POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Plugged and Unplugged Life at Home

Our family is technologically oriented. It probably starts most with Dad. My undergraduate degree is in Applied Science in a computer science track. I've been a heavy user and early adopter of technology as it rolled out over the last few decades. It is my hobby, I listen to podcasts on the tech industry and news. I love it. I remember as a college student using computer software for my calendar and printing it out my day. The Palm Pilot and personal digital assistants were a revelation. They were a precursor to the convergence that would take place with phones, MP3 players and pocket computers. These devices  took mainstream flight with the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.

Now smartphones and personal computing devices line our pockets, inhabit our wrists, and ride in our laps for both work and leisure. They are also taking over our lives and the lives of our family. "Screen time" is now a colloquial phrase in parenting and many times kids are handed "devices as baby sitters" at a very young age.

The drawbacks of these technologies are real: disctracted people, texting while driving, walking into telephone poles, looking at screens instead of faces, the rewiring of our brains and smashing of attention spans have all arrived. Yet the benefits to work and play have been enjoyed by millions and personal devices are revolutionizing how we do just about everything. Our devices are here and we need to engage this wisely.

In order to to live both the plugged in and unplugged life our family just took another step together towards our enjoyment of technology while minimizing its ill effects on our relationships, sleep patterns, brains and spiritual lives. The following are a few of the recent tech changes we have made at home along with some house rules we are all working to follow. Each of them includes a technological solution as well as human problem solving to change our flow in our family.

On and Off Times

The internet is always on in many of our homes through the ubiquitous flow of WiFi thoughout the house. But why? There are certain hours where I simply do not want my kids to have wifi signal. Wind down, read something, unplug, pray and talk to each other.

Technology Solution

We use a system of mesh wifi routers from Eero. They are awesome for their ability to spread your wifi through every inch of your home but they also allow you to assign various devices (like every single one used by kids) to profiles and have the Internet completely turned off. So from 10pm-6am none of the kids devices can get on the Internet. So no waking up or staying up late and getting online. Eero also has the ability to assign a custom DNS server so that those who use something like OpenDNS for filtering will be good to go. 

FullSizeRender.jpg

Human Solution

Yes, we are aware of work arounds technologically, but we do what we can and trust out kids not to LTE it on their phones. Plus, the phone does not live in the bedroom. We can also turn the profile back on if homework projects are going awesome but it's going to take until 10:30pm to complete the job. Dad says yes to these type of requests.

Charging Station

IMG_0180.JPG

There are so many times when I'm on my phone around the house and ignore people who matter to me deeply. There are also times we want set aside as no device times with our family. We also can lose devices here and there and have to ping them to trace them down. So recently we have created a new solution that solves many problems at once.

  • It provides full batteries for our devices
  • It provides a place to put our devices at dinner time and at bedtime (well, before bed time)
  • It allows devices to NOT live in our bedrooms, at the bedside table
  • It allows reading of real books at night and a time where we turn off all screens prior to going to bed
  • It removes the temptation to grab phones in the middle of the night
  • It removes the temptation to make the mass of email, texts and social media notifications first thing in the morning
  • It allows the first movement of the day to be before God and not instantly connected by our alarm clock/smartphones

Enter our new charging station. We created a solution and a set of house rules for its use that is already blessing our family.

Technology Solution

Here is our basic set up with links to the actual products we are using

Power Strip

You have one laying around already, grab it and plug in. Get a surge protected one with some USB ports as well if you don't have something laying around the house already.

Anker USB Chargers

There are actually full multi-device chargers out of the east that do almost all that is involved here. Some of the reviews for them involved shoddy workmanship and even sparking (aka fire hazard). If you are not family with Anker, thank me later. They make some of the best charging accessories out there and are very well made. I thought of using a 10 port Anker but then all the USB plug-in points would be on one side of the charging station. Getting two 5 Port was a bit more pricey but allows the charges to face opposite sides of the station and to use smaller cables to limit clutter. The Ankers are safe, provide great amperage to the devices and even have two fast charge ports each. Put some colored markers on those fast charging cables and make them parent phones only. Lol. Just kidding.

12 Inch Lightening Cables

Though we use PCs for our computers, we are all Apple for mobile devices. So I found 5 packs of 12 inch lightening cables and bought two of them. This gives 10 short cables that go directly from the USB port to a slot in the station without tangles or clutter. If you own Android or other devices grab some micro USB cables and you'll be all set.  

Holder thingy

There are lots of these made of many materials on Amazon. I chose a black one that had 10 slots. We don't have ten devices yet but there are five of us and we have some phones and iPads already.

