Thursday, January 31

Think you have problems?

I am easily driven to despair over my personal problems and concerns. But reading articles like the one today Poor Haitians resort to eating dirt puts things quickly back into perspective.

How is it that we can get so wrapped up in our little worlds and feeling sorry for ourselves when around us are so many whose lives are devastated by hunger, crime, war, tragedy, loss, hopelessness?

What can be done about the crisis in places like Darfur, Kenya, Zimbabwe, the ME, the Congo, and countless other places? If you're like me, the easiest way to deal with these tragedies is change channels and watch Jeopardy instead.

I don't have the answers. But what I have learned over the years serving as a missionary is that we must do what we can to "love our neighbor as ourselves." Who is our neighbor? In Luke 10 Jesus gave us the story of the "Good Samaritan". Our neighbor is that person who is in need. He may be different from us in background and culture, or race. Are we going to respond like the priest and Levite who pass by on the other side (too busy, not my problem, I have other priorities), or will I be the one to actually inconvenience myself by making the effort to stop and actually DO SOMETHING about the need before me?

Many times over the years, I have seen the poorest believers going out of their way to stop and help those less fortunate than themselves. What they have to give is often insignificant in the eyes of the world--some ragged clothes, a few grains of rice, a couple of bananas--but they give what they have. Somehow, in God's economy, that is all that He asks of us. Is that not one of the lessons of the widow's mite? Jesus said her coins were more than all the conributors to the the treasury...

Maybe, instead of despairing over the plight of the unfortunate, what we need to do is tend to those people in need who the Lord allows to cross our paths. Our "two small copper coins" may be just enough to meet their crisis.

The IMB is set up to engage many of the crisis going on in the world through their Human Needs Ministries. If you are led of the Lord to respond financially to any of the above crisis, your gifts can be designated to go towards these needs through the IMB. Instead of flipping channels on TV, go to your computer instead, and click on the above link and do something to help. I did.

Tuesday, January 29

Is your cross too heavy?

*Received in an email from missionary Michael Lund.

Sunday, January 27

Church planting catalyst

What is my task/role as a missionary? I will not attempt to speak for my colleagues and fellow missionaries around the world. What I seek to describe is how I understand my own calling/role/function as a missionary.

Through the years, missionaries have served the Lord in many capacities: church planters, physicians, administrators, social ministries, Bible translators, pilots, social workers, educators, evangelists, are only a few of the many roles and tasks taken on by missionaries around the world.

In our own 20 years on the field we have served as a consultant, seminary professor, administrator, counselor, Minister of Music, teacher, and as a church planting catalyst.

We were appointed in 1986 by the IMB as a Mass Media Consultant. Our first years of missionary service were spent working closely with the Ecuador Baptist Convention as director of their Mass Communications Commission. This position evolved into an evangelistic counseling ministry known as Teleamigo, where we spent several years mainly in an administrative-leadership role.

When New Directions came along around 1997, we took on the role as a church planting catalyst.

Church Planter is really not an accurate descriptor of my role as a missionary. I have never planted a single church. There is a difference between being a church planter and a church planting catalyst.

With God's help, I might be able to plant one or two new churches per year. If, however, I give myself instead to a catalytic function of training, mentoring, and coaching 50 others to plant churches, there will be anywhere from 20 to 30, and possibly even 50 new churches planted. One church, or fifty? Which will make a greater impact upon lostness?

Using the words of Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom in their provocative book, The Starfish and the Spider, a catalyst is...
...any element or compound that initiates a reaction without fusing into that reaction...Take nitrogen and hydrogen...put them in a container, close the lid, come back a day later, and...nothing will have happened. But add ordinary iron to the equation and you'll get ammonia...The thing is ammonia doesn't have any iron in it--it's made solely of hydrogen and nitrogen. The iron in this equation remains unchanged: it just facilitates the bonding of hydrogen and nitrogen in a certain way..."
This sums up well what I feel is my role/function as a missionary. The authors clarify that in organizations, a catalyst is the person who does the initiating but then fades away into the background. A catalyst gets things going and then cedes control to the members.
"The catalyst is an inspirational figure who spurs others to action...A catalyst is like the architect of a house: he's essential to the long-term structural integrity, but he doesn't move in." (pg.92-94)
That is exactly what I feel my role is as a missionary--to spur others to action, and then get out of the way and allow God to work through their lives.

