Kibera, Baltimore & Nepal

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This is Kibera.  It’s one of the largest slums in the world.  Somewhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million people live here.  Their lives are defined by poverty, disease and lack of opportunity.  The smog of despair hangs over Kibera.

It’s so obvious our world is broken.  Kibera, Baltimore and Nepal tell the same story.  This is not how things should be; this is not the world God created.  The clouds of injustice, poverty, violence, fear, hatred and tragedy that swirl over our planet don’t come from the heart of God.  They come from the wickedness of man and the brokenness of our planet.

But I also know there is hope in Kibera.  It’s the hope of children who are now able to go to school.  It’s the hope of a medical clinic that is coming to life.  It’s the hope of a business employing 70 women.  It’s the hope of knowing Jesus is real, He’s alive and He’s at work.

The sunlight of hope can break through the thickest of clouds.  Yes, there are times we’re tempted to believe the clouds are winning.  But the cross reminds us there is no situation so evil that God can’t redeem it for good.  The gospel tells us that God will one day make all things right and every sad thing will become untrue.  The clouds will be banished and Jesus will win.

Until that day, He’s at work in Kibera. And Baltimore. And Nepal. And your life.

The question is whether we’re leveraging our lives as fully as possible to usher the rays of hope into our world.  Are we fighting for justice, for peace, for a better tomorrow?  Or are we simply looking to make our lives a tiny bit more entertaining?  Are we willing to sacrifice that others might live?  Or do we demand others sacrifice so we can live more comfortably?

The church really is the hope of the world.  We just need to act the part.  Don’t settle for complacency in the face of the world’s desperation.  Fight for what matters and shine the light of Christ in whatever corner of the globe God has put you.

Kibera needs hope.  And so does Washington.  Kibera needs the church to rise up and be the people of God.  So does your city.

My prayer today is that the church will find her voice, embrace her mission and fight for restoration in our world.

Praying For Baltimore

If you’re like me, you spent much of last evening watching the news of the horrible events unfolding in Baltimore.  Maybe, like me, you spent some time texting with family and friends who live in Baltimore to check on them and offer some encouragement.  And, maybe, you took the time to pray.

Right now the most important thing we have to offer Baltimore is our prayers.  I want to encourage you to pray throughout the day today for peace, justice, and calm to sweep through the streets of Baltimore.

Some of you have also asked what else we can be doing as a church since we’re just down the road from Baltimore.  One of the benefits of being part of The Summit Network is that we are connected with likeminded churches around the country, including one in Baltimore.  I’ve been emailing with Brad O’Brien, the lead pastor at Jesus, Our Redeemer in Baltimore to let him know we’re willing to come along side their church and city any way that’s needed.  For now, Brad agrees that prayer is the best thing we can offer.  Should that change, he’ll let me know and we’ll see what we can do to help our neighbors in Baltimore.

God brings good out of evil.  I’m praying part of the good He brings out of this situation is a renewed longing in all of our hearts for Jesus and the restoration He offers a broken, hurting and frightened world.

Are Short Term Missions Even Effective?

As Dan and I head to Kenya and Tanzania to work on our first international partnership as a church, it seems worthwhile to say a few things about short term mission trips in general.

They’ve come under a lot of fire recently and for good reason.  All too often these trips do more harm than good – a dozen well meaning Americans drop into a village where they dazzle kids with iPads, play some soccer, hand out some food and fly out 10 days later.  It’s all very expensive and, when it’s all said and done, everyone wonders if anything meaningful was accomplished.  Sure, the Americans return home with some great stories and a resolve to never take the comforts of home for granted again but what about the kids in the village who are left in their poverty?  Did anything good happen for them or was a cycle of dependency perpetuated?

All of that is by way of saying we want to be careful to set up international partnerships that ensure we are contributing to what God is already doing in a country.  We want to be a part of empowering local populations to restore their communities and love their cities in Jesus’ name.  We want to approach our partners as equals not as objects of our pity.  To guide us in that, we’ve come up with three simple principles that define success for us on a short term mission trip.  This is what you can expect if you go on a short term trip through Restoration City:

