Tuesday, November 28

Alternatives to monologue preaching

George Patterson & Galen Currah offer the following alternatives for monologue preaching in new works. I have found this article (reproduced in part here) to be quite helpful and practical in our own local work...
Why offer alternatives to monologue preaching from behind pulpits? After all, monologue is the only style that many Christians know. Few realize that the Word of God sets forth very different styles of teaching that have proven to be consistently more effective.

...The sermon, as a form of monologue, preached by paid specialists, has mostly replaced New Testament practices for teaching believers. Eloquent and persuasive preachers of monologue sermons have often swayed audiences and nations, and God has used His Word to win and edify many with such messages. However, where churches and cells reproduce in great numbers — as is the case in many lands today — few are able to preach well by monologue. Most who try to preach monologues communicate poorly, set an example that others cannot easily follow, and fail to make disciples.

Both the New Testament and church planting movements offer very effective alternatives to the monologue. As mentors of emerging leaders of new congregations, we should be able to train others in these alternatives.

Dialogue. (Acts 17:2; 20:7; 17:11; 24:25) The apostles preferred to “dialogue” with both seekers and believers, both individuals and groups. Dialogue, conversations with a purpose, allow a teacher to answer folk’s questions, allay their fears, inform their ignorance, appeal to their conscience, and help them choose what they will do. Believers are to teach and instruct “one another” (Col. 3:16; Rom 15:14). Dialogue is easier to do in small groups than in big congregations. Since most folks already know how to dialogue with their friends and relatives, doing so is a superior way to share about Jesus and the way of life that He calls everyone to follow.

Gifts of the Spirit. (1 Cor 12:7; 14:24-26) A primary task of those who shepherd flocks is to ensure that all the believers have time and opportunity to serve one another. In doing so, their gifts of the Spirit will “manifest” and many will be helped and strengthened. In fact, as all the believers share one with another, even unsaved folks who listen to them will see their own need and turn to Jesus. Gifts of the Spirit manifest more readily in small groups where believers see each other face-to-face and have freedom to speak one to another.

Demonstrations of power. (1 Cor 2:1-5; 1 Thes 1:4-6) The reality and truth of the Word of God are learned more from experience than by listening to logical discourses. One of the main tasks of those who shepherd flocks is to ensure that all the believers have time and opportunity to pray for one another, and to show love within their worship. As they do so, the Holy Spirit will work many miracles of healing and deliverance.

Drama and role play. Drama and story-telling remain universally appealing to all classes of society, and are a preferred leaning style in many of the more neglected societies. Men and women, young and old, can act out Bible stories that illustrate every major doctrine of Christianity. So doing also allows children to participate actively in worship. Brief role plays, presented with little preparation and without costumes, can prove both entertaining and evocative. A skit, followed by reading a Bible text, can open up discussion and help folks to apply truth to their lives and work. Furthermore, even the newest believers can participate.

Questions and answers. Folks have genuine questions and issues for which they seek help and answers. If we cannot answer a question, then let us admit so and promise to find answers.
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Saturday, November 25

What can Stateside churches learn from their Ecuadorian counterparts?

In the 2005 Annual Church Profile (ACP), Baptist Press reports, "...compiled statistics for the Southern Baptist Convention show that baptisms...slumped again in 2005 from 387,947 to 371,850, or -4.15 percent."

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 the Guayaquil house churches. 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 four 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 their Guayaquil brethren 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 house church believers consistently doing that are not usually seen in most Stateside churches:

1) Praying daily for the lost. Talk to the believers in a Guayaquil house church and they will show you their list of people they pray for daily of unsaved family, friends, and 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 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 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 States these days, they would shake their heads in disbelief!

6) Intentionally focus on evangelism as a life priority. Talk to them and they will tell you that their ministry is to win/disciple at least four people to Christ 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, November 21

When is a church a church?

In a previous post "The church in your house" Bro. Tim Rogers asks a good question:

"The process of this type of church plant sounds interesting. When do you determine if it is a legitimate church?"

For us it is a fairly simple process. Church is not a complex institution. It is a living, growing organism. Therefore what we consider "church" is far simpler than what many think of when contemplating First Baptist Church, Bible Belt, USA.

There are basically three stages to becoming a church. All are undergirded by prayer.

1) engage in some type of evangelistic outreach to win people to Christ,
2) meet as an outreach group with these new converts until some are baptized,
3) become a church.

