Stepping Stones RSS http://stepping-stones.nl/ en-us RSS feed Stepping Stones <![CDATA[Connecting the dots]]> mvandens@hotmail.com (Mark van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/connecting-the-dots
Often we do two of the above relationships quite easily. For example, we pray, worship or do bible study (UP) and participating in a small group (IN). Or we're inviting christian friends for a meal (IN) and regularly doing a social activity such as helping the foodbank (OUT). However the challenge is to have a balance between all three of them. 

I'd like to share two important principles which I've learned by living in community and helped me to life a balanced life.
1. Integration - as long as we approach these relationships as an activity it will feel like doing an activity and it will be a something you need to add in your already busy agenda. The best thing to do is to integrate the UP, IN and OUT in our lives. Then it will become a lifestyle and not an extra activity. 

2. Connecting the dots - What do I mean by that? Well, in stead of approaching UP, IN and OUT as separate parts I've learned to connect them with one another. Let me give you some examples how we approach this in our community:

To start with UP and IN. To connect the UP and IN means for us to pray, listen to God and worship together in stead of on our own. We pray 4 weekdays between 7.30 and 8.00 am before we have breakfast together. On Monday and Tuesday friends of ours join us. And when someone can't join physically he or she can join via Skype. 

Connecting the IN and OUT means for us that we're not on our own in connecting with OUT relationships. When we meet (non-christian) friends we try to build relationships as a community and not as individuals. If I invite someone I can always invite that person to my place because one of our values is "your people (family or friends) are my people (family or friends)". I know that I'm not on my own in building relationships with non-christians. It is a shared responsibility.

Basically connecting the UP and IN and the IN and OUT is all about community.

And then the last one: connecting the UP and OUT. The first way how we do this as a community is by praying for each others friendships and relationships with non-christians. 
The second way is that we try to bring the supernatural into the natural by using prayer and prophecy. It's amazing how open people are for prayer. We've prayed for neighbours, taxi drivers, a plumber, a physiotherapist, our landlord, people visiting our parties and one of the guys on the football pitch. 

Reflection questions:
  • How do you balance your time between your UP, IN and OUT relationships?
  • Are you doing UP and OUT with others in community? What are the areas of growth?
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Thu, 05 May 2016 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Celebrating our differences]]> jacolien@stepping-stones.nl (Jacolien van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/celebrating-our-differences-1  

We use our Thinking or Feeling preference when we need to make a decision and take action in the world around us. This is one reason why understanding and valuing each others Thinking or Feeling preferences is vital to building rich and effective relationships, communities and work places.
So in this blog we would like to focus on some of the different strengths Thinkers and Feelers can use to benefit each other. 

So what does it mean to be a Thinker? 

Well it doesn't mean Thinkers think more than Feelers or that they don’t feel.

Thinkers experience feelings and emotions, but naturally analyse situations using logic. They don't have to decide to think about cause and effect and logic. They just do it. It's as natural as breathing. They have a nose for truth and default to treating everyone equally. Their first response is to step back and think things through rather than step in and become emotionally involved. They are always searching for the principle that can be utilised or developed in any given situation.

What is it that we celebrate about Thinkers?

As Feeler I, (Sharon) have had the privilege of living and working with a number of Thinkers. I can say I am so grateful for the clarity and stability they can bring. Since Thinkers are looking for principles or rules that will make life simpler the next time they face a decision. I have found them very helpful when I face complicated problems and need untangle the many threads. 

Because Thinkers work by these principles they can quickly put internal “rules” into place for themselves that mean they can listen patiently and with true consideration when there is a difficulty that must be discussed. Usually because of their analytical approach, they are not distracted by their own feelings regarding a situation and so it can feel that they are really engaged in my world. 

I’ve been blessed by the way they approach household disagreements. They look to analyse the problem and find a solution. It makes it easy to bring things up knowing that they will not hold a grudge but look for a solution.

On a good day I am grateful for the way Thinkers challenge me discard my own personal emotional filters. For example recently I received a very short, and in my opinion, rude, text in reply to a complaint I had made. I was ready to look for a different agent which would have caused me a great deal of stress. When I showed the text to Jacolien, she said,
 "Sharon he is entitled to disagree with you. It's not rude he just disagrees.” Whilst her response did not make me feel better or understood, her perspective saved me a great deal of unnecessary conflict and inconvenience! ”

What does it mean to be a Feeler?

Well it doesn't mean that a Feeler thinks less than a Thinker.