End Table 

Commandeering an end table from the house, gave space underneath for the kids to charge their Chromebooks. I don't personally appreciate the Chromebook but our school system gives them to all our kids and they do use them, especially our middle and high schoolers, extensively for school work. They plug into the power strip and live underneath. Out of the room at night so in the evenings there are no devices, no TVs in bedrooms.

Human Solution

  • Well, phones go on it at night one hour before bed time and they go with them to school in the morning.  We keep them plugged in for family connection in the morning for breakfast and prayer before the kids head off to school.
  • We still have general bed times for our kids. Sometimes it's more like "bed goals" or "bed hopes" for the teenagers. ;-)
  • I was pleasantly surprised that the roll out did not incur the whining and wrath of our teens, though some apologetics was necessary.
  • Casualties - Audiobooks at night were a casualty as well as using the phone as alarm clock These changes are VERY difficult for me. My eldest and me will have to adjust the most to these changes. I think we will also benefit the most. And yes, they still sell cheap, old school alarm clocks if you need one.

Look at my Face

One final thing we've added to our family flow is a simple pause and relational examination. If you are looking at a screen when you should be looking at a face, we need to put down the screen. Look at my face! We need to give this sort of attention to one another in our families more and more in our hyper-connected age. And your battery will be full as well! Enjoy your devices, but don't neglect the precious people that are right in front of you each day. 

Help Houston

Friends, 

As some of you may know I currently serve on the Acts 29 US South Central network leadership team running church planter assessments for the center of the country. The US South Central network includes the great state of Texas.

Clear Creek Community Church, one of our churches in the Houston metro area, is running point on collecting funds to serve in recovery efforts in light of the devastation resulting from Harvey. I know the leaders of the church and they have our full trust. Additionally, trusted friends have recommended Crossover Bible Fellowship as a place to give  

We recommend these as churches to give toward help those impacted by this torrential storm.

Follow the voice inside?

We live in a time where we no longer think truth is out there. In our day truth is created, generated, is personal and comes from within. Whether learned in class espousing philosophical deconstruction or simply singing along with a song from Moana, we are taught today to follow the voices within. Follow your heart! Find your own truth! Do what makes you happy! That chorus sings incessantly today.

Last month marked a year since our family moved out of New Jersey. This month marks two years from the time where God made it clear that our time in the garden state was coming to the end. This was not what "my heart" wanted. I had always assumed and intended to stay in the northeastern United States serving God's purposes there. When it became clear that it would be best for us to transition the church we had planted and base a new ministry out of Virginia, my heart literally felt sick. By this, I don't mean a bummed out feeling for a couple of days. I mean a deep feeling of discouragement and sadness that lingered for many months. Why? I love New Jersey and the work I had been given to there. My heart said stay, be still, endure, figure it out, and keep a tight hold on my will and plans.

And please don't think it was some heroic decision on my part; I was not happy in my soul about leaving. Yet as I look back over the last two years I see a kind hand of Providence at work in countless ways that I would have never been able to see by looking into my heart. Today, the Lord is giving me new passion and excitement for my work that I could not have anticipated. I see his light in my wife's eyes and my family is doing well in a new season. I am enjoying the care of my new pastors and building friendship with them and serving the Lord's purposes together. God has cared for his church in New Jersey in wonderful ways through his people there. If I had followed my heart, none of these decisions would have ever been made.

Sometimes God's plan works out in our lives by doing what we do not, on the surface, desire. Sometimes loving him and loving other people means we should transform our personal desires and plans. I believe that sometimes things are not so clear until much more life is rolled out by God into the rear view mirror.

The sovereignty of God is much more than a mere doctrine. It is something we trust. It is knowing that the judge of the earth will always do right by his own children even in the most difficult and trying circumstances. We trust God's providence and rule because we trust God. 

Though in catchy Disney songs we might hear to always follow the voice inside, there are times when the voice of the one who made us must hold sway. Sometimes these voices lineup. Our hearts desire is the will of God for us. These days feel great. There are other times we learn obedience through trials and difficulties. Obeying God through his Word, wise counsel, difficulty and circumstance is quite complex. It is a sure and true path in the end.

The martyred missionary Jim Elliot once remarked that in trusting Christ he had never made a sacrifice. I wish I could say I always knew to trust God with every difficulty, circumstance and decision in real time. Sometimes I just don't. And yet trusting the one who is the truth has always led me in his path and for this I simply give thanks. He really does know what is best even when it doesn't feel that way to us.

