Friday, December 28

Top 10 "M Blog" posts (2007)

According to the "M Blog" posts receiving the most hits in 2007 are... (drum roll)

10. Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions. While generating only four comments from readers, apparently many read the post, or were linked to it through search engines. The post shares ideas for giving to the annual offering that is collected in S. Baptist churches for international missions. Also tying for tenth place was Effective church planting which was actually an email shared with us from fellow IMBer Kevin: Somewhere in South America.

9. Conflicting visions was one of my personal favorites. It is essentially a post about "There are two Christian visions that compete: 1) traditional church with its structures, programs, and leadership, and 2) the Biblical imperative of Christ to his church to go to the lost, make disciples, baptize those who believer, and teach them to observe Christ's commandments. Two worlds colliding..."

8. Is breaking the law always a sin? generated 30 comments on a subject that gets into the complicated copyright laws we live under and whether or not breaking these laws constitutes sinning in the eyes of God. Those commenting offer some good observations on the subject.

7. Growth vs. Reproduction is an excerpt from a Carol Davis article entitled, "Let's Stop Planting Sterile Churches" and looks at the difference between the church "growth culture" that many of us have been trained, and a "reproduction model."

6. What did Jesus say and what he did not say is a reproduction of an article by India church planter Victor Choudhrie. Even though this entry was originally posted August/2006, it is still getting lots of hits mainly through search engines by readers looking for material by Choudhrie, or "sayings of Jesus".

5. How missions minded are we really? gets spot #5. This is an IMB news story excerpt questioning some of our priorities. "As I travel, I hear a lot about how 'missions-minded' Southern Baptists are," said Gordon Fort, IMB vice president of overseas operations. "I often ask, 'How much does your church pay for utilities each year?' Then I ask, 'If you are paying more for your utility bill than you are giving to reach a lost world for Christ, how does that make you a missions-minded church?'"

4. Top Ten Einstein Quotes for Missions and Church Planting is another 2006 post that keeps getting hits mainly from search engines. It seems Einstein knew as much about missions and church planting as many of the "experts" today! My favorite Einstein quote is his definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Aren't we all guilty of this in our own work and ministry? That one quote has had more impact upon our own ministry than entire seminars attended over the years. Read the rest, they're all great!

3. Top ten reasons for planting house churches is the list from Rad Zdero's book, "The Global House Church Movement." Seems there is a growing interest in house churches coming from a wide variety of believers from across the evangelical world.

2. CPM concepts revisited was one of my favorite posts this past year. This article by David Watson was a huge encouragement to me personally, and was glad to see that many "M Blog" readers also benefited from it as well.

1. Women shepherds took first place by a landslide in terms of numbers of readers and 106 comments generated! This post was actually a follow-up to my earlier Shepherd: function or office? which I thought was a better post. It is basically a question about the role of women in ministry. If you do decide to click, please read the original post first before tackling the second "Women shepherds" and don't forget to take along a cup of coffee if you should decide to plow through all the comments!

Five other of my personal 2007 favorites that did not make it into the top ten are (in no specific order)...

The Garden is a great YouTube children's animation that so perfectly illustrates the futility of trying to do Kingdom work in the power of the flesh. God alone is the one who causes all things to grow, including church plants. I am embarrassed at how much like "Toad" I really am.

What a difference you've made in my life and What a difference you've made in my life (Part 2). This is an ongoing story taking place in our work here in Guayaquil. It is hard to convey in words how inspiring this story really is. If you haven't yet read it and viewed the accompanying photos, click and be blessed. This story is still developing even as I write!

Things I wonder about is a post about things I wonder about! For example, Where in the Bible does it refer to believers as members of a local church? And, why don't we ever hear any sermons on 1 Corinthians 12:28ff " the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues..." and, why aren't our churches structured according to Paul's order, rather than the way we are structured today with Senior Pastors leading the list? Are pastors even mentioned in the 1 Cor. 12:28 list?

Was this man biblically baptized? is an example of the difficulties encountered when we would substitute man-made baptismal guidelines for the clear instructions given to us by Jesus. More than 1600 people viewed our YouTube video Salitre Baptisms "Send Us Out" where this event actually took place.

And finally, One million disciples a post that combines many of the themes close to my heart: unity in the Body of Christ, prayer, making disciples, city church, and the Kingdom of God.

We will be out of town for a few days of R&R to the sunny coast of Ecuador, and so we won't be able to respond immediately to any comments. Until we get back, I would invite you to share which of the above posts you connected with the most (or any others not listed.)

Gracias for reading the "M Blog" this past year and especially for all of you who took the time to leave your thoughts and comments. Like most bloggers, we love to see people interact with what we share!

Wednesday, December 26


And this will be a sign for you:
you will find a baby wrapped in cloths,
and lying in a manger. Luke 2:12

Does God really give us signs today like he gave the shepherds? I think so.

If only God would give us a sign! Like the cartoon above, the true spiritual picture is one of being surrounded with overwhelming manifestations of God's love, concern, and direction for our lives. We do not see his signs because we come to him with our own set of expectations. We want things our own way.

God is all around us. He is working behind the curtain of our life in all its multiple dimensions. But do we see him?

Earth's crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Aurora Leigh" VII.821-22

Sadly, the "signs" God sends us are not always what we are looking for. When we don't get our "bush afire with God", we assume God isn't interested and settle for "plucking blackberries."

Our problem is we want God to do for us what it is we want him to do. When he doesn't comply, we sigh, and wonder where is God?

What are the clear, tangible signs of his love, care, compassion, guidance and direction in our lives? Can we identify the signs he has surrounded us with? If not, maybe we need to spend the remaining days of this year asking God to open our eyes to see Him at work all around us. Let 's not settle for blackberries when every common bush is afire with God!

Oswald Chambers says it like this,

We can all see God in exceptional things, but it requires the culture of spiritual discipline to see God in every detail. Never allow that the haphazard is anything less than God's appointed order, and be ready to discover the Divine deSIGNS anywhere.

As we finish 2007 and approach 2008, may the prayer of our heart be this well-known praise song...

Open the eyes of my heart Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see you.

*The above cartoon was first seen on Debbie Kaufman's blog.

Monday, December 24

The best Christmas present of all

Yes, it is hard being away from friends and loved ones at Christmas time. Instead of snow and cold weather, sweat drips down my back as I sit typing this post. Instead of Christmas Carols in the background, I hear salsa music coming from the neighbors house. The door bell rings every few minutes with children asking us for their Navidad (Christmas). We give them as many mangoes as they can carry and send them on their way. Instead of the usual baked goodies and sweets, we enjoyed a great Christmas Eve meal of shrimp ceviche with chicken empanadas. The side dishes were chifles (plantain chips) and popcorn. Of course, to drink, we had thick, sweet mangoe juice!

But the real joy of being a missionary at Christmas time is to stop for a moment and reflect back on all those who through the grace and mercy of God have entered the Kingdom this past year. It is a humbling thing to be a small part of all that God is doing in Ecuador these days.

Yesterday, for example, our family was invited to one of the house churches to share in their Christmas turkey dinner (rice, potato salad with peas, carrots and apples). As I gazed around the hot, humid room, amidst the laughter and smiling faces, it dawned on me that most present were celebrating their first REAL Christmas of knowing Jesus. We attended many of their baptisms this past year. In fact, I counted ELEVEN people present in just this one house church that I was present at their river baptisms! The biggest reward and most meaningful Christmas gift I will get this year is to hear these precious new brothers and sisters address me as hermano Guido (brother Guy)!

Thank you for your prayer support for us here in Ecuador. Thank you for making it possible for us to be here by your gifts to the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. We honestly wouldn't trade places with anyone on earth!

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 21

NT Churches with OT Structures

When did we start going back to the Old Testament to find systems of organization, leadership and finances for New Testament churches? Alan Knox hits the nail on the head with his recent Old Testament Structures and the Church. Here are Alan's thoughts on the subject...