Feelers think as well as feel, but have a strong connection with emotions both within themselves and within others. When they are faced with a situation they automatically think about what it means for the people who are involved and for themselves. They don't have to decide to think about people and relationships. They just do it. it is as natural to them as blinking in the sunshine.

Feelers often feel the emotions they sense other people are feeling. Alternatively they will be aware of their own emotional response to the emotions of others. They enjoy bringing people together and engaging with people on a personal level. They are often warm and inclusive in their approach. They seek harmony in relationships.

What is it that we celebrate about Feelers?

So for me (Jacolien)  as a Thinker, I really see the benefit of the Feeling 'part' of my life and love to be around Feelers. They prioritise relationships and value them for their own sake, this helps me to relax and to chill out and to enjoy just being with people without thinking that I need to be doing something or achieving something useful.

There have been times when I've been feeling emotional and it has been a Feeler who has helped me to understand what I am experiencing. They often have a special ability to ask the “feeling questions “. At times like this I have appreciated the way a Feeler is genuinely interested and engaged in what I have to say about what is going on for me. This has helped me not to feel guilty and helped me not to worry that I am taking too much of their time to talk about the issue that is on my mind.

I enjoy the way that Feelers often communicate warmth, their focus on encouragement and their ability to enjoy life even when there is no visible end product. This makes living with Sharon fun. She helps us prioritise relationships before tasks and yet is encouraging and ready to champion the things that we do. A winning combination!!

Questions for reflection:

- Do you think if you are a Thinker or a Feeler? What can you celebrate about that
- Who do know who is your opposite? How can you appreciate what they bring? 
- How will you communicate that appreciation to them?]]>
Sat, 13 Feb 2016 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Integrated Life]]> mvandens@hotmail.com (Mark van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/integrated-life
Living integrated lives is what I try to do with Jacolien and our household. For me this means that I'm not living in different boxes, but to be the same person in different areas of life. It also means that we open our lives so that people really get the chance to know us. I think this is key when we are discipling people, because we influence people more by the person who we are and what we do then by the words we are speaking. Allow people into my life and spend time with me will give them the opportunity to imitate me. So bottomline we need to open up our lives and spend time with people. But everybody (including us) seems so busy. How can we find time to build discipling relationships? In this blog I'd like to share some things which are working well in our household.

Most of us need 2 or 3 meals a day, so why not eat together? I know some of you will think, yeah thanks I'm already busy and this makes it even worse. Hold on for a second. When you keep the following practical tips in mind you'll discover that inviting people for meals is less busy then you may think. 

1. Keep it simple! You don't have to impress people with your cooking skills. If the focus is on discipleship then don't focus too much on the food. Yes of course we want to have a nice meal, but it's not about the food. Choose a simple meal, which doesn't cost you a lot of time preparing. Make sure that you spend at least as much time at the table as preparing the table. Making a cooking book with easy recipes is really helpful. We have some great and easy curry's which we're cooking when people come around.

2. Set a clear boundary. Invite people only for the meal, which can be breakfast (why not?), brunch, lunch or dinner. When people are busy, then inviting them only for a specific time slot. For breakfast it's easier because most of us need to go to work. But when you invite people for dinner why not saying that they don't have to stay the whole night? Why not be clear about the expectations at the beginning? Just say to them, we know you're busy, so come at 6 pm have dinner with us and feel free to go at 7.30 or 8. And you know what? This is a win-win situation, they have the rest of the evening to do what they need to do and ..... so do you!

3. Last but not least approach your 'visitors' as family. It helped me a lot to see people as family instead of guests. In a way it seems easier when it's family. Where I've been trying to impress people, I'm now more relaxed. I like the phrase I've heard: we're not perfect examples but living examples! 

Besides inviting people around for meals there is also a great opportunity to catch up when you ask them to join when you're doing things. For example traveling, shopping and for multi-taskers.. cooking. I'm most of the time quite task focused so inviting people to join was something that was not really on my radar. Now I'm doing this more and it's great to see that it works. 

Integration doesn't happen overnight and it can be a challenge. We need to be intentional about it (that is another word we're using quite a lot!) and it is a process. Allow yourself time and try different things. 

We'd love to hear more examples how you integrate your life or if you have any comments just leave a reaction!




