3DM Mission and Discipleship Workshop, Day 3

These are my notes from the third and final day of 3DM’s Denver Mission and Discipleship workshop. As with my previous posts from day one and day two, if these notes don’t make sense or you want to hear more you can click here to download the audio from this session.

Overall this was three days well spent. As is often the case, the information that was received was helpful, but what was even more helpful was the conversations that took place over lunch, in between sessions, and in the intentional huddles created by the conference organizers. The more I hear from 3DM the more I appreciate their humble and open-handed approach to helping the church get better at understanding how God shapes disciples and how we as leaders can partner with him. They emphasize over and over that they have simply developed tools that may be helpful in that process. They constantly push against people who want easy answers or a simple process to implement. Through all my years in ministry I have heard so many people pushing their system, and I have even been guilty of pushing a system on people myself in the past. I guess that’s why it’s refreshing to encounter people who say, “Here are some things we’ve learned and some things that have been helpful to people we’ve worked with. Take what works and use it how it makes most sense.” So as you read these notes, remember – these concepts are just tools that may or may not be helpful in your context. As the old saying goes, “Eat the fish, leave the bones.”

Session 3, Mike Breen

  • “I’ve rarely been as concious of the significant spiritual battle over a city as I have been in Denver.”
  • Hebrews 12:26-13:7 – The message of Hebrews was written into an environment of threat and persecution for the church. In the face of this strong opposition the writer of Hebrews encourages that Jesus is greater than any power they will face. This was a time of seismic shifts and enormous change.
  • We similarly live in a time of seismic change. Literally. There are more recorded earthquakes during our lifetime than any other in recorded history. This text is therefore for us as well.
  • In a time of social and cultural earthquakes, do we function as victims or the rescue team?
  • ** Mike’s depiction of the cultural earthquake that shook the foundational institutions of life in the west. Just listen to the audio **
  • Church attendance in Europe fell off precipitously after WWI. America has not followed suit as rapidly, but sexual scandals have rocked the perception of the church in America – Catholic and Protestant. Some people perceive the institution of the church not just as irrelevant but dangerous.
  • The foundational institution of the extended family has been shaken and destroyed by mobility of modern life. People hoped that the concept of the western nuclear family would be enough. But waves of feminism and sexual revolution have shaken the institution of the nuclear family to the ground.
  • If you were a cultural anthropologist, one of the primary artifacts you would look at to understand modern culture would be media. What are these artifacts speaking about? They speak about the loss of something. Twenty years ago the most popular TV show was Home Improvement – the last stand of the nuclear family. Just a few years later, this conception of family gave way and Home Improvement gave way to Friends and Seinfeld. Today we see a re-emergence of the conception of extended family in popular shows like Modern Family.
  • What does the Bible indicate should be our response in the face of the earthquake? Our first response should be compassion. “Keep on loving each other as brothers. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Heb 13)
  • What is behind the prevalence of personal and sexual disorientation? People in an earthquake are disoriented. They don’t need a rescue team to judge their disorientation. The Bible is clear about God’s intent for human sexual orientation. But people in our world who suffer from disorientation need compassion first, not judgment.
  • After showing compassion, the next thing that is needed is community. A rescue team needs to bring victims to a place to receive shelter and sustenance.
  • Mike’s discovery doing ministry in England was that if they could re-create the experience of extended family, people would gravitate to it. People are hard-wired to be drawn to this experience.
  • ** Wal-Mart/Coke commercial. “Joy to go around” – An expression of the value of extended family **

  • After community, when they begin to regain some sense of stability, people need a connecting story. They need to understand how their story connects to a larger story.
  • Years ago in a discussion with his staff Mike said he thought the next wave in music would be hip-hop and new country. He made that prediction, because he felt people needed stories. Hip-hop and country are people telling stories. If people don’t feel connected to a story they will adopt the story of others, by claiming the icons and markers of a culture or story.
  • We have a story. A great story. The story. The story of God. If we learn the storyteller’s skill, people will listen and identify with the story. When you listen to the story, you place yourself in it and identify with one of the characters in it. Our story gives people identity, as children of God who are part of his great story.
  • If you have been in an earthquake, the maps don’t work anymore. Likewise in the aftermath of a cultural earthquake the maps of culture and ministry that have been given to us by seminaries and religious institutions don’t work. When the maps don’t work, we need a compass.
  • Discipleship is our compass. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. What people need is a compass to find him.