Often, when I'm talking to people about church structures and organizations, they usually point me to Old Testament structure to defend hierarchies, authorities, buildings, positions...temples, tithes, etc...

The conversations tend to go something like this (in a condensed form, of course):

Person #1: "The pastor has authority over the local church."
Me: "I can't find anything in Scripture that gives the pastors authority over anyone."
Person #1: "Well, you have to go back to the priest system of the Old Testament."

Person #2: "You should give tithes to the local church."
Me: "I can't find any teaching in Scripture that tells us to give money to a local church."
Person #2: "Well, you have to go back to the tithe system of the Old Testament."

Person #3: "You need someone trained in music to lead your worship."
Me: "I'm sorry but I don't see that in Scripture. Nor do I see music called worship."
Person #3: "Well, you have to go back to the Levites of the Old Testament."

Person #4: "Why are you not saving money to build a church (meaning, 'church building')."
Me: "I don't see a requirement for having a church building in the new testament."
Person #4: "Well, you have to go back to the temple in the Old Testament."

Here's my concern: I don't see the New Testament authors making these connections. Instead, I see the New Testament writers calling all believers "priests" (Rom 15:16; 1 Pet 2:5,9; Rev 1:6; Heb 10:19-22 - notice the resemblance to the sanctification of priests). But, pastors/elders/overseers are never specifically referred to as "priests".

Once again, all believers are taught to share generously with those who are in need, with those who are traveling away from home in order to proclaim the gospel, and with those who teach and lead them well (Acts 2:45; 4:34-35; James 2:15-16; Gal 6:6; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 5:17; 3 John 3-6). But, I do not see the New Testament authors comparing this to the tithe of the Old Testament, nor requiring a tithe to be given to the "local church".

Similarly, all believers are encouraged to exhort one another with songs, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; 1 Cor 14:26). However, I don't see where training, practice, or even talent is a prerequisite for this singing (although, it does seem that being filled with the Spirit is a prerequisite). Also, I can't find any connection between singing in the New Testament and the Levites of the Old Testament.

Finally, I also see that all followers of Jesus Christ are compared to the "temple" (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21). But, as far as I can tell, "temple" is never associated with a designated meeting place for Christians.

So, where did this contemporary practices come from? When did we start going back to the Old Testament to find systems of organization and leadership and finances? When did the Book of Nehemiah start teaching how to have a successful church building campaign? The exact details of how and when and why these interpretations of the Old Testament filtered into the church continue to be debated among church historians today. I think they all started when the church ceased to be the people of God and started to become an institution. In order to justify the institution, the leaders had to go back to the Old Testament system - the very system that the author of Hebrews calls a "shadow" of the reality that we have in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 19

Intro to "City Church"

What is meant by "city church"? A lot of ideas, both pro and con, are circulating out there about city church. While not in total agreement with everything shared on this 10-minute video, it is still a good introduction piece covering the basic arguments for there being only one church per city.

Your thoughts on city church are welcome in the comments section below.

Sunday, December 16

One million disciples

I love crazy people. Crazy people like the Ecuadorian hermano (brother) who came over yesterday to ask for our help in making one million disciples of Christ in '08-'09. I told him his "crazy plan" trumped our own crazy 500,000 disciples in five years!

But this wasn't just any "kook" mouthing off numbers. He was dead serious. My visitor was one of the top heads of the Assemblies of God churches here in Ecuador. My heart was warmed beyond expression that KINGDOM trumps denominational ties. Here was an AoG leader asking our (Baptist) church planting team for help. His way of putting it was: share with us your process, discipleship materials and training; we'll provide the passion and people, and through the power of the Holy Spirit working through us all, bring in a harvest of a million souls! Isn't that the way it is supposed to be in the Body of Christ?

We can talk about unity until we are blue in the face, but until we sit down and begin sharing our plans with one another and drawing from each others strengths, we will never fulfill the Great Commission. I happen to be one of those crazy people who actually believe that we can fulfill the Great Commission in this generation (at least here in Ecuador.) I'd rather be around other crazy-thinking people like that, than the so-called "sane" amongst us who can only find reasons for not partnering, and can only point out all the negatives involved!

But we have got to begin doing the kinds of things that are more than just talk. Materials have to be shared; not withheld. We have to be willing to appear on stage at THEIR meetings. Partner with them how all these things are going to work. We have to make room on our calendar for training THEM, as well as our own projects, assignments, goals. We have to be willing to feel a bit of discomfort at being around those with minor doctrinal differences and practices. Personally, I can put up with a little tongues speaking and charismatic practices in exchange for a million souls!

So, how did all this come about?


Our people are taught to obey Christ's command to pray the Lord of the harvest for laborers (Luke 10:2). We pray daily for the 500,000 disciples in five years. We pray for passion, perseverance and power from on high to complete the task. But most importantly, we pray,


By praying these two phrases incessantly to the Lord, we are letting Him know we want HIS WILL and KINGDOM to come, not our own. We are not telling Him HOW it will be done, only praying that it WILL be done. The choice is God's as to how it will all be worked out. His Kingdom is about JESUS, not us, not our plans, our strategies, our team, our denomination, our church.

So we continue to pray, and wait for God to open doors. When He does, like yesterday, we must be ready to walk through them in faith and with resolve.

The thing about KINGDOM work is that God gets the glory. If even a tenth of the AoG million are won next year, that's 100,000 disciples! Who knows how many newly planted churches will come out of it all? Guess how many we will be able to report on our IMB annual statistics? ZERO! Yet, if this crazy plan is only moderately successful, there will be THOUSANDS of new brothers and sisters in Christ added to the Kingdom. The AoG will get to show the numbers on paper, but what really counts is that Jesus will have to stay busy a while longer building mansions in Heaven for all these new folks!

Thursday, December 13

'Growth' vs. 'reproduction'

I first read Let's Stop Planting Sterile Churches by Carol Davis on Les Puryear's blog. I strongly encourage you to read the entire article. What follows is an excerpt...

...I want to show you the difference between what I call a "growth culture" in which we've all been trained and a "reproduction model." Because I believe to plant a church is a different animal than to plant a church-planting church. In fact, I'm convinced that the skill sets we learned in ministry training will actually insure that things don't reproduce.

In our growth culture we've learned to focus on individual conversions, while a reproduction model focuses on group conversions.

We've started on believer's turf. But in order to reproduce, we must start on unbeliever's turf. If we want group conversions of family members, co-workers, neighbors and friends, those people are not going to come to a stranger's house or into the strange setting of a church. They will come to turf where they are always involved. In our culture we teach Scripture for information. With the reproductive model it is taught for application, so that people are watching the power of God.

We've begun by finding Christians. But if you want a really powerful church start, find people of peace. Bar the Christians; don't let them in. They mess things up in the early stages.

We've begun in facilities. This takes money and expertise, which are not readily available. If you begin in homes or front porches or yards or parks, there are always more of them.

We've tended to start with celebration in a large group. For reproduction you start with a small group. Very few people actually have the ability and gifts to do a large group well. It takes more expertise, more preparation, more everything. A lot of people can facilitate small groups. They were already doing it in their own natural network before they were saved.

We build programs and buildings. To reproduce, you build leaders.

Leadership is also different. Traditionally we import professional clergy. But what we need for reproduction is to have indigenous and convert-emerging clergy. Where are the future pastors for this setting? They are in the streets, they are beating their wives, they are ripping off their employers.

Also, the leader tends to see himself as the leader for all the participants. In a reproducing church, the leader is the equipper for the emerging leaders. That is how they see themselves, and that is how they stay focused. We are used to funding the church starter. But for churches that will start other churches, you need to have bi-vocational church starters. If we are going to see the cities reached, it is going to be with bi-vocational people. Otherwise, it takes too long to actually fund.