In our experience, outreach groups and new churches do not form by themselves in a vacuum. A human catalyst is needed if one is to see fruitful ministry. If you simply gather a bunch of people in the same room, not much is likely to happen of consequence. But add a CP catalyst and soon you have people talking and planning about planting churches.

While being careful to not make blanket statements that apply to everyone everywhere, I feel we need to have more of a catalytic mindset as missionaries. In our desire to impact lostness, too many of us are trying to do the work of "starting a church" when what we need to be doing is functioning as a catalyst. Someone who can be used of the Lord to ignite dozens of fellow believers to step out in faith to carry out the Great Commission.

Friday, January 25

Missionary quotes

Ken Sorrell shares some quotes from missionaries attending the Global Training Conference. The bi-annual event is a time to hear and share best practices and ideas related to training missionaries around the world.

  • The most dangerous time in a missionary's life is when they become competent.
  • Living organisms grow, but so does cancer.
  • Faith is contagious, but so is fear.
  • Missionaries are busy, not lazy, but what are they busy doing?
  • It is easier to replace a flame than the pilot.
  • Two questions difficult for many missionaries to answer and maintain their legitimacy for being on the field. Why are you here? Where does your pay come from?
  • Most Christians do not know how to mingle among lost people. Foray evangelism is seldom an effective method of winning people to Christ.
  • We do not find truth on the web, but in Scripture.
  • Always be faithful to do what you know.
  • Don't ever make the excuse that God cannot nor does not want to reach your people group.
  • The responsibility of communication lies with the presenter not the listener.
  • Learning is change. If you are not changing, then you are not learning.
  • The credibility of the message is found in the credibility of the messenger. (or not)
  • Leadership is being responsible for what you would have been against if you had only known it was going on.

Thursday, January 24

Freely you have received; freely give

What will it take to reach one-million new disciples of Jesus in the coming year? That was the topic of our all-day meeting yesterday that we asked you to pray for.

We praise God for the unity and common vision that was shared amongst all those attending. There were plenty of tough issues and concerns that had to be worked through. One by one these came out in our dialog. Those present seemed aware that unless we are united under the guidance and Lordship of Christ, nothing will be accomplished.

For me personally, yesterday's meeting was one of the most stimulating and challenging dialogs I have had in my twenty-year missionary career. Sitting in a circle with this group of influential Godly leaders with all their experience, resources, and people they lead, and discussing matters that impact the Kingdom of God in our corner of the world, was priceless! All the themes close to my heart were amply discussed: prayer, unity in the Body of Christ, evangelism, discipleship, church planting, ekklesia, empowering lay leaders, COSECHA (Harvest) training, city-church, mobilizing, etc.

I felt one of the major points dealt with was ownership. Who "owns" this undertaking? If this undertaking is to take off, those doing the actual work must have ownership and view the task as their own. With that understanding, all that our team has been given was freely shared with our brothers. It is now their project and undertaking. We are servants to assist them in any way needed. And God is the only one to receive glory, honor, or credit for all that He will do in the coming months.

Thank you for praying! The Lord was definitely in our midst yesterday. As the Lord brings us to mind, please continue to pray for this enormous undertaking that the Spirit would continue to lead, guide, and direct each step of the way.

Tuesday, January 22

Pray the Lord of the Harvest

Wednesday, January 23, we have been invited to train 15 leaders. The stated goal of these fifteen denominational leaders is one-million disciples over the next two years. Fifteen doesn't sound like very many (neither do the original twelve!) But these fifteen represent some of the most influential leaders in the strongest evangelical denomination in the country. These fifteen will train others who, Lord willing, will in a domino effect fashion continue to train others until 60,000 receive the training by year's end--at least, that is the plan!

Can such a lofty goal be reached?

I don't doubt for a minute that it can. Of course, such undertakings are a "God thing" and certainly not anything men can make happen.