  • How do you connect people to the grand narrative outside the context of the church? Discipleship happens when you connect the text (Scripture) and context. Taking someone’s context and applying the Bible to it – revelation, interpretation, application. If you switch those words, it is where you connect Word to flesh – incarnation. “The best Gen X could do was clear the rubble of the cultural earthquake. That’s why their first response is always deconstruction. Millenials look at the rubble and want to build something with it. If the connecting story has old and new components, it is more compelling.”
  • How do you think about the rise of interest in eastern philosophy and religion? In response to the earthquake, people look to find something compelling and solid. Eastern religion seems stable and is an answer, a connecting story.
  • How do you develop the craft of storytelling? Listen to the best storytellers available. They are usually comedians. Don’t worry about the content; focus on the craft. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Tension usually arises in the middle and is resolved at the end. Comedy relies on the unexpected humorous resolution. Documentary “Comedian” by Seinfeld.
  • What do you do when people reject compassion and go back to the rubble? Peter asked Jesus a similar question about forgiveness. The answer was simply, “keep doing it.” Our identity is the rescue team. It’s who we are.
  • Does the existence of an extended family that holds influence work against this idea of the church trying to create one? Find the influencers within that community and connect with them.

3DM Mission and Discipleship Workshop, Day 2

From 3DM’s Mission and Discipleship Workshop description: “More and more, people are realizing we are in the midst of a discipleship crisis in the United States which is largely responsible for the state of the American church. At the same time, there is a wave of excitement about the current missional movement that has been bubbling up in the last 10-15 years that many people are hoping will stop the bleeding. The fundamental issue, however, is that unless we are able to disciple people well like Jesus did, any missional movement is unsustainable.
Our general experience is that people are quite intrigued to hear how we’ve used things like Huddles (a discipleship vehicle) and Missional Communities (a missional vehicle) to see discipleship and mission come alive in their church communities, looking more and more like the churches we see in the New Testament. This 2.5 day workshop is a time to look at some of the things we’ve learned in the past 30 years, dealing with post-Christian contexts where as little as 1% of people attend church. It’ll have teaching, discussion, breakout time with your team, a chance to actually experience Huddles and Missional Communities, worship and down time.” Read more

3DM Mission and Discipleship Workshop, Day 1

From 3DM’s Mission and Discipleship Workshop description: “More and more, people are realizing we are in the midst of a discipleship crisis in the United States which is largely responsible for the state of the American church. At the same time, there is a wave of excitement about the current missional movement that has been bubbling up in the last 10-15 years that many people are hoping will stop the bleeding. The fundamental issue, however, is that unless we are able to disciple people well like Jesus did, any missional movement is unsustainable.
Our general experience is that people are quite intrigued to hear how we’ve used things like Huddles (a discipleship vehicle) and Missional Communities (a missional vehicle) to see discipleship and mission come alive in their church communities, looking more and more like the churches we see in the New Testament. This 2.5 day workshop is a time to look at some of the things we’ve learned in the past 30 years, dealing with post-Christian contexts where as little as 1% of people attend church. It’ll have teaching, discussion, breakout time with your team, a chance to actually experience Huddles and Missional Communities, worship and down time.” Read more

Walking in Circles, Part 2 – Believe

In my last post I shared some thoughts behind the first part of my message series at New Denver Church, Walking in Circles. In this post I’d like to wrap things up by sharing a little about part two. This series was so much fun for me to share, because it is a message which has been shaped within the context of my own life. I was excited to share these ideas about life and what it means to follow Jesus on a daily basis, because they have been so helpful and beneficial to me over the last couple years. Read more