In my own experience, every time we got ready to plant a church we felt like we couldn't afford to lose those people, their tithes and all that. But every time we did, we actually didn't skip a beat. God supplied. I found the most powerful thing is that connection with another church who cares.

In fact, in every church that I see planting churches, I find that some of their own issues begin to dissolve. I don't know what it is. They are giving themselves away. I am convinced you cannot out-give God. The more you give, the more God does.

Growth Culture vs. Reproductive Model

GC: Focus on individual conversions
RM: Focus on group conversions

GC: Start on believer's turf
RM: Start on unbeliever's turf

GC: Teach Scripture for information
RM: Teach Scripture for application

GC: Begin by finding Christians
RM: Begin by finding "people of peace"

GC: Begin in facilities
RM: Begin in homes, front porches, yards, parks

GC: Start with celebration in a large group
RM: Start with a small group

GC: Build programs and buildings
RM: Build leaders

GC: Import professional clergy
RM: Have indigenous and convert-emerging clergy

GC: Leader leads all the participants
RM: Leader equips the emerging leaders

GC: Fund the church starter
RM: Start churches with bi-vocational people

Wednesday, December 12

Effective Partnerships

Effective Partnerships
By Jay Lorenzen on Nov 29, 2007

I see it over and over. Movements that bring change depend on partnerships. Working together is a Trinitarian expression. God lives in community, in relationship, in a heavenly dance–modeling the cooperation he intends for us as families, as churches, as organizations. Satan’s strategy is always to divide. Unfortunately, over the last 200-300 years, the intense individualism of Western societies has made the journey toward wholeness, relationship, and cooperation much harder. Personally I’ve been driven so often by building my particular organization rather than building the kingdom. I’m beginning to repent.

Phil Butler, in his book Well Connected, argues that “individualism has inflected our lives, our theology, our churches, our educational paradigms, and the fruits of the missionary movement.”

In his book, Phil identifies some of the key issues and principles of effective partnerships...The following principles will help us build such partnerships.

1. Effective partnerships are built on trust, openness and mutual concern. Partnerships are more than coordination, planning, strategies and tactics. The heart of Gospel is restored relationships.

2. Effective partnerships need a facilitator or coordinator — someone who, by consensus, has been given the role of bringing the partnership to life and keeping the fires burning. This “honest broker,” usually loaned or seconded from an agency committed to the task, must be a person of vision who will keep on despite all discouragement. Prophet, servant, and resource person — this individual has to be trained and nurtured. Serving everyone in a partnership is a lonely task.

3. Effective partnerships have a partnership champion: inside every partner ministry — a person who sees how their individual agency can benefit from such practical cooperation: an individual who will sell the vision to their colleagues and keep the partnership focused to realize those benefits.

4. Successful partnerships develop in order to accomplishes a specific vision or task. Partnerships for partnership’s sake is a sure recipe for failure. This means lasting partnerships focus primarily on what (objective) rather than how (structure). Form always follows function — not the other way around. Concensus is usually better than constitution!

5. Effective partnerships have limited, achievable objectives in the beginning, and become more expansive as the group experiences success. Though limited, these objectives must have clear Kingdom significance that captures the imagination and provides motivation for the group as well as relevance to each partner ministry’s vision and objective.

6. Effective partnerships start by identifying needs among the people being reached or served. They do not start by trying to write a common theological statement. From these needs, Kingdom priorities, barriers to spiritual breakthroughs, and the resources available or needed, realistic priorities for action must be distilled and agreed.

7. Partnerships are a process, not an event. The start-up, exploration and formation stages of a partnership often take a long time. Call a formation or even exploratory meeting too early and you will likely kill the possibility of a partnership. Ultimately, personal trust is required. Taking time to establish it privately in one-on-one meetings, the facilitator will find that later, in the group, it will pay rich dividends.

8. Effective partnerships are even more challenging to maintain than to start. Making sure the vision stays alive, the focus-clear, communication good, and outcomes fulfilling takes great concentration and long-term commitment.

9. Effective partnerships are made up of partner ministries with clear identities and vision. They must have their own clear mission statements and live by them. Otherwise, they will never understand how they “fit in,” and contribute to the overall picture, or benefit from the joint effort.

10. Effective partnerships acknowledges, even celebrate, the differences in their partner agencies’ histories, vision and services. But partnerships must ultimately concentrate on what they have in common, like vision and values, and ministry objectives rather than on their differences.

11. Effective partnerships serve at least four constituencies: the people they are trying to reach; the partner agencies with their own staffs and vision; the partner agencies funding and praying constituencies; and eventually, the partnership itself with it’s growing expectations. There are many more players around the table than we often acknowledge or remember. Forget them, and eventually the partnership will fail.

12. Effective partnerships have a high sense of participation and ownership. Facilitators need to give special attention to the widest possible participation in objective setting, planning and the process of meetings, and on-going communications — increasing the likelihood of wider ownership and commitment to the common vision.

13. Effective partnerships keep focused on their ultimate goals or vision and are not distracted by day-to-day operational demands. It is often easy to focus on the “means” rather than the “end”. Only constant diligency will keep this long-term view clear.

14. Effective partnerships see prayer and communion as uniquely powerful elements to bind partners together in Christ. Effective partnerships are refreshed and empowered by frequently praying in small groups where individuals can express concerns for each other’s personal needs, and by the group taking communion together.

15. Effective partnerships do not come free. Just participating in the planning and coordination takes times and money. Deeper commitment may take still greater investments. But, the “return on Kingdom investment” through the partnerships should more than offset the contributions a partner agency may make.

16. Effective partnerships expect problems and plan ahead for them. Make sure a process is built into the partnership for dealing with changes, exceptions, disappointments, unfulfilled commitments, and simply the unexpected. A wise man know one thing — the only predictable thing is the unexpected.


“build on trust”
"a facilitator”
"a partnership ‘champion’”
"accomplish a specific vision”
"have achievable objectives”
"identify needs of those being served”
"it’s a process, not an event”
"it’s more challenging to maintain”
"it’s made up of partner ministries”
"celebrate differences”
"serve four consituencies”
"need high sense of participation and owernship”
"be focused on their ultimate goals”
"maintain prayer and communion”

Sunday, December 9

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions

Every year Southern Baptist Churches in the United States collect a special offering in December for international missions. 100% of this offering goes for overseas work. The goal this year for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is $165 million.

Since we see first-hand and experience the impact of this offering, I would like to say THANK YOU for giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Do you know how much the average Southern Baptist gives to international missions per year? $8.35!!!

Here are a few suggestions that you might consider this Christmas Season as you determine what amount to give. Some of these ideas come from the IMB website here, but most are things we have tried ourselves over the years and personally practice as a family.

1) Decide what amount of money you will spend on your family this Christmas and give MORE than this amount to the LMCO. After all, it is Christ's birthday we are celebrating. Should we be getting more than He if it is his birthday?

2) Something we have done as a family for several years now is set aside an amount out of our monthly paycheck and have that amount automatically credited to the LMCO. This took a couple of email and phone calls to set up, but we haven't had to fool with it since, and are able to give to LMCO throughout the year.

3) A variation on the idea above would be to have a LMCO gift box that you deposit a set amount every week/month throughout the year. Then give this amount to your church when the offering is collected in December.

4) Sell tickets to a mother-daughter or father-son breakfast or brunch. Invite a missionary as a guest speaker. Proceeds go to Lottie Moon.

5) Auction students to church members for a day of service, from cleaning house to raking leaves. Money members give for the work youth do goes to Lottie Moon.

6) One thing we missionaries have done for many years is have an auction where a volunteer team brings in "goodies" from the States and auction them off to the missionaries. A six-pack of Dr. Pepper went for $120 one year! My son paid $60 for a box of Double-Bubble gum. I myself have paid $35 for a jar of Jiff peanut butter! All proceeds go to the missions offerings. Might your church do something similar?

