Monday, March 25, 2019

Southlands 2018 Annual Report and 2019 Vision




Dear Southlanders, 

This past Sunday night we had our annual members' meeting, which was honestly one of the highlights of our 11 years at Southlands thus far. I wanted to communicate in writing to the congregation at large about our annual financial report and also about  what I spoke to our members regarding our vision. There are some significant changes on the horizon and I wanted to fill you in on these against the backdrop of the gracious provision and growth God has given to our church. Of course, something of the tone and tenor of the night will be lost  from microphone to page, but I do feel that you will benefit from reading the essence of what I communicated if you were not there. If you were there, you may also find it helpful to be able to reflect on what you heard.


A Call to Multiplying Faith

Hebrews 11: 8-12 "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. And so did Isaac and Jacob who inherited the promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations whose architect and builder was God. It was by faith that even Sarah was able to bear a child, though she was barren and too old. She believed that God would keep his promise. And so, a whole nation came from this one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable sand on the seashore.

It is remarkable to see God's generous provision to this church and it is against the backdrop of this provision that I want to cast an expanded vision. I want to invite us to do two things at this time.  First, I want to invite us to look up like Abraham, and see the stars of heaven. We are part of the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham. We are those descendants, those stars! But God has also promised stars to us. I want us to catch something of God's expansive promise to us as Abraham's children. Second, I want us to be willing to take a step toward risk in the light of this expansive promise to us, because faith has an ongoing appetite for risk.

Terry Virgo unpacked the above passage as follows: “When Abraham was called he obeyed by going out from his secure home to receive an inheritance, though he did not know where he was going. There were no well-worn paths ahead of him and he was the father of all who believed. It seems that static familiarity can constitute danger for the Christian pilgrim. A well-worn track can easily become a rut. God wants us stable in doctrine but mobile in practice." 

God wants us stable in doctrine, even stable in our disciplines, but mobile in practice. Thank you all for your amazing stability in doctrine and in the disciplines of fellowship, serving and giving. You are like ballast in the the boat of this church. Your faithful sacrifice keeps us buoyant and upright. We could not do this without you. But here we see a call, not just to stability, but to mobility. Faith does not have an aversion to risky mobility. It refuses to settle. Faith knows the difference between being established and becoming establishment. Abraham and his sons continued to live in tents. These last 5 years have required much risk but it has been greatly rewarded by God. It is easy to lose our appetite for it. But God is calling us to pull up the tent pegs, embrace uncertainty and set off on pilgrimage again, particularly around our vision to be a multiplying church.


A Vision to Multiply Points of Light in the Southland

25 years ago God spoke to Jesse Mason about a vision to multiply points of light in the Southlands*. Some of you who are still here remember when Jesse began to cast this vision around 2002. This conviction precipitated a call to Chris Wienand to help the church to raise up leaders and send them out. In 1996 Chris and Meryl Wienand moved to Christian Chapel of Walnut to take the helm of leadership. Largely because of Jesse's vision, Chris named the church Southlands Church. The church multiplied 12 times in 14 years under Chris’s watch which is remarkable. In 2010 when we were called to lead the church,  we pushed pause in multiplication to give ourselves to strengthening pastoral, missional and financial health in the church. My mantra was, "We need to win both home games and away games." This remains my conviction to this day.  

In 2012, just before Jesse passed away, he sent me a brief email. “Dear Alan, Ever since the Lord spoke to me about the church multiplying points of light in the Southland, it was like all hell broke loose against us. The church has been in battle ever since. But this morning I woke early and was impressed upon by the Lord to write to you and tell you, 'From this day on it will be easier.'” 

This email was a catalyst for us to return to a multiplying call. It has certainly not been easy. In fact it has been costly for us all.  But God’s grace has been so clearly  upon us as we multiplied 4 times in 4 years. The last year has been about strengthening what has been planted and finding a sustainable rhythm of multiplying from health.  Part of our strengthening season has been an expansion of this vision. What would it look like to multiply points of light all over the Southland where not all the multiplication can come from us? We have begun to expand our vision to include strengthening of existing lights as we develop strategic partnerships with like-minded, like-hearted churches.

A Gospel Constellation in the Southland 

I was watching a documentary on Marfa, Texas this past week, where the sky is so clear that at night you don’t just see the stars. You see a whole constellation of stars and planets of differing size and proximity and brightness. I believe God wants to multiply a gospel constellation through us in the Southland – an array of lights that are inter-connected.