 ]]>
Mon, 01 Feb 2016 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Living in expectation]]> jacolien@stepping-stones.nl (Jacolien van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/in-verwachting
Last week I felt God challenged me about this attitude. It started with a lightbulb moment. I was reading about Zechariah's in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 1). The news that he would have a child in old age was literally incredible and his response reflected this. He said what I would probably say, "Do you expect me to believe this?" (The Passion Translation). He responded in unbelief and as a result God silenced him and he could not speak until the miracle had happened. What struck me was, that my low expectations are basically unbelief if we are going to say it as it is. Unbelief acts as a barrier to embracing all that God has on offer for us. For me it can impact on what God can change in me and the ways he can use me. I want to grapple with this. Can I believe that I can be a patient person carrying peace and be experiencing love. Thats about my heart. Regarding my ministry do I trust God that He will work in and through me so that people will see Gods love. The pressing issue this week has been expecting that people will show up to our christmas carol singing and party. There is always something that is a challenge to my hope levels !

I want to believe that God can work in me so clearly that people do look at my and our life and see something of Jesus.

The great thing is that we don't just have Zechariah's story but also Mary's straight after it. She also gets a visit from an angel who tells her that she will become pregnant. She responds quite differently, even though the news was about to make her life very complicated! Mary said, " But how can this happen" but later she responded: "This is amazing! I will be a mother for the Lord! (The Passion Translation) As his servant, I accept whatever he has for me."

Now that is belief and expectation!

If I am going to follow this example it means believing:
- that God is present in every part of my daily life and that he has a good plan for me,
- that I can be an expectant and patient person because of his amazing power and commitment to me,
- that when I step out in belief he will always work something good out of it whether I can see it or not,
- that when we invite people from our neighbourhood to our home God will work through our imperfect lives and we will be an instrument of His love.

The wonderful thing is that our amazing Father loves to surprise us and He promises to exceed our expectations. Let me tell you how he has just done this for me. We were preparing for Christmas and decided to give out words of hope on tea lights around our neighbourhood, invite people to come with us carol singing and end with a party at our house. My expectations were seriously challenged at times. The thought of the tea lights, would people want our gifts, would anyone come because of the rain, carol singing and do people even want that.. To top it all, nearly half our community could not come having got sick and I was feeling really unwell and lost my voice! (blog about expecting healing to follow!). But God...It was wonderful. God provided in every way.

- He sent us people to help us.
- The tea lights were received with gratitude and enthusiasm.
- We found an amazing bargain christmas tree.
- The rain stopped the moment people arrived to go carol singing.
- People kept turning up all evening for mulled wine and mince pies, people who have never visited us before. 
- We even had a moment of reflection and prayer together which was well received.

It was really wonderful to be able to introduce some prayer into our time together. We asked everyone if there was an event or person during this Christmas period they wanted to reflect on or pray for. We listened to music and all wrote our hopes and prayers on a card and hung them in our Christmas tree. It was very special to do this so easily with our friends and neighbours. 

So all this goes to show, its not about us its about Him.
Wow that is a good thing!

So for me, I am stepping into expectation. Every morning I ask God how I can grow that day in patience and expectation Because of this I am seeing more situations throughout the day where I can practice my patience.

In this time of Advent we're looking forward to Christmas, the birth of Jesus. But it is not only to remember Jesus's coming in the past. We can expect Him at any time of the day in every situation of our life.]]>
Tue, 15 Dec 2015 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Celebrating our differences]]> jacolien@stepping-stones.nl (Jacolien van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/celebrating-our-differences We are both extraverts and as such we've been reflecting (well talking actually), about how both types can value and get the best out of each other. There is always a tendency to be defensive about our differences but we want to take a type affirming perspective.

So in this blog we would like to focus on some of the differing strengths extroverts and introverts can share with each other. This is because we believe that for any relationship or endeavour to flourish we need to harness our differences to truly release their power.

So what does it mean to be an extravert or introvert? Extraverted people are stimulated by their external environment and usually process their ideas by talking about them. Introverted people are energised by spending time in their internal world of thoughts, memories and imaginations. They tend to prefer to process their ideas by reflecting thoughtfully.

I, Sharon, share an office with up to 10 other people and enjoy the variety and differences I encounter there. Sitting behind me I have a colleague who talks to herself constantly as she writes lists whilst across the office I have another one who manages to be focused on her monitor and work silently for long periods of time even when all kinds of conversations are going on around her. Because I am an extrovert I love the bustle in the room but often need to wear headphones so I can focus without distraction. We are all different and that is how it is meant to be!

What is it that we celebrate about introverts?

I, Jacolien, am married to Mark who is an Introvert. One of the things I so appreciate about him is, the laid back peaceful atmosphere he creates in our home. When he takes time out to talk together, he is really good at focusing and asking insightful and helpful questions. He doesn't have to rush to share his opinion but can listen carefully.