7) Challenge folks to save money for the offering by giving up something small. Examples include a fast-food meal a week or a movie a month. Host a special ceremony for everyone to give their offering and share what God taught them through their sacrifice.

8) Double (or triple!) whatever you gave last year. Give sacrificially, not what is convenient.

9) As a church body, decide to channel funds to a lost world instead of to building improvements or beautification projects.

10) View some of the ideas for promoting the LMCO at the IMB Idea Gallery.

Whatever you decide to give, please do so beforehand in prayer. The idea of just reaching in your pocket and giving whatever comes out doesn't seem worthy of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Give thoughtfully, prayerfully. There are few offerings that make as much of an eternal impact on the world as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Do you feel a yearly offering of $8.35 is worthy of the One who left his throne in glory to die on a cross for our sins? How much will you give this year to see souls around the globe come to the Savior?
Checks can be mailed to (gifts are tax-deductable)
Lottie Moon Christmas Offering
International Mission Board, SBC
P.O. Box 6767
Richmond, VA 23230

Thursday, December 6

Women shepherds

Back in November I posted a blog entry entitled Shepherd: function or office? I took the liberty of posting these same thoughts on the Church Planting Forum in hopes of generating more discussion on the whole role of women in church planting and shepherding.

One of our missionary colleagues wrote...
Could it be that, in the biblical sense, that a woman could be a pastor in the city/region church just as there were women prophetesses and a female apostle in the city/region church, but that women could not be elders in the house churches?
I confess these thoughts have gone through my mind as well: women functioning as ApostlesProphetsEvangelistsPastorsTeachers in the city/region church, and men only as "elders" of local assemblies.

But we still have to deal someway with the whole "Let the women keep silent in the churches for they are not permitted to speak..." and "I [Paul] do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man but to remain quiet..."

Are women to be silent in local assemblies, but free to speak to the church at large? If so, Paul's admonition doesn't make much sense. If they are to be silent in one, shouldn't they be silent in the other as well?

I fear all of us have violated these admonitions of Paul because I see plenty of women out there speaking in churches and teaching men. What was Paul saying when these admonitions were made?

In most of the churches we relate to we don't refer to leadership (whether men or women) as pastors. We try to instill in all our people that ALL of us are ministers of the Gospel charged with fulfilling the Great Commission.

We stress Peter's words in 2 Peter 2, "YOU [all of us] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood...that YOU may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light..." All of us.

Our part is to "make disciples". His to "build his church". When half of the work force are women. It only makes sense that a good percentage of these have been gifted in shepherding. But again, is shepherding/pastoring a function or an office?

When it comes right down to it, can we wiggle our way out of the mess by saying we will not give the title/office of pastor to women, but women who are gifted in shepherding should be encouraged to exercise their giftedness?

In 1Tim.3:1 most versions say, "if anyone (male or female?) sets his heart on being an overseer..." I am no Greek scholar but a literal reading of the text implies ANYONE can aspire to being an overseer/shepherd/pastor/bishop/presbytero/elder.

Or if the above interpretation is too hard to swallow, how about a scenario where named "elders" of local assemblies will only be men, but any believer (male or female) who possesses shepherding gifts use those gifts to build up the church? In such a scenario male elders would share the shepherding and care of the local church with all those who possess the gift and aspire to shepherd/oversee/pastor.

Still open for input and instruction from anyone out there caring to share your thoughts on the matter.

Tuesday, December 4

Thank you video from Ecuador

December is traditionally the month set aside in SBC life for giving to global missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. This month on Commission Stories fellow Ecuador IMB missionary, David Butts, shares a visual "thank you" note showing how the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering affects his "neck of the woods." We would add our thanks as well!

Just a reminder: 100% of what is given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goes directly overseas. This year's goal is $165 million. Have you prayed yet about how much to give so that the world might hear of Jesus?

Video courtesy of

Sunday, December 2

TOP TEN Reasons for Planting House Churches

The following is taken from The Global House Church Movement by Rad Zdero. If you're curious about house church and would like to learn more, but not sure where to begin, this book would be a good place to start your journey.

The Top 10 reasons for starting house churches...

1. Biblical This was the normative New Testament pattern established by Jesus and the apostles and perpetuated by the early church of the first three centuries and in subsequent renewal, reform and revival movements throughout history. (Acts 2:46, 5:42, 20:20)

2. Exponential - To reach a growing world, we need to multiply, not just add. Current house church movements worldwide are outstripping more traditional church planting and church growth efforts.

3. Effective – The most effective method of evangelism is not growing existing churches, but planting new ones. House churches are the most easily reproducible form of church, and hence, are the most obvious choice for church planting.

4. Natural – House churches become part of the local community and easily tap into relationship connections, thereby more readily taking on an indigenous flavour.

5. People-Focused – They focus on relationships and the development of people spiritually, not on executing programs or projects.

6. Efficient – They are more mobile, flexible, and adaptable than conventional churches, especially in areas characterized by persecution and poverty.

7. Equal Opportunity – Because of their small, intimate and participatory nature, all believers have the opportunity to exercise their spiritual gifts during church meetings, and not just professional clergy or key leaders.

8. Unbounded – They are not limited by church buildings. Whatever use buildings may or may not have, history shows that they are not necessary for rapid church planting movements to start; in fact, they may be a hindrance. Although church buildings are not evil by any means, nor are homes in any way magical, the practical release of time, energy and money away from building maintenance, and into evangelism and discipleship, should cause us to rethink current practices.

9. Inexpensive – They are less expensive than traditional church, because no expensive buildings, programs, or professional clergy are required.

10. Immediate – It can start now, right in your living room. There is no need to wait for a gym to be rented or for a building program to be completed to begin a new church or for a full-time pastor to be hired.

Special thanks to for reminding us of this list from the book.

Friday, November 30

How to get people to share their faith

I first saw this video on Wes Kenney's blog. Since we are always looking for ways to motivate our people to share their faith, this one really caught my attention. See if you don't agree if the below wouldn't work in your context!

Tuesday, November 27

Shepherd: function or office?

I am an IMB-SBC missionary. We have served the past 20 years in Guayaquil, Ecuador. For many years we thought we had things worked out in our minds about how things should be. But about ten years ago, the Lord began to open our eyes about many of the traditions and practices that we had long held that, while in themselves might be OK for some--are actually extra-biblical.

The list is long, but to list a few things I had grown up believing: churches need to have a certain number of baptized believers before being a church, churches need a have a pastor to be a functioning church, churches need buildings to be a "real" church, Sunday is the "Lord's Day" and must be observed as THE day one is supposed to go to church, one's tithe must be given to that local church, the paying of professional religious workers, preaching the Word being an integral part of church gatherings, churches must grow out of existing churches (have a mother church), "missions" being to go overseas and help a struggling congregation build a church building so that they can be a real church...the list goes on and on.

Over the years most of the above have ceased to be issues as we continue to examine each tradition/practice in the light of what the New Testament actually teaches or was practiced in the first century. Again, I am not saying the above are all WRONG, just that they are extra-biblical traditions and practices and should not be binding upon new churches being planted.

I am also quick to point out we are far from having all the answers ourselves. A lot of these issues are difficult to deal with. There are no easy answers.

One issue that we continue to deal with is church leadership. To go directly to the point: is there a difference between someone functioning as a shepherd, and the office of shepherd (pastor)? Most reading probably are thinking, what's the difference? If one is functioning as a shepherd/pastor they ARE a shepherd/pastor.

The reason I ask, is that for years we have had many women who go out and win the lost to Christ. They begin discipling them. They make sure these new disciples are baptized. They continue to teach these men and women to follow Christ in all His commandments. They are doing just what the Great Commission says to do. Most of these women are horrified to be called anything other than a servant of God. Yet, through their giftedness find themselves shepherding the flock that the Lord has given them.

