Wednesday, July 29

Influencing others through our own example (No. 7-10)

Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. Phil.3:17

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others,it is the only means. -Albert Einstein

Continuing with the series starting with #1-3 here, and #4-6 here I offer four more areas we are trying to model before those we disciple/mentor.

7. Don't belittle. People are already bashed enough by the world. They don't need it from us as well. Belittling is what we say about people in front of others, showing our own superiority over the person being belittled. There is a difference between belittling and correcting someone. Correction is what we do privately when something needs attention. Belittling comes in many disguises: fault-finding, making fun of, putting down, nagging, ignoring, correcting out loud another's point-of-view, opinions, ideas, or attempts to do something; talking condescendingly about others faults and weaknesses; blaming; making others feel stupid, ignorant, insignificant, irrelevant, or inferior; pointing out weaknesses of others behavior, work, ideas or attitudes. Scripture tells us Satan is the "accuser of the brethren" (Rev.12:10.) We ought not be out there helping him do what he already does so effectively. If we can't say something edifying, encouraging, uplifting, or positive, best not say anything at all.

8. Be a good listener. One of the greatest gifts we can give to people is listen to them. People have a deep need to share their stories, fears, concerns, experiences, observations, victories, etc. The problem is very few have someone willing to take the time to really listen. A disciple is someone who is constantly reminded by the two ears and one mouth on their head, that God designed up to listen twice as much as we speak.

9. Learn to live with 80% of our income. If we can't make ends meet with 80% of what we are bringing in, we need to find ways to reduce our spending. Adjustments need to be made to our life style. While I don't believe the NT teaches tithing for Jesus followers, I do believe setting aside at least 10% of our income for Kingdom related needs is a bare minimum. I also believe we should set aside another 10% for savings so that we don't go into debt, or need to borrow from others when extra needs arise. One of the great sins of CCC (Contemporary Consumer Christianity) is living beyond our means. By doing so, and seeing this as the "norm," we end up not having anything significant to give for Kingdom causes. If Jesus commands, "seek first the Kingdom of God," shouldn't that be reflected as well in our finances? Some would say, EVERYTHING belongs to Jesus. Quite true. But how many of us actually live that way? Until we mature enough in our walk with the Lord to live out the truth that all we have belongs to the Lord, I teach/model living with 80%. Begin with 10% for the Kingdom, and 10% for savings. As your faith and walk in the Lord increases, expand to living with 75%, 70%, 65% etc.

10. Live in Romans 8. There are so many mind-blowing truths in this chapter. If we could simply learn to live our lives in the context of this single chapter of the Bible, and believe what it says, literally 100% of our fears, worries, concerns, doubts, burdens, would weigh no more on us than a feather! For starters, here is a short-list of the "benefits package" that is ours in Christ Jesus:
  • no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...
  • you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again
  • you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"
  • we are children of God
  • and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ
  • the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us
  • waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body
  • in hope we have been saved
  • the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words
  • He [the Holy Spirit] intercedes for the saints according to the will of God
  • God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose
  • those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son
  • these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified
  • Christ Jesus...who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
  • if God is for us, who is against us?
  • Who will bring a charge against God's elect?
  • God is the one who justifies
  • how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
  • Who will bring a charge against God's elect?
  • Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
  • but in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us
  • neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If these don't charge your spiritual batteries, I don't know what will! Disciples of Jesus live daily in the truths and promises of Romans 8.

Sunday, July 26

When is a church a church?

For us it is a fairly simple process. Church is not a complex institution. It is a living, growing organism. Therefore what we consider "church" is far simpler than what many think of when contemplating First Baptist Church, Bible Belt, USA.

There are basically three stages to becoming a church. All are undergirded by prayer.

1) engage in some type of evangelistic outreach to win people to Christ,
2) meet as an outreach group with these new converts until some are baptized,
3) become a church.

Before proceeding, just a word of clarification. We don't try to start churches with people who are already believers, or members of other existing churches. We only target non-yet believers and it is with new converts that we do all our church planting.

All that is needed to start a new church is a worker--a church planter--and a little bit of training. Therefore prayer to the Lord of the Harvest for laborers is high on our priority list.

Once we have a laborer (preferably a pair), we train them in much the same fashion as Jesus did with the 70 in Luke 10. We teach them to...
  • work in pairs (vs.1)
  • pray (v.2)
  • go (v.3)
  • don't take...(v.4)
  • find the person of peace (v.5,6)
  • stay in that house (v.7)
  • eat and drink with the POP (v.7,8)
  • heal (minister) (v.9)
  • proclaim. (v.9)
Once we have a group of people who have made professions of faith, the discipleship process continues but is done so as a group. The group meeting can be anywhere from 2-3 people, to as many as fit inside the meeting place. They are initially called an "outreach group." Outreach groups will sing, pray, study the Word, minister to one another, even collect offerings, but they are not a church.

New believers in outreach groups are led to understand who they are in Christ. They are shown in Scripture that new believers are baptized.

This is the first real test whether or not they have truly given their hearts to Christ. If they back out or want to postpone baptism (for whatever reasons) we continue to work with them as an outreach group. For us the key that opens the door to becoming a church is baptism. Why?