I wish my heart trusted more readily and easily and I understood as much in the moment as I do looking back over over the years. But you know what they say about hindsight; it does get clearer as each day passes.

So these last two years have been challenging for me but they have led me back to the words of Jesus Christ: "Come, follow me." And in these words there is also a corollary truth: we don't simply follow the voice inside. 

Life and Doctrine

The apostle exhorted a young pastor long ago to watch his life and his doctrine, to persevere in them, and by doing so he would save himself and his hearers. (1 Timothy 4:16)

A pastor should care to both preach well and grow well in his character. This was said early and often in the Christian tradition. For example, the north African theologian Augustine of hippo once wrote:  

More important than any amount of grandeur of style to those who seek to be listen to with obedience is the life of the speaker… A preacher should seek to live in such a way that he not only gains a reward for himself, but also gives an example to others, so that his way of life become's, in a sense, and abundant source of eloquence.  

Augustine, On Christian Teaching

In similar fashion, the golden mouth preacher Chrysostom challenged others to live a life of holy integrity before God and his hearers:

The praise of the speaker does not consist in applause, but in the zeal of the hearers for godliness: not in noise may just at the time of hearing, but in lasting earnestness. As soon as applause has issued from the lips it is disbursed in the air and parishes;   but the moral improvement of the hearers brings and imperishable and immortal reward both to him who speaks and two of them who obey. The praise of your cheers makes the speaker illustrious here, but the piety of your soul afford the teachers much confidence before the judgment seat of Christ.  Wherefore if anyone loves the speaker, let him not desire the applause but the profit of the hearers. 

John Chysostom, To Those Who Had Not Attended the Assembly

Like many parents I have adopted the phrase "know who you are and know whose you are" with my children. I want them to know they are loved by God and by our family as they walk out into the world in their journey of life.  As a preacher, we are to know the same thing. We belong to God and we serve at his request and calling. 

Preaching should be as much about our character and way of life as it is the preaching event. We can never be someone that we are not and no on stage fakery or eloquence will fool the eyes of God.  

As preachers of the Gospel we should care to share the truth and to live the truth in our own hearts and lives. This means an honest life of repentance and faith. Repentance for our own sins and shortcomings which are legion. Faith to keep our eyes on the one who forgives and raises the dead to new life. If we fix our eyes upon Jesus the author and perfector of our faith, both the joy and the substance of our message will flow fourth out of a life lived for him.

Watch your life and your doctrine…Persevere in them both.  

The Works of Roger Crowley

One of the portions of history that is lost to many modern day people is that of the late middle ages. This was time of the great empires of Islam and Christendom and the various clashes of civilization. Islam had marched out of Arabia from the time of the prophet forward and consumed vast territories and lands in North Africa, the ancient near east and Asia. 

The rise of the the Ottomons and the vast empire forged by the Turks and their subjects followed. This era was touched on so little in my education to my impoverishment. In recent years, I've found a great delight learning about these Mediterranean empires of Asia and Europe that shaped the modern world. 

My guide into these worlds have been the works of the British historian Roger Crowley. I cannot recommend his books enough with the audio versions being a particular joy to me. Crowley covers the conflicts, trade and intrigue of the various Mediterranean powers exposing the reader to the Habsburgs of Europe, the Ottoman Turks, the wily Venetians and the rise of the ambitious Portuguese.  If you like narrative history and creative non-fiction these works are a must. 

The following are descriptions of the books from Crowley's site. I have provided links to both Amazon and Audible for any who are interested in picking up a copy. Highly recommended. And no, this is not an ad, we don't do ads here on the POC Blog. 


Constantinople: The Last Great Siege tells the story of one of the great forgotten events of world history - the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in1453.

For a thousand years Constantinople was quite simply the city: fabulously wealthy, imperial, intimidating - and Christian. Single-handedly it blunted early Arab enthusiasm for Holy War; when a second wave of Islamic warriors swept out of the Asian steppes in the Middle Ages, Constantinople was the ultimate prize: ‘The Red Apple’. It was a city that had always lived under threat. On average it had survived a siege every forty years for a millenium – until the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet II, twenty-one years old and hungry for glory, rode up to the walls in April 1453 with a huge army, ‘numberless as the stars’

Constantinople is the taut, vivid story of this final struggle for the city told largely through the accounts of eyewitnesses. For fifty-five days a tiny group of defenders defied the huge Ottoman army in a seesawing contest fought on land, at sea – and underground. During the course of events, the largest cannon ever built was directed against the world’s most formidable defensive system, Ottoman ships were hauled overland into the Golden Horn, and the morale of defenders was crucially undermined by unnerving portents. At the centre is the contest between two inspirational leaders, Mehmed II and Constantine XI, fighting for empire and religious faith, and an astonishing finale in a few short hours on 29 May 1453 – a defining moment for medieval history.