Before proceeding, just a word of clarification. We don't try to start churches with people who are already believers, or members of other existing churches. We only target non-believers and it is with new converts that we do all our church planting.

All that is needed to start a new church is a worker, a church planter, and a little bit of training. Therefore prayer to the Lord of the Harvest for laborers is high on our priority list.

Once we have a laborer (preferably a pair), we train them in much the same fashion as Jesus did with the 70 in Luke 10. We teach them to...
  • work in pairs (vs.1)
  • pray (v.2)
  • go (v.3)
  • don't take...(v.4)
  • find the person of peace (v.5,6)
  • stay in that house (v.7)
  • eat and drink with the POP (v.7,8)
  • heal (minister) (v.9)
  • proclaim. (v.9)
Once we have a group of people who have made professions of faith, the discipleship process continues but in group fashion. The group meeting can be anywhere from 2-3 people, to as many as fit inside the meeting place. They are called an "outreach group." Outreach groups will sing, pray, study the Word, minister to one another, even collect offerings, but they are not a church.

New believers in outreach groups are led to understand the security of their salvation experience. They are shown in Scripture that new believers are baptized.

This is the first real test whether or not they have truly given their hearts to Christ. If they back out or want to postpone baptism (for whatever reasons) we continue to work with them as an outreach group. For us the key that opens the door to becoming a church is baptism. Why?

Many Latin Americans with Roman Catholic backgrounds realize that being re-baptized is a clear break with the religion of their fathers. It is a major step. Much like it would be for Baptist readers deciding to make a break with their own church to join the Mormon church. Many times new believers are hesitant to take this step. Sometimes it takes several weeks, even months for them to come around to what we would consider a genuine decision of turning one's life over to Christ.

Once one or more people are baptized, they simply become a church. No need to make a big deal out of what already is. There are no other in between stages (mission, Bible study, preaching point.) Usually the same day as the initial baptisms we will also serve the Lord's Supper. From that point forward they are no longer considered an outreach group, but a church. They will, of course, continue the disicipleship process begun with their profession of faith. From the very beginning they are a self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating church. Church only becomes complicated when we begin adding extra-biblical requirements.

Just as a new born baby is a real human being, a group of new born babes in Christ is a real church. As long as they have someone to nurture, lead, and guide them (a church planter), and hopefully apostolic workers behind them for backup and encouragement, the new born church has a good chance to grow into a maturing body of believers. But as in real life, especially in the third world, many times new born babies die prematurely. The same thing is true for new churches. In our own case we have a high percentage of new church plants that die. Some of the reasons for this have been shared in an earlier post "Why do so many of our church plants fail?"

So therefore, a church is a group of baptized believers who meet regularly together where God has planted them and function as a NT ekklesia.

There is more to it than we have been able to briefly describe here, but this is essentially how we define "church." Any questions, clarifications, observations, etc. are welcome.

Saturday, November 18

What is one of the most aggravating things about being a missionary?

Well there are several things that aggravate me about being a missionary, but surely one of the most frustrating is the often lack of response we get from the people God has given us to work with.

How often we will...
  • organize events,
  • call people,
  • set up meetings,
  • leave messages,
  • send emails,
  • pray about a matter,
  • count on people for something,
  • plan a training event...
only to end up waiting for people to respond who never do? It is such a disappointment, and let down!

Jon Dale linked to an article by Michael Hyatt on the Secret of Success. While coming from a secular viewpoint, this is nevertheless a great article on the importance of being responsive.
What's the secret to your success? As a CEO, I get asked this a lot. And, I'm always a little embarrassed by it...I received an email from one of my readers. He [asked]... If you had to boil it down to one thing, Mr. Hyatt, what would you recommend to a young, aspiring person such as myself?"

I'm not sure I could boil it down to one thing. Life isn't usually that simple. But if I really, really had to boil it down to one thing, I would say this: responsiveness.

So many people I meet are unresponsive. They don't return their phone calls promptly. They don't answer their emails quickly. They don't complete their assignments on time. They promise to do something and never follow through. They have to be reminded, prodded, and nagged. This behavior creates work for everyone else and eats into their own productivity. Sadly, they seem oblivious to it... [read the rest of the article here.]
I wonder how God feels at our unresponsiveness to Him? How He feels when we don't bother to spend time with him? When His Spirit impresses us with something and we shrug it off and go on our way? Our lack of immediate, radical response to Him surely is a source of "holy frustration" with us, His unresponsive children.

