Monday, March 2

It's not about methodology

Luis had faithfully attended the training sessions for church planting. He lived across the river from Guayaquil in the neighboring city of Durán. In his local community, everyone knew the friendly Luis who operated a small business out of his home selling eggs, TP, bananas, rice, batteries, and other daily necessities.

Well into the training, Luis invited me to visit the Saturday evening gathering of friends, family, and neighbors.

I arrived about 15-minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin. Luis was thrilled I had come and declared,

"It is so good that you have come, Bro. Guido, you can lead the meeting tonight..."

"No, Bro. Luis, I have come as a visitor and look forward to the blessing God has in store for us tonight. Besides, as your teacher, I'd like to see how some of the things we are practicing in class are working out for you guys."

"But what should I do?" he asked with a confused look on his face.

"Do it just like we practiced in the classroom this past week. Pick one of the ice breakers to loosen people up. Lead them in singing 2-3 songs that relate to the Bible Study. Talk about the message of the songs. Facilitate the Bible Study #4 making sure all participate. Close with a time of ministry praying for the various needs. Finish up serving refreshments and visiting with everyone...just like we practiced and talked about in class earlier this week."

Luis smiled and said, "Oh yeah, now I remember. No hay problema (no problem.) Thanks. Let's do it. Are you ready to go?"

We walked across the street and entered a small room crowded already with some fifteen adults and a bunch of kids running in and out. There were 3-4 other believers present, but the rest were all people who Luis knew and had been visiting during the preceding days.

After greeting everyone, Luis's wife Rosa passed out songbooks and then led everyone in singing a couple of their favorites. I was a bit peeved that Luis had jumped straight to the songs instead of employing a fun icebreaker to ease the tension of those in the room who didn't know one another. It was evident that few present knew what to expect.

Not only had he skipped the icebreaker, but Luis chose songs that had no connection whatsoever with the 4th lesson. Then, instead of doing lesson #4, Luis seemed to flip randomly through the pages of his Bible looking for some familiar passage, and proceeded to read out loud a passage from one of the Gospels. Internally, I was totally frustrated with Luis that instead of following the simple meeting outline as he had been trained to do, he was just "winging it."

Luis then proceeded to share an "off-the-cuff" choppy commentary on what he had just read. Where was the group participation that we stressed so highly in training? My blood pressure was rising by the minute.

Suddenly, a woman stood and interrupted Luis. She had tears in her eyes. I nearly fell off my chair when she finally spoke...

"This is the first time in my life that the Gospel has been presented to me in such a clear and simple way. I truly understand now what Jesus did for me and I want to declare my allegiance to Him. What do I need to do?

Luis walked over to the woman, smiled real big, and gave her a huge abrazo (hug.)

He then, in front of everyone present, scrapped his "message" and shared with the woman a clear presentation of the Gospel. The few believers present gathered around and led her in a prayer of repentance. When the "Amen" was said, everyone clapped and one by one stood in line to abrazar and congratulate the new sister in Christ. Even before everyone had finished hugging, someone picked up an out-of-tune cracked guitar and next thing I knew they were singing, clapping and praising God! Spontaneous prayers, testimonies, and more singing followed. As prayer requests were made, everyone gathered around the person and prayed over them. Someone brought in mangoes for refreshments as people continued to visit, laugh, and sing even more.

And where was I during all this?

Sitting in the corner picking myself off the floor from the lessons the Holy Spirit was teaching me--the novice--about His ways not being our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts.

That outreach group soon became a church and continued to do everything just about as opposite as possible from everything we were teaching. But out of that seemingly "chaotic mess" dozens of people were saved, baptized, and a local ekklesia was birthed.

The "rest of the story" of that church plant could be written up as a book, but suffice it to say, I learned several big lessons that evening.

1) Locals know their people better than the outside "experts."

2) People do not come to Christ by our methodologies (however good we think they may be.)

3) The importance of love and relationships developed with those one is trying to reach (Luis was a "10" on a scale of ten on this one.)

4) It is much easier gathering people (not-yet-believers) who live close by and presenting the Gospel to them all at once, than winning a bunch of individuals separately and then trying to gather them all in one place.

5) A simple atmosphere of warmth, acceptance, and informality is more appealing to those we are trying to reach with the Gospel than a programmed formal church service.

6) As good as our way of doing things might be, His way is better.

7) What works with one group may not work equally well with another group. In other words, one size does not fit all.

Any of these lessons resonate with your own experience? What are some of the lessons the Holy Spirit has been teaching you of late?

8 comments:

Dienekes said...

Guy,

In my sanctified imagination, I sometimes think God is cracking Himself up as He blows our "box" out of the water. Anyway, I wonder about your thoughts on some of my questions below...

Regarding each of your lessons learned:

1) What are some good practical ways you've learned to lean on the locals to contextualize your ministry activities?

2) I guess the message here is sow, water, and reap with all your wits and all your might, but ALWAYS walk in the reality that God is giving the increase.

3) I'd bet that simple, Great Commandment love of God and neighbor is the best cross-cultural communicator we could hope for. What culture isn't okay with people operating from love? Against such things there is no law.