If Southlands multi-site congregations represent one kind of light in the constellation, I want us to expand our vision to see two other kinds of light in our constellation. One might be called Advance Lights, which refer to our partnership with the other Advance churches in our region  and Kingdom Lights, which refers to our strategic partnership with other churches that are not part of Advance not Southlands, particularly churches in the Manna forum.

Let me repeat the array of lights in the constellation. 

Southlands-Lights – Continuing to plant and strengthen Southlands multi-site congregations
Advance-Lights –  Planting and strengthening Advance partner churches in our region
Kingdom-Lights – Strengthening Churches beyond our network with whom we have a kingdom alliance, especially Manna churches.

This is not about ownership. This is about partnership for the sake of a bigger, brighter constellation, to see darkness pushed back and the light of Christ shining brighter in this beautiful and broken region that we call the Southland. It takes a region-wide church to win a region-wide war. The largeness of the vision requires a loosening of partnership on some levels for greater reach.  We are so serious about an expanded vision of multiplication, that we are making some significant changes as we move forwards.

 Key Changes on the Horizon

A. Empowered Local Eldership Teams 
A new administration for Southlands-lights with four eldership teams led by a Directional Team and served by a Central Services Team. This will enable congregations to give their primary focus to their local pastoral care and mission while still remaining vitally connected  to the whole. 

B. Manna Church Investment  Since last year, this has been the biggest change in our multiplication journey. We are now working with 20 churches across the Southland, investing in their mercy and justice initiatives and training their leaders. Some of these churches may become Advance-Lights or even Southlands-Lights in the future, but this is not the motive for our investment.

C. West Coast Advance Hub There are currently 5 advance partner churches in our region with 2 expressing a desire to step into partnership and multiple churches looking in.

D. Sending the Santiago’s to DC to join Monument Church and for Erik to take up a role as Executive Director of Advance Global

Erik and Celeste have been with us for 11 years. For 8 of those years, Erik has served and led in the role of Executive Pastor. He has been fundamental in building the infrastructure of Southlands. He will now take what he has learned and invested and bring it to our Advance Global story. Celeste has been dynamic in worship leading, in design and in our anti-human trafficking initiatives. They have both brought energy and excellence to Alpha, to our creative events and to our gatherings in preaching and worship leading. They will lend these gifts to the establishing of Monument Church and the growth of Advance as  movement. There remains a revolving door in our church – of gospel goodbyes and gospel hellos. This is sad, but this is normal, healthy New Testament Christianity.

E. Commissioning Southlands Fullerton as an autonomous Advance partner church in September

Nick and Karin have served Southlands since 2002 with exemplary sacrifice, conviction and care. Their congregation has grown in stature, and Nick has also grown in capacity and conviction as a leader. He is, as it were, a leader who needs to sit at the head of his own table, and we believe that he and his team will flourish with a more full expression of autonomy. It will also benefit Advance to have another small to medium sized autonomous church, as the churches we are working with are all small. We will continue to work closely together as friends and partners in Advance. This is a year-long process, which h was decided in October and which will launch in September. It is gradual, gracious and celebrated. If we only think in terms of Southlands-lights we will see it as a loss. If we think in terms of Advance-lights, we may lament the loss at one level but we will see it as a kingdom win. 

These are all significant and costly changes, but imagine what the next ten years could look like as we join Jesus on his mission to the Southland?  We are not fixing a specific number that we are targeting, but for a moment try and imagine 3 Southlands congregations,  plus 7 Advance partner churches,  plus 20 Manna churches. That is already 30 lights in the Southland with whom we share a close partnership.  At this rate and by God's grace, we could be in meaningful partnership with another 100  gospel lights in our region over the  next ten years. Can we look up and see a gospel constellation forming in the Southland by God's grace? 

Our Next Steps

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”We don’t see the whole staircase but we want to callus all to take some next steps in our multiplying future.

a. Let's pray for Fullerton as they prepare and plan for their launch. 
b. Let's embrace our identity as a multiplying church. This is us. It is costly, but it is vital and it is Biblical. Even if you are passionate about specific ministries like Camp Agape or Rancho Hermosa or prison ministry or children’s ministry or youth or worship, let's approach them from the unique angle of being a multiplying church. God’s grace is on us in a unique way in this regard.  
c. Let's continue to give and train and pray towards multiplication.


