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?

Monday, October 29

Effective church planting

I moderate a church planting forum where 100+ missionaries regularly discuss issues impacting church planting movements and related themes.

One of our members is Kevin, a fellow IMB missionary here in South America.

Recently, Kevin shared with the forum an email received from another missionary serving in an undisclosed country about effective church planting...
  • Prayer and fasting should be a regular practice. It should not be an occasional thing.
  • There must be extensive personal evangelism. To be clear, this means sharing the gospel in one-on-one, not mass, settings. It means sharing with as many as one's team can share with. It means being intentional, looking for a decision.
  • Train new believers and create the expectation that they are to train others.
  • Train new believers in groups; those training groups will work to become churches.
  • If you want to multiply the number of your churches, multiply the number of training groups.
  • Train as many believers as you possibly can. Get as many together as possible.
  • Training must be practical. The learner must be sent out to put his training into practice.
  • Give them one lesson at a time and send them out to put that into practice by teaching it to someone else. Whoever does not complete the lesson cannot come back into the class he or she began with. He must start over.
  • Teach your new believers to obey Scripture. Put that part of the Great Commission into practice (hint: it says, "teaching them to OBEY..."
  • Get back to the basics. Be radical. Don't bring traditions and culture into the training. Stick to the Bible.
These are all very good and things we too have discovered to be true in our own ministry. However, I confess we fall short in many regards to these ideals. It is easier said than done. Perhaps some of you would like to add your own two cents to the list.

May we continue to learn from one another.

Thursday, October 25

Is breaking the law always a sin?

Can I break the law and still not sin? This is a question that I constantly think about. We live in a complicated world. My world offers few black and white issues. Most are gray in nature. To eat an Oreo cookie or spreading Kraft mayonnaise on your bread is supporting the tobacco industry. Both Oreos and Kraft are owned by the tobacco industry. Is eating an Oreo a sin? That's what I mean by we live in a gray world.

One could make the argument, of course, that some things are black/white. Those things that clearly go against Scripture and the teachings of Jesus. To kill someone is not only breaking the law, it is sin. But what about when I break the law by driving 70 mph in a 65 mph posted zone? I am clearly breaking the law, but is it a sin?

Years ago I was at a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary banquet. As a Church Music major, I happened to sit at the table with several professors from the music department. In the course of the meal, I casually asked if anyone knew where I might be able to BORROW a copy of a popular cantata soundtrack to use as accompaniment with our small Spanish church choir. You would have thought I had committed the unpardonable sin by even thinking such a thing! Everyone became deathly silent, and then one of my profs explained to me that doing so would be illegal and anybody doing so would be "breaking copyright laws" and could be held liable. End of the discussion. I continued to eat my apple pie but wondered to myself what harm there would be in our tiny Hispanic Church borrowing for a few weeks an expensive and unafordable soundtrack from one of the larger more wealthier churches in town who would have it gathering dust on some shelf? But since I didn't want to "sin" by "breaking the law" I did nothing more to pursue the matter. We ended up finding someone who could play the piano and used them instead.

May I ask a personal question? How many of us have honestly NEVER made a song sheet for church, or made a copy of a song we liked and shared it with family or a friend? Have you ever reproduced copyrighted material in any form without the permission or license to do so? Have you ever projected on a wall, or even written out the words to a song without having permission? Yes, I know what the laws say--to do so is a no-no--but is it a sin? And yes, I recognize that to do so subjects me to getting into trouble. But again, is it a sin?

I know the host culture where we live and serve does not regard copying and reproducing copyrighted materials as something wrong. Everyone--and I mean everyone--does it all the time. There is little to no regard for all the strict laws that are so much a part of life in more developed parts of the world. Now I am NOT saying it is OK to do so. That is still a debatable issue in my own heart and mind. What I am asking is this a sin against God that needs to be repented of and confessed? Before you say yes, read on...

