Wednesday, May 31
This particular new church plant involves a young father, Raygen, and his cousin Jose. Raygen comes from a Pentecostal church, but showed up at one of our church planting training seminars back in January. I hadn't heard anything from him since that time--until yesterday!
Jose took me in a taxi to one of the poorer sections of the city (don't dare take the car--way too dangerous!) We sat out under the stars on the front porch on plastic stools. There were about 15 adults and an equal number of children and babies. Half of those present were believers, the rest not-yet believers.
We started out by singing with our homemade CD playing on a small boombox several of the people's favorite songs/hymns out of the compiled songbook we use. After several songs we went around the room introducing ourselves and sharing something each of us like to do. I modeled for them first sharing I liked music, reading, and writing stories about people like them...they followed my example and we went around the room listening to each. Most everyone expressed that they liked to sing (that's why singing is such a big part of house church here!)...so we sang some more...I was amazed that a group that has only been meeting a few weeks knew so many of the songs!
One of the last songs that was chosen was the hymn "Have Thine Own Way" (the people here love hymns because they are so poetical.) After singing all four stanzas we started a dialogue about the idea of we being the clay that is being molded by the potter. Someone asked what had to happen for a pretty vase to be finished...it has to go through the fire! This led to James 1:2-4 where we are to "count it all joy when you encounter various trials..." This led to a time of sharing when they had been through trials and what God had done through the testing to make them more God-like in character.
We then asked if any present who had not yet received Christ would like to do so. Several spoke up saying they would do so someday, but not today--still wanting to process what they were hearing.
After that we opened up the time to see if there were any prayer requests...there were quite a few! We prayed over each one individually in a meaningful time for all, taking the time to carefully listen asking clarification questions to make sure we really understood the situation. About 9:20pm we ended the meeting with everyone going around and giving each person a hug and saying "Dios te bendiga..."
I was ready to go home by then and eat my popcorn, but God wasn't yet through. Raygen (remember Raygen?) stopped me and began to pour out his heart about an area of town, Las Iguanas, where another cousin of his had previously started new work, but had moved to another city leaving the work abandoned. All the new believers in Iguanas had scattered. His heart was crushed by this situation. He asked me to please send someone to help those people without a shepherd...
I looked Raygen in the eye and said, "I have no one to send, Raygen, why don't YOU pray about being that person?" I shared with him that he and Jose could team up and do the work together on the weekends, and continue with the house church in Raygen's home during the week. His eyes caught fire as the thought that he might be a missionary to the other side of town!
Would you pray for Raygen and Jose and the new work at "La O y 25?" Pray also that God would send laborers to Las Iguanas, and that God would make clear to Raygen and Jose if they are the ones to take on Las Iguanas.
Saturday, May 27
Often we are questioned what we think about of all that is going on with the IMB and the SBC these days. It is a loaded question and hard to put into words. My own observations come from my perspective of the issues and are probably limited in their understanding of what are truly complex issues. What follows is an attempt to express what it is I feel about all that is going on with the IMB, BoT, and SBC in general terms these days.
Exactly, what are some of the broader issues being addressed and gaining public attention? There are many, but those that I relate to as a M, believing them to have influence upon the future of IMB-SBC missions are:
- the critical need of working together and partnering with other GCC's to reach the world for Christ (see David Rogers series on this topic here)
- closely related would be the needed harmony within a broadly diverse cross-section of God's people with their own convictions and beliefs (Phil. 2:1-4)
- policy changes that seek to go beyond things taught in the NT (in other words, "my interpretation" of Scripture is the only one that counts and it applies to everyone else)
- defintion of church-NT eccelesiology and church practice, ("New Directions", CPM methodology would fall under this category of issue facing us)
- who can serve or not serve based on extrabiblical criteria
- narrower definitions of who and what a Baptipst is and believes
- the role and function of church leaders in the Body of Christ
- true nature of the "priesthood of the believer" and how this principle is carried out in today's world
- the role of politics in denominational life, structures of power and accountability tightening the ropes for cooperation rather than loosening them for greater mobility amongst Kingdom partners
- the growing role of charismatic/pentecostal influences and its impact upon the global church and missions in general
- not understanding that the center of Chrisitianity is quickly shifting south and that the Western Church is no longer the predominant force in Christendom (In 1900, 80% of Christians were white, Western, northern hemisphere. In 2000, 80% were non-white, non-Western and southern hemisphere. --R. McNeil)
Will any of the above really affect what God is already doing in today's world?