  • Faith Building.  We want these trips to grow and strengthen your relationship with Jesus.  There’s value in trusting God to provide financially for your trip, stepping out of your comfort zone and serving in new ways.  There’s benefit in seeing the beauty of the global church in person.  There is something to be said for new experiences that stretch our hearts, our thinking and our imaginations.  At the same time, we want to build into the faith of the people we are serving.  We firmly believe that the ultimate hope of every community we serve is Jesus and we want our trips to point to Him.  Mark 8:36 asks the question, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” We want to care for and speak into the souls of the people we meet.
  • Useful.  We want to accomplish meaningful work that advances the goals of our partner organizations in the communities we’re serving.  What this means practically is that we want our international partners to set the agenda for the trips as much as possible.  We want them to tell us what they need, what would help them and what would empower the local population.  Those aren’t decisions we can make from Washington, DC.  All we can do is see how our partner’s needs line up with our capacity, vision and direction as a church.  But we want our partners in the driver’s seat.  We think that’s a far healthier model than us announcing what we want to do and forcing our partners to accommodate us.
  • Relational.  This is a stretch for the Type A among us.  Yes, we want to be useful but there is tremendous value in relaxed, relational moments where we interact with the people we meet.  We want to hear their stories, learn from them, allow them to speak into our lives and be able to encourage them in return.  So, our trips are not all work all the time.  Sometimes the agenda is to go speak into the lives of a small group of young adults over a Coke.  As much as I’m a fan of getting things done, these relational moments are the ones you’ll remember in 10 years and they’re the ones that can change the trajectory of someone else’s life forever.

There is a role for short term missions.  When done right, they are a win/win for both Restoration City and our partner organizations.  So, as you think and pray about the possibility of going overseas for the sake of the gospel in the Fall of 2015, know that we’re working to design an experience that will serve you and our partners well.

I’m curious what else you would add to this list. Are there other things you think are essential for a successful short term missions experience?  If so, leave a comment below.  I would love to have your input.

Headed To East Africa

We’re getting ready to take a huge step in pursuing the vision God has given us for Restoration City Church – the development of our first international partnership.  We’re so excited to be working with New Hope Initiatives to support the incredible work God is doing through them.  As part of that, Dan and I will be spending next week in Kenya and Tanzania working to develop that partnership and lay the foundation for our first short term mission trip this fall.

Two sides notes before I get to the main point of this post:

  • Although we aren’t going to miss a Sunday at church, we’re both going to be pretty jet lagged next Sunday (we fly out this Sunday evening and get back on Saturday afternoon).  So, my friend Chris Gaynor from The Summit Church is going to be with us on Sunday, May 3rd.  He’s a phenomenal communicator with incredible passion for Jesus.  Consider yourself warned: you do NOT want to miss May 3rd!
  • If you don’t already, this would be a great time to start following Dan and I on social media.  We’ll be on Twitter and Instagram throughout the week.  I would love to have you follow me (Twitter: @JohnGMcGowan and Instagram: @johnmcg) and Dan (Twitter: @dan_iten and Instagram: @diten).  We’ll be posting as often as internet connections allow!

More than all of that, I would love to have you praying for us next week.  Here are three specific prayer focuses:

  • Vision.  We’re asking God to speak clearly to us and show us the projects He’s asking Restoration City to be involved in this fall.  We want that sense of clarity from God.  Our main question in going is, “Lord, what is the assignment you have for Restoration City this fall?”  Please pray for clear answers to that question.
  • Fruit.  Dan and I are going to have a number of opportunities to speak into the lives of teachers, business leaders, young adults and others while we are in country.  I’m also going to be speaking at a Wednesday evening church service in Tanzania.  Please pray God would be powerfully present and at work during those times.  We so desperately want to encourage, develop and lift up the leaders and people we’re going to be meeting.
  • Joy, Patience & Endurance.  We’ve got a really ambitious schedule for only four days on the ground.  Please ask the Lord to strengthen us, make our paths straight and fill us with His Spirit.  We’re in need of massive grace to do all God has put in front of us.

I’m so looking forward to these days and hope you’re able to pray and follow along through social media.  We’re believing this is the start of a great relationship between Restoration City and New Hope Initiatives.

ServeDC Is Here!

IMG_1500This is a huge weekend in the life of Restoration City!  I’ve been waiting for months for ServeDC and am so excited that it’s finally here.

Over the next two days, 84 people will fill 124 volunteer slots (some are working double shifts) and serve in locations from parks, to rec centers to pregnancy support centers.  We’ll wrap the whole thing up with a cookout on Saturday evening and our weekly gathering on Sunday morning.

This is what we’re about as a church.  We believe in a God who restores.  He breathes life into dead souls.  He rebuilds all that sin destroys.  He takes back the years the locusts have eaten.  When we remember that, we see that the roots of ServeDC run much deeper than who we are as a church.  They go all the way down to who God is as Creator, Redeemer and Restorer.

Restoration City, remember why we’re doing this. We want to demonstrate the character and mission of God to our city.  This isn’t about us getting credit, impressing people, earning God’s favor or doing something that makes us feel good.  It’s not about growing the church or keeping us busy.  It’s about demonstrating the heart of God.  We want DC to know restoration is possible!