Walking in Circles, Part 1 – Repent

One of the things I get to do as part of my responsibilities at New Denver Church is teaching in our Sunday services. One of the things I love about teaching is the process of learning it forces me to go through. I believe that you should not stand before people to teach something unless it is something God has shown or taught you first. Before I ever give a message to others I must first give it to myself. So it occurred to me this week that this site is a great place to share what I learn during the weeks that I teach. And I can’t think of a better place to start than the series I’m currently teaching through. Read more

Back Online

At the end of last year I had an experience that led me to begin 2012 by unplugging from some of the technology that saturates my life (read about that decision here). I decided (arbitrarily) to unplug for a week and then evaluate my experience. That week ended yesterday so I’m still processing my reflections from that time, but here are some initial thoughts as I re-connect to my digital world.

  1. Unplugging was more difficult than I expected.
    It was more difficult than I expected to decide where I would draw the line around “unplugging.” I decided to try and unplug within the context of a normal week of life and work, and I quickly learned that it was impossible to do my work as a pastor and completely disconnect. I spent hours last week on my computer answering emails, researching for and writing my message for last Sunday at New Denver Church, answering phone calls and responding to text messages. Since I couldn’t fully disconnect, I just decided to eliminate the non-essentials. I didn’t interact with any social media (specifically for me no Facebook or Twitter), no games (not on my iPhone, iPad, or most temptingly, my new XBox 360), no web surfing, no blog reading, and I tried to eliminate television unless watching something with someone in my family. Short of leaving my everyday life and work to pursue a completely disconnected experience (which I would like to do at some point) I think this was about the best I could do at unplugging.
  2. Unplugging was easier than I expected.
    The things I gave up I didn’t really miss as much as I thought I would. This was encouraging to me. You never really know how strong a hold things or experiences have on you until you try to give them up. In part, this is the great benefit of practicing the discipline of fasting. We let go of good and permissible things that God has given for our enjoyment as a way of keeping ourselves from making lesser things into more ultimate things. I recognize the power that technology has to draw my attention and affection, and I think I will probably always live somewhere on the continuum between “healthy and appropriate use” and “unhealthy and inappropriate abuse.” It’s good to find myself somewhere on the positive side of that continuum.
  3. Social media is mostly a one-sided conversation for me.
    During my hiatus from social media, I was curious to see what, if anything, I missed from the experience. I was surprised that what I missed more than anything was the feeling of sharing my thoughts, observations and experiences to “someone.” As an extrovert I realize that often my thoughts aren’t even real for me until I say them out loud. Social media is a way to do that. So while I guess I hope people will read and interact with what I say, the interaction was not what I missed most. What I missed most was having a way to express myself and feel heard, whether someone actually reads what I say or not.
  4. My family appreciated the effort.
    One of the main reasons I wanted to disconnect from part of my digital life was that I have seen how it can affect my focus and attention on the people in my embodied life. I’m not sure those words (digital vs embodied) are the best way to describe the experience of my life, but I prefer that paradigm better than others (e.g. virtual vs. real). The point is that as much as I try to multi-task or to have my attention focused into my digital and my embodied world, I don’t do it well. It has often created frustration for Kate (and to a lesser degree my kids) when my focus is into my digital world (staring at my phone, computer, iPad, etc) instead of on them. Kate mentioned on a couple occasions how she appreciated this exercise.
  5. Distractions are found in all forms of “technology.”
    One interesting discovery was that even if I take away my technological distractions (phone, computer, television) there are lower forms of technology that I still used to distract myself. For example, I took my son Andrew to lunch last week, and I took a magazine with me. While no one would probably refer to a magazine as a piece of “technology” it served as a distraction for me. I could have chosen to simply sit and watch Andrew play or to just sit and think. Instead I chose to sit and read. This disconnected me from my embodied world and connected me to a print world. So the dangers of distraction aren’t limited to shiny tech gadgets.

