Sunday, April 30
Today my daughter and I drove an hour out into the rich farmland to Mango to be with them in their Sunday gathering. Mango is not really a "house church" in that there is no way they could possibly fit everyone inside the tiny home of Marino, the servant-leader. Instead they meet outside under the shade of a Mango tree on little plastic stools. There were about 20 adults and a dozen or more children in attendance.
We met for three and a half hours. Part of the time was formal, but most of the time it was informal sharing, singing, praying, eating, making plans for an upcoming Baptism service, sharing of the Word, and exhortation with everyone present taking part. Most of the time, however, was spent sharing stories of how God has worked in each of their lives.
Don Cueva (on the left). When he became a new believer, Don Cueva raised chickens for a living. A couple of weeks after professing Christ as Lord, his neighbor poisoned over 200 of his chickens saying he was tired of Cueva's chickens crossing over into his land. All poor Cueva could do was pile the dead birds in a heap and burn them. Don Cueva was as hot as the fire burning and was out to get revenge. But his cousin Manuel (see Churute story, above) shared with him Romans 12 where the Lord says, "vengeance belongs to me; I will repay..." As a new Christian, Don Cueva decided to wait and see how the Lord would truly avenge him for the wrong done to him.
Cueva decided to grow rice in the 4 hectares of land he owns. The bad neighbor owned 12 hectares of land and also sowed seed for rice on his land too. When harvest time came, Cueva's 4 hectares produced MORE rice than the neighbors 12! To this day, Cueva's rice field continues to produce more rice each harvest than his evil neighbor! I questioned Pablo again today and he just shook his head and said the Spanish equivalent, "it beats anything I have ever seen, there is no earthly explanation!" Don Cueva has tried everything he knows to befriend the neighbor--"if your enemy is hungry feed him"--but so far all he has seen accomplished is exactly what Romans 12 goes on to say, "you will be heaping fiery coals on his head..." We talked about several ideas he might try to win over his embittered neighbor. Will you pray for this neighbor's salvation? Don Cueva is truly burdened for his neighbor's soul.
Pablo (on the right). The last time I visited Mango was a year ago. We had gone for a day of evangelism in the locality. Pablo had never witnessed so he was assigned to my team. We visited several houses and shared the Gospel at each. After that we told Pablo, "It is your turn now. You see how it is done. You do it." And do it he did! You'd have thought he was a pro going around house to house sharing Christ! When we got back to the "Mango Tree" church for a meal and gathering, he broke down weeping and shared with us that his daughter had been kidnapped six weeks earlier and begged us to pray for her. As he knelt in the dirt, the entire church of new believers gathered around him and cried out loudly to God asking Him to bring the girl back safely. A few weeks later, his daughter showed up completely unharmed. The kidnappers had tired of her and sent her home! This greatly strengthened Pablo's new faith. He, along with Marino, Cueva, and a couple of other men in the Mango church are looking to start new churches in every town and village in their area of the province!
Some people feel that churches like Mango are much to weak to survive on their own for long without a trained pastor to lead them. All I can say is if you had been there today, heard their stories, seen how so many of their prayers have been answered, listened to their testimonies of how they came to know the Lord, watched them interact with one another, you would no longer doubt that the Church of Jesus Christ truly is His church and He is able to care for her just fine!
Thursday, April 27
B. Family relationships and activities?
C. Survival needs? (What it takes just to live here!)
E. Ministries that have little bearing upon why we are here?
F. Support activities to generate prayer and missions awareness?
G. Mobilization and Recruitment?
H. Communication of Vision?
J. Activities to build relationships and goodwill?
K. Personal Evangelism?
L. Planning and implementing strategies which accomplish the main thing?
M. Relaxation and rest?
N. Discipling/mentoring members of my people group?
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
Sunday, April 23
I like to doodle with numbers. So out of curiosity I sat down and was able to come up with a rough calculation of just how much each of our baptized converts cost last year. I figured the monetary value by adding the...
-total yearly support received for our three missionary units...that sum was divided by our baptisms last year. The total cost of each comes out to $375.90. This was a shockingly high figure for me to come to grips with!
-estimate of the total net yearly offerings of 100 house churches
-total yearly income for two national team members families
-operating funds made available to our team through the IMB
If you take out the two biggest $ amount categories which are the support for the three foreign missionary units plus the IMB operating funds, the amount is reduced to $66.45 per baptized convert (maintaining overseas missionaries is expensive!) But then again, the question arises, would there have been more or fewer results without our presence? Only God knows.