Many Latin Americans with Roman Catholic backgrounds realize that being re-baptized is a clear break with the religion of their fathers. It is a major step. Much like it would be for Baptist readers deciding to make a break with their own church to join the Mormon church. Many times new believers are hesitant to take this step. Sometimes it takes several weeks, even months for them to come around to what we would consider a genuine decision of turning one's life over to Christ.

Once one or more people are baptized, they are the church. No need to make a big deal out of what already is. There are no other in between stages (mission, Bible study, preaching point, etc.) Usually the same day as the initial baptisms, the Lord's Supper will be served to the new followers of Christ. From that point forward they are no longer considered an outreach group, but a church. They will, of course, continue the discipleship process. From the very beginning these new believers look to Jesus as the Head, and to one another for mutual edification, encouragement, nurturing, correction, etc. Church only becomes complicated when we begin adding in to the mix extra-biblical requirements.

Just as a new born baby is a real human being, a group of new born babes in Christ is a real church. As long as they have believers to nurture, lead, and guide them (a church planter), and hopefully apostolic workers behind them for backup and encouragement, the new-born church has a good chance to grow into a maturing body of believers. But as in real life, especially in the third world, many times new born babies die prematurely. The same thing is true for new churches. In our own case we have a high percentage of new church plants that die. Some of the reasons for this have been shared in an earlier post "Why do so many of our church plants fail?"

So therefore, a church is a group of baptized believers who meet regularly together where God has planted them and function as a NT ekklesia.

There is more to it than we have been able to briefly describe here, but this is essentially how we define "church." Any questions, clarifications, observations, etc. are welcome.

Friday, July 24

Jesus was not a very good evangelist

Alan Knox has decided Jesus was not a very good evangelist...at least by today's standards. See if you agree with him...

...I’ve decided that Jesus was not a very good evangelist.

When he called his first disciples, he didn’t tell them about his good plan for their lives; he simply said, “Follow me.”

When he talked to Nicodemus, Jesus didn’t point out his sins; he simply talked about the new life in the Spirit.

When he talked to the Samaritan woman by the well, Jesus didn’t call her to repent; he just announced himself as the Messiah.

When he talked to the “rich, young ruler,” he didn’t tell the man to simply believe or trust him or pray to him; he told him to sell all he had and give to the poor and follow him.

When he forgave the paralytic, he did so based on his friends’ faith.

When he cast demons out of people, he often told them to not tell other people about him.

When Jesus ate at Zacchaeus’ house, he seemed pleased that Zacchaeus talked about his works of giving back to the poor, but Jesus never told him to make sure he had faith.

When Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews, Jesus did not give a very convincing apologetic argument.

When he met Paul on the road to Damascus, Jesus left out almost every point in the Roman Road, E.E., C.W.T., F.A.I.T.H., and any other evangelism method.

No, Jesus was not a very good evangelist… at least, not according to most Christian definitions and descriptions of a good evangelist.

Wednesday, July 22

Influencing others through our own example (No. 4-6)

Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. Phil.3:17

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others,it is the only means. -Albert Einstein

Continuing with the series starting with #1-3 here, I offer three more areas which we are trying to model before those we disciple/mentor.

4. Our message is primarily Jesus Christ. Not churchiantity, nor the Christian Religion, nor the traditions and practices of Evangelicalism. We preach Jesus: his life, teachings, example, and commands. Learning to obey and practice the "Ten Commandments of Christ" is one of the first priorities of discipleship. Being Great Commission Jesus followers, one of our primary tasks is to "teach them to obey everything I [Jesus] have commanded you." (GNB) We followers of Jesus should not measure spiritual maturity based upon our knowledge of the Gospel, but upon our obedience of what we know of the Gospel. We should never confuse knowing the commands of Christ with obeying them in our personal lives.

Some might wonder why this is listed as #4 and not #1 on the list. The reason is simple. There is no particular order for any of these to be shared/modeled/taught. Taking after George Patterson's "menu based" way of training/discipling, we seek to offer what is needed when it is needed by the disciple. There is nothing wrong with systematic discipleship approaches (such as the excellent MasterLife and similar studies) but our experience has shown that there are circumstances when certain teachings will be eagerly absorbed because the disciple is going through that season of life or ministry. To simply teach through a series of great lessons might add head knowledge, but not necessarily implemented. Again, Jesus is our example. He went about daily life with his disciples. They encountered real life situations dealing with Kingdom matters, finances, divorce & marriage, fasting, prayer, weddings, healing the sick, etc. Living alongside alongside Jesus gave the accompanying teachings on the matters much more impact than classroom chapter by chapter study on what the Kingdom of God is about.

NOTE: While we do offer "systematic discipleship" materials, (especially for new believers) what we are talking about here is the ongoing process of "making disciples." Some might call systematic approaches as "formal discipleship", and what we are describing in these posts as an "informal discipleship" approach. These things are taught while "on the road."

5. 80/20 principle. Spend 80% of your time, energy, and attention with the 20% who "get it" and are seeking to be obedient followers of Christ. Give 20% of your remaining time to the 80% who aren't. Sometimes personal circumstances in the lives might prevent them from doing all that they wish they could, but the disciple of Christ must be careful to not get caught up in the energy draining cycle of pouring oneself out for those who never intend on doing a single thing being taught.