Constantinople is both a gripping work of narrative history and an account of the war between Christendom and Islam that still has echoes in the modern world.


US cover.jpg

The inhabitants of the Maghreb have it on the authority of the book of predictions that the Muslims will make a successful attack against the Christians and conquer the lands of the European Christians beyond the sea. This, it is said, will take place by sea.’ 
Ibn Khaldun, fourteenth-century Arab historian

In 1521, Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power, prepared to dispatch an invasion fleet to the island of Rhodes. It was to prove the opening shot in an epic struggle between rival empires and faiths for control of the Mediterranean – the White Sea to the Turks – that consumed the centre of the world for sixty years.

Empires of the Sea tells the story of this great contest between the Ottomans and the Spanish Hapsburgs. It is a fast-paced tale of spiralling intensity that ranges from Istanbul to the Gates of Gibraltar and features a cast of extraordinary characters: Hayrettin Barbarossa, the original Barbary pirate, the risk-taking Emperor Charles V, the Knights of St John, last survivors of the military crusading orders, and the brilliant Christian admiral, Don Juan of Austria. Its brutal climax came between 1565 and 1571, six years that witnessed a fight to the finish, decided in a series of bloody set pieces: the epic siege of Malta, the battle for Cyprus and the apocalyptic last-ditch defence of southern Europe at Lepanto – one of the most dramatic days in world history, that fixed the frontiers of the Mediterranean world that we know today.

Empires of the Sea is the sequel to the much-praised Constantinople 1453. It is page-turning narrative history at its best – a story of extraordinary colour and incident, rich in detail, full of surprises and backed by a wealth of eyewitness accounts. Its denouement at Lepanto is a single action of quite shocking impact. Cervantes called it ‘the greatest event witnessed by times past, present and to come’. The book is also a narrative about technology and money. Lepanto was the Mediterranean’s Trafalgar, the last and greatest moment in the age of the galleys before sailing ships with broadside guns swept all before them, and it was paid for, on the Christian side, with Inca gold.


City of Fortune tells the story of Venice’s rise from lagoon dwellers to the greatest power in the Mediterranean. It was an epic five hundred year voyage that encompassed crusade and trade, plague, sea battles and colonial adventure.

Along the way, Venice created an empire of ports and naval bases – the Stato da Mar – which flourished under the lion banner of St Mark and whose sole function was to funnel the goods of the world back into the warehouses of the lagoon. Venice became, for a time, the axis of world trade and the richest place on earth. The city was a brilliant mosaic fashioned from what it bought, traded, borrowed and stole across the Mediterranean basin.

The path to empire unfolded in a series of extraordinary contests – the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 that launched the Stato da Mar, the slugging contest with Genoa fought to the death within the lagoon itself, and the desperate defence against the Ottoman empire. The long arc of ascent, domination and maritime decline is the subject of this book.

Drawing on first hand accounts of crusaders, sea captains and merchants, as well as the state records, City of Fortune is a rich narrative about commerce and empire, seafaring  and piracy, and the places where Venetian merchants sailed, traded and died: Constantinople, Crete, Alexandria, the Black Sea, theAdriatic and the shores of Greece. It begins symbolically on Ascension Day in the year 1000 and ends with an enormous explosion off the Peloponnese in 1499 – and the calamitous news that the Portuguese had pioneered a sea route to India, strangling Venice’s lucrative spice trade.


‘The sea without end is Portuguese.’ Fernando Pessoa

In 1497, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and became the first European to sail to India. This feat came off the back of sixty years of coherent effort by the Portuguese to find a way out of the Atlantic Ocean. Then they set about conquering the world.

As remarkable as Columbus and the conquistador expeditions, the history of Portuguese exploration is now almost forgotten. But Portugal's navigators cracked the code of the Atlantic winds, launched Gama’s expedition and beat the Spanish to the spice kingdoms of the East - then began creating the first long-range maritime empire. Driven by crusading fever and the lure of the spice trade, a few thousand Portuguese, equipped with a new technology – ship-borne bronze cannon – joined up the oceans and surprised the world. In an astonishing blitz of thirty years, a handful of visionary and utterly ruthless empire builders, with few resources but breathtaking ambition, attempted to seize the Indian Ocean, destroy Islam and take control of global trade.