This is an Introvert strength. They rarely feel a pressing need to express their conclusions before carefully listening to others which can make them wise listeners.

It is also my (Sharon's) general observation that introverts can give measured feedback. I will often seek out an Introverted friend to help me process a decision, confident that they will give me the space to come to a decision without pressure. They provide thoughtful responses. I have learned the value of waiting for them to share their insights which are often the distillation of much thoughtful observation.

What do we sense as extraverts, we can contribute?

We can connect people. It's easy for an extravert to meet new people and to introduce them to others who might share their interests or goals. Extraverts put a high value on the interchange of  ideas and can often create a platform for Introverts so that their contribution can shared.

They often initiate putting ideas into action. Extroverts can bring, lightheartedness and energy into group situations and they are often willing to take the first step in sharing ideas to ”get the ball rolling”.

We both are Myers Briggs practitioners which means that we focus on helping people to discover more about their personality, their strengths and how to develop them. But this is not the end game. We are passionate about people of all different personality types growing and creating relationships and communities where they can thrive together.

Questions for reflection:
- Do you think if you are an extravert of an introvert? What can you celebrate about that?
- Who do know who is your opposite? How can you appreciate what they bring? ]]>
Thu, 03 Dec 2015 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Light Party, the week after]]> mvandens@hotmail.com (Mark van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/light-party-the-week-after
The idea was to be a house of light; a welcoming home for our neighbours. And to be a blessing to children and their parents. We want to be people who always bring Life and Halloween is not an exception.

Our first goal: Making our home a house of light was easy. We decorated our drive and garden with all the fairy lights, candles and light ropes owned by our entire missional community. Then we opened every curtain and switched on every light in the house. Boom!  A Light House. Sorted!

Then for our aim to be welcoming. This was a little more challenging. We made a sign saying, “Everyone is welcome to the house of heavenly treats”  and we took our couch outside to create a homely atmosphere. Yes it was cold but it was home.

Then for our second Goal; To actually be welcoming. In addition to our all weathers sofa we realised we needed to speak to people! Obviously it was a question of finding the right words.You look beautiful tonight, is not really suitable for Halloween : )
What I noticed was that by far the most important element to being welcoming was paying personal attention to children and their parents. Asking them their names and congratulating them on all their effort and creativity was a starting point.

And then to our third goal. To be a blessing. This was really very important for us. Of course we had borrowed the photo booth and had a treasure chest full of chocolate bars, but we wanted something more spiritual. So, on our missional community night we sat round the kitchen table and prayed and listened to God. We asked for the right words to encourage and bless each child, knowing that He could get the right word to the right person. Words of God have power, and shine light in the darkest places. We wrote the words God gave us on cards, and hung them on a line by the light rope. The children passed under these blessing cards on the way to the treasure chest to collect their treats. Then they could turn round and reach up to receive a heavenly blessing (nice picture isn't it?).
All kids and adults really wanted a blessing card. They eagerly read them and shared what they said. It was great to hear them speak out what God had said to them.

A few reactions from our visitors
"We heard about your Light Party at the pub around the corner.”
"This is the coolest house!”
“This is the best house!”
"Your light party was just a beautiful beacon of love and sanctuary from all the ghosts and ghouls! I was so impressed with your warm welcoming hospitality that you showed the community, what a great blessing you are in Sheffield”
"Thanks for praying for my knee"
"This blessing is amazing . I really need it.”, said a mother who accompanied her child and really wanted a blessing card. The text on her card read: "Jesus is with you when you go to school”. Apparently, she wants to go to the school for photography!
Another mother thanked us that we had prayed her daughter who had become frightened as she walked around the dark streets.
Another lady said to her friend, “These  guys are the christians, we came last year. They like to do something different”.

Looking back we can say that we succeeded in our plans. Although we hope to see these people again in the near future because the Light Party isn't a goal in itself. We want people to come to know Jesus and become his followers. This is a (small) step along the way.

A few comments from our Missional Community
- I was surprised to see how open kids were to be prayed for and how pleased their parents were to see them getting the blessings.
- I’ve realised it doesn't matter whether you know people or not.
- I was surprised how long people stayed.
- Its much easer to do this than I thought. Its easy when you do it together.
- Its easy to be a blessing for people
- If we want to get to know the people and to meet them again we need to prepared to write down their names next time.
- It was really encouraging to see that the technical problem we had with the photo camera was solved after prayers . ( to start with it inexplicably just would not work).
- God did what we asked for, he did give the right words to the right people … even the lady who got the word “Jesus goes to school with you”!