So if a church planter happens to be a woman, and she is functioning as a shepherd of the flock she is discipling, she IS a shepherd. The only problem is that women can't be pastors, right? But, is there a difference between the pastoral function/gifting and what some call the "office" of pastor?

So, what do we do?

Here are some of the options I have thought about:

Tell them to leave the flock that they have given birth to...

Name one of the believing men in the group to take on the shepherding (even though most times there are no men in the group with this gifting)...

Tell them to walk away from the group and let the church manage on their own (probably another woman would step in and pick up where the original left off)...

Call a male pastor from outside the congregation to come in and "be the pastor" (experience shows that called-in-from-the-outside pastors usually expect renumeration and are usually a poor match for these kinds of highly participative kinds of churches where everyone functions according to giftings)...

Do nothing and leave them in God's hands.

This last option has been my personal response to these situations. It is NOT MY CHURCH to interfere and tell them what to do. I am not the boss, the owner, the god of these new congregations. I firmly believe that Christ himself builds and puts together the pieces of his church. It is not for me to interfere and begin shuffling pieces around to conform to my wishes.

I believe in the importance, the function, the gift of shepherding that the Holy Spirit gives to the church. But where do we get the idea that this function/gifting is an office? Cannot several in the church utilize their shepherding/pastoral giftings? Is there only one person per church with shepherding gifts? My personal experience has shown that usually there are at least 2-3 to each small congregation with these giftings.

In order for the church to be the church, must there always be a named "pastor" in charge? Can't the church function through the giftings given her by the Holy Spirit without naming someone as THE PASTOR?

I am not against pastors, or even churches that believe in the office of pastor. What I struggle with are the impositions we place upon a new body of believers by telling them they must name an individual to be their pastor. This is especially strange when the church is functioning quite well without this office through the various giftings that have been provided by the Holy Spirit. Who am I to step in and tell them to do something quite out of context with the smooth operation already implemented by the Holy Spirit of God within their midst?

These are just some of the real life issues we deal with as church planting missionaries. I am sure those reading can find gaping holes throughout the post, inconsistencies, etc. But the reader is not here living here with us and dealing with the issues first hand. It is one thing to judge from afar, and quite another to be smack in the center of these kinds of situations.

All we ever really ask of people is for them to pray for us. We are weak, flawed individuals caught up in a huge global task of bringing in what I believe is the final great harvest. There are lots of sticky issues to be dealt with. We need the Lord's wisdom. Please pray for your missionaries.

Friday, November 23

CPM concepts revisited

A lot is being said and written about 'church planting movements' (CPM). But the reality is there are only a handful of people in the world who have actually experienced CPM and can speak with authority about them.

David Watson is one of those few.

In one of his recent blog entries entitled The Secret Ingredient for Church Planting David shares some very helpful thoughts about CPM that are not only instructive but affirming to me and the direction our team is sensing God's guidance...

God began to teach me through many failures that I had to focus on making Disciples of Christ, not followers of my church or denomination, and teach them to obey all the commands of Jesus, not my church/denominational doctrines or traditions. And this is what led to the breakthrough that has resulted in more than 40,000 churches among a people who were once considered unreachable.

Many people use the term “CPM” to describe or justify what they are doing. But, on closer examination, I find that many groups who use this term are simply applying it to what they have always done. CPM is not a method! It is an observation of results. In my experience, and this is what I teach, CPM is the result of obedience-based discipleship that sees disciples reproducing disciples, leaders reproducing leaders, and churches reproducing churches. If this is not happening, it is not CPM.

True CPM methodology is about being disciplined in education, training, and mentoring to obey all the commands of Jesus, regardless of consequences. The results are not quick. They only appear to be quick because of exponential growth. When one is truly engaged in the process that leads to observable CPM, then one is spending years investing in leaders. The typical investment timeline is two to four years. But, because of the replication process due to obedience to make disciples and teach them to obey, in this same two to four years, as many as five more leaders, who are also developing more leaders, will emerge. Each leader is investing two to four years in other leaders who invest two to four years in other leaders, and so on. The apparent result is explosive growth that does not seem to take much time and energy. But appearances are misleading.

CPM is extremely time and energy intensive. Leaders invest a major portion of their time in equipping other leaders. Churches invest in starting more groups that will become churches as they obey the teachings of Christ and begin to fulfill the nature and functions of church, which means they teach others to do the same.

There were no visible or measureable results the first four years of my ministry among a very resistant unreached people group. My mission was ready to discipline me for failure to do my job. But during those years I was equipping five leaders. These five leaders began to equip twenty-five more leaders, who in turned equipped hundreds of other leaders.

A few churches became more churches as leaders were equipped and trained to obey all the commands of Christ. More churches became hundreds of churches as the leadership equipping process continued. Every leader has years invested in him or her by other leaders. Nothing is quick. It only appears to be quick because more and more leaders are being produced in obedience to the command of Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV)

So, CPM rapid multiplication really isn’t. We go slow in order to appear to go fast. We invest extensively in one in order to reach and train many. Our goal is to add at least two new leaders to our mentoring process each year, and equip the new leaders to do the same every year. As leaders multiply, churches grow and multiply.

If you really want to have CPM anywhere in the world, invest in teaching, training and mentoring leaders to obey all the commands of Christ. If you want to evaluate a so-called CPM, examine the discipleship and leadership equipping process. Real and lasting CPMs invest heavily in leadership and training. CPM is a result, not a cause.

The above words affirm the direction our team senses the Lord leading us. After years of deliberate church planting emphasis, we are restructuring ourselves into what we are calling the "Centro de Apoyo Para la COsecha" CAPCO (Harvest Support Center.)

We understand our task as primarily that of "making disciples." We do this by teaching, training, and mentoring of leaders. To be honest, it has caused me to panic in that our primary focus is NOT church planting. How will we ever plant churches if that ceases to be our focus? But the conviction is strong amongst our team that if we stick with the very things David is talking about above, we will position ourselves to be on the road to seeing a genuine CPM here in Ecuador.

The past few months we have thoroughly examined and revamped our whole discipleship and leadership equipping process. Will it pay off? Time will tell. David speaks of little visible or measurable results until after four years. We have been at it for seven now without the longed for results. With our change in focus, are we now looking at an additional four years before we begin to see the true fruits coming forth from our labors? Only the Lord knows, but we are excited about the coming days and what we sense God will do to bring glory to His Name.

Wednesday, November 21

When was the last time you asked God to stretch your faith?

The Guayas Mestizo Team meets every Monday from 4-7pm to pray, talk about God and the ministry, discuss projects, strategize, plan, share, structure name it, we do it on Monday afternoons!

The "GMT" currently consists of eleven people: three IMB missionaries, and eight nationals.

This past Monday, team member, Marlene, shared that in their house church this past week they had agreed to ask God to "stretch their faith" and allow them to see His intervention in their lives in a difficult situation (pretty risky request if you ask me!) Marlene shared that for several days nothing happened in her life to really stretch her faith. She dreaded not having anything to share with her church next time they met.

This past weekend, Marlene's nephew got sick. As is the custom here when a loved one needs medical attention, the family pools their resources to help pay the needed medical costs. Marlene had received $60 from her family to purchase the needed medications. She stuck the money in her jeans pocket and headed off to the pharmacy. When it was time to pay, she stuck her hand in her pocket, but the money was GONE! The money must have accidentally fallen out. Marlene quickly left the pharmacy and retraced her steps. With the crowds on the street there was little chance the money would still be found.

After walking awhile, she saw in the distance a woman reach down and pick up what was clearly the money she had dropped. Marlene's heart dropped as she saw the woman doing the Catholic "sign of the cross" in gratitude to God for her good fortune--$60 (about 2-weeks wages)!!!