6. Always be reading a book. God's Word is our daily nourishment and primary source for inspiration, instruction, correction, etc. But God speaks as well through his servants who are further down the paths and have much to teach us. I personally try to balance my reading between fiction and non-fiction; comfort-zone and out-of-my-comfort zone reading; Christian and secular authors. I also try to read material in a broad range of categories: history, leadership, ecclesiology, fictional novels, science, current affairs, classic literature, self-help, biographies, etc. The best books are those that stretch us. We don't have to agree with everything said by an author in order to learn from them.

Sunday, July 19

The best way to start a church is to start a church

It's funny the things one remembers from the people the Lord brings into our lives over the years. Back in the mid-70's, while getting a music degree from the University of North Texas, I was active in our local church choir at Grace Temple Baptist Church. Terry Fansler was an extraordinary church musician, conductor and mentor. But what I remember most from Terry was his refrain, "the best way to have a great choir is to have a great choir." I have never forgotten those words.

These words can be applied with equal weight to just about any worthwhile endeavor, including church planting.

The best way to share the Gospel? Share the Gospel!
The best way to make disciples? Make disciples!
The best way to start a church? Start a church!

It seems a lot of our failure to obey the commands of Christ (and here I am speaking more personally of myself and our team's ministry) is rooted in our thinking if we can just somehow get people together in a room and tell them how to do something, they will do it.

SO WRONG!

I know, because this is what we have been doing now for the past 10 years and it just doesn't work...well, actually a few do catch on to the ideas (the ones I usually end up blogging about!), but they are a small percentage.

Personally, I think we have some of the best contextualized church planting materials and methodology being used in Latin America. But the "best" means nothing unless implemented. What is missing?

Intentionality.

Desire may be there, but if there is no real intention of going out and planting a church, a church will not be planted.

I may desire to lose 20 lbs. Believe I need to lose 20 lbs. Feel convicted about losing 20 lbs. Pray about losing 20 lbs. But I will never lose 20 lbs. until I actually start by losing those first few pounds on my way to losing 20 lbs.! You have to do it, to do it.

Embarrassingly, it has taken ten years of continuous training/teaching to finally begin to figure this out. Well meaning believers flock to our trainings throughout the year. But the truth of the matter is that very few really intend to actually plant a church. It doesn't matter how good the trainers are, how wonderful the materials made available, or how much one might affirm or believe what is being taught IF THEY DO NOT PERSONALLY INTEND ON BEING AN INSTRUMENT IN THE LORD'S HANDS TO PLANT A CHURCH, THEY WILL NOT PLANT A CHURCH.

So, where do we go from here?

In our case, we have resolved that we will continue to train anyone for ONE MONTH to expose them to the concepts of Jesus' Luke 10 methodology, start them praying for their lost friends/family, help them identify men of peace, begin to love/serve/minister those they are seeking to reach, teach basic evangelism/discipleship tools, etc.

But after one month, it is DECISION MAKING TIME. Do it now, or don't come back. The only way to plant a church is to get out there and intentionally plant a church. Those who do start at least one group (what we initially call an outreach group), we will continue to train/mentor/coach. Those who don't? Well, Dios te bendiga...it has been fun...see ya around...thanks for your time...chao (good-bye!)

Does this sound too harsh? Un-Christlike? Too much like the business world? How did Jesus respond to the undecided, wavering, excuse-making disciples in Luke 9:57-62?

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, "I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." [that guy never appears again in the pages of the NT] And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." [Jesus leaves this guy standing by the road and moves on] Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." [Not fit? Sounds pretty harsh and to-the-point to me. I don't think Jesus was able to use this guy either!]

What do you think about these things? What has been your experience in training church planters? If you have personally experienced a better way to start churches (not something you might have read in a book, but something you have actually done and it works), THEN PLEASE SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH US. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, July 17

Influencing others through our own example (No. 1-3)

Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. Phil.3:17

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you...but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. 2Thes.3:7,9

Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. 1Tim.4:12

...in all things show yourself to be an example... Tit.2:7

These have got to be some of the scariest admonitions in the New Testament. Model for others Christian living? Expect others to follow our example? Actually teach our disciples to imitate our behavior? Live as I do?

Yes.

That's what Paul is saying above. Disciples are expected to follow the example of the one discipling them.

Albert Einstein said it this way, Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.

The implications of this for discipleship are enormous. By nature we learn by imitating how others live and do things. Jesus spent three years living, modeling, mentoring, teaching the twelve by his example. Paul sought to implement this kind of discipleship amongst the churches he planted as evidenced in the above verses. We too must follow these patterns.

For quite some time now I have been making a list of things I believe are important truths and principles for those I am serving. My desire is that they too live and practice these things in their own lives. My conviction is I cannot teach others these things, unless I am first personally living them in my own life.

I have waited close to a year to begin teaching some of these things. It is important to me to make sure I was first living them, before asking my disciples (and others I teach) to "imitate me" and "follow my example."

In the coming days, I hope to share a series of posts, each sharing three "essentials" for being an effective follower of Jesus Christ. I believe all truth is God's truth. All these truths and practices find their basis in God's Word, though not all are direct Biblical admonitions.