A wild guestimate would be that for every legitimate copy of Christian music (in all its forms) there are literally thousands of so called "illegitimate" copies. Nobody thinks twice about it. There are no guilty feelings. Are all these tens of thousands of Christians guilty of sin? One could argue ignorance of sin is no excuse. Yet, if those participating in it are totally unaware of any wrong-doing, are they sinning? My American brothers for the most part would say, yes. They are stealing that which does not belong to them.

I am fully aware that a post like this sounds very odd to most of us coming from a Western mindset. We have been told that these kinds of things are wrong. To do them is to sin. But who is it telling us these things are sin? Isn't it our money-making, consumerism culture? If things aren't sold then the "sin" is that money isn't made. If money isn't made, we can't make more stuff! It is our society that has declared these things to be so.

Isn't everything that God gives to his Body freely given? Matthew 10 quotes Jesus as saying, "Freely you have received, freely give..." If it is meant to bless and edify the Body of Christ, should one "own" and charge money to others so that another can be "blessed?" Do we actually think we own what God has freely given to us for the benefit of his Body? Where did the commercialization of Christianity come from anyway? I truly wonder if Jesus were walking the earth today, would He not be spending a lot of time cleaning out today's temples who have made an industry out of his Word.

Now, I know that to take the above argument to its extreme would mean any of us could simply walk into another's house and "freely take" whatever we like. But what I am talking about are matters that are directly related to the building up of the Body of Christ; things like teaching materials, music, messages, songs, books, articles, media presentations, etc. As things stand, there are laws protecting these things, but I continue to wonder if this is what God intended from the beginning when He freely gave us all the gifts he has given.

If I write a song, is it my song or God's gift to his Body through me? Is it really mine to do with what I like: make money, sell, distribute, etc. Granted there is nothing wrong with making money, but to think it is MINE and not God's gift is what I am trying to express. So what if everyone likes my song and uses it! It was a gift from God, I want it to be a blessing to all.

In Acts 8 Peter severely rebukes Simon the Magician because he wanted to "buy" the blessing Peter had. He rebukes Simon, "May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!" What God gives is done so freely. To charge, or think money is involved in any way, seems to go against the original plan of blessing God has for His Church. I don't believe we are to make money out of the Gospel that has been freely purchased for us by the blood of Christ.

So to conclude: the law says these things are wrong. Fine. One who breaks the law must be ready to answer for his/her actions and pay accordingly. But, we are not always sinning when we break the law. Just my 2-cents on what is still to me a highly controversial issue.

Monday, October 22

Jesus' way or our way?

In Luke 10, Jesus sets out clear, step-by-step instructions for the 70 disciples to obey in reaching out to "every town and place where He was about to go." If Jesus himself trained, taught, and instructed his disciples in the way He knew would work, why 2000 years later, do we think we can improve upon His methods?

Jesus instructed his disciples, "PRAY to the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into His harvest..." (10:2)

We have improved upon this instruction by, 1) substituting 'praying to the Lord of the Harvest' for TALKING about the need for praying, 2) forget about praying, what needs to be done is massive recruitment--get out there and do what has to be done to get people involved, mobilize the masses into training seminars at the largest convention centers in town and invite in the biggest names that will draw the crowds.

Jesus instructed his disciples, "now GO, I'm sending you out like lambs among wolves..." (10:3)

We have improved upon Jesus' words by substituting His command to go for something much more convenient for us: COME! Come to our church...meeting...revival...youth group...evangelistic crusade...ladies brunch...sports event...spiritual emphasis...Bible study...etc.

Going out to where the lost are and entering their world is always a lot messier than sitting around hoping and praying they will somehow come to us and whatever event we have planned for them. While I can give a couple of hours for an event at church, I certainly don't have the same couple of hours to go out of my way into the scary unknown. I might be seen associating myself with non-desirables in places not known as appropriate Christian hang-outs.

