When I first moved to Russia, I didn’t know much about what God was leading me to do. I wanted to learn as much as I could and let God lead. On the other hand, I had a history and a general sense of what God was doing in me, and I knew that being the man God called me to be was to be a big part of my ministry. What I saw was that He had made me a curious combination of someone with a heart and a vision for the city and systemic, large-scale change and yet also someone intensely interested in the heart of people, in discipleship, and of the process of God transforming us into His image. My ministry, or rather my ministries in Virginia represented both of these ends of the spectrum: I started a citywide organization that sought to bring ministries together to help “the whole Church take “the whole gospel to the whole city.” Meanwhile I had a private practice where I was working with individuals and couples to see major changes in small places.
My counseling practice was quite successful. My citywide ministry got bogged down over time and could not seem to find momentum. Where it broke down was in the team that I had called together to steward the process. Teamwork is the additional element of my calling that was born out of my work as a camp counselor in the 1980’s. It was in that context that I found a love for and a faith in the power of cooperating. Ever since I have dreamed of team. Richmond, I only gradually came to understand, was my biggest experiment in team building. But ultimately it failed.
In moving to Russia I understood that God was giving me another chance to rebuild on a different foundation. This time I would combine the ministries of personal transformation and city transformation by not trying to change the city without building a foundation of radical change from the ground up. The pattern now became:
- Invest in the personal transformation of people. Set the captives free from what holds them back from God’s call.
- Build a team of these people to learn how to love God and each other together, seeking His will in concert.
- Move into creative and catalytic ministry in and for the city only when the team is solid and hears God’s voice as one man.
Through experience, mistakes, conversations, and prayer, building on the successes and failures of over 20 years of ministry, a vision of what God was doing finally came together in 2011-12, and I started sharing it with those I was ministering to. Some were intrigued, and some didn’t get it, but it started conversations. In the spring of 2012 I sensed that the season was shifting, and that phase one was ending. I shared my more extended vision with a group of about 20 people and invited them into a process that would have them focus not so much on their own growth, but on the process of building a community.
I’ve never seen community done so intentionally. I’ve never been in a real community. I know it has been done in some places, and I know it’s been tried in many more, and yet all I have is a dream and a Hodgepodge of experience, incomplete at best and fruitless at worst. In many ways Americans get the idea of community better than Russians, because I see now by comparison the relative strengths of Americans and the tremendous weaknesses of Russians, owing partly to their own personal strongholds, as well as the failed attempts by the Soviet leadership to create an artificial utopia. But the mere fact that this is and long has been in their collective psyche speaks to something deeper, and I think inborn from their Creator, that Russians are meant for collective power, and the Enemy has kept them from its real potential from the earliest of times. Russians seem to intuit its meaning and potential without any education, and yet none of them has seen it either.
What I suspect may be unique in our process (I need to find good books on other movements) is the emphasis on starting the group out of already transformed and transforming individuals (or perhaps I should use more traditional language and say reformed and reforming individuals). That is before coming into the circle of conversation about community, there must be a shared value and to some extent language about the priority of responding to everything that happens as reflective of God’s work in me for my own sanctification. No community can survive the blows of unreflective individuals who see only their ideas and ideals and refuse to accept God’s iron blows through group process for smoothing out their own rough edges. Our group is temporarily closed to newcomers, but when we open again, there will have to be a way to see that hunger for personal growth is in place first.
Compounding the uniqueness of this process is the fact that we see personal growth as taking place according to a unique paradigm: growth takes place along three dimensions and in the context of intimate fathering relationships. Let me comment on the three dimensions and then on the context afterwards.
I am a person who seems always to be looking for best practices, and God has given me an eye to spot them and seek to implement them in my ministry. It’s taken quite a few years to sort through what I have personally learned, and, more importantly, what has had the greatest impact on me, to see what is valuable and how it forms a system. And what I have gradually come to see is that, just as we are comprised of spirit, soul, and body, we need to be discipled in each area.
- Spiritual growth involves everything (a la the Engel’s scale) from our growing understanding and acceptance of the fact that there is a God up to accepting the truth of the basic Gospel message and beyond to lifelong growth in intimacy with the Godhead.
- Soul care involves all we do to transform our mind, will, and emotions into His likeness, which is a process of shedding ourselves of lies and embracing God’s truth so that our soul is no longer captive to the flesh but a slave of the Spirit in us. All prosperity is dependent on this growth (see 3Jn.2).
- So what does it mean to have our body discipled? This is simply the process of learning how to walk out our relationship with God in the way God has made our soul to His glory. I have never seen a discipleship model that integrates all three of these dimensions. In our process, we take excellent materials that are best practices in each and then we learn in community how to integrate them together.
The framework that God gave me to tie everything together is based on the concept of the Kingdom. What is any kingdom comprised of? As I see it, it has three components:
- an structure and process of Inheritance for continuity and longevity
- a Society for and through which it functions
- a Dominion over this society and a capacity to defend and grow that dominion
Of course Inheritance is about the personal transformation I have described above. The concept of inheritance gives it a fuller context and purpose, because we are not merely growing for our own sake but as “King’s kids” we must learn how to lay hold of our riches and inheritance in Christ, and this is done most effectively in the context of a fathering relationship that mirrors our growing relationship with God our Father.