The three tests I use before teaching any of these are: 1) am I personally living fairly consistently this truth/practice? 2) is this something my disciples should be practicing as well for their own well being? 3) what can I do to help my disciples to begin implementing these things in their own lives?

1. Identify the "nails" that keep the shoes on your horse. Benjamin Franklin is often credited for these lines:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

We rightfully need to focus on the "battle and the kingdom", but unless we carefully tend to the details (the nails) that keep the shoe on the horse, the battle for the kingdom will be lost.

For me there are seven "nails" that I try to live consistently and have begun to teach others to imitate from my life:

1) daily quiet time with the Lord,
2) daily exercise for at least 30-minutes,
3) daily family readings/devotions/prayer,
4) daily one-on-one focused conversation with my wife giving her my full attention,
5) weekly date with my wife,
6) family night one night per week to play, talk, have fun together,
7) at least one daily sit-down-together family meal.

2. Never belittle anyone. People live bashed lives and are continually being belittled by the world and those around them, made to feel inferior and stupid. In our dealings with people seek to edify, build up, encourage, be the one to share the "bright side" of things, speaking with a Colossians 4:6 tongue: "with grace, as though seasoned with salt..."

3. Watch out daily for the "3 D's of the Devil". The Devil's most effective tools in his arsenal against followers of Christ are: discouragement, distraction, and division. Satan is our enemy. He is constantly trying to discourage and tear us down, making us feel like unworthy failures. If that doesn't work he tries to distract us with a lot of busy work and activity. It may even be "good stuff" but distracts us from what is truly relevant Kingdom matters. If all else fails, he will seek to divide brothers. An offense, a hasty word, an attitude, an opinion--anything can be used by the Devil to divide brothers. Sometimes he unleashes all three D's at the same time. Be aware of the 3 D's. They will hit you in one form or another today!

Wednesday, July 15

5 Common Great Commission Myths


Matthew 28:18-20, And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The passage above is commonly known as “The Great Commission”...Many people teach on this passage… most of us don’t regularly obey it. Below are five of the more common myths about the Great Commission that lead us to miss out on disciple making.

1. The myth of accidental discipleship. Many Christians think, consciously or unconsciously, that we can make disciples without changing anything in our daily lives; that as we go about doing our own thing, disciples will be almost accidentally made. This comes across in phrases like, “I will just live my daily life and if someone wants to ask about the Gospel, I will share it”, or, “I just ‘do life’ with others and pray that they will start becoming interested in Jesus”. Many Christians are willing to talk about or declare the Gospel, but only if opportunities pleasantly come they’re way. They are waiting for the perfect moment to drop from the sky upon them to actually verbalize the Gospel or start demonstrating the Gospel. The myth here is that merely “doing life” with others is an straight path to making disciples...The bottom line here is that the Great Commission will be completed only by intentional action and resoluteness. Jesus commands us today to set our eyes on the goal of disciple making and pursue that goal with stubborn focus. This means, that unless you pray and plan to make disciples, you won’t do it!

2. Crossing cultures is a step beyond the general mandate. This myth is that only select missionaries are called to cross cultures in order to make disciples. The rest of us should only focus on people like us, in our culture. The problem with this myth is that the actual Great Commission commands otherwise. Incredibly, Jesus gave a commandment to his mostly Jewish audience to go to a mostly Gentile people and make disciples! Jesus commanded his Jewish followers to go to all people groups (all ethnos, the Greek word for “nations”). In other words, the Great Commission itself is a mandate to cross cultures!

3. Jesus wants converts. The most interesting thing about the Great Commission is that it does not command us to make converts of Christianity. Instead, we are to make disciples of Jesus. The difference between convert making and disciple making is crucial. Converts change religions. Disciples change masters. Converts follow a system. Disciples follow a Person. Converts build Christendom. Disciples build the Kingdom of God. Converts embrace rituals. Disciples embrace a way of life. Converts love the command to “baptize them” in the Great Commission, but that is all. Disciples baptize others but only in context of “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you”. Converts love conversion. Disciples love transformation. Are you making converts or are you making disciples?

4. When I am ready and able, I will start making disciples. This is the ultimate delay tactic. Have you ever told yourself that you aren’t capable for some reason – lack of training, lack of experience, lack of skill, etc. – of making and multiplying disciples like Jesus? Have you ever thought of someone who is making and multiplying disciples as a super Christian? Have you ever said or prayed something like this, “We just ask you God to send out to the nations the best among us, yes, Lord, send out our marines!” If so, then you have fallen to believe the myth that making and multiplying disciples is for “elite Christians”.

5. Making disciples is great advice. Cultural Christianity loves this myth. Cultural Christians love to sing the praise of disciple makers while themselves simultaneously avoiding, through the most crafty cop-outs, actually engaging in obedience to the Great Commission. In other words, when it comes down to it, many view the Great Commission as merely great advice.
The fact is, though, that the Great Commission is a commandment coupled with the commissioning of Jesus. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)...In other words, the measure of one’s love for Jesus is one’s obedience to Jesus! You cannot love Jesus and not obey him...you cannot disregard the Great Commission and claim to love Jesus. The command is simple, “go and make disciples”. Ask yourself, “Am I currently making disciples of others?” If not, why not ask yourself, “Will I today commit myself to beginning the process of making disciples of Jesus?”

