Lessons from the Journey

by Laura Hairston

About 4 years ago, my husband, Ryan and I heard the term ‘missional’ for the first time. For us, it was a completely new concept learning to live as missionaries in the places God had already placed us. Also, hearing of the 60% who would never walk through the doors of the church on our best Sunday where we were on staff. And, hey, I grew up a southern Baptist girl in Texas - all of this rocked my world, as I am sure you can imagine.

So, we made a huge paradigm shift and life change. We are forever grateful God opened our eyes to the amazing neighbors, now great friends, around us and the value they have brought to our lives. Many great stories have birthed and God is helping transform our neighborhood into more of what the kingdom is about. Truly living out our faith has brought so much life to us. We are not just taking in material and sitting on our butts, but, we are actively engaged in making disciples of Jesus and that is an exciting journey.

But, I would say we have definitely learned some things along the way, and are continuing to do so.

1.  Build relationships not projects.

At times in our efforts to start living missionally in our neighborhoods, the first step is often meeting our neighbors, but, I have heard people talk as if ‘checked that off the list’ instead of wanting to build genuine relationships. Be willing to learn something from someone that may not be a Christ follower. Just because they are not church attendees or followers of Jesus does not mean they don’t have value to offer you. Be a learner and a friend. Build relationships not projects.

2.  Be authentic. 

As Christ followers, we are in the process daily of hopefully becoming more like Jesus, but there is a reality – we are human and imperfect people. Just because we choose to follow Jesus does not mean we immediately stop sinning! On the contrary, it almost becomes harder because of the desire to live one-way but our flesh does the other (something Paul knew a lot about!).

A TED talk I heard by Dr. Brené Brown on the power of vulnerability completely turned me upside down. We need to learn the art of vulnerability. After six years of stories, interviews and focus groups, here is what she found:

These folks (whole-hearted people) had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can't practice compassion with other people if we can't treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and -- this was the hard part -- as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.

Is that not how we want people to feel when they come in contact with us? If we want friends to walk in authenticity with us, then we must be willing to do the same. Jesus came and died so that we did not have to live under the bondage of perfection. Walk in his grace and allow others to do the same. Be authentic.

3.  Know when to stop.

Do you ever feel the need to be all things to all people for the sake of the gospel? Do you feel that their wholeness is dependent upon you? If so, stop it! I have heard that referred to as a savior complex. Remember, Jesus is the saving one and through him is ultimate hope, healing and restoration. Now, I believe we are to serve, love and walk alongside the least of these, but with a healthy reality that God is in control; we are his hands and feet. We have to know when to release what is not ours to own.

Also, learn to set rhythms of rest for your family and yourself to be renewed, re-energized and to reflect on what God has done and allow him to prepare you for the future. Know when to stop.

4.  Don’t judge too quickly.

The past few years, I have noticed judgment on the established churches from different organizations and/or individuals. Now, I’m not saying prophets and others are not to speak into the system, but let us remember we were all their at one point, going through the motions and becoming wrapped up only in what happens on Sunday morning, all the while forgetting our city and neighborhood. In their book, Sentness, Kim Hammond & Darren Cronshaw say,

It is easy, in a consumerist age, to judge quickly and critique loudly. But we have been learning to celebrate mission and sentness where we see it, and to learn what we can from one another across all different styles of church.
— Kim Hammond & Darren Cronshaw

At Forge, we want to hold the hand of the local church as well as the mom, mechanic, artist, accountant and those on the fringes because we believe all are important in the kingdom of God, and we want to celebrate where change is taking place. If you have friends attending a local church and their minds cannot even fathom what missional or incarnational looks like, then disciple them too. Bring them alongside you in the journey. I heard Alan Hirsch once say, “Let the critique of the old, be the practice or fruit of the better.” If you want to speak into the church consumerism and lack of disciple making, then live it out and have stories to inspire and encourage others to do the same.

Take some time this week to mull over some of these questions.

  1. Am I building genuine friendships with those who are not yet Christ followers? Do I humbly want to learn from them or are they a means to an end (be honest)?
  2. Am I being authentic with others and myself about my weaknesses? Am I allowing others to do the same?
  3. Am I taking adequate times of rest? Is my family taking time to rest?
  4. Am I helping those who have not yet identified themselves as sent ones live out their true calling or am I judging them because they are not?

