Giving Up

Mark Junkans

I love Ed Stetzer's article about small churches.  In many communities, there are limiting realities that keep a church from growing beyond a certain size.  In my context, the urban and immigrant communities of Houston, we knew that small would be our normal church size when we began.  There are several factors that contribute to this, and I believe, allow us to not be ashamed when answering the "how big are your churches" question.  Here are a few of them:

1.  Transient Communities

Stetzer address this in his article 

"Persistent turnover is a reality for some smaller churches because of their location. Churches near universities and military bases almost have a new congregation every three to five years.

Think of the kingdom impact these small churches have as they invest in and train students and soldiers before they are launched throughout the world."

In most of our immigrant communities, households tend to move around a lot due to a combination of economics, immigration and opportunity.  A ministry in a transient community will work very hard to make new disciples, only to see them move to a new community or back to their home country within 6 months to a year.  This trend is also prevalent among young urban dwellers moving into lofts, university students and other mobile demographic groups.  A ministry among these people groups will have a difficult time growing beyond a certain size because their disciples are always moving somewhere else.  Stetzer continues:

"Small churches that recognize their calling in transient places focus on discipling those God has given them knowing that He will plant them somewhere else. These are healthy churches on mission for the glory of God."

One of the blessings of this type of ministry is that the ministry can continually be training and sending out missionary families that are equipped to reach a new community.  It may not grow the local ministry when the move, but it's not a loss for the Kingdom.

2. Stagnated Communities

Another issue with long-standing urban communities is one of stagnation.  Existing families are often stuck in a never-ending cycle of poverty, and new families aren't moving into the community at a high rate.  Ministry in this type of community takes a very long time to develop and grow.  It takes years just to build trust in the community, and those that do live there don't immediately jump up and down with excitement when a new church puts up a sign and begins worship.  They've seen ministries come and go, and yet their community is in the same condition it has been for decades.  

Ministry in a stagnated community is difficult and long-term, and most church planters either aren't willing or financially able to dedicate years of unglamorous and seemingly "unsuccessful" work before they decide that they are called elsewhere.  Sometimes just surviving in an urban community takes more entrepreneurship, creativity and dedication than most Christian leaders are capable of mustering.  Stetzer sums up this idea with this sentence.

"Where there is little community growth, there may be little church growth, but that shouldn't keep us from trying."

3. Sustainability

Because of the social dynamics and economic realities in an urban/immigrant setting, a large congregation sometimes just isn't sustainable.  It takes a tremendous level of administrative skill to maintain a large congregation in such an unstable and dynamic environment.  This isn't unique to urban settings, by the way.  The median church in the U.S. has 75 regular participants in worship on Sunday mornings, according to the National Congregations Study (NCS) http://www.soc.duke.edu/natcong/.  Few if any small urban churches are able to financially support their pastor because the median income of the members is at or below the poverty level, and because new disciples aren't as faithful in their stewardship.  This makes it even more difficult for even a talented leader to grow, manage and sustain a large congregation in this setting.  It also takes great financial resources to purchase or lease and maintain a larger facility, which is a limiting factor in church growth in this setting.

4. Re-definition of "Successful"

After explaining the ministry of one of our urban churches and how many new believers had been baptized in the past year,  I was asked by the pastor of a large congregation "but are they successful."  While he didn't say it directly, what he really meant was "are they becoming a large church?"  I wanted to say, "are you freaking kidding me? One young, small urban church has helped rescue people from drug addiction, gangs and domestic abuse, and has baptized almost 20 adults last year.  You're asking me if they're successful?"  I controlled myself and simply responded "yes, they are very successful."  I know how much work it took for just one of those individuals to come to faith and to begin following Jesus.

Given the reality that the vast majority of our churches won't become large congregations, we still have to gauge whether we're achieving our outcomes of growing the Kingdom of God throughout the city.  The marks of a successful church, for us, are three-fold.  1. They are making new disciples, 2. They are multiplying, 3. They are making an impact in their community.  No matter the size, we expect to see new followers of Jesus, daughter churches and spin-off ministries and tangible blessings in their surrounding community through the work of their members.

For the Church Leader

If you're a pastor, denominational leader or mission developer, you probably need to re-examine the process and system you currently use to begin, support and fund new missions in these settings.  Accept that fact that the normal size for a new mission church in an urban or ethnic community will be small, but that fact doesn't diminish the missional importance of this work.  A lot of leaders I know throw up their hands and say, "it's not possible because they'll never become self-sufficient, so we don't do it."  Yes, it's true that a new church in this setting that begins with a full-time, full-salaried worker will not likely ever become self-sufficient.  So let's abandon a ministry model that doesn't work in this new reality without abandoning the mission of Jesus.  

Whatever system we establish needs to account for this reality, and empower disciple-making, multiplication and community impact.    A system must be set up to support smaller, self-sufficient and sustainable ministries that are able to multiply themselves.  You're a creative person, or at least you know someone who is.  Isn't it worth it to try and find a way to reach the unreached who are all around us?  Who knows, one of those churches will grow beyond your wildest dreams, but don't expect it to be the norm.  

Stretching Myself

Mark Junkans

Yesterday I had another great conversation with a friend and mentor. He encouraged me to continue stretching myself in various ways as a leader, both in new situations and challenges.

New Situations

The first way I believe I can put myself into new situations is to join a new group. I'm a very introverted person, and striking up conversation in a group is extremely difficult for me. I'm making it my goal to attend functions that I would normally shy away from, and to not bring along a wing-man to avoid conversing with new people.