No. I don't think so. Who can stop the mighty rushing wind of the Spirit?
I know this sounds contradictory to what I write above, but the bulleted issues are things having an impact on the future of "IMB-SBC missions." While each is important and weighty, I don't think any of these will be able to stop, or even remotely slow down the coming of the Kingdom of God and His purposes being fulfilled in today's world. God is moving in unprecedented ways in today's world. As Baptists, we are only a tiny percentage of the overall "Kingdom of God." My own observation is that God seems quite content to continue working all over the world through ALL of His Body in multiple ways, methods, denominations, manifestations, programs, using the weak to accomplish his purposes, etc. Who are we to tell the Spirit of God what He can or cannot do?
In order to be part of what God is doing, we need to understand something Tony Dale of House2House magazine writes,
"...it is more important to love one another than to be "right"...It is more important to "confess your faults to one another and pray for one another that you might be healed" than to argue over whether or not God heals today...it is more important to "in honor prefer one another" than to make sure we have all the issues of authority types in the church straightened out..."
Tony goes on in his article, but the point is made we need to focus on what Christ and Scripture commands specifically to do and submit our traditions and long-held church practices to the greater authority of Biblical commands and clear teachings. It is amazing to me how we can so easily confuse our traditions and practices with what Scripture really teaches, and then call our traditions and practices "this is what the Bible teaches!"
Jerry Rankin says in his "To the Ends of the Earth" ...
"It is not Christian organizations, denominations, or mission agencies that extend the kingdom. Only through a massive grass-roots force of believers functioning as the church, the body of Christ in the world, can an impact be made on a lost world."
This is what is happening all over the world. Isn't it time we lay aside our "issues" and simply join the Father in what He is doing around the world?
"When people and churches are mobilized and equipped to be all they are divinely designed to be in society and the world, the result will be growth--kingdom growth."
It is about "HIS Kingdom", not OUR kingdom.
"God is moving throught global events in unprecedented ways to make [the fulfilling of the Great Commission] possible as we have moved into the twenty-first century. to stay up with all God is doing has required making fairly radical changes in organization, leadership, and strategy..."
Yes, changes are very much a part of being on mission with the Lord. He is moving very rapidly in today's world. If we want to "keep up" with Him, we too must be willing to quickly change and adapt.
The truth of the matter is that there is a mounting tidal wave spreading all over the earth...a great final harvest of souls like never seen before...a spiritual awakening dawning all over the world...I for one want with all my heart to be a small part of this huge movement of God to bring Christ to the Nations and usher in the Second Coming of Christ.
So there, now you know what I think about all the IMB-SBC stuff taking place today!
Thursday, May 25
Several lessons personally learned were:
1) putting the "prevenience" concepts into practice (see below). This is hard to explain without being carried away with too many details and examples, but essentially, "Prevenience is the conviction that God has been working diligently, redemptively, and strategically before I appeared on the scene, before I was aware there was something here for me to do." The entire weekend was an exercise in "letting go, and letting God..."
Yes, we had a program, but the Holy Spirit was in charge of the program. Nearly everything ended up changed, adapted, modified all weekend long as we sensed God leading us to follow his lead in accomplishing what HE was wanting to do in our midst. About the only thing NOT changed were the meal times!
2) I was amazed at the way people were able to "hear God" and respond to Him and deal with the issues He brought to light in their lives. I was reminded afresh that God is much more concerned about these people than I could ever begin to imagine.
3) The importance of affirmation and valuing of people, versus telling them what we think they should know and do. Once people are "energized spiritually" by the Holy Spirit, there are no limits as to what God can do through them.
One other issue that made a huge impact on me were the coconut palm trees growing all over the camp. For this one, I have to give a bit of background...In 1997 the camp was almost completely destroyed by "El Nino." The camp suffered terribly and was left looking like she had been hit by not only a hurricane but an earthquake on top of that! My wife Linda, was camp manager back then, and it was her responsibility to decide what to do with what looked like a hopeless situation. In the midst of the overwhelming devastation, one of the first projects she did was to buy a couple of dozen tiny palm trees and plant them. I personally thought it was a needless gesture, but plant them she did.