All of the month of January our house church network has been praying through Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21. Verse 20 says, "Now to HIM who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us..."

Therein lies our hope, in HIM who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think...

As a team, our daily prayer for years has been for the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Why can't this opportunity be the answer to that prayer? If it isn't his intention to answer that prayer, why would He have us pray it?

We believe it is his desire and will that laborers be sent forth. We live in expectancy of Him doing exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish (one million disciples? 60,000 laborers?), and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. --Jesus

Wednesday is just the beginning. But we would ask that you join us in prayer asking the Lord:
  • the name of Jesus Christ be glorified throughout the process
  • His Kingdom come and His will be done (not our kingdom, nor our will)
  • laborers (60,000 would be a good start!)
  • unity and common vision amongst believers coming from different denominational backgrounds (the enemy always seems to find a way to create division amongst us)
  • clarity and simplicity in grasping the COSECHA discipleship/church planting steps
  • one-million new disciples in established churches and new simple churches
We want you to join our team in this venture by becoming one of our team prayer partners. Send a blank email to:


For more background and details click on my earlier blog post One Million Disciples.

Sunday, January 20

Once Upon A Time

There are a few bloggers out there that consistently churn out good material. Every now and then these guys/gals out do even themselves with exceptional postings. Such is the case with Alan Knox's "Won't Get Fooled Again." See if you don't agree!


Once upon a time, God used a donkey. How foolish! Not today. Today, God has other means of transportation available to him. He uses nice cars - Cadillacs, BMWs, Mercedes, even limos. God even uses jet planes. Why would God want to use something as foolish as a donkey when he has planes available to him?

Once upon a time, God used pagan prophets and philosophers. How foolish! Not today. Nothing good can come from culture. Today, God wants his people to read Christian books, watch Christian movies, and listen to Christian music. If God has something to say, he would never be so foolish as to speak through a pagan.

Once upon a time, God ate with prostitutes, drunks, thieves, and other malcontents. How foolish! Not today. God has enough good people now that he doesn't need to hang out with that sort anymore. It would be foolish for God to be found among the dregs of society today.

Once upon a time, God gathered people in fields, and on a mountain, and in a valley, and in homes, and in a school. How foolish! Not today. If people want to meet with God today, they can come to his house - a church building. Wouldn't it be foolish for people to think that God would come to them when he has beautiful buildings now?

Once upon a time, God spoke through untrained people. How foolish! Not today. There are plenty of college- and university- and seminary-trained people for God to speak through today. He doesn't need to speak through the unlearned. What if they said something wrong? How foolish to think that God would still speak through uneducated people today.

Once upon a time, God called the foolish, weak, and unknown - the nobodies - of society. How foolish! Not today. Now God calls the smart, the powerful, and the celebrities to speak on the lecture circuit, write books, and hold conferences. How foolish to think that we could make it without our Christian celebrities!

Once upon a time, God asked people to drop everything and follow him. How foolish! Not today. God realizes that today we need a steady job with a good salary, a home, two cars, health and life insurance, a good dental plan, excellent schools, vacation, and a retirement plan. Do you foolishly think that God would ask us to follow him without these necessities?

Once upon a time, God expected his people to encourage one another when they met together. How foolish! Not today. Now God has provided us with professionals to handle all the dirty work, to study, to teach, to sing, to deal with problems. How foolish to think that God would expect us to do these things today.

Once upon a time, God wanted his people to trust him completely without relying on their own ability to understand. How foolish! Not today. God knows that people today need to think logically about things, to make reasonable decisions. God knows that we need all the details of his plans, especially the outcome. Do you foolishly think that God still expects us to trust him completely?

Once upon a time, God created and enforced covenants. How foolish! Not today. God now expects us to write our own covenants and to hold people accountable to them. If we don't hold people accountable, then who will? How foolish it would be to think that God is still capable of taking care of his covenants and his children.

Yes, once upon a time, God used a donkey. But we can all see how foolish that would be now. We won't get fooled again.