4) Strider wrote about this a while back, talking about extraction evangelism (building the ekklesia one-by-one, pulling them out of their old circles) versus insertion evangelism (transforming communities/groups by discipling new witnesses in the midst of their lost circles of influence). Good stuff.

5) See comment 3. Maybe this is a hard lesson for cold-culture missionaries ministering in warm cultures.

6) I know I personally need to beware the attempt to do well in my "work" for the Kingdom. I need to be asking to be faithful, and to be caught up in His work for the Kingdom. I've been seeing Jonathan's attitude toward David and Caleb's attitude toward Joshua as great examples of how my attitude should be toward Kingdom work. "Whatever He wants to do, just let me fill my role faithfully."

7) Only the daily, hourly, moment-by-moment filling and leadership of the Holy Spirit can put us aright in figuring all this out. "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." (Prov 16:9)

Burkhalter Ministry said...

Loved this story..so cool how God works. We hope to connect with your family soon.
beth

GuyMuse said...

Dienekes,

Thanks for the insightful comments. I'll take a stab at answering your questions...

#1-We do everything as a team. We are "joint leaders" who share as equals. Our team leader is a national, but even he sees himself more as a convener and facilitator, rather than the boss.

#2-A favorite quote of mine in line with what you share is, "Pray as if everything depended upon God; work as if everything depended upon man."

#3-Amen.

#4-What Strider, us, and so many others out there have learned about this point has come the hard way: trying to win individuals and then getting them to "join" an assembly. That is the hard way to do it. The much easier way is what is described in the post.

#5-It is a lesson that must be learned over and over again.

#6-We teach structure, guidelines, principles, but in the end all these must cede to the Spirit. Jesus is Head of his Church, and no program, methodology, technique, etc. should ever supersede the right of the Head to do as He deems best.

#7-That's why you seek to give people tools, but then let make sure they have the freedom to use those tools in the contexts where they are seeking to do the work.


Beth,

Thanks! I too love this story. Next time you come down, I'll introduce you to Luis. He and his wife Rosa are two of the sweetest people you'll ever meet. :)

Grady Bauer said...

Great story. Guy my question is....how do we live as if it's not about methodology when our leadership says it is. Even this week we've been told that relational evangelism no longer works and that we need to give people one shot....5 minute presentation...and if they don't "bite" we need to move on and drop the relationship.

In our region it's apparently all about finding a silver bullet...you've been at this for a lot longer than I have....how you handle the constant search for the right methodology?

GuyMuse said...

how you handle the constant search for the right methodology?

This is a key question. I have blogged on this previously here.

But in essence, it is a both/and thing for us. We train everyone how to give a simple Gospel presentation using their testimony and the Roman Road. However, we stress that in LUKE 10:1-9 in Jesus way of training his own disciples, proclamation is the LAST step AFTER all the other steps (which are relational) have been implemented.

In our own experience, to just go out door-to-door or preach on the corners sometimes results in genuine decisions to follow Christ--we are after all in a Harvest field--but most of the time we get far greater results (and a church plant to boot) when we do it Jesus way.

So far in our region we haven't heard what you are saying is coming from your regional leadership. But certainly this matter needs priority attention.

Strider said...

Wow! I love this story Guy. I have said many times that God works in spite of us, not because of us.

As for regional leadership mandating methodologies too many are too sensitive to this. In my experience leadership learns something new and important and then others take this to be some kind of mandate. Learn from you leaders, serve and obey God alone. By the way, the relational ev deal is a pendulum swing. It began as a good teaching on seeing people as individuals whom God loves instead of a project to be completed. Over time relational ev became 'I take ten years to build up a good friendship and then I never share my faith with them for fear that it will harm the friendship.' Now the pendulum is swinging back. Again, learn from the leaders, learn from your's and other's mistakes, but then obey God and serve Him.

Strider said...

I should add that 'relational' ev is actually the current 'in' methodology and it is actually 'relationship' ev that is being dissed. The difference is that relational means that I am inviting someone into a relationship with me- even if I have only known them for 15 minutes. Relationship ev was the model of live in community for years and build up 'deep' friendships that you could eventually share in.
Sorry to have this long explanation of something that was not relevant to this excellent post.

GuyMuse said...

Strider,

In the debate about relational ev vs. direct evangelism, the two go hand-in-hand. I think this story is a good illustration of the importance of wedding the two together. I have seen the extremes of both ways over the years where people come down and stand on a corner and recite Rom.3:23,6:23,10:9-10 in a loud voice and then ask for a show of hands of those "receiving Christ". The other extreme is (as you write) where years are spent nurturing a relationship, but in all that contact, somehow never manage to get around to sharing the Gospel with their friends.

I guess I would argue for a return to Luke 10 methodology where Jesus instructed the 70 sent-out ones to do all the relational stuff found in vs.1-9a, and when we have done those things, THEN we have earned the right to vs.9b PROCLAIM THE GOOD NEWS. Obeying vs.1-9 doesn't normally take years, it can happen in a very short time period.

Anyway that's my 2-cents on the matter.