However, I was COMPLETELY BLOWN AWAY this past week after reading James Rutz's, Megashifts. On page 117 he quotes Barrett and Johnson from their World Christian Trends. Their own calculation for the cost of each U.S. institutional church baptism is...
Can you believe it?
Could this be the difference between seeking to work solely in the power of the Spirit, and instead relying on the power of money for Kingdom work? I know we must be careful to judge and criticize. One cannot compare "apples with oranges" but surely the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us something if we would but listen!
Of course, this is what Rutz's Megashifts is trying to point out about the global grassroots megashift where:
"...traditional, top-down [church] systems are turning into gigantic, bottom-up co-ops...The revolution now upon us is a complete paradigm shift...It is going to be a lot bigger than the reformation...It is, at last, the reformation of Structure--not just flattening the pyramid a little, but turning it upside-down so that the true leaders are the servants, lifting up and equipping those they serve..."God is at work to bring in the final harvest and is using every willing, available saint as a priest on the front lines. Rutz calls it the "Third Reformation" or "Giving Back to Jesus His Church."
I can identify with much of what Rutz says because it is something we are living first-hand. Everyday believers like Manuel, Vicente, Marlene, Byron, and scores of others are being used mightily of God to transform their world. If we were to isolate their baptisms from our own totals, their own cost per baptized convert is close to $15 with most of that amount going for transportation to get them to the river for the baptism, a few refreshments, and a Bible for the new convert!
Is it time for America to redefine what "church" is really about? What did Christ intend His Church to be? What is it supposed to look like? Should it really cost $1.55 million for each baptized convert?
The IMB has come out with their own definition of church that embraces a much more simplified defintion of "church." Maybe it is time for the Western Institutional Church at large to catch up with what God is doing in today's world!
Thursday, April 20
Along this same theme, Thom Rainer in an article for the Florida Baptist Witness "The Dying American Church." states the following:
The facts of a 2004 research project I led are sobering. It takes 86 church members in America one year to reach a person for Christ...if the research is even close to accurate, the reality is that the church is not reproducing herself. In just one or two generations, Christianity could be so marginalized that it will be deemed irrelevant by most observers...Compare this to the 3:1 baptism ratio as shared in one of my previous posts of the folks in our house churches here in Guayaquil. It takes three of them one year to baptize one new believer. While that is a far cry from our goal of every believer winning/discipling eight per year, it sure beats an 86:1 ratio for churches in the States! Baptisms are a key indicator to overall church health.
Why has the American church become evangelistically anemic? Thom of course gives several reasons in his article, but I would like to capitalize on just one of them, "Christians in churches often get caught up in the minor issues and fail to become passionate about the major issue of evangelism..."
I honestly believe most Stateside churches have more to learn from Guayaquil believers than the other way around!
What differences are there between our Ecuadorian national brethren and their Stateside counterparts? Why are the folks here so much more effective with their evangelism than Stateside Christians? I can identify at least seven overlapping things I see the house church believers consistently doing that isn't usually seen in most Stateside churches:
1) Praying daily for lost. Talk to any of the believers in a Guayaquil house church and they will show you their list of people they pray for daily of unsaved family, friends, neighbors.
2) Active regular sharing of the Gospel. It is a very natural part of their Christian walk to share the Gospel with people they encounter in their daily lives. Christ has made such a difference in their lives, and they cannot help but share this with those they come in contact with.
3) Planning regular evangelistic events. The house churches plan regular evangelistic events inviting those they are praying for to attend (concerts, outdoor street meetings, special programs, family conferences, DVD/Videos, invited guest speakers, neighborhood evangelistic door-to-door blitzes, etc.)
4) Visiting the sick and personally ministering to lost friends, neighbors and family in times of crisis. They are very good about visiting sick people outside of their church family, praying for their healing and ministering to lost family and friends during difficult times.
5) Not distracted by a lot of outside issues like Thom Rainer mentions above. We too have our sticky issues, but they are more along the lines of things like can unmarried couples who get saved be baptized? How to counsel people with difficult problems? How to discern if someone is demon possessed or just emotionally unstable? How to handle questions that Roman Catholics always ask? Why doesn't God always heal someone when they are prayed for? If I were to share with them (and I don't) the issues that are causing all the uproar in the IMB and SBC these days, they would shake their heads in disbelief!
6) Intentionally focus on evangelism as a life priority. Talk to any of them and they will tell you that their ministry is to win/disciple at least eight people this year. They expect God to give them these souls and are consciously praying and working to achieve this goal.