Friday, January 18

My kind of church

I love this story that appears in Tony Campolo's The Kingdom Of God Is A Party. Below is Gary Snowden's abbreviated retelling of the story...

Campolo found himself wide awake and hungry one morning at 3:30 a.m. while on a speaking trip to Honolulu. He found a greasy spoon diner open and ordered coffee and a donut which Harry grabbed off the shelf (without tongs or wax paper of course) and plopped on his plate. As he was eating, a group of 8 or 9 streetwalkers noisily entered the diner. Their language was crude as well as the subject matter of their conversation and Campolo was planning his exit when he heard one of them who was seated next to him tell her companion that the next day was her birthday. Her friend seated on the other side of her from Campolo responded, “What do you expect me to do, throw you a party or something?” The woman by Campolo replied, “No, I wouldn’t expect you to do that. In fact, I’ve never had a birthday party in my entire life.”

After the women left, Campolo asked Harry if they came in often. He replied that they were regulars every night. Campolo asked if the lady seated next to him also came each night. Harry identified her as Agnes and said she was there each evening. Campolo proposed to Harry that he come back the next night if it was okay and decorate the diner for a birthday celebration for Agnes. Harry agreed and insisted that he would bake a birthday cake for the occasion.

The next night Campolo arrived about 2:30 to decorate the diner with balloons and streamers and a big banner that said “Happy Birthday Agnes.” By the time Agnes and her friends arrived, the diner was packed with other women who shared her profession. News had gotten out via the grapevine about the party. On cue, Campolo led the group in singing Happy Birthday to Agnes and Harry brought out the cake with the candles already lit. Agnes had gotten a bit teary-eyed at the singing of Happy Birthday, but at the sight of the cake she lost it totally and began to weep uncontrollably. Harry kept insisting that she blow out the candles or he’d do so himself, which he finally did. Harry handed Agnes a knife and said, “Go ahead and cut the cake, Agnes. We’re hungry. We want some cake.”

Agnes paused, staring at the cake and finally spoke to Harry. She asked him if they might wait a bit before the cut the cake. He replied, “Sure, it’s your cake. You can even take it home if you’d like.”

Agnes replied, “Can I really? I live just down the street. I’ll be right back, I promise.” Then carrying the cake as if it were the Holy Grail, she walked out of the diner and everyone sat in stunned silence.

At that point Campolo said, “What do you say we pray?” Looking back on the event Campolo said it was a highly unusual setting—a Baptist preacher surrounded by streetwalkers in a diner at 3:30 a.m. in a prayer meeting. He prayed for Agnes’ salvation and the blessings of God upon her life.

When he had concluded his prayer, Harry leaned over the counter a bit confrontationally and said gruffly, “Hey, you never told me you were a preacher! What kind of church do you belong to?”

In a moment of inspiration, Campolo replied, “The kind of church that throws birthday parties for streetwalkers at 3:30 a.m.”

After a brief pause, Harry responded, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that!”

Wednesday, January 16

"Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna

Is today's Church into a revolution that will someday be understood as greater than the 16th Century Protestant Reformation?

Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna will certainly add fuel to the fire of those affirming so. Most evangelicals would consider such a suggestion as absurd, or at best, exaggerated. Yet, undeniably, there is a grass roots revolution taking place on a global scale in Christendom about what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ.

Basically the authors are making three points:

1) A great deal of what we do in church today does not come from the New Testament.

2) Much of what is practiced originated out of Greco-Roman customs and traditions (paganism, not Judaism), and/or human-made inventions.

3) Many of these practices actually hinder the church from being what God designed her to be.

The over-arching question the authors seem to be asking is: Do the practices of modern institutional churches reflect a God-ordained/inspired development, or are they a departure from it?

Of course, one must read the book to understand why Viola and Barna indeed question "church" as most of us know it.

Beware, though. This book comes with a WARNING:

If you are unwilling to have your Christianity seriously examined, do not read beyond this page...Spare yourself the trouble of having your Christian life turned upside down. (pg.7)

A glance at the content chapters will suffice as to the reason for the warning!