Last Saturday I noticed again that people are open to receive a blessing and prayer. I asked myself why don't we do this more often? If we receive so many positive reactions, why don't we give people more often a blessing or encouragement? It reminds me of an assignment that we Christians have: to be a blessing for the people around us!]]>
Wed, 04 Nov 2015 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[Light Party]]> jacolien@stepping-stones.nl (Jacolien van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/light-party
As we have been prepping for Halloween this coming Saturday I have been reminded of St Maarten and my youthful adventures on those cold nights. Although christians have different opinions about how we should respond to Halloween, we have decided to use it as an opportunity to make contact with people in our neighborhood. We want  to build relationships with the people around us. Isn't that what Jesus did?

We want to be a house of light; a welcoming home for our neighbours. I've read somewhere,
"If our God is about pursuit, blessing and welcoming then what would it look like to pursue those he so dearly loves on Halloween?".

For us, this desire to partner with Him in His pursuit of love, means we will be throwing a Light Party with our missional community for our neighbours! We plan to be a light on a dark night and a blessing for children and their parents. We want to offer Life.

So what is our plan?
- we will switch on all the lights and open all the blinds so that our house stands out as a welcoming beacon ...
  Literally a Light House

- we will decorate the driveway next to our House with fairy lights and candles

- we will put our settee outside to create a "lounge"  under the carport so we have a place for folks to sit
  and drink hot chocolate

- we will borrow a photo booth so that  we can give the kids a fun picture

- we have a 'treasure chest' for the kids to delve into for their treats (which hopefully will be the best of the  
  neighbourhood)

- and we will have another "treasure chest" for them to reach into to collect a card with a blessing and or
  encouragement written on it. ( We will be listening to God writing these and praying over them at missional
  community tomorrow! )

- we will be ready to offer prayers and blessings throughout the evening


How can you be a light and a blessing in your neighborhood? We would love to hear what you're doing.]]>
Wed, 28 Oct 2015 00:00:00 +0100
<![CDATA[What you see is what you get]]> mvandens@hotmail.com (Mark van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/wysiwyg
The funny thing is that what I've just shared with you was my greatest stumbling block to inviting other people into my life. I knew that I wouldn't be able to keep up  appearances when the going got tough and that they would  see who I really am in normal life. For me it was easier to be a 'church' leader or coach who gave information and advise without doing the whole 'life-on-life' stuff. Life on life was too vulnerable.

But  I wanted to build an extended family and disciple them so I had to move past my reluctance  It's just like a normal family. We share our lives with one another and that means we share the highs and lows. And guess what? I'm not the only one with lows and you will discover neither are you when you share your life with others!

So if you want to build an (extended) family what kind of family will it be? Are your values based on a keeping up appearances mindset or on vulnerability and honesty?

What helps me in challenging times is to:
- count my blessings and give thanks with my family
- pray for them and let them pray for me
- worship together

I have the privilege to be part of a missional household where I live with Jacolien my wife and two others. We have a rhythm of UP-IN-OUT, which means we pray, worship, eat have fun and do mission together.

Reflection Questions
What makes it hard for you to be vulnerable?
What kind of (extended) family do you want to build?

We'd love to hear your responses and you can leave this below. Thanks!]]>
Wed, 30 Sep 2015 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Starting a new season..]]> jacolien@stepping-stones.nl (Jacolien van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/redefining-rhythms
We've been learning to use the different seasons as triggers to help us be intentional about how we use our time and how we invest in different relationships. Because of this need to breath fresh air into our predictable patterns, we in our "family" have started the new season by re evaluating the ways we can integrate UP, IN and OUT into our daily weekly,monthly, patterns. By this I mean how we focus our time and attention on our relationship with  God  (UP), with each other in the "family" and with fellow Christians (IN) and with the world around us (OUT). In this blog I would like to share a little about how we've re-set our rhythms to help us go deeper in our relationships with God.

Fresh word
For me it really helps to have a fresh word from God, an invitation into a deeper walk. This can be a word or a sense but it always calls me to more. It gives me vision to set my sights on . For the last two years the journey has been into "Joy". This has been my focus. Over the summer the word has been "Love". At first I thought, "Thats not rocket science, being a Christian is all about love! Of course love is important". I wasn't very excited. But, when I shared it with my household it resonated with them and we began to see how love could impact everything we are doing. So we decided together to focus on love for the next season.