If you can’t join us this weekend, I would love to have you praying for us and for the city we love.  Would you pray that simple acts of service will plant seeds that bloom into eternal life?  Would you pray for conversations with those we serve?  Would you pray that DC would awaken to the restoration we find in Jesus?

We’ve got such a great weekend ahead.  I can’t wait to see how God uses it!!

Serving: Blessing Or Burden

Every leader needs to decide whether we see serving as a blessing or a burden.  Yes, our joy in ministry is at stake.  But there’s something even more significant on the line – our ability to perform the fundamental task of leadership.  To put it simply, we will never be good leaders until we start seeing serving as a blessing, not a burden.

The fundamental task of leadership is asking others to work with us to accomplish a goal.  We pick a direction, formulate a plan and inspire others to join us.  It doesn’t matter how great our vision and plan is, if people aren’t following us, we aren’t leading.

Most leaders in the church struggle with asking others to join our teams.  We don’t want to be overbearing, we don’t want to inconvenience people, we don’t want to bother people and we’re afraid they’re just going to say no anyway.  So, we suck it up and get the job done ourselves, silently resenting the idle hands sitting right next to us.

We don’t ask because we see serving as a burden.

But the Scriptures tell us the exact opposite.  Consider Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  God has already prepared good works for every single follower of Jesus.  In other words, we are designed to serve.  It’s how we come alive as disciples of Jesus.  So, leaders, when we ask someone to serve on our teams, we’re blessing them.  We’re inviting them to be fully alive.

Do we really believe that? Or am I trying to spin burden into blessing?  Our leadership credibility depends on how we answer that question.

Most Christians never experience the joy Paul writes about in Colossians 1:29, “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”  Want to know what it feels like to have the power of God working mightily through you?  Then serve!  You’re never going to experience it on the sidelines of the church – it’s only available to those who are in the game.

Leaders, it’s our job to get people in the game.  When we ask someone to join our team, we’re blessing them with the opportunity to experience the power of God.  We dare not condemn people to joyless mediocrity because we won’t ask them to serve.

I genuinely want every single person at Restoration City to be serving in a meaningful capacity.  I don’t care if it’s through RCC Kids, Production, Connect, leading a Community Group, doing graphic design or serving outside of the church through one of our ministry partners.  All I care is that you get in the game.  It really is a blessing.

Leaders, we have the privilege of making this happen.  Ask people to serve.  Do it boldly, confidently and with joy.  We aren’t burdening, we’re blessing.

Reimagining Starting Point

Sometimes it feels like the whole process of connecting with a church is more like buying a timeshare than joining a family.  You’re invited to come check out how awesome it is, everyone treats you well and then you’re brought in for a very “low pressure” meeting to close the deal.  If you sign on the dotted line, you’re treated like royalty.  If you don’t, you’re ushered out with respectful pity.  After all, if you really loved your family, you would do whatever it takes to invest in time together and memories that never fade.

Sound familiar?  Hey, come check out our church, we think it’s pretty awesome.  Once you attend for a couple of weeks, we’ll have a meeting to tell you about us, answer your questions and get you bought in.  If this is the church for you, we love you!  If not, well, maybe one day you’ll decide you love Jesus and come join us.

Perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement.  Or it might hit closer to home than any of us would like to admit.

For the record, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong or manipulative with that process.  It’s simple, clean, efficient and very logical.  It’s just not the way you welcome new members to a family.  When Aidan was born, we didn’t invite him to a meeting.  We had a party.

When someone is thinking about joining the spiritual family of Restoration City Church, we don’t want to invite them to a meeting.  We want to welcome them with a party.  That’s why we’re reimagining Starting Point.  We’re shifting it from a meeting after our gathering to a dinner at my house.  Yes, we’ll still communicate some basic information about the church and give people the chance to ask questions.  But the real point of the night is to build relationships and acclimate people to our family’s culture.

Ephesians 2:19 tells us, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,”  We really are a spiritual family and Restoration City is one little outpost of God’s household.  We want to welcome people to the household with a party, not a meeting.  Granted, it’s a small shift.  But I think it communicates something important about our culture.  Families have parties.

So, are you new to Restoration City?  Want to meet some of the people you see on Sunday morning?  Want to learn a little bit more of our story and share some of yours?  Then, let’s have dinner!  We’re hosting our first reimagined Starting Point this Sunday from 4.30 – 6.30 at our house (sorry for the early time but we’re working around bedtimes for little kids!).  You can find out more and RSVP here.

Laura and I would love to hang out with you on Sunday!