Joey Shaw is the Minister of International Mission at The Austin Stone Community Church. He is currently writing a book on evangelical Christian thought on Islam. He blogs at http://shawblog.wordpress.com and www.austinstone.org/what/md_blog.

Sunday, July 12

The Rabbit and the Elephant


I absolutely loved The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today's Church by Tony & Felicity Dale and George Barna (or on amazon.com here.) This quick-reading book expresses so well in words what it is we are seeing first hand in our midst. I guess we aren't as crazy as people keep trying to make us!

So much within its pages resonates with our own experience. Tony, Felicity, and George have truly blessed us with a vivid, practical, and encouraging guide from church-as-we-know-it to church-as-God-wants-it (as W. Simson so aptly expresses it!) They have pulled this off without offending or speaking negatively against the Church at large.

Many today sense that there is a huge shift taking place globally. The Spirit of God seems to be "downsizing" the church in order to prepare her for the next (final?) stage of an unprecedented worldwide Kingdom harvest. Small is, indeed, the new big!

I like the way the Dales and Barna lead us through the elements of simple church by sharing their own pilgrimage. One gets the sense that what is shared has been personally lived, and not just some scholarly dissertation arguing the virtues and values of simple church.

In essence, the "revolution" we are living today is summed up on page 23-24 of the book:
The 16th Century Reformation was the result of a grassroots change in theology produced by ordinary people having access to the Scriptures in their own language. That Reformation is coming full circle in our day, only this time it is the church being put back into the hands of ordinary people, instead of the Bible.

"The objections [today] are similar as well: how can untrained and unqualified people run churches? Shouldn't that be reserved for the professional clergy? People who have jobs don't have the time to prepare a sermon, let alone get trained in hermeneutics. How are they going to prevent heresy? On what basis do they claim the authority to act as the church? Are they accountable to any higher church authorities? Can ordinary people administer the sacraments?"
The rest of the book deals with the practical matters of this already happening in tsunami proportions--a global reformation of the Church every bit as big as the theological reformation of the 16th century!

My own copy of the book is totally marked and highlighted with the practical suggestions shared in this "return of the church to the people." For example, on page 71, Acts 2:42 is used as a simple framework for this New-Old church order: 1) they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, 2) fellowship with one another, 3) the breaking of bread together, and 4) to prayer. These four parameters offer a definition of what the Holy Spirit intends to happen when believers then, and now, gather.

While much of the book was an encouragement to me personally, what really got me thinking in this book is something that has long troubled me about the whole simple/house/organic church movement. While hard to put in words, it might best be described as LIQUID CHURCH vs SOLID CHURCH. Is the church intended to be a solid structure? Or a flowing, ever moving stream of living water?

Throughout the book, I found this concept intriguing. What has always bothered me is the short "shelf life" of the simple/house churches we have been associated with. Very few seem to survive more than a few years at best before "melting" back into water again. Coming from a "solid church" upbringing, if something planted (eg. a church) does not remain fixed and continue to grow, I tend to view it as a failure. What the Dales/Barna so masterfully show, though, is that these "church melts" are precisely the way the Spirit of God continues to permeate and impact society with the Gospel!

Flowing, living water was never intended to stagnate--or freeze!--into solid structures requiring huge amounts of maintenance to keep things going. We are meant to continually be on the move! Water--liquid church--is able to permeate into every crack and crevice of society. We reach our neighbors, co-workers--hey, the world!--not by asking them to come to our church, but by bringing the Kingdom of God right into their living rooms and work places!

Space and time do not permit me to further describe the implications of this, but suffice it to say, we often confuse the KINGDOM with the CHURCH, as if they were one and the same. Jesus clearly told us to seek first his Kingdom. We are commanded to make disciples of the nations. That is what we are to be about. Building the Church is HIS domain, not ours. A liquid/flowing/moving church will be able to extend His Kingdom to the ends of the earth 1000 times more efficiently than a solid church proudly boasting of having been rooted in the same location for the past 150 years!

I cannot conclude this review without at least mentioning the last three chapters of the book: Chapter 21: "Pitfalls to Avoid"; Chapter 22: "No Empire Building, No Control, and No Glory"; and Chapter 23: "The Art of Rabbiteering." As the authors so aptly put it, there is real danger in brilliant substitutes for what God is doing, fashionable fads, movements without momentum, people without passion, leaders without a limp (as in Jacob), and reformation without revival. The Devil is always out there trying to divert church planting movements initiated by God's Spirit. Empire building, attempting to take control of what we see God doing, and wanting to share in the glory are real temptations to all of us observing this movement of the Holy Spirit.

It is for these final three chapters, and the spirit of humility in which this book has been written, that I give "The Rabbit and the Elephant" my highest recommendation. Even though I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, my head is still spinning with excitement at the implications of getting on board with the "rabbit" revolution of what God is doing. I want to be part of what Jesus is doing in giving birth to thousands of small, mobile churches that will impact the entire planet and usher in the Kingdom of God as intended from the beginning.