Jesus instructed his disciples, "DON'T CARRY a money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals..." (10:4)

Since we have never really understood exactly what Jesus was trying to say with this obscure command, we have simply ignored it and done just the opposite. We believe it is not possible to do the Lord's work unless we have a large money bag, and having all the necessary implements in our traveling bag for the journey (cars, land, building, salaries, literature, support packages, furnishings, sounds system, musical instruments, laptop, PowerPoint, video projector, etc.) And certainly let's not forget the importance of the having the latest fashion in sandals and attire and other necessary personal implements for the task. After all, we want to make a good impression on those we are trying to reach!

Jesus instructed his disciples, "DON'T GREET ANYONE along the road..." (10:4)

Jesus obviously didn't understand the importance of greetings in our present day cultures. How is one ever to gain access into "their world" unless we spend a lot of time greeting and building relationships? So, once again we seek to improve (ignore) another outdated command of our Lord and actually spend enormous chunks of time and plan whole evangelistic strategies that never get beyond anything other than "greeting" and nurturing a few relationships. We do ladies teas, let's meet the neighbors, go to ball games together, find someone to drink coffee with, etc. While all these may be good activities, the problem is that we seldom move beyond the "greeting stage" to the remaining instructions of Christ as given in Luke 10:1-9. We tend to lose focus when we stop and greet folks unless we are in tune with the whole strategic process that Christ was teaching. Jesus knows how easily we are distracted, so He warns us upfront to not greet anyone, or do anything else that will distract us from the important mission we are on.

Jesus instructed his disciples, "SAY 'PEACE to this household' and if a son of peace is there your peace will rest on him..." (10:5)

Modern consensus agrees that 'saying peace to this household' is a waste of time. The best way to win a community, town, or city is to get out there in vast numbers and knock on as many doors as possible. When they open the door, invite them to your church, and maybe even preach the Gospel and let them know this might be the very last chance they will ever have for salvation. If they refuse, leave them a Gospel tract, and a bunch of literature from your church and be sure to pray for them before leaving.

Jesus instructed his disciples, "REMAIN IN THE SAME HOUSE, eating and drinking what they offer..." (10:7)

Remain in the same house? Just that one house? You've got to be kidding! The more houses you visit, the more contacts you will have, the greater the number of positive results. You wouldn't want to dare risk everything on just one household. There is a high chance things will not work out and then you will be left with nothing. Plus, what's the big deal with wasting time by eating and drinking with people? Does eating and drinking accomplish anything of eternal value? Don't think so...

Jesus instructed his disciples, "EAT THE THINGS set before you..." (10:8)

It's like Jesus foreknew we would have trouble with understanding the importance of the eating/drinking part, so He said it TWICE to make sure we would get it. But the fact is we have yet to grasp the importance of eating and drinking with people BEFORE trying to proclaim the 'Good News" to them. What's important is getting down to business and sharing the Gospel with lost folks. We eat and drink with our fellow Christians, not with pagans!

Jesus instructed his disciples, "HEAL THE SICK who are there..." (10:9)

Well this one is easy to ignore because we all know that only the Pentecostals and the Charismatics are the ones into the healing stuff. We certainly can side-step this sticky one. We wouldn't want to actually involve ourselves in any controversial issues like healing the sick (might lose our jobs over it!) After all, most of us are cessationists and no longer believe these extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are valid today. We have the Bible and that's all we need. So, basically we are off the hook on this one. Next...

Jesus instructed his disciples, "TELL THEM, 'The kingdom of God has come near you..." (10:9)

Well FINALLY Jesus gets around to telling us to do what really matters--the 'main thing'-- which is declaring, preaching, teaching the Gospel message of the Kingdom to these lost people. Let's just cut to the chase and skip all the other stuff. It is time to get down to the important business of witnessing and sharing the Gospel. We are free to skip over the parts of Jesus instructions we don't like or understand. Wasn't his main thrust obviously this last point? We will certainly try to obey this part, but the rest is up for debate and interpretation--in other words, not much of importance in all those instructions preceding this final one.

Is it any wonder that after 2000 years we still haven't finished the task given us by Christ? We think we have a better way of doing things. We have the new, improved version, and yet continuously scratch our heads and wonder why things aren't working out the way they are supposed to?