God, make us responsive to Thee, and to those around us you bring into our lives.

Wednesday, November 15

The church in your house

Our "simple" church planting here in Guayaquil is known as "La Iglesia En Tu Casa" (LIETC)--The church in your house.

We have identified at least 13 guiding values that the Lord has seemingly been pleased to bless over the past 6+ years of church planting.

1.) LIETC is built upon a foundation of prayer, which is the most important work in which we are engaged. (Luke 10:2)

2.) LIETC is built upon the idea of "mobilizing the laity." The laity is empowered to go and do tasks traditionally assigned only to trained professional clergy. (Eph.4:11-12, 1 Pet.2:9-10)

3.) LIETC is built upon the concept of taking the church to where the people are, rather than bringing the people to the church. (Matt.28:18-20, Luke 10:3)

4.) LIETC crosses denominational lines and works with Great Commission Christians to plant New Testament churches. (Eph.4:4-6)

5.) LIETC depends on God to provide the workers, free of recruitment or manipulation. Prayer is the key. (Luke 10:2)

6.) LIETC is built upon the understanding that women are likewise called to plant churches. (Matthew 28:18-20)

7.) LIETC is built upon the understanding that it is Christ's responsibility to build His church, not ours (Mt. 16:18). Our task is the Great Commission--to make disciples; his to build His Church.

8.) LIETC is built upon an understanding that the missionary task is primarily one of praying, modeling, teaching, training, encouraging and mentoring. (Eph.4:11-12)

9.) LIETC is built upon the strategic use of locally available and reproducible communication media. We don't use or model anything that can't be done/reproduced locally by the people we work with.

10.) LIETC is built upon the idea of church being more a "family gathering" held in a home setting, and less a "traditional church service." (1 Cor. 12-14, 14:26, Book of Acts)

11.) LIETC is built on the twin pillars of prayer and lifestyle evangelism. There is a continuous emphasis on these two areas.

12.) LIETC is built upon the understanding that multiplication of disciples is the focus of all we do. Simply adding to existing works will not get the job done. (Matthew-Luke, the "parables of the kingdom.")

13.) LIETC belongs to God, and He can do as He pleases. Change in the way things are done is an on-going process as God continues to open our eyes to his ways of building the Kingdom.

Sunday, November 12

Abundant gospel sowing

One of the 10 universal elements found in all church planting movements around the world is abundant gospel sowing. This is not to be confused with evangelism. Ken Sorrell posts a good article on his blog about this difference. Suffice it to say, abundant gospel sowing (or gospel saturation) is a key element in moving us towards a church planting movement.

Here in Ecuador missionaries have employed many media over the years in the attempt to touch as many people with the Gospel as possible at an affordable cost. Some of the means used to abundantly sow the gospel include: radio, TV, literature distribution (tracts), films, parades, and many other ways with varying degrees of success.

For us, though, we have had the greatest success over the years with a prayer and telephone counseling ministry known as Teleamigo. I have previously posted on Teleamigo here (YouTube video), and here (ModernDay 'Five Loaves and Two Fish' story).

Not only is Teleamigo an inexpensive and cost effective way of reaching people, it is an EFFECTIVE way that has worked well for us over the years. I once calculated the cost per contact at $0.038/each. It has cost us less than four pennies to contact each of the 2.5-million Teleamigo contacts with the Gospel message!

Teleamigo functions as a wonderful "door-opener" for the Gospel by caring and listening to people and their problems. Spiritual issues almost always come to the forefront and we have an opportunity to share Christ and how he can make a difference in their lives. While there are certainly people who accept Christ directly through Teleamigo, our greatest result has been to draw men and women closer to a decision for Christ. After contacting Teleamigo, they are one step closer to making a decision for Christ. That to me is the definition of an effective "abundant gospel sowing" ministry. When our message holds people's attention and causes them to reflect and consider the implications of that message, that is effective AGS!

Without AGS leading the way (as John the Baptist did before the coming of Christ) there is often heavy resistance to the Gospel message. People do not see the relationship between their lives and the need of a Savior. They are usually content with their "own religion" and not interested in changing religions. This is where AGS comes in. It works like fertilizer in rough ground to prepare the heart soil for the seed which is to follow.