1-Have We Really Been Doing It By The Book?
2-The Church Building: Inheriting the Edifice Complex.
3-The Order of Worship: Sunday Mornings Set In Concrete
4-The Sermon: Protestantism's Most Sacred Cow
5-The Pastor: Obstacle To Every-Member Functioning
6-Sunday Morning Costumes: Covering Up The Problem
7-Ministers of Music: Second-String Clergy
8-Tithing and Clergy Salaries: Sore Spots On The Wallet
9-Baptism and the Lord's Supper: Diluting The Sacraments
10-Christian Education: Swelling The Cranium
11-Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible Is Not A Jigsaw Puzzle
12-A Second Glance at the Savior: Jesus The Revolutionary
-The Next Step
-Final Thoughts: Q&A with Viola and Barna

If not already offended at some of the chapter titles, I can almost guarantee you will be after reading what is actually said concerning these staples of institutional Christianity! As difficult as it is to read material that questions church as we know it, this is a well documented book, with over 1200 enlightening footnotes from church historians, theologians down through the ages, the reformers and church fathers themselves, and an extensive eleven page bibliography.

Each of the above issues is traced back to its roots of origin and how it evolved over the years into what we have today. The traditions are then examined in the light of what the New Testament actually teaches. Each is shown--in its current form--to NOT be a New Testament practice, but rather, traditions rooted in paganism absorbed by the church down through the ages. Today, what we assume as "normal Christian practices," would have been strange aberrations for first-century believers.

Of all the chapters, the toughest for me to deal with personally was the chapter, Reapproaching the New Testament. The authors question the evangelical church's "clipboard approach" to the Bible where we cut and paste portions of text from one document into another to say "Scripture teaches..." I am still giving this whole issue some thought, but admit a lot of what they point out is true.

But I predict the most controversial chapter will be Chapter Five, "The Pastor" where the birth of the one-bishop rule is traced. Suffice it to say, this makes for some challenging reading, that will most certainly be hotly contested by many in our established church institutions.

One note of clarification: I do not hear the authors saying that because these practices are pagan, that they are wrong. Many things we do today are rooted in paganism (eg. our calendars, days of the week, etc.) What I do hear them asking is, which of these current practices/traditions actually hinder the church from being the church that God designed and ordained her to be?

Reviews of the soon-to-be-released Tyndale publication of "Pagan Christianity" are beginning to appear all over the blog world. If this title and subject interests you, check out some of the following reviews from people whose opinions I respect:

Pagan Christianity by Alan Hirsch

Pagan Christianity by TallSkinnyKiwi (Andrew Jones)

I Can't Believe This Book Is Getting Published a good review by Brant Hansen

Should we have a Pagan Christianity? by GodGrown

Pagan Christianity creates ripples by MessyChristian

Answers to questions and objections about PAGAN CHRISTIANITY by Frank Viola himself

Audio interview with Frank Viola on the Nick and Josh podcast shares interesting background material on why the book was rewritten and republished from the original 2002 "Pagan Christianity", along with some clarifications and insights from Frank

For those willing to "choose to 'take the red pill' and be shown 'how deep the rabbit hole goes'...if you want to learn the true story of where your Christian practices came from...if you are willing to have the curtain pulled back on the contemporary church and its traditional presuppositions fiercely challenged...then you will find this work to be disturbing, enlightening, and possibly life changing." (PG, page 7)

Monday, January 14

Church Planting Essentials - Prayer

From David Watson's blog Touch Point.*

In a recent meeting of the top 100 church planters in our ministry, we looked for common elements among these high producing leaders. Each of these church planters, along with the teams they led, started more than 20 churches per year, each. One group started more than 500 churches in the previous year. The only common element we found in all these church planters was their commitment to prayer. There were other common elements, but the only element that was present in every team was a high commitment to prayer.

These leaders spent an average of three hours per day in personal prayer. They then spent another three hours in prayer with their teams every day. These leaders were not all full time religious leaders. In fact, most of them had regular jobs. They started their days at 4:00 AM, and by 10:00 AM were at work.

These top performers also spent one day per week in fasting and prayer. The whole team spent one weekend per month in fasting and prayer.