There’s more than I could say about the experience, but I’ll close by saying that I found this to be a very worthwhile exercise. So I’ll close with a question for you as you read this. Is there anything good but lesser thing in your life that you may be making an ultimate thing? Maybe it’s time to take a break to find out what you might learn by paying more attention to your embodied world.


** Image from Flickr user kozumel, used under Creative Commons license.

Beyond the Formulas, Part 4 – Learning to Walk

In my last post I talked about how we begin moving beyond seeing the Bible as our “handbook for life” by looking at some times in Jesus’ own life when he seemed to intentionally disobey the laws found in Scripture in order to obey them. Jesus’ explanation was that “he only did what he saw the Father doing.” Following the Father was how the Son knew how to fulfill the law by breaking the law. One of the challenges for me of reading the four Gospels (the books recounting the events of Jesus’ life) is knowing what things Jesus did that I am to do as his follower and what things he did simply because, well, he’s Jesus. Sometimes we jump too quickly to something Jesus did and assume that as his followers, living two thousand years later, we’re to do the exact same thing. Or conversely, we read something Jesus did and quickly assume, “Well of course he did that – he’s Jesus! That doesn’t mean we’re able or supposed to do the same thing!” This is where some context begins to help.

One of the first and most helpful principles you learn when studying the Bible is that context determines meaning. You can’t just rip a verse out of context and expect it to make any sense. The same is true for the things Jesus said and did. He said those things to a specific group of people, in a specific place, at a specific time, for a specific reason. To make those things generally applicable is an error. Likewise to assume that they’re not generally applicable is also unwise. Instead we zoom out and read the surrounding verses to understand how that verse makes sense within the story of which it is a part. We read those verses within the chapter or section of the book of which it is a part. We understand that section as a part of the whole book, which has its own place both in history and within the overall story of Scripture.

So applying that to Jesus breaking the laws in order to fulfill them, we need to look at what he taught his followers. Then what did they in turn teach their followers? Then, how have followers of Jesus understood this for two thousand years? Then, with those things in mind, we still have the work of deciding what that means for us, here, now.

What I have described is a fairly linear, rational, intellectual approach to understanding how to live as a follower of Jesus. This is good. At least it is a good place to start. But as I’ve been describing in this series, it is not enough. You cannot simply live by the rules and principles found in Scripture forever. At some point that approach begins to break down.

So Jesus knew how to truly fulfill the law (even if it meant breaking the rules) by, in his words, only doing what he saw the Father doing. Apparently Jesus was so intimately connected with the Father that this informed what he did. So when you watched what Jesus did – how he lived, how he treated people, all that he did and didn’t do – you were watching what God would do if he were walking around as a human being. Because that’s who Jesus is, God with skin on. So what about us? This isn’t something we can do…is it? Well, Jesus seemed to think that it was.

Toward the end of his life, Jesus made a promise. His promise was that it was now part of the plan that he go away – he would no longer be physically present with his followers to show them how to live. But he was sending someone who would show them how to live:

7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you…12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:7, 12-15)

Jesus promises to send the Spirit of God to guide his followers in his absence. The Spirit will receive from Jesus what he will make known to Jesus’ followers. In his last words to his followers, Jesus gave them this command:

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus calls his followers to go and to make disciples (literally, “followers”) and to baptize them into this reality of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He doesn’t invite them to follow a rule book or to live according to a set of precepts or principles. He calls his followers to make more followers who will all live in a dynamic, living connected relationship to the Father by the Son through the Spirit.

In my next post we’ll take a look at how Paul describes this life – learning to walk with the Spirit. I’ll share some of my own struggles to understand what that means and how God is teaching me to do this more and more.



