Hugh Halter serves as national director of Missio, an apprenticing network for the missional movement. Along with co-director Matt Smay and the rest of the team, Hugh works through Missio to provide leadership, training, and resources to church planters and leaders with the goal of engaging missional living as a movement. Within Missio, Hugh co-directs the MCAP, an online collaborative training environment for incarnational leaders, pastors, and church planters. He is also lead architect of Adullum, a local movement of incarnational communities in Denver, CO.
Earlier this year, Hugh and Matt co-authored AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, which laid out their vision for incarnational community. Now, Missio has released The Tangible Kingdom Primer, an eight-week guide for small groups, combining spiritual formation with missional living. I am excited about this resource and glad to have Hugh here at the blog to talk about it.
Ed Stetzer: Hugh, the first and most obvious question is why did you and Matt decide to write The TK Primer?
Hugh Halter: The need came from speaking extensively with pastors who deeply desire to see their congregation live out their missional calling but who at the same time don’t quite know how to lead the movement forward. Most pastors are tired of trying to motivate through programs, so we decided to create a resource that would essentially de-program churches while moving people into the missional life. We knew it would be helpful on a small scale as well as to our own church, but we never thought it would become the phenomenon it is turning into.
ES: What is unique about this resource versus other small group resources?
HH: From our perspective, what’s unique is that it combines two aspects of our Christian life that seem to always be miles apart. Those aspects are spiritual formation and missional living. We intentionally decided to bring the two together as we reframe discipleship or disciple making as actually going with Jesus. In other words, we believe you can’t really grow deeply with God unless you struggle through living like Jesus lived. Most small group materials teach you concepts about Jesus, but The TK Primer makes you live it.
ES: Your system of training moves beyond just trying to get people into small groups. What’s the difference between what you call “incarnational communities” and what others experience in typical small groups?
HH: Ed, this is the most often asked question, so let me give it a shot.
In our book just released, AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church, we give the missiological differences, but here’s the bottom line. Church gatherings are “first-decision” environments. That is a person need only decide to be a God believer to come to the church. Likewise, small groups are first decision environments where the living room is full of people who believe in God and want to grow in their devotion, knowledge of God, and deepen their friendships. It’s all good stuff and part of any good church. But one need only be self-oriented to participate.
But a missional/incarnational community is a “second-decision” environment where the first decisions are made, but they add a second intentionality of living the life of Jesus, especially to those outside who haven’t made the first decision yet.
ES: What should people expect to have happen if they go through the entire 8-week experience?
HH: The biggest thing you’ll probably notice is that the 8 weeks feel like you’re starting over with Jesus. Because we have so many stories of conversion, people often use it as evangelism training for small groups, but we actually wrote it as a spiritual formation exercise. We have found that what truly gets in the way of becoming a disciple is “individualism, consumerism, and materialism.” Everyone says they would love to live missionally BUT, BUT, BUT, and then we get a list of all the reasons we don’t. In actuality, all the aforementioned “isms” are rooted in sin, and Galatians teaches that the ways of the flesh are in direct opposition to the ways of the spirit, and you end up not doing what you want. We’ve learned, therefore, that you can preach missional living all you want and call people to be disciples, but it goes absolutely nowhere unless you create a spiritual formation pathway that actually challenges our self orientation. The Primer does this.
On the first week, the action day is simple yet profound. We ask people to cross their streets and cross their fenced. One e-mail was from a pastor who said, “I can’t believe how hard it was for me to do this simple task of obedience.” He realized that to cross his fence meant he’d have to apologize to a neighbor he had had a long-standing feud with. By pressing through, knocking on the man’s door, and apologizing, he got asked in for a glass of ice tea, the men reconciled, and he said as he walked home after a two hour conversation, “That was the first time in 20 years of professional ministry that I actually felt like I was following Jesus. It was the most spiritually transformative day of my life.”
This is what The Primer does. It actually creates small baby steps into the actual life of Jesus, and yes, cool things happen evangelistically as they should when we behave like Him, but the 8-week journey is designed to grab someone’s spiritual heart again.
ES: Who’s been using The Primer, and what are some results that will encourage our readers?
By just word of mouth, we’ve had to print 30,000 copies. We initially used them in training church planters as a way to prepare their core group. But most are existing churches that want to see the “second-decision” Christianity begin to win out over the first decision consumerism. Some notable mega churches that have used them by the thousands are Austin Stone in Austin, Hill Country Bible Church, Rock Harbor in San Diego, and the rest are churches of every size and denominational background. One lady in rural Iowa began a few TK groups and within two years, they now have a church with over 400 people! College ministries are using it as basic missionary training; hundreds of house church practitioners have jumped in.
ES: What’s the best way to get started?
HH: To get started, we recommend that you go to our Missio site at www.missio.us. Once inside, click on “training,” then register, and you’ll have quick and FREE access to four videos and an “incarnational community facts sheet.” The videos will help you sell the vision and recruit friends to go through The Primer with. Once you have your initial band of would-be missionaries ready to go, simply begin walking through the 8-week Primer. The resource is plug and play in that we help set up your experience in the front of the journal and then guide you day by day into personal reflection, action experiences, and community formation. At the end, we also help you know how to keep going intuitively as a lifestyle as opposed to a program.
ES: One final question — what do you hope happens as a result of thousands of people using this tool?
HH: Essentially, we want The Primer to go viral because if true missionally incarnational communities spring up in every neighborhood, the gospel will become tangible, God’s kingdom will be seen, church will start to make sense again, and Christians will find their hearts again. That would be good enough for us!
Ed, by the way, thanks for writing the foreword to our latest book AND: The Gathered & Scattered Church. Your leadership on the missional issues of the church is helping thousands!