I was humbled by this commitment to prayer. When I measured my own time in prayer, and my own commitment to prayer, I found myself lacking in devotion...

[Read the rest of the article here.]

Share with us your thoughts, not only why prayer is THE most important essential in church planting (I think we would all acknowledge that fact!), but what kinds of things are you, your team, or church actually doing to make prayer a priority in your church planting?


*Thanks to Felicity Dale's blog for pointing us to this article.

Saturday, January 12

Virtual missionaries?

Some might question the validity of "virtual missionaries". But when there are so few to cover so many, having someone serve as a virtual strategy coordinator for an unreached people group makes sense. After all a virtual missionary committed to the task is better than nobody doing anything at all! After viewing this segment, see if you don't agree. Could God be leading you to serve in this capacity with us here in South America? If so, get in contact with us via email in our profile. You might be just the person God is calling to serve Him overseas from your home in the USA, or wherever in the world you might be reading!

Thursday, January 10

What's wrong with this picture?

Les Puryear has done us a favor by pointing out some interesting comparisons on statistics as reported by the IMB and USA SBC churches at large. Good job, Les, for all our many faults and blunders as field missionaries, I found your observations quite telling. Let the numbers speak for themselves!
I don't know if anyone has noticed but God has been working mightily through our IMB missionaries. Overseas baptisms in 2007 were an astounding 609,968 compared to 475,072 in 2006 (2007 Book of Reports, p.56). That's an increase of 28.4%!

Also, IMB reports 25,497 new overseas churches planted compared to 23,486 planted in 2006 (2007 Book of Reports, p.56), which is an increase of 8.5%.

We currently have 5,338 field personnel under appointment. These numbers are staggering. Do you realize that the number of baptisms equals 114 per missionary? Do you realize that the number of new church plants equals 4.77 per missionary?

Compare those numbers to our numbers in the USA for 2006 according to the 2007 Book of reports. Our baptisms were 394,321. Our new church plants were 151. The number of churches in the USA is 44,223. Based on these figures, the number of baptisms per church was 9. The number of new church plants was 0.0034 per church.

What's wrong with this picture? How do 5,338 missionaries account for 114 baptisms per person and 44,223 churches account for only 9 baptisms per church?

I think it is time for SBC pastors and leaders in the USA to turn to our own IMB for a better understanding of how to reach people for Christ. I call on the leaders of our convention to adopt the evangelism techniques and mindset currently in use by the IMB and provide training opportunities for all SBC church pastors and leaders in such techniques.
Les, you ask some good questions that need answers. What does this say about the way we view and understand Christianity and the Church in the USA? Indeed, what is wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, January 8

My ten favorite books for 2007

All ten of my favorite reads this past year were books published prior to 2007. Since they come from different literary categories, there is no way to list them in any kind of priority order. Suffice it to say, ALL TEN are "must read" books.

My top five favorite books for 2007 in no particular order:

Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens by Neil Cole. One of the highlights of 2007 was my trip to Southern California to an organic church planting conference sponsored by Neil Cole and friends. I picked up a copy of his book there and consider it to be one of the better house/simple/organic church books written to date. I would highly recommend this as a good place to start in one's journey to discover church outside the walls of institutional Christianity. I echo Curtis Sergeant's comments on the book, "I heartily recommend this book. It is packed with deep insights; you will find no fluff in it. Among the books on church planting, it offers a rare combination of attributes: it is biblical and well written, its model has proven effective, and it is authored by a practitioner rather than an observer or an ivory-tower theoretician."

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts On Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller. All I can say is read the book. It took me a few chapters to get into Miller's style of writing, but once I did, it was hard to put down. Through his everyday life stories, there is a wealth of spiritual truth, humor, and relevancy that refreshes one's soul like few other books are able to do.