The second way is to intentionally make contact with people in important positions. For me, this includes CEO's of companies and organizations, political figures and community leaders. Doing this forces me to find new ways to be outgoing and seek common ground witih other leaders, not just the ones I already know.

Third, I need to continue to travel to new places and events, learning from people and groups that are completely different than I am, or have a totally different way of getting things done than I do.

New Challenges

One of the ways to stagnate as a leader is to just stick with what I've already accomplished, or to simply do more of that. I need new challenges in order to stretch myself. I need new goals, both personally and for the organization, in order to force myself to learn. It's easy to simply allow circumstance to dictate my actions. I need challenges that go beyond just getting things done and solving current issues.


Questions for yourself

What are the ways in which you force yourself to grow as a leader?

What is a new challenge that you might give yourself?

What new situation will cause you to grow?

How our organization approaches missions and communities

Mark Junkans

Why do we operate the way we do at LINC?

Many years ago our organization began with a unique approach to ministry. Instead of continuing to import leadership and resources into communities, we made it our priority to identify and empower local leadership. This is our approach both in church planting and community development. We believe that all communities have assets and resources that God can use to grow His Kingdom and improve people's lives.

The Apostle Paul, in his third missionary journey, invested time and energy in people from the local communities where he worked. When he got to a city, he didn't immediately call for professional leaders to move there and lead the ministry. Instead, he equipped local leaders to form new communities and carry out the mission of the church in that place. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:20).

This doesn't mean that outside help isn't needed. Training, tools, access to resources, knowledge, and skills are all valuable contributions that partners can make from the outside of a community. The difference in the approach is one of empowerment versus dependency, or asset-based versus needs-based. An asset-based approach seeks to train and equip individuals to eventually solve their own problems. In contrast, a needs-based approach perpetually does for and gives to communities in need.

What communities need are individuals committed to building them up through their resources of time, energy and skill. There are a lot of reasons that people give for not investing in low-income communities. Many of these reasons are based on long-held stereotypes, past experience, lack of understanding or just misinformation. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure, people often don't act because they don't know where to start. We suggest that, instead of looking for people to go give things to, compassionate individuals should develop meaningful partnerships with local leaders already in place.

How does LINC do this work?

First of all, we empower local leaders in a community (usually through a local mission church) to identify and meet the needs of their own community. Leaders in a community are more likely to know what the real needs are. They are also more likely to know who is truly in need and who is not.

Second, we train local leaders how to impact a wider group. One of the benefits of local leadership is that they are known and trusted by the community. They often have dreams of doing something greater in their community, but have access to a limited supply of resources. We spend a lot of time training local leaders how to obtain, develop, manage and utilize more resources to build up their communities.

Third, we maintain a partnering relationship, but also purposely get out of the way so that local groups can eventually grow without the need for outside help.

Fourth, we connect leadership from one community to train and empower leaders from another community. This creates an interdependent network of communities and allows local leaders to grow by becoming a resource to others.

If you are a well-resourced individual, there is a great need for what you have to offer. It may surprise you how a different approach to missions and community work can multiply your resources instead of simply transferring them to another community.

Lead or Follow, is there another choice?

Mark Junkans

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I just read an article by author Scott Berkun titled "Why You Must Lead Or Follow."  In the article he basically sets up the argument for a complete dichotamy between leaders and followers, and makes the case that an individual has to either be one or the other in any given situation.  

The author writes, "as a rule of thumb, if you’re not sure what you’re doing, you’re following."  

One of the most frustrating things I've experienced in a group is what I would call the Headless Leader.  For example, I've been invited to be part of think tanks and task forces where the individual that called the meeting and was seen as the leader of the group didn't lead.  

Instead of leading, the individual basically let the group "run itself."  What happened is that most everyone became frustrated because nobody was leading the agenda, discussion or even the leading decision-making process.  Naturally, the "alphas" in the room looked around wondering who was going to take charge.  It is always interesting notice the facial expressions and the nonverbal "are you going to take the lead or should I?"

In almost every group situation or project, people immediately ask themselves "who's leading this?"  If nobody is leading, then some people naturally begin to take charge while others naturally wait.  This doesn't mean that those who try to lead are the most natural leaders or the most ideal ones.

I've noticed that the strongest leader in a group is usually the one who patiently waits his/her time to decide if it's worth exerting effort or expending "leadership capital."  The mature and confident leader is able to allow others in the group to lead, even if they themselves could do it better.  They typically reserve exerting their leadership for those situations that warrant it.  

The immature and insecure leader is the one who feels the need to jockey for position in every situation.  They are the ones who tend to talk the loudest and the most, thus most people in the group see them as the natural leader.  It's interesting to watch group dynamics and see two or more of these "leaders" try to run things, or wrestle control in every situation.  They mistake ambition and self-confidence for leadership.

Here is a quote from the article that I really appreciated.

To be a leader means that you shape your opinions and decisions around the greater good for the project you are responsible for. This requires sacrificing your own interests and wants in favor of the needs of the project, and the people that work on it.

A true leader is able to put the greater good in front of her personal 

To be a successful leader means directing your energy in ways that creates the greatest possibility of success for everyone that works with or for you. Good leaders go beyond their own resources and cultivate positive power from others.

Lead of Follow?

Lately, I've tried to find new ways to lead without taking the lead.  It's difficult for me, but I try to ask myself these questions before putting my hat in the ring.

  • Is this something that fits my areas of passion, calling and expertise?
  • Do I have the time and energy to truly lead this well?
  • Is there a way I could mentor a new leader to lead this, thus allowing him/her to gain experience in the process?
  • Who would do a better job at leading this?

Perhaps there is a way to lead and follow at the same time.  What do you think?