Staying Is The New Going

"The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14, Message)"

We are living in a day where far too many people are on the move. Many people fear putting down roots, committing to a place, and the idea of missing out on a better offer that might be right around the corner.

How could our world, our communities, and our neighborhoods change if we fought against this fear and committed ourselves to the very place we live now?

For those who follow Jesus, this is our call. To incarnate, to move into, to put down roots, and care deeply about the place God has sent us. Mike Frost writes,

“Incarnational mission means moving into the lives of those to whom we believe we’ve been sent. Living in one neighborhood, working in another, playing in another, and churching in yet another doesn’t model to people that Jesus is willing to move into their neighborhoods. It says that if Jesus’ followers don’t want to live here, neither would Jesus.”

What if the commitment to place became the norm for those who follow Jesus? How would this change the communities we live in?

What if staying became the new going?

"Make a home. Help to make a community. Be loyal to what you have made. Put the interests of your community first. Love your neighbors – not the neighbors you pick out but the ones you have." ~ Wendell Berry



Lives Changed Forever

Recently, a Forge Resident shared this with us and I would love to share on this blog,

"As we began the Forge Residency, the books we read started to make us think differently. Our paradigms were changing as to whom we were called to and what our purpose in life was. As our coach began mentoring us and talking through life with us, our eyes were opened. We began to see everything through a new set of eyes. We humbly and honestly admit that when we began the Forge residency we would have said that the people that have value to add in our lives are those older than us and those that have the same beliefs as us. We now look at that same statement and cringe with shame...we are thankful we serve a God of mercy and grace who has opened our eyes to the beautiful value that every person has...not just those that believe what we believe, but the mom next door, the little girl across the street, and the elderly couple that shows off their handmade quilts. When we stop and take time to talk, get into our neighbor's worlds; whatever it may be (playing poker, swapping mom stories, or walking together on walks) we found a whole new beautiful world. This new world is one that is filled with broken people just like us. When we opened up about our own struggles and imperfections, we found that we are not alone, and together, regardless of age or beliefs, we can love each other and make our neighborhood look a little more like heaven...

God has truly transformed our hearts, our lives, & our neighborhood. We now live with such a deeper purpose, a love for each person we come into contact with, and with an intentionality that makes life much more beautiful. Our lives are now forever changed and we can't help but to share the incredible paradigm changes in our lives with the ones we love. Our families tease us now about loving on our neighbors so much, but honestly, it's the biggest compliment ever that they have seen the transformation in our lives...

We couldn't be more grateful to Forge for the opportunity to have our lives forever changed."

Forge Dallas Resident Story - Shawn

At the time which Shawn joined the Forge Dallas residency, he was considering starting a Christian centered support group for alcoholics and addicts. For years he had attended both AA groups and other Christian recovery groups but as of recent had only been attending the Christian ones. As Shawn walked through the Residency, he began to ask the question, “God where are you at work and in light of my gifts and resources, how can I join you?” From this, he began to realize that God was already at work in the traditional non-religious AA meetings that he once attended. As a result, Shawn decided to join God in His redeeming work by participating regularly in local AA meetings. Since this, Shawn has built many relationships and friendships with those in AA who are broken and hurting. He continues to ask what the good news of the Gospel is for these people and how can he continue to show the love of God to those he meets with. Shawn has said,

“The beautiful thing about AA is that it is a group of people that are brought together by their brokenness to help one another. Being connected with AA groups has given me the opportunity to connect with people, learn from others, and has given me the opportunity to bless and help those who are hurting who might never walk through the doors of a church building.”