Marlene was crushed at being so close to retrieving her money and yet how was she to convince the woman it was the money she had dropped? As she approached the woman, Marlene remembered that the church had agreed to ask God to "test their faith" in order to see the power of God at work. She boldly approached the woman and told her that the money she had found belonged to her and to please give it back. Expecting a confrontation, or at least an argument, Marlene was surprised that the woman simply gave back the money without incident. This kind of thing simply doesn't happen here! Marlene's faith had been tested and God had once again proven in a very real way that He indeed takes care of his own.

Team member, Pedro, was next...

He shared he had won to the Lord a man and wife infected with HIV. Their youngest of four children is also infected. "Luis" has no work and spends most of his days too sick to even get out of bed. He and his wife have no medical help. They live in extreme poverty. Even so, Pedro and the believers in his house church do what they can to help Luis and his family. Pedro personally travels across town each week to disciple the young couple in their new-found faith. Pedro reports they even though they are physically weak, their spirits are vibrant and their faith strong.

Recently, Luis was very ill and dwindled down to around 80 lbs. He could barely get out of bed, but insisted on going out into the city and try to find something to feed his family with that day. His wife thought he was crazy, but Luis told her, "God always provides."

Luis went out and stood on a street corner where a man was selling pirated CDs. A buyer bought a couple of CDs and paid with a $5 bill. The owner of the "business" didn't have change so Luis offered to watch over his merchandise while he went to find some change. Luis assured him he was a Christian and that nothing would happen while he was gone. The customer heard him and told Luis he was also a Christian.

When the owner returned with the change, the customer gave the $3 change to Luis. He explained that God had impressed upon him, even before buying the CDs, that he was to give the change to the first person that he came in contact with after the purchase. Luis was that person! Luis was overjoyed in the Lord. God had provided him with enough to feed his family for one more day.

This Thanksgiving as we gather with friends and loved ones to give thanks for the bountiful blessings we enjoy, let us remember Christ's words in Matthew 6,

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
...So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

When was the last time you asked God to stretch your faith?

Monday, November 19

Don't make this mistake!

When setting out to plant a new house church (or any model of NT church), one can make many mistakes along the way and still end up with a NT ekklesia. There is one mistake, though, that if committed will almost always lead to church planting failure. Failure to do adequate follow-up is nearly always fatal to a church plant. It is undoubtedly the weak link in most evangelism-discipleship chains.

We are usually a lot better at "winning" people, but not so hot about following up decisions with immediate discipleship and personal attention. The fruit is generally lost due to our neglect. We birth spiritual sons and daughters and then generally abandon them by, 1) turning them over to someone else (seldom works), 2) a pat on the back with instructions to read the Bible, pray, and go to church, or 3) expecting them to somehow figure out on their own how to live their new faith (are new born babies expected to do the same?)

For several years now we have strongly stressed in our training the conservation element (follow-up) in soul winning.

To my surprise, in an internet search for information on the subject, I found the following:

The Billy Graham organization reports that out of all the people converted through their ministry, 90 percent will be lost if not followed up within 48 hours; 90 percent are kept, however, when followed up within 48 hours!

“Decision is 5 percent; following up the decision is the 95 percent,” teaches Billy Graham, the well known international evangelist.

In our own church planting training, conservation (follow-up) is one of the pillar modules that is carefully stressed. It is the second "C" (conservation) of "c.o.s.e.C.h.a." (harvest) church planting training.

When a person expresses any kind of decision or interest in following Christ it is a MUST that BEFORE taking leave of the new convert, an appointment is set up to meet them on THEIR turf within a maximum of 48-hours.

There are then four responsibilities of the evangelist/church planter:

1) review their decision to receive Christ by going over the 1st lesson in the disicipleship manual, answering/clarifying any doubts, questions, etc.

2) visit with the person getting to know them better and hearing their needs and concerns, praying for whatever has been shared

3) help the new believer make out a list of family, friends, and neighbors who do not know the Lord and teach them how to begin praying for them (discipleship is all about obedience to Christ's commands, praying for the lost is one of the first practical lessons)

4) confirm the day/time for continuing the discipleship/mentoring at the convenience of the new believer (they are also encouraged to invite their family/friends to be part of these meetings)

In our own context those who take seriously the follow-up aspect of evangelism are the ones who end up planting NT ekklesias. Those who don't usually end up frustrated and disappointed.

What are your thoughts, experiences, observations with follow-up of new believers or seekers? Share with the rest of us what you have learned about conserving evangelistic results.

Saturday, November 17

Making disciples

New Horizons Ministries International is a non-denominational mission dedicated to the planting of churches amongst unreached people groups. All interested can subscribe to their "Church Planters Review" mailings

In their latest mail out are the following thoughts about discipleship...


However, we need to examine the word DISCIPLE a little further... Firstly, it is important to note that we are to MAKE disciples. If this is so, it means that at one stage a person is NOT a disciple and is then MADE into a disciple. This is very different from our traditional view of discipleship as a process or course. Here are some points to note:

a) Disciples are to be made in the World – we are to go out to where people are to make disciples. The target are non-believers.

b) A Disciple is one who follows. Therefore a disciple is made when the person becomes a Follower. This FOLLOWERSHIP is lifelong.

c) They are to become Disciples of Christ – followers of Christ. In the traditional concept of discipleship, we have a disciple-ER and a disciple. In the biblical context – we present people with the “Good News” and they decide whether or not they wish to Follow Christ – or become Disciples. They follow Christ as the Holy Spirit leads them.

d) We are to teach the Disciples to Follow Christ – this is “tested” through their OBEDIENCE to the Commands of Christ (incidentally there are only 9 or 10 commands of Christ – and they are SO simple!).

e) As they Follow Christ, all the other “compartments” of Church life are filled out! There is no need to choose between emphasizing the Great Commandment over the Great Commission, because as Disciples we are to OBEY all!

This is a far more correct view of the Christian life because it is holistic. It recognises the centrality of Discipleship (we are to make DISCIPLEs not Christians!) and also acknowledges that there is an organic PROCESS that takes place.

Let us compare this with what we traditionally practice. We present the gospel – people make DECISIONS to become CHRISTIANS. Discipleship is optional, not central. These new Christians can choose to pick up whatever area of ministry they choose. (Apparently they can also choose the “flavour” of their Christianity that takes their fancy, as well as their level of commitment that their threshold of pain will allow!). This short circuits the whole process. If discipleship is FOUNDATONAL, then we will miss that which can only come as a result of being disciples! The result of Discipleship is FRUITFULNESS – Changed lives and Ministry – which together, will impact, and change our world!

Wednesday, November 14

How long do we stay?

"We tend to prefer answers to questions" says Charles Ringma in his devotional, Dare to Journey. "Answers are meant to reassure. Questions usually disturb us."

As we approach our 20th year as missionaries here in Guayaquil, one of the questions that "disturbs us" is, how long do we continue to stay?

Our IMB regional leadership suggests the following items as indicators when the missionary should begin to trasition out of their assigned people group/population segment:
  • 2-5% status of evangelization in a people group or population segment
  • 1:1000 church-to-people-group or population segment ration
  • widespread 2nd and 3rd generation churches being planted
  • 50% of church leaders receiving leadership training
While these are helpful, there are other considerations that must be included in the mix. The main one being a sense that the Lord is leading in this process of transitioning out.

While information is difficult to come by, I am fairly confident that we have surpassed the 2-5% evangelization threshold. But does that by itself signal our need to transition out? When only 5 out of every 100 people who die will go to heaven, have we completed the task? Is it time to move on? This is a tough question for missionaries to deal with. There are no easy answers.

Another related question: if we stay, are we being more of a hindrance than a help? Most missionaries realize (whether they admit it or not) that as long as we are on the scene people tend to rely upon us. We are looked to for answers, for help, for support, for training, for money...the list is long. As long as we are here the brethren will continue to lean upon us. It is a good feeling to be needed. Missionaries have a lot to offer emerging churches. But our presence can also be a limitation. Often our presence hinders local leadership from truly coming into their own. Ownership of the work is not really theirs as long as we continue to be present.