Friday, October 19

The Garden

The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know. (Mark 4:26-27)

The following 3:52 video of Frog and Toad illustrates the futility of trying to make a garden grow by our own efforts. Once the seed is planted there is little that we can do to make the seed grow. I find this encouraging story to be a parable for all those involved in Kingdom work, whether church planting or whatever. Watch and see if you can identify some of your own ministry frustrations in this animation.

Tuesday, October 16

It's not in vain

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast,
immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." Corinthians 15:58

This December we will complete our 20th year of service here in Guayaquil. One of the advantages of being in one place that long is to stand amazed at all God does in and through our lives over the years. Just when we think all our effort, toil and years have meant little, the Lord allows us a glimpse into how the lives of those we have touched in the past are now today making a difference in the lives of others.

Today I went to an open house of a Christian foundation working with people infected HIV/AIDS. As I sat there my eyes wandered around the room of people gathered, recognizing several with whom we have worked over the years in different capacities and ministries. Many I had not seen in some time. I was encouraged to hear them speak and briefly visit with several of them before having to leave.

I sat next to "J" a woman whom in our earlier years of service worked with us in the Teleamigo ministry. Today she is home from India where she serves as a full-time missionary. I was so happy to see her and made arrangements for next week to get together with our team to share.

The woman organizing the open house and heading up the HIV/AIDS foundation was "S". Years ago she served as our mission office secretary. Today she is touching the lives of hundreds of infected HIV/AIDS people through a ministry that few want anything to do with.

"F" used to wash dishes at our house and served as a house maid to friends of ours. Today she is on the Board of Directors of the Foundation and personally ministering to many people whose lives have been turned upside down by HIV/AIDS.

"S" received her doctorate in psychology a few years ago and is the main counselor for the foundation. "S" started out as a Teleamigo counselor and learned the "ropes" from us in her early stages of wanting to minister to people's family and emotional needs.

"M" was the invited guest to give the key-note address. She too began with us many years ago and now is a professional serving the Lord throughout the city impacting the lives of hundreds every year through her conferences and seminars on the family.

There is much, much more I could say about each of these people, their impact today, the initial relationship we had with each. But what matters is to see our work is not in vain. I love the verse quoted above from 1 Cor. 15:58. One of the prayers I often ask of the Lord is to grant me the privilege of seeing His handiwork in the lives of those we have poured ourselves into. He has been faithful to do so.

If today you are down and wondering if all your effort in people's lives has been in vain, remember 1 Corinthians 15:58. It is a promise. We may not always get to see encouraging results like I did today, but we can know from the Lord our efforts have not been in vain.

Saturday, October 13

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

I am busy these days putting together for our Guayas House Church Network the 3rd Volume of "Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs."

Volume 1 came out in 2000 and contains a balance of 66 psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Volume 2 came out a few years ago and added another 86.

These two volumes have served us well over the past seven years. Of the 152 selections, about one-third are regularly sung and appreciated by our people. Singing is one of the most popular things we do in our house churches here. It is important not only that we sing, but what we sing.

Now it's time for Volume 3!

I am a big believer in balance between singing psalm, hymns, and spiritual songs. To sing out of only one of the three genres leads to imbalance in our worship. Many only sing what they like; that which appeals to them personally. However, TWICE Paul admonishes the churches in Colossae and Ephesus about their singing. I believe this is intentional. It is something prescriptive in Scripture, not descriptive, or optional. We are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Not just a diet of what we might like.

Paul admonishes the ekklesia in Colossae, "let the word of Christ/Lord/God (depending upon the different possible readings) richly dwell within you...teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs..." He repeats this to the Ephesian church (5:17-20) making it clear, "So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is..." and includes the admonition for psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

While books have been written trying to explain or clarify the differences between the three genre, suffice it to say they are three separate but intertwined forms of musical worship. Care should be taken to balance our use of the three in Christian worship.

I like to keep things simple, so here is my simple understanding of the three.