Forge Dallas Resident Story - Tony

Tony decided to participate in the Forge Dallas Residency and has since been on a journey to understand his calling to follow Jesus in daily mission. After a time of reflection, Tony realized he had been spending most of his time in church activities and had very few friendships with people outside the church who might be far from God. Knowing he would need to invest relationally in those outside his Christian circles if he was to follow Jesus into daily mission, Tony joined a local fitness program/gym and now exercises with the same thirty people five days a week. Instead of relying on inviting his friends at the gym to church activities as he might have in the past, Tony is asking God where and how He is at work in the lives of gym members, how God is calling him to join in God’s mission, and what the good news of the Gospel is for the people he now sees five times a week. These questions have led Tony to join other members of the gym in regular outings, to share meals with the owner of the gym, and to introduce his new friends to God by inviting them to participate in social justice projects in which he was previously involved.

Being Molded

Recently, I finished reading The Leap of Faith, a book by Alan Hirsch & Michael Frost. Towards the beginning of this book, Alan & Michael write,

“To learn, to grow, to mature, requires a journey from where we are now. And it is only after journeys of exploration that we will return to our most basic of beliefs and really know them personally. Without such movement there can be no real learning, development, or maturity. Whatever knowledge we might retain in the safe, self-protective space will end up being merely secondhand, dangerously depersonalized and depersonalizing data—nothing close to the way the Bible sees faith.”

This is one of many great quotes from this book and as I read it over and over again, I cannot help but wholeheartedly agree. The journey that my family and I have been on has definitely led us back to our most basic beliefs and has led us to know them in a more personal way. Each day our faith continues to grow as we are truly being molded into the Christ followers that God has called us all to be.

As we are hopefully being molded into the good news people of God that Jesus designed us to be, we are also seeing, by God’s grace, Waken Ministries molding into the organization that He had in mind.

Seven months ago, we began with a simple desire, “To waken the people of God to the mission of God.” We have wanted to help all Christ followers see their full potential as active agents of God’s Kingdom. We have wanted to empower the “religious nonprofessionals” and help them see their calling as God lays out in His Word, as missionaries in the places in which He has already placed them. This, in itself, has been so rewarding. Just recently, my wife and I received an email from a young lady. In her email she writes,

“I loved talking with you last week.  It blessed my heart so much, as well as got me to start having some good conversations with God regarding how I want to spend each day of this one and only life….

I was all excited about getting on another team at church, and I still am, but God stopped me cold and told me that loving my neighbor through her hard time, mentoring her and helping her and loving her without expectation or strings, to get messy with her, and to do all of that while staying connected to Him is what I am truly called to do. That is my calling. That’s what love looks like.  As you can probably guess, I’m overwhelmed and humbled and thrilled all at the same time…So, that’s where I am.  And, it’s actually our talk last week that helped me get perspective and energy to help stand with my neighbor.  Thank you for that.”

We are so thankful that God is allowing us to play a part in his mission and we pray that He would grant us the grace to be a part of more and more stories like this.

While we have taken every opportunity to waken the individual, and will continue to do so, we also want to disciple and train them to live as missionaries, empower them, network them together, and release them to be the good news people of God in the places God has already placed them.

To help us with this process, we have been blessed with an opportunity to partner with FORGE Mission Training Network, an international organization, to bring this type of missionary training to the North Texas Area.

Forge, founded by Alan Hirsch & Michael Frost, seeks to be a midwife to the missional church, helping give birth to the missional church anywhere it is appearing. Forge brings together denominations, seminaries and faith communities of all kinds as it trains people to live on mission, lead missional communities and create missional movements. We are very excited about this partnership; and more specifically, we are excited to launch FORGE DALLAS in partnership with Waken Ministries early this fall. To learn more about Forge Dallas I would invite you to visit www.forgedallas.org.

We are so blessed by God’s provision in helping us become the educating, paradigm shifting, empowering and releasing, and training organization that He had in mind.

Also, we are so blessed by your ongoing support and prayers. Without your partnership, we would not be where we are.  Thank you!  We ask for your continued prayers for God's wisdom, grace, and leading in the ministry in which He has blessed us.  Please also be in prayer for financial support so that we may continue the ongoing work of Waken Ministries.

Finally and more specifically, we are having a “Coffee and Dessert” Informational this Saturday. If you are able, we would love for you to be apart. Laura and I will take time to share stories of what God has been doing in & through Waken Ministries, as well as provide more details about the newly established Forge Dallas Hub and its Residency Program starting this September.  

We look forward to visiting with each of you in the near future.