7) They maintain friendships/relationships with lost friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. They play ball on the street with them, visit them in their homes, minister to them in times of need. How are we ever supposed to win people to the Lord if we have little/no relationship with the lost? How is a Christian supposed to win lost people if they do not even know any? Folks here know plenty of lost people whom they are burdened for their salvation.
Stateside churches may be doing a lot of neat things, have wonderful church programs, great worship services and solid Biblical preaching, but if they are not winning people to Christ, baptizing, making disciples, and teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded, are they really a healthy N.T. church?
Tuesday, April 18
Since my wife has already gone to the trouble of posting this story on her own blog (along with photos), I will take advantage and just link to it here!
Friday, April 14
We call our church planting, "La Iglesia en Tu Casa" (The Church in Your House). LIETC began in July 2000. Our team at that time was composed of seven Southern Baptist missionaries (IMB-SBC) - all assigned to church planting. The team now consists of two IMB units, one SIM couple from New Zealand, and two national brothers who fully participate in all plans, teaching, decision making, etc. Our team is led by one of the national brothers.
None of the missionaries actually plant churches; rather, we are catalysts for church planting. The reason for this is that, if we set out to plant a church, we individually might plant 1 - 2 new churches a year. But as church planting catalysts, the only limitation of church starts is the number of people who respond to the Lord's call to go out and plant New Testament churches.
Lay leaders, whom we call "servant-leaders," lead all the house churches. At nearly any given moment, we are training between 20 to 30 men and women who are likewise in various stages of training and starting new house churches. Most of them tend to come out of established traditional evangelical churches and thus carry a lot of baggage with them in their seeking to begin new works...
We feel there are four requirements for anyone who wants to start a house church:
1) Willingness to win-disciple-train at least eight others each year.
2) Willingness to be trained in the basics of evangelism, discipleship, teaching, etc.
3) Willingness and commitment to visit, evangelize, and minister to the local community where the church is being planted.
4) Willingness to lead in the house church meetings (especially in the beginning as they are being started with non-believers.)
While there have been well above 250 new churches started since July 2000 , less than half are currently meeting and functioning as churches...While this �short shelf-life� of more than half the churches started is a source of great concern, we are nevertheless encouraged in that those won through the ministry of the new house churches tend to have had genuine salvation experiences... [read the full article HERE. ]
Monday, April 10
It is a hot, lazy afternoon in Guayaquil, Ecuador. (What's new? Everyday of the year is like this!)
After a good lunch of COLOMBIAN empanadas, MEXICAN quesadillas, and a big glass of fresh cold mango-papaya juice, I sat back in my easy chair with a strong cup of ECUADORIAN coffee to listen to GERMAN composer J.S. Bach's Fourth Brandenburg Concerto in G-major. How is that for being an international global-minded missionary? :-)
Speaking of Bach, did you know that he wrote these six concertos for a man who never even bothered to listen to them?
As the story goes, in 1721 Bach sent a carefully copied set of the six concertos as a gift to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg. The Margrave neither acknowledged their receipt, nor had them performed. For thirteen years the concertos lay unused in the Margrave's library until his death, whereupon they were lumped into a pile of miscellaneous musical works and valued at four groschen apiece. They were later sold as part of the Margrave's estate and divided amongst his five heirs. (Source: http://inkpot.com/classical/bachbrandenburg.html)
They weren't even listened to! Totally ignored! Some of the most beautiful music ever written and it wasn't even acknowledged, let alone valued, during Bach's lifetime.
Do you ever feel all the work that goes into planting churches goes unnoticed or ignored by the "powers that be?" Does it even matter?
It didn't to Bach. He went right ahead until the time of his death creating composition after composition, all signed, �soli Deo Gloria� ("to God alone be glory"). Only after his death was he recognized as the genius he truly was.
Is there a point to all this background about Bach's Brandenburg concertos? Yes!--three to be exact.
1. Bach was a master of what is called �line.� No matter how a particular work is written or for how many instruments, you can always detect a sense of a line in the music... The sensation of a musical line is amazingly unbroken as the melodies pass from one register to another... The test is this�if you attempt to sing along, you will find it very easy to sing the line... (adapted from http://inkpot.com/classical/bach.html)
Does that not speak to our work as church planters? Amen? If you didn't catch it, read it again, sloooooowly.
What does "line" have to do with church planting?
In all that we do, there must be a clear and simple "line" that all can identify and "hum along" with. Maybe that is why the term "simple church" is better suited to what we do than "house church." We need a simple melody that everyone can sing. There might be a lot of activity going on all around the melody, but all should be able to clearly hear the simple "line" and hum along. If they can't, what is being done is just too complicated. Some work needs to be done to further simplify.