Over the following year and with much patient work and some special help from our our Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas offering friends, the camp was slowly put back together. Today, nearly ten years later, the camp is in great shape and looking better than ever before, serving thousands of people every year. There IS life after "El Nino" (or Katrina, Tsunami, etc.) Yes, it sometimes takes years, but the end result, in our case, is something better than what was there originally. Those coconut palm trees planted back in 1997 are today tall, shade-providing beautiful trees, loaded with coconuts. Something the Lord spoke to me was the role of time in the working of his will in our lives. It takes time for tender young trees to become fruit producing coconut palms. In His dealings with us, it is no less true. I tend to be quite impatient with how slow God seems to work in not only my own life but in those He has called me to work with. Seeing those majestic coconut palms was humbling and spoke clearly to me of the Father's ways.
Thursday, May 18
In a missionary culture a person does not look to the central hub for direction.
I have to admit this one intrigues me. What this statement means to me is that in a "missionary culture" like our own, people are so freed and empowered that there is little need for our missionary presence. This would be the realization of our dreams if it were true on a wide-scale basis!
The truth of the matter is that our presence is still largely felt and people continue to look to "the missionary" for all sorts of help, advise, affirmation, "permission", materials, and approval. While all of us need to some degree these things in our lives, they become unhealthy when long term we continue to be that "central hub."
Curtis Sergeant and CPM methodology speak of the MAWL training cycle (model, assist, watch, leave) as the basis of our missionary presence. It is likened to teaching a child to ride a bicycle.
Curtis explains that the parent...
1) provides a model by riding the bicycle,
2) provides assistance to the child by holding the bicycle as they learn to ride,
3) then watches while the child rides the bicycle by themselves,
4) and finally leaving the child to ride on his own.
The secret to achieving a missionary culture where people do not look to the central hub for direction is in understanding and applying the MAWL training cycle.
My own tendency is to stay in the first two stages of modelling and assisting. It is hard to stand back and just watch, not to mention leaving! It takes a special kind of parent to resist jumping in to rescue their children everytime they know the child is about to mess something up.
I am personally not very good, nor do I really understand the "watch" stage very well. It is here that 2 out of every 3 new church plants dissolve, sink, disband--whatever you want to call it. It is very hard to stand by and watch something fall apart. My tendency is to want to jump in and "fix it." Yet as I reflect on the house churches that have survived over the years, they are all--without exception--groups that we have indeed "watched" and yes, "left" to survive on their own.
Some make it, some don't. I have never been able to figure it all out.
Jesus says in Matthew, "I will build my church..." We are actually never really told to plant churches, we are told to make disciples. Making disciples consists in modeling, assisting, watching, and yes--leaving. The churches that no longer look to the "central hub" for direction are the ones that have survived.
Does any of this remind you of raising children?
Monday, May 15
Don't count critics; weigh them.
Talking about the future will lead Satan to crank up enough background noise that we cannot hear God.
Christianity is the fastest growing religious/spiritual group in the world today: 175,000 new Christians in the world each day
In 1900, 80% of Christians were white, Western, northern hemisphere. In 2000, 80% were non-white, non-Western and southern hemisphere.
The church in North America is not like the Pharisees--we are the Pharisees, and Jesus does not like Pharisees.
The Pharisees clumped together and built a parallel culture--refuge theology is Pharisaical. When dealing with Pharisaism, we are dealing with a religion that has nothing to do with Jesus. They have a heart for religion, but not a heart for God.
The missional church is the most radical resorting of Christians since the reformation. Those who are missional have more in common with those in other tribes than with those in their own tribe who don't get it.
The kingdom of God is all about people, and God has seeded the value system of the younger generations (Xer's and millenials) that will feed the shift He has begun.
Kingdom growth is profoundly anti- what we have typically been doing.
The church is not the destination; the kingdom is the destination. Jesus does not say, "Thy church come." He spends 40 days before His ascension teaching about the kingdom. Acts closes with the kingdom. Jesus uses "church" twice, but "kingdom" 90 times. When the kingdom breaks out, things change. People's lives get radically re-altered; their entire worlds get re-ordered.
God says to Abram, "I'm blessing you so that you can bless all those people who are not like you." God reguarly blesses people with whom He disagrees.
