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!