In our own church planting, that "line" is every believer is a full participant in the Great Commission. Everyone senses their worth and value as a fully participating minister of the Gospel. Can you imagine what will begin to happen in our city when all the believers in town begin to hum that tune?
In the midst of volunteer teams, training sessions, VBS, materials, theological education, meetings, emails, evangelism, programs, mentoring, and all the other stuff we do, is there a clear line that is distinctly being heard by our people? Are they actually "humming along?"
I love the way Neil Cole expresses this same thought, "Simplicity is the key to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation. If the process is complex, it will break down early in the transference to the next generation of disciples. The more complex the process, the greater the giftedness needed to keep it going. The simpler the process, the more available it is to the broader Christian populace."
2. Above all, Bach's music has a great sense of beauty. Bach was, despite all his intellectualism, capable of music of great emotional power. Perhaps it is this balance he achieves which makes him so human�because we are creatures of logic and emotion.
Can it be said that our church planting ministry has a sense of something "beautiful?" With its intellectual side, is there a clear emotional power to what we are doing? Is the beauty of Jesus being revealed in the church plants? People want to be part of something beautiful, something that has meaning, something that is going somewhere, something that touches their heart.
3. Like the artists of the Renaissance, Bach was keenly aware of the formal concerns of structure as well as the variety that is to be human. Combined with his great ability for improvisation, his understanding of keys and tonal relationships, and his willingness to be progressive, Bach was quite capable of employing dissonance to get his point across.
Structure? Variety? Improvisation? Understanding of keys and tonal relationships? Progressive? Employing dissonance?
These are all GREAT church planting words!
To get a churches planted, we often have to employ one or more of these terms. There is no one formula. Church planting is often a combination of these seemingly contradictory terms.
How are we to be structured? Is the structure simple?
Is there variety to the way we do things? Variety in our meetings?
Do we understand the "keys to relationships?"
Are we progressive, willing to stretch the limits of what is generally known and accepted? Bach stretched baroque music to its maximum limits, so much so that it was only truly appreciated after his death! In his own lifetime he was obscure and hardly known at all.
Anybody who has dabbled even a bit in church planting knows about improvisation. But improvisation is not a bad word, jazz music is one of the highest known musical forms and it is all about improvisation!
Employing dissonance is never popular and will often relegate us to obscurity within our lifetime, but without it, true musical beauty will never be heard.
Any other church planters out there ready to sit down with a cup of coffee and listen to some Bach?
Thursday, April 6
After being immersed in the above for a couple of days, one of the Stateside volunteers asked:
"How could you as an IMB missionary sign the BF&M2000 and allow women to be out there planting churches?"
I welcomed the question and we began a dialogue more or less along the following lines...
"Well," I responded, "for starters I didn't read the part in the BF&M where it prohibits women from starting churches..."
The student clarified, "they are teaching and leading churches..."
"Yes", I replied, "and not only that, they are winning new people to the Lord, discipling them and starting new churches. They consider themselves 'ministers of the Gospel' just like you and me..."
"But the BF&M2000 says that only men may be pastors, you have women who are pastoring out there..."
"Very few of the house churches have leaders who are called 'pastors'. Leadership is usually shared amongst several individuals according to their spiritual gifts and talents...being the 'church planter' does not make them the 'pastor'..."
I continued, "In the New Testament we find several roles/functions mentioned: apostles, evangelists, prophets, teachers, shepherds (pastors), servants, etc. At least some of these roles/functions were filled by women like Junia (apostle), Phoebe (servant/deaconess), the four daughters of Philip (prophetesses), Priscilla (missionary/church planter/church worker), Lydia (church leader?), etc."
The volunteer continued to press the issue, "call it what you want, but the office of pastor is limited to men..."
I, of course understood where he was coming from and what his point was, but it was important to me that he understand that there can be a 'church' without the offices of pastor and deacons...
"Can we have a church without having the two offices," I asked?
The volunteer hesitated, "well, I guess, but..."
I asked, "Are offices needed if the church as a whole is covering all the ministry bases: teaching, evangelism, nurturing, exhortation, encouragement, discipleship, worship, etc.? Where in the NT is a church required to have an officially named pastor in order to be a functional NT church?"
I could see that my friend was not thoroughly convinced but we both had other responsibilities to tend to and the conversation ended. My point?
Eph.4:11-12 talks about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers existing in the church to equip the saints. Equip for what? The work of serving in the Kingdom! For building up the Body of Christ!