Enough talk about Teleamigo. Here is another short video done by the IMB several years ago produced for children's missions education in churches back Stateside, but still applicable and informative to show how abundant gospel sowing really works.

Thursday, November 9

What is the most effective way to continuously evangelize?

Join in on this week's Guayas Mestizo team meeting. Our team meetings are always open to any believer who would like to attend, so you are welcome to join in the current dialogue.

Today we are trying to answer the question:

"what is the most effective way to
continuously evangelize our people?"

We are all in agreement that sporadic, half-hearted evangelism is not the way to go. What is needed is to find an effective means to continuously evangelize our people group by the greatest number of existing believers.

Several minutes are spent differentiating between one of the CPM pillars, "abundant gospel sowing" and what we are calling "continuous evangelism."

In AGS the seed of the Gospel is abundantly shared through any and all available means to get the message out continuously to as many people as possible (literature distribution, radio, TV, mass media, tracts, telephone, Jesus film, any/all seed sowing type efforts). A decision for Christ is not necessarily expected of AGS. It is more understood as an effort to "prepare hearts" for the Gospel message to follow later--sort of what John the Baptist did prior to Jesus' coming.

In evangelism we are seeking to present the message in such a way that the individual is personally confronted with the Gospel message and is given an opportunity to either accept or reject what is shared.

Once this is clarified, several mention the more common methods usually used to evangelize: door-to-door witnessing, open air preaching, gospel films, evangelistic pulpit preaching, home Bible studies, evangelistic crusades...

The question is asked, "are we getting the desired results from these methods?" The answer is, "not really". We believe many more people are open to the Gospel than are currently responding. They are not rejecting the Gospel, they are rejecting our methods!

We begin to explore several ideas gleaned from a book one of our national team members has read that discusses "open" and "closed" groups. We determine that "open" groups would be a more effective way to collectively win groups of people, rather than winning individuals and then attempting the nearly impossible task of gathering them into groups. "Open" groups would be good for evangelism, "closed" groups would be better for discipleship.

More discussion takes place questioning the effectiveness of this and that evangelism method. Finally, in the midst of several of us talking at once, Geovanny quietly walks to the white board and writes...
1. Buscar la dirección de Dios (orando) para evangelizar continuamente.
Seek God's direction (praying) to continuously evangelize.

2. [for now blank] - depends on what is heard from the Lord on #1

3. [for now blank] - do it.

Does the Holy Spirit have the answer to our evangelism question? Yes.

Are we willing to wait upon Him in prayer until He makes clear how to best carry this out? Answer: to be seen in the coming days/weeks....stay tuned.

Be part of our team this week. Help us win our city/province to Christ. What would you add to the dialogue? What are your thoughts? Observations? Insights? How would YOU go about doing things?

Tuesday, November 7

Everything that comes is by His ordination or permission

One of the most influential writers for me personally is Elisabeth Elliot. I have read most of her books, even those no longer in print. I have also kept past articles and speeches as I have had access to them over the years.

Back in August of this year I was delighted to learn that Back to the Bible offers a free daily devotional from Elisabeth Elliot. I have yet to discard a single email, they are all that good!

One of the threads that is woven into much of her writing that has been such a blessing to me over the years is simply this: nothing happens in the life of a child of God unless God himself ordains it so, or permits it.

One of her recent devotionals expressed this thought with the following words...
Never mind whether things come from God Himself or from people-- everything comes by His ordination or permission. If I mean to be obedient and submissive to the Lord because He is my Lord, I must not forget that whatever He allows to happen becomes, for me, His will at that moment. Perhaps it is someone else's sinful action, but if God allows it to affect me, He wills it for my learning... (Oct.30, "Waiting")
As my own world becomes seemingly...
  • more chaotic,
  • less personal,
  • more busy,
  • less friendly,
  • more frustrating,
  • fewer victories,
  • more lonely,
  • fewer answers
...it has been refreshing to realize the truth of the Psalmist words, "Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup, and have made my lot secure." (Psalm 16:5).
I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned. Does the intellect balk at that? Can we say that there are things which happen to us which do not belong to our lovingly assigned "portion" (this belongs to it, that does not)? Are some things, then, out of the control of the Almighty? Every assignment is measured and controlled for my eternal good. As I accept the given portion other options are cancelled...my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter. (Sept.17, "A Quiet Heart")
It is indeed the LORD who assigns us or portion and our cup. Nothing that happens in our day to day toiling is an accident. Everything comes to us either by His ordination or permission.