Go out and get hold of a copy of this book today!

Saturday, July 11

Weekend blog recommendations

Recent posts I enjoyed reading...

A huge problem with "house church" by Alan Knox.

Sure-fire ways to avoid becoming a missionary by Bryan Riley.

The Beach by my wife, Linda, about one of our favorite places in the world. She has plenty of photos to accompany the post.

Video interview with Wayne Jacobsen. Interesting background material on "The Shack". If you liked the book, you'll enjoy the interview (several clips in all.)

Thursday, July 9

Paradigms

By His Stripes Ministries shares the following thoughts about paradigms...

Someone asked Albert Einstein how a paradigm is formed and he responded with a story about monkeys...

A group of scientists placed 5 monkeys in a cage. In the middle of the cage was a ladder with bananas on the top. Naturally, every monkey’s first thought was to climb the ladder and grab a banana. Each time a monkey went up the ladder, however, the scientists soaked the rest of the monkeys with cold water. After a short while, any time a monkey moved towards the ladder, the others beat him. It did not take long before no monkey dared to go up the ladder regardless of the temptation.

The scientists then decided to substitute one of the monkeys. The first thing this new monkey did, of course, was to head towards the ladder. Immediately the other monkeys beat him up. After several beatings, the new member learned not to climb the ladder even though he never knew why.

Then, a second monkey was substituted and the same thing occurred. This time, though, the first monkey participated in the beating of the second monkey. A third monkey was changed with a similar result. Then a fourth was substituted and the beating was repeated. Eventually the fifth monkey was replaced. What was left was a group of five monkeys that never received a cold shower, yet continued to beat up any monkey who attempted to climb the ladder.

I imagine that if monkeys could talk and someone asked why they beat anyone who climbs the ladder, they would reply, “That’s just the way we do things around here.”

I can’t help but wonder how many of our modern “Christian” paradigms are not based in authentic, first-hand experiences with Jesus Christ, but instead, in traditions and second-hand teachings.

That’s not to say that traditions and second generation teachings are all wrong; but if the goal of Christianity is intimate, personal relationship with God, we also need to experience first-hand the love of God. Second-hand teachings and traditions can never replace first hand, experiential knowledge.

The reason we are so reluctant to examine our spiritual paradigms is because we have a tendency to view our theological framework (worldview) as a stone archway. If we remove a stone, even to examine it closely, we are in danger of our entire worldview collapsing. But pastor and author, Rob Bell, suggests that we view this differently (change our paradigm). Instead of our spiritual worldview being a stone archway, we might look at it as a trampoline, with our specific individual beliefs being the springs that keep everything balanced and in the proper tension. It is perfectly ok to remove a spring one at a time, hold it up to God’s Word, compare it to our real-life experiences, and discover what we actually believe and why. If, it turns out that what we were taught is accurate and meaningful and true, we put it back into place. But if it needs tweaking and polishing before we put it back on the trampoline, that’s ok too. In the mean time, the trampoline still functions fine.

It really is ok with God for us to seek authentic Truth and ask questions and search Scriptures for ourselves and develop a personal, real and intimate relationship with Him in the process.

Why are we generally so reluctant to examine our paradigms?

What is the problem if our spiritual paradigms are grounded more in religious tradition than relationship?

Tuesday, July 7

How house churches get started in Guayaquil

A few weeks ago I shared the story of Mónica and Medardo asking When can we be a church? What follows goes back to the beginning of their story and is fairly representative of the way house churches get started in Guayaquil.

Mónica was hired to clean the house of a believer, Martha. Mónica began to open up with Martha about the problems she was having at home with the man she was living with. Martha would cry and pray with Mónica. She openly shared Christ telling her He could heal her life and home if she would just trust him. Mónica thought it too good to be true what Martha shared.

One day Mónica decided to invite Martha to come to her house to share the Gospel with her family. Martha took along Marlene, a gifted evangelist from the house church she attends. Marlene and Martha arrived at Monica's and gathered the family together to dialogue about spiritual matters. Monica felt strongly that she should give her heart to Christ. She was certain that she would be the only one to do so. Much to her surprise, Medardo, her daughter Aneida, and her daughter's live-in boyfriend, David, ALL gave their hearts to the Lord! From the very beginning, Medardo and David were changed dramatically by the power of Jesus working in their lives. Monica and Aneida were overcome with joy in the Lord.

Marlene, Martha and others began 45-minute weekly bus trips to disciple their new converts. Both couples decided early on that it would be best to get legally married. All four were baptized in a nearby river (see video here.)

The church that now meets in their home. Medardo and Mónica were encouraged to begin meeting in their home with those family members who had become believers. Soon others were added. The day I visited, we sang song after song as everyone wanted to make sure their favorite was sung. Medardo shared his testimony and a short devotional thought on faith. Prayers were voiced, an offering was collected, and words of encouragement were shared by several. The highlight of the meeting came when Medardo and Monica shared the good news that their other daughter, Maria, had also accepted the Lord! They are overcome with joy that now their whole family--including grandpa--has joined the family of God!