In many of the house churches shepherding/leadership is shared amongst several without anyone filling the role of 'the pastor.' Responsibility is mutual amongst ALL the church, not just the pastor. Our team does not have any problem with churches selecting one of their own and calling them to be one of their pastors/elders. But we have noticed a pattern that has emerged within those church plants where they have singled out and called a pastor.
Of the 4-5 house churches we relate to where they did name an official 'pastor', all are suffering right now. Not because they called a pastor, but becuase the church looks to their named 'pastor' as the one to do all the work of teaching, leading, evangelism, preaching, etc.
Everyone of these pastors has come to me complaining that they cannot get the church to do the 'work of ministry'. They expect the pastor to do everything (sound familiar?) Quite a number have even left because their 'pastor' was not as dynamic and educated as some of the others around in the more established churches. The work of "being the church" has been replaced by "going to church."
Please hear my heart, we are certainly not against pastors. We believe churches need shepherds, guidance and strong healthy leadership. Our emphasis is on making true disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. Everyone in the church fulfilling their spiritual call to be an active, vibrant part of the Body of Christ. Shepherds are certainly key to helping train and ready the Body for their work in the Kingdom. Every disciple of Jesus is a minister/priest of the Gospel. We try to stay away from anything that would separate us into classes of clergy and laity for the very reasons illustrated above. The only thing that should differentiate us within the Body of Christ are not our 'positions' or 'offices', but simply the various gifts each of us has been given by the Spirit.
Monday, April 3
What to Do with New Believers?
Often opportunities for starting new churches are missed because of people's default patterns with new converts.
The default pattern is to incorporate new believers into existing churches. This should not be the default. The default pattern should be to start new churches whenever you get new converts. There are exceptions...but as a general rule every opportunity should be taken to begin new churches...
Often we fail to allow for the involvement of new believers, thinking that they need to mature before they become involved in ministry...One reason for the way we treat new believers and expect so little of them is related to our view of maturity. We mistake knowledge for maturity. This is related to our view of discipleship as a body of knowledge to be transferred rather than patterns and processes to be passed on.
Knowledge is worthless without practice, without applying it to one�s life. If people are not allowed to apply what they have learned, they will not grow in maturity. A relatively new believer, practicing a high percentage of what he has learned, can in reality be more mature than a much older believer.
Perhaps a better measure of maturity would take into account not only the level of knowledge but also the ratio between knowledge and practical living out of that knowledge. Thus, if we fail to provide an opportunity for ministry for new believers, we are condemning them to a life of relative immaturity. This would be a grave mistake, because the resources for evangelizing the world are in the harvest...
How does this play out in the "real world"?
Vicente was a two-month old believer when he first came to one of our church planting training seminars. He actually LIED TO US! saying he had been a Christian for six months, thinking we would not allow him in the training for being such a new convert. It wasn't until after he had begun his fourth outreach group that he shyly admitted to his secret! He used the basic knowledge he had been given and put it to immediate practical use. Today, four years later, Vicente has become a tent-making missionary in the steps of the apostle Paul. Two years ago he gave up everything he cherished and went out totally on faith into the a neighboring rural province (click here for the whole story.) Vicente has been there ever since evangelizing, discipling and planting churches. Last Wednesday night he shared with us that he believes the Lord wants him to personally share the Gospel with all 60,000 people in the rural region he is now living.
Who in reality is the mature believer? The guy who has sat in church for 25-years and knows his Bible from cover to cover but does little with what he knows? Or, a believer like Vicente who knows considerably less, but uses what he knows to make a huge impact on his part of the world?
Saturday, April 1
I'd like to take a break from the usual "M Blog" themes and introduce you to the most wonderful wife in the world, mother of our two children, and overall amazing person.
Linda has her own blog which she does completely on her own called A Foreign Life.
I would invite you to check it out and find out a bit about our home life in Ecuador, see some photos of our family, and read about some of her interests as a missionary wife. She loves comments, so be sure and drop her a note! Might I suggest starting at the bottom and working your way up?
Here are the beginning words of her first post...
Many years ago I left my home in the States to live in a third world country. I worked hard to learn the language and was successful. In time I made friends, had a family, and made a home here.
Being a foreigner is not always an easy thing to be. No matter how long you are there, you never stop being a foreigner. My physical appearance, my speech, and my frustrations with the culture are constant reminders that I am, and always will be, a foreigner to the people who live here.
When I return "home" to the States, I realize that my home is no longer there. Things change. Friends move. Nieces and nephews grow into adults I hardly know. Sisters and brothers develop lives that I am no longer a part of. I realize that I have changed... click here to continue reading