Our conversation rate has to go up before our conversion rate can go up.
In a missionary culture a person does not look to the central hub for direction.
The "post-congregationlist" category is at 5% of the population and will go to 30% in the next 20 years.
Most people are burned out from dealing with prolonged trivia.
Most of the stuff that impacts our congregations happens outside our meetings and it is stuff that we cannot plan for.
People who live by a missionary set of values cannot abide those with a "club member" set of values.
The bandwith is expanded in a missional church: how many conversations are we having, how much life interface is taking place, how is our community service component, how many community leaders are we praying for, how many teachers have we partnered with, how many community groups have used our facility?
Feel free to jump in and comment on any of the above. They are thought-provoking, aren't they? What is your favorite that spoke to you?
Friday, May 12
I first learned the word "prevenience" from Eugene Peterson in his book "The Contemplative Pastor" (p. 65f). I was struck by what he had to say because it was immediately obvious to me that he was right. However, it was exactly the opposite of what I had been taught.
I knew how to be proactive. I knew how to "run the church" and get things done. I knew how to "make it happen". I had a lot of unlearning to do (I'm a recovering control addict).
Here's what Peterson has to say (with a few of John's comments in italics):
"In running the church (or the house church), I seize the initiative. I take charge. I take responsibility for motivation and recruitment, for showing the way, for getting things started. If I don't, things drift. I am aware of the tendency to apathy, the human susceptibility to indolence, and I use my leadership to counter it. (Isn't that what we have been taught that leadership is? If it isn't this, what is it?)
By contrast, the cure of souls (he means here the true work of a pastor or leader of a church as an organism) is a cultivated awareness that God has already seized the initiative. The traditional doctrine defining this truth is prevenience: God everywhere and always seizing the initiative. He gets thing going. He had and continues to have the first word. Prevenience is the conviction that God has been working diligently, redemptively, and strategically before I appeared on the scene, before I was aware there was something here for me to do.
...there is a disciplined, determined conviction that everything (and I mean, precisely everything) we do is a response to God's first work, his initiating act. We learn to be attentive to the divine action already in process so that the previously unheard word of God is heard, the previously unattended act of God is noticed?
What has God been doing here?
What traces of grace can I discern in this life?
What history of love can I read in this group?
What has God set in motion that I can get in on?"
I call these "the prevenience questions". Learning to ask/answer these questions is the starting place for the church each time she meets. This is the "prevenience model" of church.
With apologies to Steven Covey, we Christians were never called to be "proactive". We are called to be "reactive" to God. (Or, perhaps "responsive" to God is better.)
Tuesday, May 9
But so far, the dream has been slow to come about. I have continually had to beat the drum, emphasize our vision, and try to keep the ship on course...In the meantime, I've been asked a number of times "how is your strategy of house churches and evangelistic Bible studies going?" with a sympathetic shake of the head indicating that it won't work and that I'll come around someday...In three weeks of canvassing the neighborhood, our core group had a grand total of one study scheduled. I showed up yesterday to go out visiting and to do the study and discovered that the couple had moved...Did anyone ever mention that church planting would be so hard? Why is Jeff's description so typical of many of us? Are we missing something?
Yesterday in our monthly English-speaking missionary prayer get-together, we too shared about our sense of powerlessness in ministry. It seems most of what we do is just that--what WE can do. What we long for is what GOD would do in and through us. While all of us believe in the Trinity, it was admitted that we know in practice and experience very little about the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. We are almost AFRAID to even talk about the Holy Spirit, sensing someone will tag us as Charismatics or Pentecostals.
With these thoughts spinning around in my head, when I got home last night I read an interesting comment on Ken Sorrell's blog by Bruce Carlton.
...The whole issue of best practices is one that think needs to be addressed. Best practices can easily slip into pragmatism to the neglect of the role of the Holy Spirit. Over the past two years as I have worked on my dissertation, I have come to believe that many evangelicals are trinitarian in their theology, but not trinitarian in their missiology. We tend to favor pragmatism over the Holy Spirit. Within Southern Baptist circles, perhaps it is because of the charismatic issues that keep arising. Whatever the reason, a return to Biblical missions demands that we be trinitarian in our missiology and missiological practices...