Click here to see subscription options for Back to the Bible's daily deovtionals, including Elisabeth Elliot's Daily Devotions.

Sunday, November 5

Third Generation Thinking

Third Generation Thinking

--by Chris Ammons

Seventeen years into my missionary career, a term came to me that described very well the process of doing missions...The term is “Third Generation Thinking.” This term does not deal with family generations, but with generations of new believers.

When the Gospel was proclaimed to non-believers in the not so distant past, one of two strategies was used by the missionary proclaimer. The author would like to propose a third way of thinking and of approaching everything we do in missions.

The first strategy used by those who lacked training or cultural sensitivity, was to teach exactly the way he or she had been taught. This can be called “First Generation Thinking” because the emphasis is placed squarely upon the one doing the proclaiming, with little thought given to the learner. Using this kind of thinking, generations of oral learners have been taught to read and write, parse Greek words, and preach three point messages. If only to prove He is all powerful, God has still used many who hold to this strategy to bring indigenous people to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Works that were based on this kind of strategy, however, seldom lasted past the lifetime of the believers whom the Missionary led to Christ.

A second strategy is used by those who have recognized or been taught the need to communicate the Gospel in a way the listener can understand. This kind of thinking can be called “Second Generation Thinking” because the emphasis is placed upon the one being taught, the second generation of believers. Most modern missionaries have used this kind of thinking. Missionaries have gone to great lengths to make sure that their message was understandable to the listener. The assumption was made that if the listener could understand the message, he or she could also teach the message to others. Less thought is given to the ability of the second generation to teach further generations. This kind of strategy often results in a two generation church. It lasts for the lifetime of the missionary’s students and their children, but usually does not extend past that third generation.

The third strategy, one that is being used by an ever-increasing number of missionaries, using a terminology I would like to propose, is called “Third Generation Thinking.” In third Generation Thinking, the emphasis is not on the first generation (the teacher), it is not on the second generation (the learner), but on the future generation who will be taught by the learner. Before teaching anything, we ask questions like; “will the learner be able to teach this as effectively as I do?” and “am I doing anything that will prevent my student’s learners from being able to pass on the message just as effectively as I am passing it on?”

Third Generation Thinking is more than a strategy; it becomes a filter through which every ministry decision passes. A very wise man once told me that every team needs an “idiot.” One that does nothing but ask one question; “why are we doing this?”

Most missionaries, by nature, strive for excellence. When a teaching is passed down to the second generation, it is usually highly polished and done with a flair. We strive to do the best we can. This is usually positive, unless it makes the student think, “He does it so well, I will never be able to teach in such an exciting way.” This can lead to discouragement, and in the long run is counterproductive.

A Third Generation Thinker would say, “I am going to do this just above the level of the one I am teaching. I will give him something to reach for, but will not “dazzle” him so much as to discourage him from teaching this to his students. I want the third and forth generation of believers to be just as effective as I am.”

Church planting movements do not break down because of mistaken observations. They do not break down because of bad intentions of the missionaries. They often stop but because we are a little too short-sighted in our strategy, not looking toward future generations.

A remedy for our own short-sightedness is to set our filters to not let anything pass through that cannot be reproduced several generations after we leave. This could be greatly helped by appointing one from each team to be the one who always asks “can this be reproduced by the next 10 generations of believers?”

Thursday, November 2

Guayaquil: the cool city

My wife and I, along with our two children, live and serve in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador as Southern Baptist, International Mission Board missionaries. While these images are extremely selective, showing mostly the attractive tourist side of our city, hopefully they will stir you to pause and pray for the 9 out of 10 people in our city who have yet to meet the Savior. Our goal is to see 500,000 new believers in the coming five years. Hopefully the Lord will use you to help us reach our goal by either:

1) praying more for us,
2) giving liberally to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (this is one time it is OK to be a liberal!), or
3) coming personally on a mission trip to help us.

GUAYAQUIL: Ciudad Super Chévere

P.S. For those who have ever been to Guayaquil, you are probably wondering about being designated as a "cool city." Anyone visiting or living here knows that year around HOT is a much better descriptor! The "cool" comes from the original Spanish title of the video, "Guayaquil: Ciudad Super Chevere." which literally translates as "Guayaquil: a super cool city."