So we have sought out devotional material that we can use in our personal a collective times with God. As a community, we have started watching a DVD series* focussed on how live out Corinthians 13 and we are discussing it together. We are asking God to make this word live in us so that it influences the way we live together as a community and how we connect with the people around us on our street, in the work place, at the shops etc.  For me personally It means doing a bible study and keeping a journal of my journey in love.

What is the word or sense that God is showing you for the next season? How can you integrate this into your life both individually and with others (family, friends, community)?

Fresh Prayer
Last year we prayed as a "family" at 7:30 each on work days. We had a daily pattern of first praying thanksgiving prayers, followed by prayers for each other and other people close to us and finally we would spend time praying for people in our lives who don't yet know Jesus. Having this pattern has helped us grow, but we felt it was time to look at fresh ways of doing this in the next season. Its been important for us to know that a structure is not set in stone, it can be changed and in fact it's helpful to revisit it periodically and see if it is time to change. For me knowing this freedom helps me to maintain the discipline of the structures we set.

So how have we changed what we do for this season? Well we continue to meet at 7:30 but have introduced more variety into the different days. Sometimes we continue with the basic UP-IN-OUT structure and on others we "pray through" passage of scripture, or spend time worshiping and listening to God before praying. This has given our times a fresh lease of life and we have more room for creativity.

To what extent do you structure your quiet time with God? What is a helpful structure in the coming season?

Another of my personal rhythms is to go for weekly walk in the Peak District and take photos. This is a special time to listen to God's voice and to enjoy what he has made. As an extrovert walking and being in nature is the best way for me to feel close to God. This is a wonderful grace to me and I will be continuing this routine.

What helps you to listen regularly to God's voice?

In our next blog we'll write more about our IN rhythms as a household and 'family' 

* see www.loveworksministry.org]]>
Tue, 15 Sep 2015 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Mind the (integrity) GAP]]> mvandens@hotmail.com (Mark van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/mind-the-integrity-gap
Although I'm an Introverted Thinker (Myers Briggs does help me understand myself!) which means that it's natural for me to think before I talk, it's not always easy to wait, because I know, (well at least I think I know), how to do it better, smarter or quicker. So it's been important for me to learn to wait before rushing in with my opinion. And I have been learning!

How so? Well, my stay in Sheffield has humbled me. We came to a totally different culture. By this I don't mean the British culture. Although it's  definitely different from our native culture,  (I can see the differences more clearly now after 2,5 years). Its not this which has been the big change for me. No, the thing that's really been different has been the church culture, and within that the discipling culture. I've never experienced anything like it before. At times the culture shock has felt overwhelming. Being here has made me review how I understand so many aspects of my life.

Missional discipleship is a lifestyle. Until I was immersed in this culture,  discipleship was a theory, all be it one that was very important to me. We talked (a lot) about it. It was even the topic of my thesis. But here in Sheffield I suddenly realised that I didn't know how to disciple people well (D2!). I'd always found it straightforward to tell people what to do, but suddenly it became difficult. As painful as it was, I realised I knew the theory, but I hadn't  put it into practice myself.
What I experienced was what I now call the 'integrity gap'. The difference between knowing the theory and doing it yourself.

I've read lots of books about discipleship and being missional, but it means nothing if I don't live a missional lifestyle myself and disciple others. Things have had to change. No longer am I willing to expect  others to do something I've not actually done myself. It's not always easy, because I'd never been discipled and it's still in my system to talk about stuff instead of doing it. Sometimes it still happens. For example in the coaching huddles I lead. It's so easy to talk about the principles of the Lifeshapes without actually putting them into practice myself.

All this reminds me of the parable of the wise and foolish man in Matthew 7. I used this with enthusiasm while teaching the Learning Circle. But to my discomfort, as I reflected on it I realised that I could add one more person to the story. Besides the wise man, who heard the words and put them into practice by building his house on the rock, and the foolish man who heard the words and did not put them into practice, there could  be a third person. This could be so many of us, each a pseudo wise man who hears the words and earnestly tells others to act wisely by building their houses on the rock, but we never build our own house. What foolishness is this!
What we need is more wise builders, people who actually live a life of true discipleship, people who live a missional lifestyle and disciple others. We need to be those wise builders, to live lives worth imitating and we need apprentices who want to learn from us to do the same.

Questions for reflection
In whom do you recognise yourself? The foolish man, the wise man or the pseudo wise man (super foolish?).
What holds you back from becoming a wise builder ?
Who is your apprentice? Who is close enough to imitate you?]]>
Tue, 07 Jul 2015 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Journey with Joy]]> jacolien@stepping-stones.nl (Jacolien van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/journey-with-joy
At the beginning of 2014, I did just this. I asked God to give me a concrete word which would become a seed for me to deliberately  invest in  growing. I received the word Joy. Immediately I recognised he was offering to help me grow joy as a fruit of the Spirit. I understood that God was encouraging me to be more joyful, despite the circumstances in my life.