If man consists of "spirit and soul and body" then my oversimplified relationship between the two is that psalms and hymns and spiritual songs somehow match each of the three aspects of our being as described in 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

Psalms are singing God's Word. As we sing God's Word it becomes part of our inner spirit; our theology. John Calvin believed singing anything other than the Psalms was inappropriate for Christian worship and unworthy of God.

Hymns are the best of man's words to God. In hymns our highest language, and best thoughts are expressed to God and about God. Hymns give intellectual and theological expression to our faith. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, "Let me write the hymns of a Church, and I care not who may write its creeds and volumes of theology — I will determine its faith." Indeed, more theology is learned and grasped through what we sing than what is preached.

If hymns express our intellectual faith, spiritual songs express our emotional side. Just like flowers on a hillside are here today and gone tomorrow, spiritual songs are those songs that flow out of our being expressing our spontaneous love, feeling, and joy in the Lord. We love these simpler expressions of faith put to music. The tunes are likewise catchy and grab hold quickly in our hearts. But like flowers on a hillside, spiritual songs are by nature ephemeral. Today's songs are quickly forgotten as newer ones take their place.

With literally thousands of songs to choose from, how does one go about selecting the best of the best? To separate one's own personal preferences for the well being and edification of the saints is a difficult task. While many are particular about the food they consume, not so many are concerned about the songs they offer God. It's not about what appeals to me, or even appeals to those who will be singing these songs, but what is best. What psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs will best contribute to a balanced, healthy, worship by edifying the saints and glorifying God?

This past week I was interested to read the Baptist Press release concerning the criteria being used to select the songs for the new Baptist Hymnal due out next year.

Their set of questions is proving helpful in compiling our own Volume 3 of "Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs."

--Does it speak biblically of God?

--Is it God-honoring?

--Does the song present a biblical view of man?

--Does the song help us to cover the depth and breadth of our theology?

--Does the hymn call us to true discipleship, service, repentance, witness, missions and devotion?

--Does the hymn speak biblically of salvation?

--Does it engage the whole person - allowing a person to express his deepest feelings?

--Does the hymn emphasize that Christ is the Christian's Lord, Master and King? (the idea of total submission)

--Is there a balance with corporate and individual response in worship? (immanence and transcendence)

--Does the hymn speak biblically about the church, the body of Christ?

Wednesday, October 10

binding and loosing

A fellow missionary loaned me his copy of a fascinating Rob Bell book entitled, "Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith". I love books like this that stretch my thinking and have a way of overturning my theological cart of pat answers to everything. On the back cover is the statement, "Just because I’m a Christian and I’m trying to articulate a Christian worldview doesn’t mean I’ve got it nailed. I’m contributing to the discussion." How often I have wanted to say this very thing. "We have to test everything...I thank God for anybody anywhere who is pointing people to the mysteries of God."

What follows are a few lines quoted from pages 50, 54-55.

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." --Jesus

What [Jesus] is doing here is significant. He is giving his followers the authority to make new interpretations of the Bible. He is giving them permission to say, "Hey, we think we missed it before on that verse, and we've recently come to the conclusion that this is what it actually means."

And not only is he giving them authority, but he is saying that when they do debate and discuss and pray and wrestle and then make decisions about the Bible, somehow God in heaven will be involved...

Jesus expects his followers to be engaged in the endless process of deciding what it means to actually live the Scriptures...

The Bible has to be interpreted. Decisions have to be made about what it means now, today.

The idea that everybody else approaches the Bible with baggage and agendas and lenses and I don't is the ultimate in arrogance. To think that I can just read the Bible without reading any of my own culture or background or issues into it and come out with a "pure" or "exact" meaning is not only untrue, but it leads to a very destructive reading of the Bible that robs it of its life and energy.

I have heard people say their church is growing because they "just teach the Bible"...They aren't objective, and they aren't just telling people what it says. They have interpreted it and made decisions about it, and this particular... version--their version--is striking a chord with people, and so they are coming to hear more of this take on the Bible...

The Bible is always coming through the interpretation of someone. And that's because binding and loosing require awareness.