**Images from Flickr user loop_oh used under Creative Commons license

A New Paradigm

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to participate in a group led by my friend Ben Sternke. I’ve gotten to know Ben over the last couple years through our participation in the Ecclesia Church Network. One of the things I’ve loved most about being part of Ecclesia is that there are people who push me to think and explore life and ministry in new directions. All my years at North Point were amazing and formative, and during that time I learned from a lot of like-minded churches. But when we moved to Denver to start New Denver Church, I learned quickly that I had been living and learning in a somewhat insulated environment. I think it’s a natural phenomenon to gravitate to people and organizations that are more similar. The great benefit of that is that you share the same problems and challenges and can help one another find solutions. The down side is that it can be a limitation to learning, because within that circle of like-mindedness you sometimes aren’t challenged by people who think differently or look at issues from a vastly different perspective. And as much as we learned working at a large, suburban mega-church in the south, we quickly figured out that we weren’t really prepared for the challenges of starting an urban church from nothing in the west.

We were drawn to Ecclesia because it is a church network that is not predicated on praxis (there are many different forms of church from more traditional expressions to radically de-centralized house church networks) nor on doctrine (historic orthodox Christianity as expressed in the creeds are all that bind us) but instead our relationships and a commitment to a shared mission.

After we joined Ecclesia one of the first things we noticed was the passion of people within the network to the concept of discipleship – learning what it means to follow Jesus in the context of everyday life. In conversations I kept hearing about the work of Mike Breen and 3D Ministries. In particular a lot of churches in Ecclesia were using “huddles” – 3DM’s term for discipleship-focused small groups. I bought Mike’s book Building a Discipling Culture and read it. It made sense, but I still didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It seemed too simple. So at Ecclesia’s national gathering in Washinton DC this past spring, I was talking to Ben – trying to understand more about what made huddles different from any other small group system out there (and I’ve seen my fair share). Ben just said, “It’s hard to explain – you just need to be in a group.” Fortunately Ben apparently had that conversation with several other folks, because he decided to start a phone huddle for some of us in Ecclesia churches who wanted to learn more about them. So in March Ben started the group.

I’ll share more about this group and how it impacted me and how it’s still impacting my life and ministry in future posts, but to start I want to share a significant paradigm shift that came at our first meeting. It is the foundational assumption behind 3DM’s paradigm for discipleship, and it is this: God is already in the process of discipling you. Your task is to find out what he is trying to teach you and how to respond. Sounds simple I know, but as it would turn out the implications for me were pretty massive.

December 2011 Update

As 2011 comes to a close and we reflect on all that has happened this year, one thing is abundantly clear – we have so much to be grateful for! January marks three years since we left Atlanta and moved to Denver. With each passing year Denver feels more and more like “home” for us. Here are just a few things that have been happening in our family over the last few months.

Ethan wrapped up another great season with Fusion soccer club. This was our third season playing with the same team, and it’s been such a great experience for our family. Ethan’s really enjoyed playing with the same kids and has benefited so much from Andy, his coach, who does a great job developing them. Ethan also continues to progress well in school. The move up to first grade has brought regular homework assignments (which he’s not a big fan of) but also some great new friends who weren’t in his class last year. Ethan attends our neighborhood school, and all his friends live very near us, some only 1-2 blocks away.

Andrew started in pre-kindergarten this year at a local church school in our neighborhood, and it seems like he’s turned a corner. While he still protests going to school some days, gone are the complete meltdowns of the past! Andrew is in the same class with the same teachers that Ethan had for pre-kindergarten, and they have been just as helpful and attentive with Andrew as they were with Ethan. Andrew also played soccer with Fusion this fall, and Stephen volunteered to coach his team. Andrew hasn’t really found his motivation in sports yet, and he seemed to spend his time during most games watching the other kids run around! But he did enjoy himself (well, snack time after the games at least) so he’ll be playing again in the spring.

Of course Halloween was a big hit for both the boys. Denver celebrates Halloween like nowhere else we’ve ever been! Living in an urban neighborhood means that there are more houses closer together, which makes for a kid’s dream when it comes to the candy they get! We had fun enjoying the beautiful fall evening with neighbors who have become close friends, something we’re very grateful for and makes Denver feel like home.

Kate continues to stay busy with her work at Ron Blue & Company and keeping our family organized (probably her more difficult task). Because of our extensive summer travel, finances required us to stay in Denver for Thanksgiving, but we were excited to have Kate’s mom Sammye, her sister Kristen, and our nieces Lily and Caroline come down from Wyoming (Barry had to stay and take car of the cows!).