This is narrative history at its most vivid - an epic tale of navigation, trade and technology, money and religious zealotry, political diplomacy and espionage, sea battles and shipwrecks, endurance, courage and terrifying brutality. Drawing on extensive first-hand accounts, many of which have never been available in English before, it brings to life the exploits of an extraordinary band of conquerors - men such as Afonso de Albuquerque, the first European since Alexander the Great to found an Asian empire - who set in motion five hundred years of European colonisation and unleashed the forces of globalisation that shape the modern world.

Hope. The final frontier

I'll never forget the season of life from early 1998 until September 27th 2001. My wife and I had married quite young and had hoped to start a family.

Our first pregnancy came with the expected joy, rapid family announcements and the fresh hopes of new parenthood. These hopes came quickly crashing down when we lost the first child to miscarriage. Over the course of the next several years we lost four more successively. It became an act of courage for my wife to hope to get pregnant and then hope the child would make it to term. It felt like a bad movie where the same script kept playing over and over.

In that season we thought about many things. My wife and I both wrestled with God’s relation to pain and suffering. Her questions were related to God's care for her and mine were more intellectual, considering if God was real. We also wrestled with the concept of Christian hope and the Lord really met with us in and through this time. God gave us quite a different perspective than we had in our youthful idealism.

The real struggle was with the continual disappointment with our circumstances. We were able to conceive quite readily only to have our hopes come crashing down. As a husband, it really hit me when my wife said, "I've been pregnant or dealing with the aftermath of miscarriage constantly, nonstop for three years and we have no children." Hearing that was heartbreaking. My bride had gone through every miscarriage physically, emotionally and spiritually and she began to really wonder if she wanted to try again. You see, there is a hope that disappoints. Trying again meant facing the unknown once again with a past that grew with disappointment.

One of the passages of scripture that really ministered to us came in the form of rhetorical question from the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 8.

24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. - Romans 8:24-25

Who hopes for what he sees? Who hopes for what they already have? Nobody. Hope is a future facing reality whereby we long for something we do not yet have. As such, hope in this life can be a very disappointing thing.

  • We had hoped for children. Have our family, nice, quick and easy. Disappointment.
  • We hope that things will go better at our jobs but sometimes they don't. Disappointment.
  • We hope to accomplish something in a sport and we get injured. Disappointment.  
  • We hope that our relationships will be full of joy and glory. Sometimes they are just made of the stuff of the earth. Disappointment.
  • Many times we think it is a promise from God to make us healthy, wealthy and wise. Not the case. Disappointment.

It takes courage to have hope in our world. Our expectations vary, are adjusted by reality and sometimes come crashing down. The whole book of Ecclesiastes is about deconstructing and unwinding our earthly hopes. This wonderful book wrecks us for putting our hope in the wrong things. You think wisdom and learning will make life perfect? Wrong. Wealth and achievement? Wrong again. Having pleasure? Nope. Placing our ultimate joy and future on the shaky foundations of this world is a fools errand here under the sun. Vanity, emptiness, a mere chasing after the wind.

Yet the gospel offers such a different foundation for hope in this life. As a human being we hope for something different in our current story. We grow numb and disappointed. But as a Christian, we have hope in God’s promise that all things will turn out to be far more than OK. This sort of hope is such a scarce commodity among the human race.

Hope is described in the New Testament as a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). Gospel hope is transcendent because it is based on the promise of eternal life with God. This promise issues forth from one who never lies. (Titus 1:2,3)

Our hope is always future facing so with every earthbound disappointment we renew hope in the promises we have in Christ. His Spirit is in us as a deposit guaranteeing our possession of a glorious future (Ephesians 1:11-14). He has an inheritance for us that will never spoil, fade or perish, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:3-9). The Spirit has poured his love into our hearts so that we have a renewed hope and renewed vision even amidst the darkest of days. This is why our hope in God's promises in Christ are called "a firm anchor of the soul" by the writer of the book of Hebrews.

Hope indeed is the final frontier for human beings. This life filled with sin and death can batter the small hopes of the masses into despair. Yet for those who trust in the promises of Christ, who believe in the resurrection of the dead, who believe in the life to come and his glorious Kingdom have a different story. They will live from hope to hope through every trial and difficulty. Today’s disappointments will one day fully and finally fade into the eternal promises of our God.