Joy is a journey, not a destination.
Joy is not a goal that is achieved and you can tick off. If only ! I'm a pioneering type who likes to see results and see them as fast as possible. But when fruit is growing, it does it at its own speed. Any orchard farmer will tell you, you have to be patient. So it was with my journey into joy. It actually began mainly with the practice in patience. I just had to surrender the process to God and allow my own priorities and desires fall to the ground.

We have to choose joy and keep on choosing it.
This quote by Henri Nouwen describes that growth in joy is a process that requires commitment and effort. It has to be intentional. I have the choice to not be a victim of my circumstances anymore. I need to step up take, responsibility for my part in tending the soil of my heart so my joy can grow .
The Bible says: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 NIV). This is not an option but a command. True joy does not mean that we are thrilled with everything that happens in our lives. It means that despite the circumstances we can rejoice in who God is and the amazing relationship we have with him. We all have situations in our lives that we would like to change, but unfortunately this doesn't  always happen. In my life it is a fact that Mark and I, despite our desire and prayer, have not received the gift of children. I've learned and I'm still learning to rejoice in God, even though I've do not have what I would dearly love to have.

So even though I'm an extravert I've chosen to plan introvert time and to meditate on the truths God has shown me. In this way I allow God's soft voice to speak in my heart and there in that quiet place I receive joy.

It is not joyful people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are joyful.
One of the main keys for my journey into joy is  gratitude. This has started with a discipline to be thankful for who God is and for his love for me and also to be grateful for the ordinary everyday things, like the sun that shines, a rich cup of coffee or a good conversation. In the last year, this has become a habit in our household morning prayers. We start by thanking God for who he is and for the daily things that he has given us. It's great to see that this moment of stopping and reflecting really helps to enter the new day positively. We also pray for each other and for the things we would like to grow in our lives. My 'family' regularly prays that joy will grow in my life. Looking back on the last year I can see that I'm experiencing more joy! Gratitude as a spiritual principle that "works" not only for Christians. In secular psychology there is an increasing focus on gratitude as therapeutic tool to combat depression.  Brené Brown, a well known researcher who  has written extensively about gratitude states; "there is no joy without gratitude".

Joy is spiritual battle
Let's look at Paul's prayer for Colossians: "We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light."
(Col 1:11 NLT). Paul prayed that the Colossians could endure every situation with joy. Experiencing God's joy enables us to enjoy our ordinary lives, whether or not we find ourselves in difficult circumstances. Joy is also our strength and a weapon of spiritual warfare. Joy is a fruit of the spirit. We will never experience the joy Jesus intended for us to have if we wait until every circumstance in our lives are perfect.  No matter what we endure we can pray for one another to experience Gods joy. I encourage you to pray for and to live in that joy.

I regularly ask people to pray that joy will grow in my life and  I'm so grateful to be able to tell you God is doing it! I'm  experiencing  more joy today than I did a year ago. Thank you Lord!

The principles that have helped me are:
1. Practicing patience by surrendering my desires to God, by trusting him to grow the fruit In His timing.
2. Changing my mind and what I choose to think about.
3. Allowing myself to hear God rejoicing over me
4. Thankfulness
5. Praying for joy.

Questions for reflection:
- To what extent is growing in joy important to you?
- What are you thankful for? How can you grow in gratitude in your daily life? ]]>
Wed, 10 Jun 2015 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[Character before Skills]]> jacolien@stepping-stones.nl (Jacolien van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/character-before-skills
Before I came to Sheffield, I wanted to grow my skills as a coach and leader, but what I have learned is that character growth ( love joy peace patience hope kindness ) is much more important and lies at the foundation of everything. Character is defined in the dictionary as 'someone's properties or nature '.I've found myself hungry to grow  and my  prayer is that I  reflect more of Jesus character. When I asked God in 2013 for a word for the future he gave me the scripture about the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." It is striking that these are all characteristics rather than specific things I should do.

This was quite difficult for me, because I like doing something tangible and meaningful. And what I saw as meaningful was just that ; things you could see! So it's been a journey for me to move into a new reality; one where  it is much more important to build our sense of identity on who we are because of our family relationship with Jesus rather than to build our to build our sense of self on the things we can achieve.
I want to live in the light of the truth that I am his beloved child. I don't want to to get my security from trying to  do all  the right things, I want to live as a trusting secure daughter of the king. This is the starting point for fruitfulness.