The fall has remained busy for Stephen with his work at New Denver Church as well as staying busy with the boys, especially with his role coaching Andrew’s soccer team. One of the things that has excited him the most has been a rekindled passion for the spiritual formation and growth. Through some groups with other pastors and working with a counselor/spiritual director, this has been one of the most dynamic times of personal growth that Stephen can remember in years. This personal journey has also led Stephen to pursue learning more about the process of spiritual formation and beginning to bring this learning to his ministry at New Denver. He hopes to begin writing more about this journey here on this blog. So stay tuned!

Thanks for stopping by to catch up with what’s happening with our family. We hope this update finds you well. If we don’t see you or speak to you during the holidays, we hope that you enjoy a wonderful Christmas as we celebrate God’s greatest gift to us – his Son Jesus.

Summer 2011 Update

It has been a great summer for the Redden family – filled with great times with family and friends, and it’s hard to believe that it’s  coming to a close. Here are some of the highlights of what we’ve been up to since our last update in May.

In June we decided to take a few days as a family to explore part of our beautiful state of Colorado. We started in one of our favorite places on earth – Crested Butte. This month Stephen and Kate celebrate nine years since they were married in a wildflower meadow on a beautiful afternoon in Crested Butte. It was fun to go back with our boys (this was Andrew’s first trip) and to share a place that has become so special to us. We continued our trip with a day in Ouray to soak in the hot springs and wrapped up with the trip with a ride on the Durango to Silverton railroad.

That long weekend trip was just getting us warmed up for the traveling still ahead in July and August. In late July we loaded up the whole family and flew to Raleigh, NC to visit Kate’s aunt Harriet and uncle Dick on our way to a week at Ocean Isle Beach, NC with Kate’s mom, aunt, uncle, sister, and nieces. It was a great week. The boys were so young the last time we were at the beach that this was a totally new experience for them – building sand castles, playing in the ocean, and raft riding the waves. After a week at the beach Stephen headed back home for a week while Kate stayed in NC to visit her grandmother in VA and spend some time at her aunt’s lake house with some extended family. The boys loved riding in the boat, swimming in the lake, and playing with cousins they hadn’t seen in years. The following week Stephen flew from Denver, and Kate and the boys left from Raleigh to converge on Nashville, TN for a few days with Stephen’s parents. Stephen’s dad is still recovering from a bacterial infection that he contracted in May that brought on arthritis-like symptoms and has significantly limited his mobility. Thankfully he is slowly but surely recovering, and we had a great few days visiting with them. Stephen’s brother Jason and his family came up for a couple days, and it was great to see them. Kate and the boys flew back to Denver late in the week, but Stephen tacked on a short trip down to Atlanta to see friends before flying home to Denver a few days later. Whew – what a whirlwind few weeks!

In between all the traveling we’ve had a great summer in Denver as well. The boys stayed busy with sports (both playing baseball and taking swimming lessons), local summer camps, and play dates with friends in the neighborhood. Both boys started school this week. Andrew began pre-kindergarten three days a week and Ethan started into first grade and is even riding the bus to school on his own this year. Mom and dad are going to have to get used to that one!

Kate continues to stay busy with her work at Ronald Blue and Company as the stock market keeps her clients (and all the rest of us) anxious about the economic future, but it is a great opportunity for her to minister to people to remind them that our security is in Jesus Christ not Dow Jones! Stephen had a busy summer at New Denver Church, teaching a short series on friendship and a July 4th weekend message about faith and politics, leading a class on marriage, and beginning to prepare for launching new small groups this fall.

As we look forward to the fall and a new season of life and ministry, we are so grateful for so many things. We are so excited to see God at work in our lives, in our family, in our church, and in our city, and we are humbled to be a part of his great plan. We hope this update finds you well and hope you will help us stay in touch by reaching out with a phone call or email when we come to mind. As always we are grateful for and covet your prayers for our family and our ministry here in Denver.