After a lunch of chicken and rice, everyone gathered around Monica's sister, Rosa, to share Christ with her. She listened intently to all the testimonies of how Christ had changed everyone's life. Words cannot describe how precious it was to hear story after story of how Christ has totally transformed their lives, brought them happiness, freed them from the shackles of sin, and given them a purpose for living. Medardo even shared he had lost 20 lbs. since becoming a Christian. He called it "sin weight" that was taken away when he gave his heart to Jesus! Monica's sister Rosa has SEEN the change in her family's lives, and knows it is for real. Yet she was not yet ready to give her heart to the Lord. She will though, it is just a matter of time!

After worshipping, sharing, eating, picture taking, and visiting together for nearly three hours everybody went home happy.

This is how house churches get started in Guayaquil. For all my years of studying, reading books, attending conferences, strategizing, fussing and fuming, church planting boils down to...

1) Someone going to share the Good News of the powerful life-transforming life that is found in Christ.

2) Making disciples of those who respond by walking alongside them in their initial steps of life in Christ.

3) Baptizing as soon as possible those who believe.

4) Teaching them to observe all Jesus commanded.

Should church planting really be any more complicated than that? If we will do our part, Jesus promises to do his part and BUILD HIS CHURCH.

Monday, July 6

A Jesus Manifesto


Christians have made the gospel about so many things … things other than Christ.

Jesus Christ is the gravitational pull that brings everything together and gives them significance, reality, and meaning. Without him, all things lose their value. Without him, all things are but detached pieces floating around in space.

It is possible to emphasize a spiritual truth, value, virtue, or gift, yet miss Christ . . . who is the embodiment and incarnation of all spiritual truth, values, virtues, and gifts.

Seek a truth, a value, a virtue, or a spiritual gift, and you have obtained something dead.

Seek Christ, embrace Christ, know Christ, and you have touched him who is Life. And in him resides all Truth, Values, Virtues and Gifts in living color. Beauty has its meaning in the beauty of Christ, in whom is found all that makes us lovely and loveable.

What is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Christianity is not an ideology. Christianity is not a philosophy. Christianity is the “good news” that Beauty, Truth and Goodness are found in a person. Biblical community is founded and found on the connection to that person. Conversion is more than a change in direction; it’s a change in connection. Jesus’ use of the ancient Hebrew word shubh, or its Aramaic equivalent, to call for “repentance” implies not viewing God from a distance, but entering into a relationship where God is command central of the human connection.

In that regard, we feel a massive disconnection in the church today. Thus this manifesto.

We believe that the major disease of the church today is JDD: Jesus Deficit Disorder. The person of Jesus is increasingly politically incorrect, and is being replaced by the language of “justice,” “the kingdom of God,” “values,” and “leadership principles.”

In this hour, the testimony that we feel God has called us to bear centers on the primacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically . . .

1. The center and circumference of the Christian life is none other than the person of Christ. All other things, including things related to him and about him, are eclipsed by the sight of his peerless worth. Knowing Christ is Eternal Life. And knowing him profoundly, deeply, and in reality, as well as experiencing his unsearchable riches, is the chief pursuit of our lives, as it was for the first Christians. God is not so much about fixing things that have gone wrong in our lives as finding us in our brokenness and giving us Christ.

2. Jesus Christ cannot be separated from his teachings. Aristotle says to his disciples, “Follow my teachings.” Socrates says to his disciples, “Follow my teachings.” Buddha says to his disciples, “Follow my meditations.” Confucius says to his disciples, “Follow my sayings.” Muhammad says to his disciples, “Follow my noble pillars.” Jesus says to his disciples, “Follow me.” In all other religions, a follower can follow the teachings of its founder without having a relationship with that founder. Not so with Jesus Christ. The teachings of Jesus cannot be separated from Jesus himself. Jesus Christ is still alive and he embodies his teachings. It is a profound mistake, therefore, to treat Christ as simply the founder of a set of moral, ethical, or social teaching. The Lord Jesus and his teaching are one. The Medium and the Message are One. Christ is the incarnation of the Kingdom of God and the Sermon on the Mount.

3. God’s grand mission and eternal purpose in the earth and in heaven centers in Christ . . . both the individual Christ (the Head) and the corporate Christ (the Body). This universe is moving towards one final goal – the fullness of Christ where He shall fill all things with himself. To be truly missional, then, means constructing one’s life and ministry on Christ. He is both the heart and bloodstream of God’s plan. To miss this is to miss the plot; indeed, it is to miss everything.

4. Being a follower of Jesus does not involve imitation so much as it does implantation and impartation. Incarnation–the notion that God connects to us in baby form and human touch—is the most shocking doctrine of the Christian religion. The incarnation is both once-and-for-all and ongoing, as the One “who was and is to come” now is and lives his resurrection life in and through us. Incarnation doesn’t just apply to Jesus; it applies to every one of us. Of course, not in the same sacramental way. But close. We have been given God’s “Spirit” which makes Christ “real” in our lives. We have been made, as Peter puts it, “partakers of the divine nature.” How, then, in the face of so great a truth can we ask for toys and trinkets? How can we lust after lesser gifts and itch for religious and spiritual thingys? We’ve been touched from on high by the fires of the Almighty and given divine life. A life that has passed through death – the very resurrection life of the Son of God himself. How can we not be fired up?