A society has three aspects to it: social, economic, and productive. As this pertains to the Kingdom, we see the need to forge close bonds based on and modeling the strength of the nuclear family where the values of 1Cor. 12 are lived out: each one knows he is a valued and cared for member of the body, and honor and deference is given to all, especially the weak.
Economics is about more than money, for money is really just a measure of value. And in the Kingdom, all value derives from heaven. God imputes value to His society and each member of it through dying for it. Thus love is the basis for all value creation. A society is economically healthy and vibrant when the flow of value is rapid, so our aim in this stage will be to understand the values God has planted in us, individually and as a group, and wrestle in conversation and prayer with how to live that out for the blessing and health of the group and the society to which we are called.
The productive capacity of a society is based on the creative (entrepreneurial) spirit that God planted in us at creation, lived out when we, fitted together in harmony and mutual submission, live out our calling by serving in our respective giftedness together. Building this “spiritual factory” is mandatory before we contemplate actually moving into the final phase.
When we work our way through the three stages of building our community, before moving into the last phase of real ministry in the community, like the disciples before Pentecost, there is nothing to do but pray and wait for the Lord, both for direction but even more so for power from on high. Now we know that what we hear in that moment will have creative power to the effective pulling down of strongholds as we move into active ministry in the community. I feel I have some clues (though I won’t go into them at this point) as to how to pray through and plan this stage, not to give us direction, which can only come from the Lord, but to help us be thorough in our prayers, research, planning, and building of infrastructure.
We are committed to bringing the Kingdom to bear in the city in as many areas of society as God will lead, either directly, or more likely, indirectly as we partner with or serve as a catalyst for others. Serving the poor and disenfranchised is of course big on God’s heart, and I will not feel like we are doing all we should until that happens. For now, we have begun already doing with with orphan graduates, and that is beginning slowly to bear fruit, though it is a tough population. We need to be able to add to that list – homeless, drug addicts. For this, we need only those with the heart to do it.
I wrote a document a few years ago, using some input from other missionaries, trying to grapple with the spiritual history and destiny of St. Petersburg. This came out of my work in Richmond, where I was involved in convening citywide leaders to sense God’s heart for the city together. One of our team members wrote a spiritual history of Richmond, and I used his model to put some things on paper about St. Petersburg. This document is available for anyone interested, but the sum of it was that I saw the tremendous potential of this city, grounded in spiritual openness to the West and creativity, which speaks, I believe, to a destiny of creative worship through the arts.
Do we have to wait to start ministering to get to this final stage? Absolutely not. At a minimum, we are and will continue to offer our basic courses to the public, both as a general blessing, and as a means of finding more potential leaders. Another level might be called “complementary ministries” where one or more of us can function in a niche that plays off of the strengths of the discipleship work we already do and can do for the public. Let me give you an example of how synergy can happen fast in our context. This has happened just since we spoke. There is a small and essentially non-functioning ministry to women who have gone through abortion out of a Lutheran church here. I have been wondering how we
could help give life to it, and the idea came to me to suggest some things to the leader as well as to one of our women. They were both responsive. In fact, the young lady prayed about it and felt a very strong leading from God that she should pursue it with me. The idea, tentatively, is that she can lead the ministry in partnership with the Lutherans, go out into the community and speak at churches, etc. about
the issue, inviting people to come to a more in-depth training or seminar, or retreat. There they can get or sign up for deeper counseling and healing prayer. Where did the qualified ministers come from? We already have them!! This is the strength of what I have trained – generic but powerful tools for personal transformation, through a caring other, in spirit, soul, and body. So now all we need is some funding for her to get started. Can you see the implications for other kinds of ministries?
So at this point I have largely transitioned out of offering seminars and other kinds of direct ministry to the public and focus exclusively on building up the team as a whole and those striving towards leadership in specific. God has graciously taken away other ministry opportunities over the last couple of years so that I can be more devoted to this one cause. And although I am seeing tremendous payouts, the needs are also tremendous. We still need people who can come alongside these dear saints to encourage them, mentor them, help them dream, and motivate them to step out into their dreams. They know that their biggest task while I will be in the US this spring and summer is to learn how to use the power of the group to help them grow by learning to care for one another, so I am in a way glad I am leaving to give them this opportunity to lean more and more on each other rather than me.
More than this, I need some other gift mixes to fill in my weaknesses. I have grown a lot in prayer in my own private spiritual life, but I need people who can lead prayer for a group better. I was originally a musician by education, but I can’t lead worship, much less lead people into worship. Lastly, I am personally working on moving into more supernatural ministry, but I feel like a baby, so I need people of faith and experience to help us go there together.
But having new people is also a scary proposition at some level. How will the group respond? How do we integrate? Will our values match? One big issue seems to be the tension between building community and moving into ministry. What I think it is sometimes hard for people to see, as much as I try to communicate it – probably because they have NEVER seen it – is a ministry where there is an equal emphasis on personal empowerment of God’s dreams in the individual, the need to lean on each other and walk as a team, and the value of helping a city find and realize its destiny. I’ve certainly never seen it, I am a fool at some level for trying. But the vision is a clear as a bell to me, which is encouraging enough. Plus the fact that it is unfolding so far almost exactly as I understood that it needed to. I feel like I am too dependent on my own gifts, and I desperately need to follow a dream
that is too big for me to accomplish so that God gets the credit. That is what I am trying to do.