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.