Pre-emptive answers to possible Questions

a. How do we ensure that this vision for a Gospel Constellation in the Southland does not diminish pastoral health in the church, particularly with the time it will demand from Alan? 

The multiplying of the team of elders into four congregational elder teams means that the majority of our elders' time and energy will be spent shepherding their local flocks.We are intent on holding the healthy tension between mission and pastoral care. At Brea we have purposefully added extra pastoral staff in Kirk Randolph returning full-time and JD Senkbile being employed full-time to ensure pastoral care and discipleship go from strength to strength amidst a vision for multiplication. Together with Joel Baker and Ryan Macdonald and 6 other market place elders and wives at Brea and approximately 40 deacons, we have never been better furnished with pastoral care than we are now. While Alan and Rynelle still carry a significant pastoral burden at Brea, their primary role is to care for and develop the large group of leaders God has entrusted to at Brea and the other Southlands congregations. 

b. If Southlands Fullerton is becoming autonomous, what does that mean for the other Southlands congregations in the future?

While we celebrate what God is doing in the commissioning of Southlands Fullerton as an autonomous church, we do not want to assume that this move sets a precedent for all Southlands congregations in the future. While we acknowledge that autonomy for other congregations is possible in the future, we do not see it as inevitable. In the mean time, the remaining three congregations are committed to working closely together for the next three years, with the possibility of other Southlands congregations being added during that time. At the three year mark, we will re-assess the effectiveness of our gospel partnership again with the help of external wisdom in the Advance network to see if our administration needs to loosen further or continue as is. This is a journey of committed faithfulness in the midst of  uncertainty.


2018 Annual Report 
Here is a link to our membership stats, income and expenditure.
2018 Annual Financial and Member Report

I do hope this extensive unpacking of our next steps has been helpful to you. We thank God for the vital part you play in our church. God has given us an expansive promise and gracious provision for that promise. Let's be those who inherit it through faith and patience together. 

with gratitude in Christ for you,

Alan



*The Southland is the colloquial term for Southern California(SoCal), a region comprising 10 counties with a total population of just under 23 million people.  





Monday, March 11, 2019

Late-term Abortion and the Call to Adoption : a guest post by Ryan Macdonald

As New York and now Virginia nail their colors to the mast around late-term abortions, many pro-life advocates have wrestled with a real sense of defeat, anger and sadness at the thought of more unborn children losing their lives. And as the topic of abortion yet again takes center stage in our nation's rhetoric and news outlets, we are reminded that this is a major problem in our country. It is estimated that in 2016, roughly 880,000 abortions were performed in the United States. For context, if abortion was classified as a death by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it would have been the leading cause of death in the United States by a landslide. 

We need to pause for a moment and feel the weight of these statistics. They are not just numbers. They are people. They are humans who were deprived their right to life. Life that God created and life that God intended. If we truly believe it is wrong to take someone’s life and that abortion intentionally ends human life, we must speak up for arguably the most marginalized and voiceless population of our society, the unborn. After all, God calls us to be a defender of the defenseless, a voice for the voiceless. 

But how? How do we speak up? What can we do to help advocate for the lives of these precious, made in the image of God, unborn children? Well for starters…

We need to choose to do something 
If human life truly hangs in the balance, the church must do something. Gregg Cunningham, director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, highlights this reality starkly when he writes, “there are more people working full-time to kill babies than there are working full-time to save them.”  We need to change this. We need to enlist kingdom workers who are going to push back against the cultural narratives and popular opinions that are resulting in the death of tens of thousands of children. 

We need to study and know the arguments
The strong and direct tethering of women’s rights to the issue of abortion was a clever and detrimental move to the “pro-life” cause. The conversation is almost entirely framed around the mother. Listen to how the National Abortion Federation describes the outcome of Roe vs. Wade (the ruling that made abortion legal in 1973): “after hearing the case, the Supreme Court ruled that Americans’ right to privacy included the right of a woman to decide whether to have children, and the right of a woman and her doctor to make that decision without state interference.” 

The way the conversation is framed by “pro-choice” advocates makes the mother the center of the issue. The life or death of the child is in the distant background. The problem with this argument is that the “pro-life” cause is not at all interested in attacking women’s rights and does not seek to dictate whether or how a woman conceives a child. It is simply interested in protecting basic human rights–and nothing is more basic than the right to live–once a human has been conceived. 

