I am often asked, “When and how did you first get the idea to launch a mission like ACT3?” I could go back to my childhood, at least on one level, but I think the most accurate answer is to go back to the year 1981. That was the year I began what we called: “The Whitefield Ministerial Fellowship.” This was a monthly gathering of pastors that I started in my local church in Wheaton. From an original twelve who attended the first gathering the group grew. We eventually had three fellowships running throughout the Chicagoland area. In 1991 I began Reformation & Revival Ministries with a board of four members. This ministry grew out of those Whitefield Fellowships. The new ministry was started in order to publish a quarterly journal on the twin themes we carried in the name of the new mission: reformation and revival. These two themes were the titles of the first two addresses given to the original Whitefield Fellowship in 1981.
One of the greatest joys of those early Whitefield Fellowships was meeting pastors and lay church leaders from various backgrounds. Through these meetings I was allowed to develop deep and growing friendships. I was eventually invited to share with church leaders in a variety of settings and soon discovered just how deep and wide my love for the whole church had become. When the quarterly journal was first published, in early 1992, I realized that writing, teaching and mentoring were my greatest strengths. I felt a profound desire growing inside of me to build bridges and impact leaders for the mission of Christ and his kingdom. During the early years of this new ministry my closest allies were among conservative Reformed (and at times restless) leaders and ministries who were experiencing considerable growth in the church in America. This led to my being asked to speak at large conferences and to preach at many churches and major Christian events. As I wrote on Monday I was also working out the ramifications of my vision the Lord gave me from John 17:21-23. Outwardly I was thrilled to be preaching and writing more widely than ever but inwardly I was restless to talk about the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” church that I so deeply believed in at that point in time. Working out the paradigm of this ongoing change in perspective about John 17 would be “the” tipping point, both for me and for ACT3. (The name of the ministry was later changed to better reflect the direction that we were taking as I shared the vision of John 17:21-23 from 1998 to the present.)
During the first ten years of this ministry I knew that a clear focus on unity would lead me to mentor younger leaders. I was not sure how this would happen but I became increasingly sure that it would happen, at least in God’s time. When I began to teach evangelism, as an adjunct professor, at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, I realized afresh the power of teaching and influencing young minds. This confirmed what I had believed about my own gifts and calling. At this point many opportunities were opened up to me to move away from this ministry but God made it exceedingly clear to me again and again that I was in this work for the long haul. I had been called to mentor leaders for unity in Christ’s mission. By 2000 this is what I had determined to do for the remainder of my life. I have not once looked back since 1998 with any sense of regret.
What does this mean for the future?
- I will continue to teach and facilitate the ACT3 Missional-Ecumenical Cohort groups. These are groups of 12-25 leaders, including lay and pastoral men and women. We have taught 35 students since 2012. This fall I hope to attract 12-25 students into a new group that begins on October 28 in Carol Stream. Several have already applied and others are in the process of prayerfully deciding. This cohort meets will be meeting on four Mondays: October 28, 2013, and then January 13, March 17 and May 19, 2014. Participants read about 1,500 pages, interact with one another in various ways, listen to guests teach and share with me in developing their own (personal) vision of unity in Christ’s mission, or what I call missional-ecumenism. If you go to the ACT3 website you will find information about this new cohort group. You can apply to be a part of the next one online.
- I will also continue to lead our Unity Factor Forums in cities across America. I have done four of these Saturday events this year and have two more coming soon: September 21 in Aurora, Illinois, and October 5 in Charlotte, North Carolina. These meetings allow people to “taste” an experience of unity and to live in this story for part of a day. The goal is to impact a life so powerfully that people will begin to actively pursue mission in unity with the whole catholic church in their city or town. Again, these events are listed on our home page and you can sign up for one there as well. If you would like to host such an event in your area please let me know and we will talk about how to do this as God leads us both.
- I will maintain my growing personal relationships with Gen X and Millennial leaders. There are a number of ways in which I do this but primarily it comes down to sharing meals and coffee with friends and being as open as possible with those who are brought to me by the Spirit through various means, a primary one being the social media. Some of you who are reading this blog “discovered” me in this way and then we became friends. This friendship has, to my mind, a distinct kingdom purpose. As we walk together we learn to love and serve Christ’s people in shared love. I want to live out this vision person-to-person.
- I serve on the board of the Chicago Bible Society and hope to continue to do so for a few more years. Here I am able to work with a ministry to the whole church in getting the power of Scripture into places where one church or person cannot go. I am also open to serving in similar ecumenical contexts as the Lord guides me.
- I will be investing a good bit of time working with city-changers. These are people who are focused on building ministry models that stress unity while reaching the youngest adults in our culture as well as non-white multi-ethnic populations. This is the future of the church in North America. I want to devote my remaining years to making a direct contribution to unity in mission among these who represent this future.
In the last few weeks I have had several unusual meetings that seem to have been orchestrated by God. One was with the director of a major conference center who shares my vision of mission deeply. We are both considering how ACT3, and this conference center, could partner together in empowering young leaders. I have also spent time, as I mentioned on Monday, with a young leader who hopes to build a city ministry of churches and ministries that are committed to collaborating as true partners in ministry, not as competitors who promote their own brands and programs. I cannot say much more right now but this might open a door for ACT3 that I had no idea would open even a month ago. It is still too soon to say more than to ask for your prayers while we at ACT3 wait on the Lord to guide us. Pray for our next board meeting, on August 25th.