Awareness that everybody's understanding of the Bible rests on somebody's binding and loosing.

Monday, October 8

Weddings, funerals, baptisms, in house churches

If simple churches are led by non-professional "lay" leaders, who performs all of the traditional church ceremonies? Who does the baptizing, serving of the Lord's Supper, funerals, weddings, and all the other duties traditional churches are used to having done by ordained ministers? Who do you call when there is a death in the family? Can anyone baptize (women?) Who presides over the Lord's Supper? Can any believer marry a couple?

I have no problem answering these questions, but as part of my answer, I like to inquire of the person asking, where in the NT do we get the idea that only the clergy class were the ones carrying out these functions? Can any of us point to a single instance in the NT where any of these functions is designated as exclusive terrain of a chosen few? Is it a commandment or an ordinance that only trained, seminary educated, ordained ministers be the ones to baptize, serve the Lord's Supper, wed, and bury? There is nothing wrong with them doing so, but are we not ALL Royal Priesthood, a Holy Nation, a Chosen Race?

So, to the practical outworking of how this is carried out...

The short version is that we deal with each situation as it comes up. In other words we don't worry about these things until in the natural flow of things they need to be dealt with. When the need arises, those in the house church leadership will come to us and we will talk about it seeking to help them understand what God wants them to do in this situation. Sometimes they come right out and ask us to lead the ceremony. Often I will agree to do so this first occasion, but next time it is their responsibility. I view these opportunities to further train and orient the servant leaders by their watching me do it.

Baptism. We don't make a big deal over who does the baptizing. Any disciple can baptize. In fact disciples are commanded to do so in Matthew 28:18-20. Usually the way this works is that the house church leader will do so themselves with one or two assistants from the church. If for whatever reason they are not able, or do not wish to do so, they find somebody else to do the baptizing. It's not so much WHO does the baptizing, as in WHOSE NAME they are baptized.

Communion. The Lord's Supper is observed regularly by most of our house churches. It is carried out in any number of different ways. One way is to model for them. Many times when a group of new believers is ready for their first Lord's Supper, they will invite one of the missionaries or team members to come preside. We gladly do so as a means of modeling a way of how it can be done. What is scary is that however we choose to lead during this time is often copied from there on out as "the way" to do the Lord's Supper! Over the years, though, I have seen a lot of creative and meaningful ways to celebrate this memorial.

Weddings. We have had many house church weddings over the past few years. Each has been special and meaningful to not only those getting married, but a blessing to the church as a whole. Sometimes I have been asked to perform the wedding, and have done so gladly. Usually though I will only perform the first wedding in a house church, but expect them to do any subsequent weddings. Sometimes the couple getting married will specifically ask their house church leader to do the ceremony. In these cases--and there have been several--the leader will come asking for help. We will sit down and step by step go over what needs to be done. We practice until they are fairly confident. It is important that the servant leaders be seen as empowered to carry out ALL the necessary tasks involved in church life. If we somehow leave the impression that only pastors & missionaries can fill certain roles, we will harm the church's natural development. The last thing we want to do is create dependency upon the missionary.

Funerals. Again, we will go over with the house church leaders a basic outline of the kinds of things to say and do at a funeral. We stress comforting the family, sharing passages that will edify, and allowing those present to share in the time. I remember one house church leader being asked to preside over a wake. She had absolutely no experience or background to do so. In a panic she called several people to come to the rescue. None were available so she prayed to the Lord for guidance and went on to the wake. There, she was able to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit, and was a great blessing to the family. She related that it wasn't that hard. It was just a matter of allowing the Spirit of God freedom to minister through her. She related they sang a few songs, she shared a passage of Scripture and a few words of comfort, the family shared their memories of the loved one, prays were said, and then she visited with the family.

The list really extends to many other natural church life functions as well. Praying for the sick, dealing with demons, counseling, baby dedications, home visits, anniversaries, birthday parties, etc. NONE of these are the exclusive domain of professional clergy. ALL are matters which normally should be carried out by Spirit-filled disciples. It is not about us and how highly trained we are, but about HIM and what He wants to do in and through us.