This Easter you may perhaps say to one another "He is risen!" And when you reply, "He is risen indeed," remember that you have a hope that will not disappoint and not simply a religious slogan to echo. Your future resurrection with Christ guarantees that you will stand some day in glory with hope fulfilled by sight. Even when you face the final blows of death your hope will transcend that moment where many think all is lost.

If we have placed our hope only in this life we are to be more pitied than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:19). Yet Christ is risen from the dead and he leads us into and over the final frontiers of hope into the Kingdom of Heaven. Bank on it. 

Planting multiethnic and transcultural churches

IMG_1463.JPG

Planting multiethnic churches is a complex and challenging reality in whatever culture of the earth we might find ourselves. Planting them in the North American context has it's own unique challenges and opportunities.

I am aware that there are many people who advocate reaching people using what is known to missiologists as the homogeneous unit principal or HUP for short. This principal says that it is most effective to reach people evangelistically "in their own tribe." In some contexts, there is great merit to this as you need to speak the same language and share some cultural foundations in order to connect and communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ. Additionally, there are times when mono ethnic churches make sense for various reasons. Freedom to express community identity apart from the hegemony of a dominant culture and first generation immigrant communities come to mind.

However, in many places on the earth, cultures are living in close proximity to one another with people of various ethnic and social backgrounds in the same cities. This is not unlike many of the places in the first century where the gospel took root. So in this essay I have no interest in debating the HUP as it pertains to North American church planting. I am writing for those who have a similar conviction, calling and passion for planting multiethnic and transcultural churches.

In our cultural narrative we have deep roots of racial bigotry, systemic oppression and cultural suspicions between various peoples. We also have the opportunity to live out together the transcultural nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ which creates one new people out of the peoples of the earth. So in desiring to plant churches, my heart and passion was always to plant a multiethnic one where the beauty of gospel reconciliation, justice, love and unity might show off the glory of Jesus Christ.

So here are my assumptions for this essay. First, you have an interest in planting and shaping, transcultural and multiethnic core groups for church planting. By multiethnic I simply mean a diversity of peoples working together in gospel life and mission. By transcultural I mean working to give and receive with one another so that no one must deny their unique cultural flavor. We each give and give ground to create something culturally new and together under one King. My friend, Pastor Lèonce B. Crump Jr. gives a helpful definition for the transcultural nature of the church:

Every human being is endued with the Imago Dei, the image of God, captured in unique cultural and ethnic expressions which embody the full breadth of God’s creative genius, not to be subverted by the ethnic/ cultural identity and preferences of another, but celebrated in creating a fuller expression of our humanity, a woven tapestry of color, culture, and class as God forms a people for Himself from all people.
Lèonce Crump, Renovate: Changing Who You Are by Loving Where You Are (Multnomah, 2016) 112.

Second, as a white guy, I cannot help but write from a particular cultural viewpoint in North America. My only hope is to offer counsel as one who has planted a church with these aims and practices. I have also continually submitted my ideas, bias and perspective to others I respect to grow in empathy and servant leadership.

I do offer this one caveat as I begin. You may be planting in an all Chinese neighborhood or an all-white corn field town or a section of a city that is majority African-American. I get that. Yet to be transcultural means we also look within race/ethne to also live together across economic status, caste, life station and world assigned place. Furthermore, with the density and close proximity of many areas, I still recommend transcultural church planting and by that I mean doing this from day one in the core team.

What follows is a short collection of principles that I think are crucial for building multiethnic core teams for the planting of the gospel in new communities. Ideas which come from Scripture, wisdom and our experience in planting a multiethnic, transcultural congregation in Central New Jersey.

Ground your praxis in the transcultural theology of the Bible

The purpose of Old Testament Israel was to be a light to the nations that God's glory will spread throughout all the earth and that the covenant people would include many peoples. (Isaiah 49:1-6) The fulfillment of this arrives in Jesus the Messiah creating one new man out of Jew and Gentile which we read about in Ephesians chapter 2. The great vision in the book of Revelation is that in the Kingdom there will be some from every tribe and tongue of people on the earth. (Revelation 7:9-12) This is to be accomplished by God sending his people to make disciples of all nations/ethne/peoples. (Matthew 28:18-20) God’s mission is therefore inclusive and our destiny is to be a people who are a worshiping community displaying and declaring the glory of God together in all of our panoramic, diverse beauty as humanity made in the image of God.