Is it right that we remain where God has placed us when daily unreached people groups--like those featured in the right-hand side bar from the Joshua Project--reveal that 0.00% of these peoples are reached? I don't know about you, but everyday when a new UPG is featured showing anywhere from tens of thousands to MILLIONS with less than 1% reached, my heart is crushed. It is just not right. Where are the laborers? Does anyone care that virtually 100% of those dying within these UPGs will spend a Christless eternity?

Ringma continues..."there is nothing as significant as the power of the question...questions ruffle the smooth front of what we already know and open us up to new possibilities...but so often we close off the power of the question..." He concludes, "We many often think that God is only with us in the answer. He is, however, equally present in the question."

So, how long do we stay? We continue to struggle with the question. Will you pray with us and for us?

Monday, November 12

Working cooperatively

Baptist Press recently released a story by *Kenneth Hemphill entitled, Working cooperatively for Kingdom advancement. Far too many of us are out there seeking to build our own little kingdoms. Little do we think in terms of working cooperatively to build THE Kingdom.

We tend to be "loners" with the "I can do it myself" attitude. When we work alone, it is tempting to claim the credit for what is accomplished. Some churches today expend energy and resources for global advancement only in settings where they can control what is accomplished and take the credit for the accomplishment. It is easy to rally people to give when we can build something, take a picture of it, and then boast that "we did this." It is harder to get people involved in a project that is so large that no one can take credit for what is accomplished. But a global strategy requires Kingdom thinking and Kingdom cooperation which ultimately allows God to get all the credit. We sometimes forget that He is the only scorekeeper that matters.

No single passage describes the attitude necessary for cooperative ministry better than Philippians 2:1-11... what should be the attitude of our heart and mind? "Fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" ...

What if we really took this passage seriously? What would change about how we do church and missions? Do you think the spirit of church business meetings would change? Does your church have one mind and one goal? Do we see more rivalry than we see cooperation?

Following are seven reasons we must seek cooperation and partnerships:

1. It is biblical. The Bible is full of examples where cooperation is the norm for those who are one body in Christ.

2. It provides for strength and stability. The wise king Solomon declared, "Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts ... a cord of three strands is not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

3. It promotes unity in diversity. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compared the church to the human body which has many diverse but equally important parts. The diversity of the body parts is actually fundamental to its unity.

4. It enables strategic thinking which enables us to maximize effectiveness and minimize waste. Paul's desire to unite the churches in Achaia and Macedonia demonstrates the need for strategic thinking. Missiologists tell us that about 1.56 billion people remain who have little or no access to the Gospel. We can ill afford to duplicate effort and waste the King's resources by failing to work cooperatively to complete the task of world evangelization.

5. It provides a biblical model for other churches. When you read 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 you will discover that Paul wanted the generosity of one church to provide a model for other churches. By working cooperatively in our mission strategy we can ensure that the churches we plant have the DNA to be cooperative.

6. It enables Kingdom advancement. For the sake of the Kingdom, we must be willing to move beyond church growth to Kingdom advancement.

7. It ensures that God will receive all the glory. We sometimes get so caught up in our little world of ministry that we forget that all we do has a single aim -- the glory of God.

Can we afford to do any less than our best when we serve the King of kings and Lord of lords? Too much is at stake for us not to work cooperatively.

*Kenneth S. Hemphill is the national EKG (Empowering Kingdom Growth) strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention.

Friday, November 9

Conflicting visions

There are two "Christian" visions that compete: 1) that of the traditional church with its structures, programs, and leadership; and 2) the Biblical imperative of Christ to go to the lost, make disciples, baptize those who believer, and teach them to observe Christ's commandments. Two worlds colliding. Maybe to some they are one and the same, but my experience is that they are different cultures. Different world views. We SAY that our churches are about reaching the lost, but when it comes right down to it, they are following a "churchianity" vision where the real goal is to get people to GO TO CHURCH. Christ's mandate and vision is that His Church GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES of the nations.

We work within both worlds, but are clearly focused on the latter. One of my frustrations as a missionary is that most believers are content to dwell within the church environment that has been created for them. It is for the most part a neat, secure world where one knows what is clearly expected: go to church, give your tithe, and participate as actively as time permits in the various programs and ministries of the church.

When someone with an apostolic calling and vision comes around lifting a prophetic voice to literally get out there and make disciples of the nations, there is resistance. Excuses are made...we are too busy...I am not gifted in that kind of thing...God didn't "call me"...I am serving God in my own way...I have plans to get more involved at a later stage in life...etc.

In our church planting training we seldom have any conflicts over the validity of the kinds of materials we are teaching (prayer, serving others, evangelism, follow-up, baptism, discipleship, and church planting). Where the two worlds collide is when those being trained are expected to DO what they have been taught! Carrying out the vision of what Christ actually says in the Great Commission is something that few are willing to take on seriously.

Most of the traditional churches we relate to simply cannot get past the issue of having to live their Christianity outside of the four walls of the church building. I know this sounds like an unfair accusation. But to prove my point just ask yourself these questions:

1) Am I really personally involved in taking the Gospel out of the four walls of our church building?

2) Am I really making true reproducing disciples?

3) How many new believers have I lately been responsible for baptizing?

4) Can I name any new disciples whom I am personally teaching to be obedient followers to all Christ commands?

The answer for most of us is NO or NONE! It is much easier and more convenient to just "go to church."

So, how do we get the two visions aligned? What will it take for us to swap a "going to church" vision, for a Great Commission vision?

I struggle a lot with this, but here are some of my evolving thoughts in progress...

1) The key is NOT so much trying to reform believers who have spent years in traditional church settings. These attempts will usually lead to frustration. The real key is starting with the NEW BELIEVERS who are being won and discipled. They are the future, not those sitting in church pews.

2) Spend 80% of time, energy and attention on the 20% who "get it" and are doing their best to be obedient to what Christ commanded. Spend 20% of our time, energy and attention on the 80% who are content to just come to church.

3) Along the same lines of the four questions above, ask believers to share about a person they are currently discipling. Ask about how many people they are currently praying for salvation. Go around the room and ask for recent witnessing encounters they have participated in of any kind where they sought to share Christ with someone who is not yet a believer. If we are not doing so, why not? What are the obstacles? What can be done to get back on track?

We can "talk the talk" all we want, but few of us actually "walk the walk" and DO what Christ said. There is a conflict of visions in the Church today.

What are some of your thoughts on the conflicting visions that exist within Christianity today?

Wednesday, November 7

Missionary stories anyone?

If you love missionary stories Commission Stories is the place to visit on the web. The IMB's new website features exciting missionary stories coming from the four corners of the globe. blends insights, sounds and images into what is in reality a web storytelling magazine. Each story draws from the lives of missionaries and the people they work with. There are videos, slideshows, RSS feeds for blog readers, podcasts, email newsletters, links for going, giving, and praying, plus a lot more.

Enough said, click here to go directly to the site, or watch one of the Commission Stories below...

Monday, November 5

Missions for Dummies

I recently added Missions for Dummies to my blog roll. The blogger is Chris Irwin, a fellow Guayaquil missionary also involved in church planting.

His wife and four kids come over everyday and join our two children for homeschooling and NorthStar Academy online school. (For a description, photos, and all the details of the circus everyday at our house check out my wife's blog here.)

Chris has a lot of good things to say about missions and church planting. The Office is a good reminder to all of us in ministry about the dangers of spending too much time away from our real ministry--people!

Every minister and missionary knows the danger of office-work. In the midst of organization and becomes apparent that people become secondary. We spend more time with ourselves than we do those with whom we have chosen to serve. We are experts at organizing, systematizing and planning.