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. I was initially turned off by the title, but what a great read! I was challenged by what Bell writes so much I shelled out $170 to buy the entire video series that deals with many of the same themes addressed in the book. I like books that challenge the status quo. This is one book that will really get you to see another angle to things normally taken for granted in Scripture.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang is a real life saga of a Chinese family over three generations in twentieth-century China. It is an insider view into everyday life as lived and understood from a Chinese perspective. To read this book was for me an eye opening experience into the era of Chairman Mao's China. My understanding of communist China has been greatly enhanced by Chang's detailed explanation of everyday life of real people living under the oppression of a government that rules over every aspect of an individual's life. Wild Swans has been around since 1991, and after finishing this amazing book, can understand how it has sold over 10-million copies and translated into 30 languages.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini certainly rates amongst the best fictional novels I have ever read. It is a powerful story that takes place in Afghanistan. You simply cannot go wrong in getting hold of a copy of this book. Just make sure you have a long uninterrupted space of time to read, because once you start, it will be hard to put down!

The bottom five of my favorite ten books for 2007 (in no particular order):

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. I had the privilege of hearing Ori Brafman in person as he gave a seminar on this extraordinary book. Much of what he shared with us during the conference can be found in the pages of this book. The authors give us an entertaining look at how decentralization is changing many organizations. The applications for the Church are clearly visible and it is no wonder those in the house church movement have gravitated towards this work.

The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An Extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament by Frank Viola is a fascinating look at the New Testament in chronological order, rather than arranged by size as we have today in our Bibles. This helpful book does a good job at explaining a lot of the background which helps us gain a much clearer understanding of how all the pieces "fit" in what often seems like a jigsaw puzzle. Few write on the subject of the early first-century church as comprehensively as Frank Viola. This volume is yet another in a long list of helpful books on first-century ecclesiology.

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman is a book everyone in ministry must read in order to better understand today's changing world. While parts of the book are a bit tedious and share more information than I was interested in knowing, one has to recognize Friedman's ability to identify the patterns behind many of the complex global developments taking place in our lifetime. After reading this classic, I feel I have a much better understanding of today's rapidly changing world.

Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive by John Eldredge. John is one of my favorite authors. It seems I connect with everything he writes. Waking the Dead is no exception.

Pagan Christianity? Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna is a revised and updated version of Viola's 2002 book by the same title. This book is sure to cause waves in evangelical circles once released later this year with Barna's name attached. I plan to blog on this book in the coming days so will reserve my comments for then. I predict this will be one of the most unpopular and criticized books of 2008. For now, stand warned that if you read Pagan Christianity be prepared to have your Christian world turned upside down!

Saturday, January 5

Are house churches unhealthy? You decide!

I have been thrilled to see the growing interest for house churches in the North American context and especially in the Southern Baptist Convention. As IMB-SBC missionaries, most of us are heavily involved in training, teaching, and planting house churches around the world.

Recently at sbc Impact! Geoff Baggett did a good job introducing some of the concepts with his post House Churches: Will They Really Work In North America?

What follows are a few phrases from the 61 comments shared on that post. I would encourage you to read the complete thoughts in context of those expressing concerns. Most of these are fairly common objections about house churches that we hear all the time...
...accountability and proper doctrine would be my two red flags

...the rise of house churches is more of mark of unhealthiness churches are dominated by people who do not want to submit themselves to the leadership of the church

...the lack of biblically trained leadership would often create an environment rich in heresy

...early churches meeting in homes, is that descriptive or prescriptive?

...I tend to think of this as more a reaction against the mega church and mega-wannabe

...I think that house churches work better in some cultures than in other cultures

...To me, the key biblical point is not where the church meets. The key point is whether the pastor meets the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

...House churches work well in places where there is persecution and a need for secret meeting places.

...I don't think it would work in my context

My own observation about the above is that most of the comments are coming from people who have not experienced first hand life as part of a local ekklesia (house church). Rather than spend my time individually refuting each of the above concerns, I would rather share what DOES take place in a house church meeting (at least in our Guayaquil, Ecuador context.) After reading, you can judge for yourself if any of the above expressed concerns are relevant to what actually takes place when a church meets under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, her founder and head.

The believers started arriving around 9am on a hot, bright Sunday morning.

Chairs and furniture had been rearranged into a large circle in what was a spacious living room of one of the house church members. We sat around and caught up on one another's week. There were about 20 adults and youth present along with several small children.