We need to find compassion for mothers of crisis/unwanted pregnancies 
It is at this point I believe the religious community (as a whole) has at times done more harm than good. We have yelled in hate and anger at women walking into Planned Parenthood (most of them going for reasons other than abortion). We have bought into the political rhetoric of an us vs. them mentality; speaking louder about the side of the aisle we sit on than the God of love and forgiveness we serve. And worst of all, just like the Pharisees, we have been unwilling to lift a finger to help with the great and enormous burden we leave with the mothers of these crisis pregnancies. 

If we really want to bring the life and love of Jesus to the issue of abortion, we need to stop acting like our role is to condemn these women (made in the image and likeness of God!) who find themselves so lost, scared and hopeless that they believe the best choice they can make is to terminate their pregnancy. 

I personally know how hard it can be to find compassion for the mothers of crisis pregnancies. On February 1st, 2019 my wife Stacie and I adopted our 18 month old foster daughter Nora Grace. It was one of the best days of my life! We met her in the NICU (newborn intensive care unit) when she was only 8 days old and have been her parents ever since. 

Nora entered the child welfare system because her mother was unable to provide a safe environment for her to be raised in. I do not know Nora’s biological mom’s full story, but I do know that she was a victim of abuse. I know that her life has been full of trauma, pain, death and addiction. I am tempted at times to be angry at Nora’s biological mother for the choices she made that harmed my daughter, but I always come back to the reality that she chose to continue with the pregnancy in the midst of terrible circumstances and great pressure to get an abortion. 

If I ever get the privilege of meeting her, the first thing I will do is thank her for having the courage to carry and deliver my daughter, it has changed my life and I can't imagine my world without her. She chose life for my daughter and for that I will be eternally grateful. 

Let’s choose today be “pro-life” not just for the unborn children, but for the mothers of crisis pregnancies! Let’s be willing and prepared to come around these moms not in hate and protest, but in compassion and love. Let’s be ready not just to preserve life, but to lead people to a place of flourishing. Below are 6 practical ways you can help. 

It is estimated that 4 out of 10 women who have abortions are actively attending church. If we are part of a faith community (especially in leadership), we need to make sure our churches are safe and welcoming to those exploring abortion. 
Many mothers of crisis/unwanted pregnancies will visit an adoption agency to explore their options. Some of these moms are living below the poverty line. You can support them financially by donating gift cards (ie. Target, Visa or for gas and groceries) to adoption agencies (like Bethany in La Mirada, Ca).
You can educate yourself and possibly train others  to support moms considering abortion with a curriculum like Making Life Disciples.
You can volunteer as a mentor of teen moms with orginiations like Younglives. 
You can become a lay counselor at a pro-life pregnancy center (like Living Well in Orange, Calif).
You can provide a home to safely surrendered children by becoming a foster and adoptive parent. Several children in foster care are there because of the bravery and love of a biological mother who chose life for their child. 

No matter how you help, do something, and do it with a clear head and a heart full of compassion.  