You should ground this ministry philosophy in the gospel, not in cultural guilt, paternalism, social theory or various philosophical views of race. We certainly have to take all of these into account related to our own background and experience, but we ground our conviction in the scripture, the grand story of Jesus Christ. Years ago, I heard my friend John Bryson from Fellowship Bible Church in Memphis talk about all the secondary things we will address when we seek to be a multiethnic community of faith. We do this because it is a biblical conviction, but by doing so we also go after consumerism, preference, privilege and all sorts of concerns in discipleship. These are healthy discipleship byproducts of the goal of following the crucified king in his vision to create a transcultural people.

Ground your practice in the theological version of the Bible. It will help sustain you and give a clear apologetic for your practice as you answer any detractors.

Make it a nonnegotiable

To plant this way you must have it be a nonnegotiable for you and I even suggest making this a condition for launch. Cultural momentum is real and it's difficult to overcome once you begin. Probably the most important thing about your church plant is its culture. I used the term flow at Jacob's Well in New Jersey. Your flow is the sum total of all things pertaining to your way of life and being. It encompasses many things, both said and unsaid that are felt and experienced by the community. What your flow is like if you start out as an all Asian church matters. Particularly if you are hoping to be a multiethnic church. If you start out as an all white church, you will have massive momentum in an unstated, thick and often assumed cultural direction. With this vision for your church plant, it must be a nonnegotiable from the beginning. It must and cannot get quickly overwhelmed by other “pragmatic” concerns and opposition.

Specifically seek out partners who share your passion.

The mission of the gospel is not an individualistic enterprise. The Lord always calls together a community to fulfill and live out his purposes. This is particularly important as you seek to plant a multiethnic church. This is a mission and vision that must be shared and held in common by leaders of different backgrounds. If you are a church planter you must pray and specifically seek out like-minded partners for the work. Please remember, this should be intentional but not paternalistic. Tokenism or just desiring people of different skin pigments on the bus is an actual offense to God’s transcultural vision for the church. Your hope and prayer is to do life and mission together, not to simply exist under your cultural vision, habits, bias and preferences. Pray desperation prayers in this direction.

I will never forget meeting my friend Manoj Thomas at a prayer meeting for campus ministers at Rutgers University in 2008. We had not even moved to the state of New Jersey but I was up meeting people and praying and seeking God for insight into the context of our church plant. Manoj was a volunteer with a campus ministry while doing his very full-time work with a large software company. During the meeting, he read from Revelation 7 asking why all these groups had to be separate and why a group on campus couldn't be intentionally inclusive of black, Chinese, Asian Indian, Latino and white. He got on his soapbox a bit and later had to leave the meeting early to get to work. Sensing the Lord's Spirit leading, I literally followed him to the parking lot and said to him point-blank, "I would love to do that with you. I have brochures in my bag about a dream to plant a church community on mission that desires what you were talking about in there. Would you pray about doing that with me?"

Obviously, both he and I had only minimal first impressions of one another from being in the meeting together. We both took a risk and the rest, as they say, is history. The Thomas family was the first family from New Jersey involved with our plant. The Lord had a family with roots from Ireland and another with roots from India together for the gospel. We prayed that God would would send people to help from various backgrounds before we launched anything public in terms of our ministry. Our goal to become indigenous and multiethnic before launching any public gatherings of the church was key because we wanted a different cultural DNA and momentum from the beginning. To plant multiethnic you must be committed to this vision and avoid the panic of desperation of just having warm bodies in the room to help the plant. Pray for the Lord to send the right partners in the gospel, particularly those from a different background than you. This means the planter must spend time with different people when planting the church. Some men do not have the skills, experience or perseverance to do this well. So, if in the current stage of your journey you're not comfortable in cross cultural settings and do not sacrificially love and serve among people, this kind of work and church planting may not be for you. Start by authentically getting to know people and share one another's experience. Perhaps in the future you'll be ready and equipped to plant this kind of work.

Evolving culture/flow forward

Once a church plant does launch and Christ’s mission is being lived together, there are some specific and practical things that can help you maintain and focus on the call to be a transcultural community. These are hyper-practical principles and practices that we found helpful in our work.

First, I counsel you to absolutely avoid children's curriculum that is not representational in it's illustrations. Having a curriculum that is mono-racial in it's presentation visually is not inclusive nor helpful in this work. Thankfully many publishers are more conscious of these things today but there still persist much Christian literature in the west that is lily white. Certainly jettison these white boy Jesus illustrations; they are neither helpful nor historically accurate.

