Now and then I take an opportunity on my blog to provide an update on the mission of the ACT3 Network, a ministry I began in 1991. For those who read my ACT3 Weekly (email) our news comes to you each week in the form of announcements, reflections and personal prayer requests. I encourage you to sign up for the ACT3 Weekly at www.act3network.com. When you sign up you can also download a free PDF of my book, The Unity Factor (Christian’s Library Press, 2010). If you want to connect with ACT3, and pray for me, then please get this ACT3 Weekly.
The next few days I will share more about the recent past, and pressing vision, of ACT3 – thus a survey of where we’ve been and where, in God’s kindness and grace, we seem to be going by faith. The single most common visual image that comes to my mind when I think of ACT3 Network is that of “bridge building” with many others for work of the kingdom of God in mission.
First, where we’ve been in our history since 1991. On the last Sunday of my twenty-years of pastoral ministry, in May of 1992, I was preaching from the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel. I had been consecutively, verse-by-verse, going through the fourth Gospel for several years. I was unprepared for what God was going to do in my own heart with that sermon. There began, during those last days of pastoral labor, a work of grace I had no idea was coming. God opened my heart and mind to the prayer of our Lord for the unity of all his flock through sermon preparation. About two years later, worshiping in a local Wheaton church, I was saying the Apostle’s Creed and the words – “I believe . . . in one, holy, catholic church” – struck me like a spiritual thunderbolt. I wept and prayed. I tell people, “Have you ever seen a grown man weep at the end of saying the creed?” I knew, deep within, that I had been called to a whole new mission that day. It took me almost five more years to grasp what all this meant and how I should obey the Lord’s call upon my life. (I was pretty slow to respond knowing, quite fearfully I confess, that the cost would be very high!) Over time I called the vision that I believe God gave to me: “missional-ecumenism.” I knew that both of these words had negative emotional connotations for some but I felt strongly my role was to use the words and teach from them what I saw in Scripture and ancient tradition. I also knew the power of these two words when they were put together in a dynamic way. By 2000 I was sharing this new ancient-future faith message openly. The public response was, generally speaking, overwhelmingly negative. But this would only be the first stage of a whole new life’s mission I simply could not have anticipated at the time. The Lord was in control of the direction of my life and the outcome was in his purpose and plan alone.
The decade between 2000-2010 was extremely difficult. My health was in the tank. I had been diagnosed in 1999 with what is called Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. At the same time our monetary support was in free-fall mode. We closed an office, laid off all but two of our staff and hunkered down to see what the Lord would provide. I had experienced a dream (on two occasions in different forms) in which I was assured that I would go into the desert for a long time. I also “saw” that in his time God would call me back into public ministry and that when he did I would be astounded at what he would do overnight. This dream was confirmed several times and, by God’s loving grace alone, we kept serving and praying as we waited. We almost ran out of money. We cut salaries and expenses dramatically. And when the recession began in 2008 we struggled with debt to manage. It was also in 2008 that Anita urged me to “tell my story” in my own words since others had been telling it incorrectly for nearly a decade. She also said (in effect), “It is time to tell everyone you can what God gave you to teach so that you can empower other leaders and ministries in the best way possible.” I began writing but my heart struggled with the work. The result was: Your Church Is Too Small (Zondervan, 2010). I was quite sure this book would never be a best-seller. I was proven to be right. I also believed that God would use the book to change my life and the direction of this ministry. It has been in print for three-plus years. I am continually amazed to meet people, both in the United States and around the world, who say that this book was how they came to know me, to read my teaching on missional-ecumenism and to learn of this vision of the future.
In 2011 things began to quickly and powerfully move in the direction the Lord had revealed to me back in the 1990s. Many of you know that I received an invitation to go to Rome for ten days in 2011. I met with leaders in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Unity, professors at Vatican universities who teach ecumenical theology, Protestant leaders who network with the Vatican and a number of friends who wanted to get to know me personally. In the summer of 2011 a friend gave a copy of Your Church Is Too Small to Francis Cardinal George, the archbishop of Chicago. After he read it he wrote and asked me to meet him in his residence in Chicago. I proposed to him, the day that we met, that we hold a public conversation on my book at Wheaton College, which we did on Monday, March 26, 2012. (This video is available on our home page at www.act3network.com.) By this time one amazing door after another began to open to me. I was asked to teach and promote missional-ecumenism, to build bridges for Christian unity, to meet with leaders (both lay and clerical) and to write more widely than I had ever written and published before. Both the academic, and the non-academic, world of leaders opened up to my mission very widely. From March 2012 to the present I have said that God’s word to me in the 1990s has proven true: “I will do something that you can never take one iota of credit for John. You will clearly know that it was the Lord who opened this up to you and gave you such great blessing in making it happen.”
So the last three years have been the most fruitful ministry years in my entire life. My life really did begin, in a whole new way, after age 60. (I was born on March 1, 1949.)
During this same time our financial debts remained, nagging at my mind day-in and day-out. Further, my energy was still very limited because of my lingering, daily battles with CFIDS. In my flesh I wanted to retire but in my spirit I knew more was coming and God would do wonders for me, and this mission, in his own time. I entered more deeply into the realm of spiritual formation and personal meditation and learned from experience the fruit of waiting on the Lord, something that I am not temperamentally wired to do.
On January 1 of this year (2013) we paid off our last debt. I was also in the first half of a nine-month life-changing alteration in my personal lifestyle. I was learning how to eat and how to take care of my body. By June I had reached my best weight in forty years. My physician examined me, and included some very extensive blood work. He said, “John, this is amazing. You have the numbers of a healthy man who is in his 20s or 30s, not those of a 64-year old man.” We rejoiced and prayed together. While the CFIDS is not entirely gone I hardly notice the impact of it most of the time. I have more strength than I knew at 49 years of age when this battle began. Perhaps I am totally well. I think most of my tiredness these days is simply the result of being 64, not from being sick. I have learned not to push myself but to work with more rest and more exercise and prayer. (For example, I am walking 5-7 miles most days and use these 80-90 minutes to pray more faithfully than ever before. This has had a magnificent impact on my life.)
As I noted my book Your Church Is Too Small has opened many doors. Just last week I had dinner with a young leader, from out-of-state, who told me that he had read the book twice. As we talked he shared his vision for his great city. His words blew me away. He wants to take what I’ve written and put it into practice, with a clear vision and good sense about what he is doing and why. His clear plan for how he wants to pursue a working model of unity in mission astounds me. He wants ACT3 to partner with him in some way to be determined. We want to see how all of this will work within our ACT3 Network “Resourced Partners” relationship. (If this idea of partnering intrigues you then please read about it at www.act3network.com.) This story leads me to write, in tomorrow’s blog, about where we believe the ACT3 Network will be going in the next few years. Keep praying, please.