Saturday, October 6

Man of Peace - Wade Akins

Wade Akins is one of the top few (if I may use the term) MASTER CHURCH PLANTERS. A lot of people do the talk, but Wade and his wife Barbara have probably been responsible for more church starts around the world than anyone I know. When Wade says anything about church planting, he will get my attention.

The following YouTube video segment is taken from one of his Pioneer Evangelism conferences somewhere in Eastern Europe. This segment covers finding the "Man of Peace" a KEY STEP in church planting.

Thursday, October 4

Missional leaders

The following helpful thoughts on missional leadership comes from HouseChurchBlog.

Missional Leaders? I've noticed that most talk about missional leadership points out what missional leadership IS NOT, instead of what it is--it's not hierarchical, its not pyramid-shaped, it rejects a clergy/laity distinction, etc. I'd like to put forth what I think missional leadership IS (keep in mind, that these are generalizations, and sometimes there can be exceptions.)

Missional Leadership:
  • is a steward of the vision, not its creator nor its master

  • leads by giving a tangible example of missional living

  • focuses on fostering networks of relationships more than on building infrastructure

  • recognizes and mobilizes the spiritually gifted, rather than delegating

  • helps the community in spirit-led decision making, rather than making decisions for the community

  • is plural rather than singular

  • is based in function rather than office

  • helps people to engage people where they are at, rather than focusing on leading a meeting to draw people from where they are at

  • invests in who the Spirit tells them to, not just "top tier" people

  • puts ethos development before systems development

  • doesn't equate vision with control

  • helps to shape ministry around people, rather than placing people in ministries
I think I would add (or modify) this list to say that missional leadership is about helping others to uncover their missional vision. When talking about vision, I believe it's important to make sure that we do not see vision coming from, or even being stewarded by one person, rather vision is the collective of what God has put on the hearts of every believer and leadership is about helping to uncover and serve that collective vision.

Perhaps, as I mull this over, I would simplify all of this by simply suggesting that leadership is about serving (really serving) the work that God is doing in and through others.

Monday, October 1

Is God in everything?

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

Few lines capture as profoundly the mystery of God and his ways.

One of the most remarkable gifts God has given mankind is the freedom to choose. We can choose to see God in every common bush, or we can choose to see bushes and pluck their berries. The choice is ours. How we see the common bushes of life determines how we embrace life and God.

Is God really in every common bush? Is he in the coffee cup sitting by my side, or the laptop sitting on my desk? Is there really such a thing as a "holy telephone" or an "anointed paper clip"? Is that what Browning is trying to say?

I believe she is hinting we have the choice about what we choose to believe about God. We choose our responses to the things that come into our lives. It is like the story of two prisoners gazing out from behind bars – one sees mud and the other sees stars. Life can be seen from either perspective, mud or stars. Seeing things from God's perspective or choosing to see what literally stands before us. Perspective is everything.

When Moses encountered the burning bush in the wilderness what first amazed him, "though the bush was on fire it did not burn up."

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am."

Does God still call us from the common bushes? I believe He does. But only when we choose to see, hear, and perceive Him in all things. Our response has to be the same as Moses, "Here I am, Lord."

When someone is late for an appointment that we have killed ourselves to be on time for, we have the choice to see a bush "afire with God" or a common bush to sit round and pluck blackberries (and fume!) Our common response is frustration and thinking of wasted time. But if every common bush is afire with God, is there always a spiritual reason or significance for even delayed appointments?

Elisabeth Elliot elaborates on Psalm 16:5, "Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup, and have made my lot secure." She comments, "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...out of the control of the Almighty? Every assignment [common bush] is measured and controlled for my eternal good. As I accept the given portion other options are canceled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter."

I think the key word in the above wise words is, " I accept the given portion..." As we choose, accept life as it comes assigned to us from a loving Father, we indeed learn to see "every common bush afire with God."

God is with us.
God is for us.
God loves us.
God is here.
God assigns.
God cares.