It reminds me of a missionary friend of mine who at the end of his missionary service asked one of his best African friends what he wished for from the missionaries. The African man quickly replied “Just once I wish you would come to visit unannounced--without scheduling it in your day-timer!”

For most non-western cultures, friendship is not what happens on-the-clock. It cannot be scheduled, arranged and planned for. It is built through unscheduled visits and the sharing of life experiences; even when they don’t seem very productive.

Every Tuesday night after prayer meeting, a group of men from our church meet with men from another church to play soccer. From 10pm until 1am, we act like we don’t have to get up the next morning for work. It’s not a time I look forward to, but I’ve seen more work happen through this activity than many other spiritually-oriented ones.

Truth be told, Latinos have a far better understanding of relational living than we Western missionaries do. For us, our time, our plans and our beliefs are more important than those with whom we work. It is not surprising then to find Ecuadorian people who view us as caring more about the work than about the people. We are perceived as respecting and valuing our plans and views over their own.

Pray for me as I try to readjust certain areas in my life so that the pronouns “my” and “mine” are less esteemed. Pray also that I will let them speak, and let them lead and be willing to follow the path that they believe important even if it’s not as clear and nicely marked as my own. May I not grow so proud as to believe that I alone know how to live and organize their faith as well as my own. While we all may talk of servant-leadership, we would be surprised to find how many Ecuadorians have not seen it prominently displayed...

A timely reminder, Chris, and pray the same for us too!

Saturday, November 3

Are you called to be a missionary?

Everyday I receive a devotional from Elisabeth Elliot. A recent post addressed the matter of how to know if one is being called to be a missionary.

Sometimes I am asked to speak to young people who are toying with the idea of being missionaries. They want to know how I discovered the will of God.

The first thing was to settle once and for all the supremacy of Christ in my life, I tell them. I put myself utterly and forever at His disposal, which means turning over all the rights: to myself, my body, my self-image, my notions of how I am to serve my Master. Oswald Chambers calls it "breaking the husk of my individual independence of God." Until that break comes, all the rest is "pious fraud."

I tell these earnest kids that the will of God is always different from what they expect, always bigger, and, ultimately, infinitely more glorious than their wildest imaginings.

But there will be deaths to die. Paul found that out--daily, he said. That is the price of following the way of the cross--of course. If our object is to save others we must be clear that we cannot save ourselves. Jesus couldn't either.

This scares people. Yet what is there to fear when Christ holds first place in our lives? Where, other than in the will of the Father, shall we expect to find significance, security, and serenity?

God's guidance for me has been so different from my early notions--I was to be a jungle missionary for life! The complete futility, humanly speaking, of all the language work I did (Colorado, Quichua, and Auca, for various reasons, all came to nothing) was a deep lesson in the supremacy of Christ. Whom had I set out to serve? May He not do as He wills, then, with His servant and with that servant's work? Is anything offered to Christ ever wasted? I thought about the sacrifices of Old Testament times. When a man brought a lamb, the priest laid it on the altar, slit its throat, and burned it. The offering, then, was accepted. But what was left of it?

Amy Carmichael, Irish missionary to India and author of forty books, taught me the implications of a living sacrifice. She wrote:

"'But these strange ashes, Lord, this nothingness,
This baffling sense of loss?'
Son, was the anguish of my stripping less
Upon the torturing cross?
Was I not brought into the dust of death,
A worm, and no man, I;
Yea, turned to ashes by the vehement breath
Of fire, on Calvary?
O son beloved, this is thy heart's desire:
This, and no other thing'
Follows the fall of the Consuming Fire
On the burnt offering.
Go on and taste the joy set high, afar,--
No joy like that to thee;
See how it lights the way like some great star.
Come now, and follow me."

I want to put it down right here that I have certainly "tasted the joy." I cannot imagine a more wonderfully blessed life than mine. Faithfulness of a loving Father--that's what I've found, every day of every week of every year, and it gets better. How I do hope those prospective missionaries will believe me!

Wednesday, October 31

What will CPM look like in Latin America?

One of the questions that continues to intrigue me is trying to figure out the Latin American version of CPM (church planting movements). Though we have been praying and seeking CPM, we are finding there is no one size fits all when it comes to the way God chooses to plant HIS Church.

For several years, the missions organization that we are part of (the IMB) has encouraged us to implement CPM methodology and principles. Over the years we have marveled at the incredible harvest stories coming in from these God movements around the globe. But these reports are always from places with non-Spanish names and people groups.

David Garrison, in his classic "Church Planting Movements" defines a CPM as a "rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment..." While there is more to it than that, this gives a general idea of what it is we are talking about.

In the book Garrison identifies ten common elements found in every CPM taking place around the world.

1-Extraordinary Prayer (we are talking about a lot of serious praying going on)

2-Abundant Evangelism (the idea of sow abundantly=reap abundantly; sow sparsely=reap sparsely)

3-Intentional Church Planting (not just evangelism, but planting new churches with the new converts, not trying to get them into existing churches)

4-Authority of God's Word (not only in doctrine, but in church practice)

5-Local Leadership (locals "call the shots" not so much the foreign missionaries)

6-Lay Leadership (not seminary trained professional pastors, but everyday lay people in leadership positions)

7-House Churches (no church buildings, instead many small home-based churches averaging 10-20 per house)

8-Churches Planting Churches (the idea of multiplying new groups rather than adding numbers to existing groups)

9-Rapid Reproduction (they multiply very quickly and in short time)

10-Healthy Churches (rapid reproduction in no way means lower quality, deficent teaching, or unhealthy church life)

I love each and every one of the ten elements described above. They are all important and exciting aspects of God's Kingdom. What I am struggling to understand is God's version of CPM for our local context. What will the above look like in Guayaquil? What forms will emerge from these ten elements?

For the past seven years we have sought to implement a model that is producing extraordinary results in Asia and Africa. As hard as we have tried, we have simply not seen the same level of fruit as those working in places like India and China. Are the missionaries serving there somehow smarter, wiser, more spiritual than those of us in Latin America? I think not.

My conclusion is that God is up to something very special and different for the Latin American context. He is indeed "alive and well" but has yet to fully reveal what He is up to in bringing about His Kingdom in the Spanish/Portuguese speaking world!

What has been lacking is for someone to do in Latin America what David Garrison and others have done in Asia. We need to identify God's activity in the LA context and put a framework around it. We need to put our heads together and discern what God is up to in our own local contexts.

Our GMT (Guayas Mestizo Team) continually wrestles with these issues. We want to join God in what He is doing. We don't want to be "spinning our wheels" trying to do something that He never intended for us in the first place.

As a team, we are beginning to paste together together some of the pieces the Lord is revealing. For now, the "hints" are along the lines of understanding the importance of...

1) unity, harmony and strong relationships across evangelical lines (Kingdom first, denominations second),

2) multiple church models working side by side (house, cell, traditional, simple, and hybrids) accepting the validity of each as legitimate expressions of ekklesia,

3) getting back to the basics of "making disciples" as our main task,

4) training and mobilizing the saints in the pews out into the harvest fields; "empowering them" to take on tasks traditionally reserved for professional pastors and missionaries.

5) and yes, continue to pursue the ten CPM elements above, every one of them is a powerful arrow in the strong bow of our Lord

The Church in Latin America is indeed exploding in growth, but it is not along the same lines as the Asia CPMs. I have a strong sense that God is up to something truly remarkable in bringing about His Kingdom here, but have yet to decipher the mystery of all that God is up to in our midst. All we have so far are clues, hints, hope, anticipation, and faith that God is up to something really BIG!

What will CPM look like in Latin America? Only God knows. But in the mean time we are asking God for 500,000 new disciples in the coming five years in Guayas. We understand our task as making disciples. His to build His Church in whatever forms it may be expressed.

How many new disciples are you praying for?

Will you pray with us--I mean not just read this--but really pray for a continent wide spiritual awakening and revival and a massive bringing in of the harvest in Latin America?