Why are we so hesitant to speak about the Holy Spirit and His involvement (or non-involvement) in our work and ministry? Some of the questions that came up in yesterday's prayer gathering and in my own heart and mind were:
- are we afraid of being filled with the Holy Spirit?
- is "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" really a no-no, or is it something to seek?
- are we too controlling (pragmatic) and thus "grieve the Spirit?"
- are not the real issues spiritual in nature and not so much strategic?
- what would happen to us if we did have some kind of experience with the Holy Spirit and were filled, maybe even speaking in tongues?
- do we fear the IMB more than we fear the Spirit of God?
- does He truly have the freedom to do in our lives what He would desire to do, or do we limit the Spirit by our own prejudices?
Are we indeed trinitarian in our theology but not in our missiology?
Saturday, May 6
"Over the past quarter century there has been a dilution or morphing of the word "missions". For most of the Christian community it has become a term to describe anything and everything done in the name of Christ outside the walls of the church. Every ministry project and activity is now referred to as a "missions trip."
One extreme example of this shift in thinking can be seen when a church's choir tours for the summer and ends up in Disneyworld. It is publicized as their summer "mission" trip. More common examples are found in the multitude of trips taken by churches and other organizations which perform a myriad of ministries to those less fortunate or in need.
This change has taken place gradually without notice by the vast majority of Christians and missionaries. When you look at the number of churches and mission sending agencies around the world today and examine their purpose and focus, few are intentionally following the biblical mandate of Matthew 28:19 - 20. They are doing good for those in need and most with pure intentions. However, if missions is reduced to just helping people in need, most of those in need will never have the opportunity to hear, understand, respond to the gospel message of Jesus Christ, and mature in their faith.
To state this another way, we have substituted the intent of the second part of the [Great] Commandment for the focus of the Great Commission. If we do not readjust our thinking and practice, we will feed the hungry, cloth the naked, heal the sick, visit those in captivity, house the homeless, parent the orphans, educate the uneducated, and they will still spend eternity in hell when they die.
The answer of course is not to stop meeting needs but to recognize that you can successfully do ministry and never cross the line into biblical missions. However, it seems impossible to be involved in missions and not include some type of ministry in the process. If we continue to ignore the differences between these two terms, thousands, maybe millions of lost souls will be touched by Christians but never changed by Christ. "
Wednesday, May 3
What follows is an edited and slightly updated version (minor changes) of Manuel's original paper entitled, "The Missing T"
Today almost 10 years after New Directions, we now have the tools, the clinics, the models, the training and the resources to help us plant churches. However we have seen very few CPMs or anything that would remotely resemble a CPM. Why is this so? We asked to be trained and to be given the tools to accomplish the task but in all honesty we must admit that it is happening only in a few places and not as we would hope that it be taking place. Permit me to give a couple of reasons for believing this is such.
1) We have become excellent church planners! Not church planTers but rather church planNers! There in lies what I call "The Missing T." We have missed the target. We are now developing meticulous Master Plans, wonderful World Views, super Segmentations of our people groups BUT still we see little result of all this efforts. This is not to be negative but hopefully to help us all get back on the right tract that New Directions intended for us to be on. It was not to be experts in the theories of church planting but to be actual church planters.
2) We are reading books on the subject by people that have never planted a church but have great ideas on how it should be done and being given seminars on the subject by folks that have great intentions and are expert didactic presenters but have never known the joys and sorrows of church planting. They present to us what others have written and lived not from actual experiences.
Our call is to be the planters not only the planners...we must come away from our computers and the printed pages we are submerged in to go into the world and DO IT! We share our plans with each other and are amazed at how well they are presented and prepared. We seem to work to see who has the best plan of attack for starting new works in a certain area. We have the right words, the tools and the training yet the bottom line has not changed much since 1997. After 10 years it is time for things to be happening...
This is a call back to why New Directions was instituted, not to scare people off the field but to usher more peoples off the fields into the Kingdom...All the training and tools in the world will not replace us going out and doing what we have learned to do. We can not teach others to do what we have not done ourselves...We do not teach people how to plant churches, we plant churches while training people...We must learn together with the church planters how to start the new works not teach them from a program that was taught to us. Nothing will prepare you to train church planters like planting itself and not from planning to plant churches.
--from "The Missing T" by Manuel Sosa, as shared on the "Church Planting