A new couple arrived and were introduced, giving them ample time to share who they were, where they were from, and to make them feel welcome.

Songbooks were handed out and we began a time of singing hymns and praise songs to Jesus.

Impromptu testimonies were interspersed between songs of how those sharing had come to know the Lord.

Three people shared words of exhortation/encouragement from the Scriptures. I remember one of them being 2 Cor. 12 where Paul asks that the thorns in his flesh be removed. God seemed pleased to allow the thorns to remain. The comment was made that wasn't it true that most of us in the room carried thorns in our flesh? Isn't at least part of the reason God allows his servants to bear thorns to keep us humble and operating in the power of the grace of God, rather than our own strength?

We then entered a lengthy time of prayer. Every month a prayer list is distributed throughout the Guayaquil house church network. We feel it is important that we all be praying in a united, continuous way about the things we want to see Christ doing in our city. A few of the ongoing items that we continuously petition the Lord are:
  • laborers for the harvest...
  • asking God for 500,000 new souls in the coming five years...
  • to give each of us passion for Jesus, perseverance in the work, and power in the Spirit...
  • that the Lord would keep us from Satan's tactics to discourage, distract, and divide us from the tasks He has given us to do...
  • individual and specific prayer for each of the missionaries we support as a house church network...and many more.
Praying through each of these in a meaningful way took around 40-minutes with everyone present participating in the prayers.

A loud floor fan was turned on for 30-seconds to help move the air around before being turned off again so that we could hear one another.

A young woman had been asked beforehand to prepare and share the week's Bible lesson. Several passages out of Matthew and Mark were assigned to various ones present. To her credit, she didn't try to tell everyone what the passages meant, but simply asked questions of the passages. There were several awkward moments of silence as people struggled to come up with a clear understanding of what Jesus is saying to us today. Usually someone would come up with at least the beginnings of an answer. Others would then join in with their thoughts. After a few minutes a really good biblical discussion would ensue as the entire church wrestled with the implications of the text. Not once was I consulted as visiting missionary to correct any "wrong interpretations." To be honest, there wasn't anything shared that wouldn't have gotten an A+ in my book. The Holy Spirit is quite capable of leading, guiding, and teaching truth to His Body.

A prayer was said and the weekly offering was taken up. We sang a few more songs as the monies were counted.

A quick impromptu huddle was held to decide what to do with the week's offering. It was decided by consensus to give the ENTIRE OFFERING to the visiting couple to help them with upcoming medical costs for the birth of their first child! We then gathered around the couple to minister to them, laying hands on them. Several believers prayed for the safe delivery of their baby, and for blessings upon their marriage and family. Needless to say the couple was overwhelmed by the love and concern expressed for them.

As sandwiches and drinks were being served (it was then about noon) several shared about the people they were evangelizing and discipling. The brother to my left has started his own house church. His wife began talking to me about the new group she was about to start and askee me how to get hold of some materials. Nearly everyone in the room during the week have people they are visiting, witnessing to, or discipling. It is considered something embarrassing to not actually be doing what Jesus said to do! Another impromptu group discussion took place about the upcoming training center they are inaugurating to train believers from other churches to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach others to do what Jesus said to do.

All of the above was led by the various members of the house church assembly. One would be hard pressed to identify exactly who the leaders even were (they were there, though, trust me!) Everyone present participated actively throughout the entire meeting, including the children. Time flies by quickly when everyone understands their responsibility to "one another" each other.

Three hours after arriving, I left to take the visiting couple home in our car. All the way back to their house, all they could talk about was how powerfully God had spoken to their lives that day, how much they had learned, and how moved they were by the love of the people.

THREE QUESTIONS: What part of the above is not New Testament? What would even be objectionable by Baptists? Are not these kind of gatherings what we find the church doing in Acts and the Epistles?

Again, go through the above list of house church concerns/objections and see if any apply to what actually took place at what is a typical house church gathering in Guayaquil. Your thoughts and observations are welcome!

Better yet, contact us by email (in our profile) and come help us reach an un/under reached county of our province. Put some of that knowledge and doctrine you have into practice!