So far in the journey this is what I've learned:

It takes time. Character change unfortunately does not happen over night, but hey, this grows patience!
Patience is something God is developing in me. I'm willing to give it the time :) . Instead of thinking "I want it now", which only causes stress, I'm learning to think "this can wait" and " tomorrow there is another day. " There is no point trying to rush it, and I can trust that God knows best when it's the right time.

Character change requires me to deliberately involve God in my life every day. Now I take time apart to be quiet so that I can experience God's presence and listen to what he is saying to me. This began as a discipline. I had to be very intentional about this and it didn't come naturally but in time it just became a welcome habit. Honestly life would not feel right without it, it has become a lifestyle. So for me this means going out regularly for a walk by our local lake. Being in nature helps me to experience  God's character. During this walk, I watch and listen, I have a conversation with God, or sometimes I just enjoy being with him. Hearing God brings me back to a place of rest so that I can focus on the right things.

So I've learned it all starts personal discipleship; following Jesus and  being his disciple. Discipleship is both an invitation and a challenge. The invitation is that I can be sure that I am God's child and that He has my growth in mind. My thoughts turn to His love and plan. The challenge is to respond in faith to what God asks of me. If I do what He asks of me, then I trust that he will give the fruit. All the love joy peace patience kindness wisdom faithfulness... all the character God is growing in me is the fruit of His work in me and not mine! It's not something I can make or enforce. It starts with putting my confidence in him  then He grows the fruit.

In my next blog I will share more about the specific growth God is working in me.

Questions to reflect:
- How can you grow in character?
- How can you involve God in your character growth?]]>
Wed, 29 Apr 2015 00:00:00 +0200
<![CDATA[The facts are in the figures?]]> mvandens@hotmail.com (Mark van den Steenhoven) http://stepping-stones.nl/blog/meten-is-weten-maar-wat-meten-we
In our spiritual life it is the same. We want to see a return for all that we invest. There are countless  biblical examples of  fruitfulness,  growth, multiplication and counting numbers. Based on this, its obvious that measuring is biblical.But, the question is “What should I be measuring?”

When we started CrossPoint (a new church we founded in 2001) we measured the number of visitors. I remember how pleased we were when more people visited our Sunday service than had come the week before. Based on this criteria some Sundays were more successful than others.
These days I see success from a different perspective. What changed my viewpoint ? Jesus did. To be more exact, the way He discipled people.

He invested most of His time in a small number of people. What makes me think that I can disciple more people than He did? Why do I believe that I can disciple 100, 250 or even 500? And what makes me think I can do that in a gathering of, let's say, 1,5 hours once a week where everybody is present?

During the last  couple of years I’ve become increasingly convicted that I shouldn't focus on numbers anymore, instead I need to focus on quality. But I don't always find this easy because I can quickly get discouraged. On one hand  I lose my focus  because of my chronic counting habit. On the other hand because I find myself bombarded again by numbers. Like the email I received the other week, with the invitation to attend a conference with keynote speaker church leader 'X' who leads a church of 100.000 (!) people. In this regard our church culture isn't helping me to focus on quality!

Last year, Jacolien and I started a Missional Household along with Sharon Earl. We are a group of people who have chosen to live in the same house with the purpose of living out a missional life together. Literally we are a 'family on Mission'.
At this moment in time we are discipling two young adults. We do 'Life-on-life' discipleship based on a rythmn of UP-IN-OUT, where mission isn't an activity, but just part of our ordinary daily  life together. This life of  UP-IN-OUT needs to be simple so that anyone can adopt it.

It wont take long to count our numbers! However, if we look at quality there is more to see. We  can already see the first fruit. We see disciples growing in:
UP- listening to God, thankfulness, a life of dependence , love for the word and leadership in prayer and worship,
IN -  praying for each other and others, generosity, service and taking responsibility for being a blessing to each other,
OUT -  taking responsibility for blessing our street and in making friends with our many neighbours who don't know Jesus yet.

Of course my desire is to see many many people saved, but I believe that fruit that will last is the result of quality discipleship.

What do you measure? What is holding you back from focusing on quality growth? I'd like to encourage you. Maybe you only have a couple of people to invest in. Go for it. Continue doing what God has called you to do and with the people He has given you. Don't compare yourself with others and don't be driven mad by numbers! After all Jesus started only with 12 (minus 1).]]>
Sun, 01 Mar 2015 00:00:00 +0100