Second, we had the internal legalism that our platform would never be mono-ethnic on Sunday. Between our host, our preacher and our band members, there should never be a singular vision up front. We sought real diversity in cultural background, ethnicity, age and gender. This ought to affect your band tryouts and who are trained to be upfront hosts and speakers. We actually had a complaint that this seemed like affirmative action. My reply was that we were committed to leading this congregation together and our aim was not simply to have a talent show.

Third, when you have videos that are promotional or story oriented, you want to be wise and intentional in your representation.

Fourth, be aware of seasons and holidays and celebrate. Even a casual mention of Bollywood films launching during Diwali in a sermon can display a cultural alertness to other people's yearly rhythms. Our church also intentionally celebrated Black history month in February. During the month, I would do personal research and study on an historical figure who was a follower of Jesus and African-American. Each person in our church would get a copy of the short biography I would write to read and reflect upon and learn from saints who had gone before us. You can find a few of those online here.

Fifth, affirm and establish a plurality of leaders. If you are not reaching out to, developing and empowering those different than you, you may only be engaged in tokenism and how things look rather than submitting to one another and love. In a North American context, this means that white guys need to intentionally choose to follow and submit to people that are different than you. We are not trying to create ethnic factions with representations in leadership but rather leading together as we become one people. This cannot be done alone and without leadership.

Sixth, have open conversations with one another without it being a program. However, if you didn't start out this way you may have to create a program to get people to talk. Seek out mentors to help you avoid being foolish and hurtful to people in your ignorance. We will all make mistakes with each other culturally, but at least try to not be a complete idiot related to other people and cultures. A culture of forgiveness and grace goes a long way as well so model being a good cultural learner and one who asks for forgiveness for his blunders and mistakes. As just one example, I would never post this without having it peer reviewed by trusted friends from other cultural backgrounds. Their influence is found in this essay and it is all the better for it.

Seventh, the lead pastor(s) must be all in. Period. If you are seeking to plant or become a multiethnic, transcultural community and the lead guy is not all in you are asking for pain and frustration in the future for all. The leaders of your church must be unified in this commitment to love and live this way. You must absolutely have each other’s back in these matters particularly when things get difficult. Which brings us to our eighth and final principle.

Eighth, you need to persevere and be ready for the struggle. You must be ready for the opposition that will come as you address specific injustice, racism, prejudice, consumerism and cultural protectionism. You should expect racially insensitive, racially ignorant, and out racist things to be said at times. Even with planting this way from the start, there will be those who will desire to go only so far in their own transformation of their perspectives. Be prepared to have people even leave your church community over discourse related to transcultural ministry. The bottom line is that planting this way can be slower, harder and more financially difficult; please count the costs.

Rejoice, enjoy and celebrate

Finally, the Lord has such a blessing in store for people who begin to love and serve crawl across boundaries that are maintained with such vigilance in the world. I cannot tell you how I have benefited from the experiences, theological insight, wisdom, wit and sense of humor of people from different backgrounds. We begin to see our common humanity and paternity under God our father and rejoice in our similarities as well as our diversity. And brothers and sisters, how about the wonderful feast of friendship, fellowship and food! I will never forget our first international lunch at Jacob's Well. A few people thought it was a meeting to promote missions. Yes, we did have a display on hand of our various global partnerships but the true purpose of the event was to have a party. A party where Indian, Chinese, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Soul food and African fare was on hand. People cooked for one another and came dressed in their typical fashion from their home culture. It was a wonderful day. To be honest, some southern style barbecue ribs made by my Chinese American brother Vince was the best thing I ate that day. My mom and dad both grew up in Memphis, TN so I have strong opinions on what good ribs actually are. My brother even cooks barbeque on a competitive team. So to see my Chinese brother absolutely nail something wonderful from my own background and culture brought a smile to my face. The time of fellowship, of sharing life in common was so rich. I even believe it may just have brought a smile to our Lord as well.

Summary

In summary, to focus on planting transcultural churcheswe must:

  • Make it a personal, theological conviction
  • Make it a nonnegotiable in order to persevere
  • Start this way
  • Lead together
  • Submit to one another
  • Rejoice in the King of kings and Lord of lords who had made all the peoples of the earth and is calling some from every tribe to be a kingdom of priests to declare his glory among the nations forever and ever amen.

May the Lord give us his grace as he builds his church out of the peoples of this world. And if you have the joy and privilege of being one new people together on earth as it will be in heaven; rejoice all the more! 

Resources for Multiethnic and Transcultural Leadership

Note: Each of these works and authors brings a particular perspective, terminology and approach to ministry. Read them for their unique perspective and help as you humbly learn and hope for ministry in a new way.