Monday, February 4, 2019

Planting Tumbleweed: Becoming a Multiplying Church in a Transient Culture



I was 18 when I first came to California. It was 1990. Mullets, bomber jackets, parachute pants and MC Hammer were in. I was part of a touring party of musicians and actors who performed around the theme of racial  reconciliation. It was the year Nelson Mandela was released from prison. South Africa was trying hard to shed its Apartheid past and we felt that we had a story to tell the world. We performed in schools and colleges and churches in five states around the USA. One of those states was California. 
On a day off between tour dates our hosts took us to Muir Woods outside San Francisco to walk amongst the giant Redwoods. I’m not sure whether it was the majesty of the trees or the Michael W. Smith song, “Place in this World,” playing on my new Sony Walkman, but God met me on that day in those Redwoods. I came back to our bus convinced He had called me to live and preach the gospel in California. I had no clue what that meant at the time. We hadn’t stayed in San Francisco or visited LA yet. In fact, the only place we’d stayed was Fresno, of all places. We hadn’t done the tourist thing in Hollywood, Disney, Napa or Malibu. But I was so convinced by the call that when I returned from our five-state tour I told my new girlfriend that if we got married she’d have to get her passport in order, because we were going to live in California one day. It’s hard to explain, but in strange ways my call felt as much to California as it did to the USA.
It was 17 years and many visits later before my family and I moved in to 542 North Hale Avenue, in Fullerton, California on December 30th, 2007. God was faithful to His call. Thankfully, my girlfriend back then did get her passport and has been my wife of 25 years. We honestly love California’s beauty, diversity, climate and influence in the world. We feel privileged to live here.  
But nothing could have prepared us for what I call Californian transience. At best, it expresses itself in a refusal to settle for status quo. It is always exploring new ideas, new trends, new tastes, new sounds, new sights and new technology. It is relentless in its quest for innovation. At worst, California transience resists commitment, idolizes individual freedom and is notoriously flaky at keeping promises. It simply refuses to be pinned down.
John Steinbeck, a California native who grew up in Salinas, described Californian transience this way: “When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch… Nothing has worked… When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from here seems broad and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going.”  
I have found no description of California transience more poignant than Steinbeck’s. The urge to be someplace else. An incurable virus of restlessness. Of course, the urge to be someplace else is amplified by astronomical housing prices, questionable taxes and crazy traffic. While many love the liberal morality, others are deeply troubled by what it means to raise children in a culture where the pursuit of uninhibited autonomy is idolized only after the pursuit of celebrity. Even with all its beauty, prosperity and warm weather, Californians often resent living in California. They often feel drawn to cheaper, quieter, more traditional places, where the moral fabric has not yet unraveled. Add to these factors a divorce rate that is close to 70 percent and you have a culture that appears to be coming apart at the seams.
 Californian transience makes building community an extremely taxing pursuit. Honestly, leading a church in California can be like planting tumbleweed. The moment you think someone is putting roots down, they just roll on down the road to a new job, a new town, a new church or just a new adventure. The temptation can be to cling feverishly to every single person who is rooted and committed because they’re such a rare breed. Sending your best can feel like you’re intentionally trying to kill your church! It’s hard enough to build a connected community, so why would anyone want to break it up through multiplication? I suppose it is because Jesus is building His church, and His building ways are not ours. But there are times when I still have my doubts.

One of the ways I see transience at work in multiplication is when people decide to leave at the same time as a church is sending. It never fails to surprise me that as you send a team out, gearing up to fill the gaps they leave, folk who felt left behind come and tell you that they also feel like God is moving them on to another church. It seems to happen every single time. At the same time as some are sent, others just went!  On one level, I can empathize. It’s unsettling having to say goodbye to your friends and some of your favorite leaders. But the truth is, when people just up and leave after others are sent, it impedes the health and momentum of the sending church. It’s clumsy and painful, like death by a thousand paper cuts. And it seems completely normal in a state where Christians change churches on average once every three years. 

Thankfully though, the California spirit is not simply about restlessness for the next new place. It’s also about restlessness for the next new thing, which can be channeled towards multiplication, with some wisdom. Californians are pioneers by design, hard-wired to cross frontiers through innovation. Whether it be Walt Disney, Aimee Semple McPherson, Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, California has produced incredible innovators and entrepreneurs who defied the status quo with their vision of a new world. For them and countless others, change is a constant and progress a relentless pursuit. This is a magnificent cultural trait. Some would say I live in the most innovative and influential place in the world.
This frontier spirit can be a remarkable benefit for a multiplying church. Some of our members have been part of three different church plants on two continents. Each time they have served the church and the city where they were planted with humility and sacrifice. They have found ways to earn a living through starting new businesses. They’ve paid their own way to be part of these new communities. They’ve lived in different homes, learned new languages and eaten strange foods. They’ve learned new social customs in order to befriend new neighbors. They’ve transferred ministry skills to new cultures. I think this is what it means to come to grips with the California spirit and harness it for the gospel’s sake. Chances are, people from more conservative states would not be as willing to innovate and embark on new adventures in the same way. It’s why I love where I live and lead. 

You may live and lead in California like me. Or you may not live here, but you may be lamenting your own tumbleweed culture. Whatever the case, I urge you to keep fighting for a covenant community with sacred rhythms and deep roots. I also plead with you to allow the tumbleweed to keep rolling on down the road at times, to be planted in another city or town for God’s glory.
What is impossible with man is possible with God. 

(Excerpt from my upcoming book, "Broken for Blessing: memoirs of a medium-sized multiplying church")