To put it in a question: What was the engine, or the accelerator, of the Lord’s amazing life? What was the taproot or the headwaters of his outward behavior? It was this: Jesus lived by an indwelling Father. After his resurrection, the passage has now moved. What God the Father was to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is to you and to me. He’s our indwelling Presence, and we share in the life of Jesus’ own relationship with the Father. There is a vast ocean of difference between trying to compel Christians to imitate Jesus and learning how to impart an implanted Christ. The former only ends up in failure and frustration. The latter is the gateway to life and joy in our daying and our dying. We stand with Paul: “Christ lives in me.” Our life is Christ. In him do we live, breathe, and have our being. “What would Jesus do?” is not Christianity. Christianity asks: “What is Christ doing through me … through us? And how is Jesus doing it?” Following Jesus means “trust and obey” (respond), and living by his indwelling life through the power of the Spirit.

5. The “Jesus of history” cannot be disconnected from the “Christ of faith.” The Jesus who walked the shores of Galilee is the same person who indwells the church today. There is no disconnect between the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel and the incredible, all-inclusive, cosmic Christ of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. The Christ who lived in the first century has a pre-existence before time. He also has a post-existence after time. He is Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, A and Z, all at the same time. He stands in the future and at the end of time at the same moment that He indwells every child of God. Failure to embrace these paradoxical truths has created monumental problems and has diminished the greatness of Christ in the eyes of God’s people.

6. It’s possible to confuse “the cause” of Christ with the person of Christ. When the early church said “Jesus is Lord,” they did not mean “Jesus is my core value.” Jesus isn’t a cause; he is a real and living person who can be known, loved, experienced, enthroned and embodied. Focusing on his cause or mission doesn’t equate focusing on or following him. It’s all too possible to serve “the god” of serving Jesus as opposed to serving him out of an enraptured heart that’s been captivated by his irresistible beauty and unfathomable love. Jesus led us to think of God differently, as relationship, as the God of all relationship.

7. Jesus Christ was not a social activist nor a moral philosopher. To pitch him that way is to drain his glory and dilute his excellence. Justice apart from Christ is a dead thing. The only battering ram that can storm the gates of hell is not the cry of Justice, but the name of Jesus. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of Justice, Peace, Holiness, Righteousness. He is the sum of all spiritual things, the “strange attractor” of the cosmos. When Jesus becomes an abstraction, faith loses its reproductive power. Jesus did not come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.

8. It is possible to confuse an academic knowledge or theology about Jesus with a personal knowledge of the living Christ himself. These two stand as far apart as do the hundred thousand million galaxies. The fullness of Christ can never be accessed through the frontal lobe alone. Christian faith claims to be rational, but also to reach out to touch ultimate mysteries. The cure for a big head is a big heart.

Jesus does not leave his disciples with CliffsNotes for a systematic theology. He leaves his disciples with breath and body.

Jesus does not leave his disciples with a coherent and clear belief system by which to love God and others. Jesus gives his disciples wounds to touch and hands to heal.

Jesus does not leave his disciples with intellectual belief or a “Christian worldview.” He leaves his disciples with a relational faith.

Christians don’t follow a book. Christians follow a person, and this library of divinely inspired books we call “The Holy Bible” best help us follow that person. The Written Word is a map that leads us to The Living Word. Or as Jesus himself put it, “All Scripture testifies of me.” The Bible is not the destination; it’s a compass that points to Christ, heaven’s North Star.

The Bible does not offer a plan or a blueprint for living. The “good news” was not a new set of laws, or a new set of ethical injunctions, or a new and better PLAN. The “good news” was the story of a person’s life, as reflected in The Apostle’s Creed. The Mystery of Faith proclaims this narrative: “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” The meaning of Christianity does not come from allegiance to complex theological doctrines, but a passionate love for a way of living in the world that revolves around following Jesus, who taught that love is what makes life a success . . . not wealth or health or anything else: but love. And God is love.

9. Only Jesus can transfix and then transfigure the void at the heart of the church. Jesus Christ cannot be separated from his church. While Jesus is distinct from his Bride, he is not separate from her. She is in fact his very own Body in the earth. God has chosen to vest all of power, authority, and life in the living Christ. And God in Christ is only known fully in and through his church. (As Paul said, “The manifold wisdom of God – which is Christ – is known through the ekklesia.”)

The Christian life, therefore, is not an individual pursuit. It’s a corporate journey. Knowing Christ and making him known is not an individual prospect. Those who insist on flying life solo will be brought to earth, with a crash. Thus Christ and his church are intimately joined and connected. What God has joined together, let no person put asunder. We were made for life with God; our only happiness is found in life with God. And God’s own pleasure and delight is found therein as well.

10. In a world which sings, “Oh, who is this Jesus?” and a church which sings, “Oh, let’s all be like Jesus,” who will sing with lungs of leather, “Oh, how we love Jesus!”

If Jesus could rise from the dead, we can at least rise from our bed, get off our couches and pews, and respond to the Lord’s resurrection life within us, joining Jesus in what he’s up to in the world. We call on others to join us—not in removing ourselves from planet Earth, but to plant our feet more firmly on the Earth while our spirits soar in the heavens of God’s pleasure and purpose. We are not of this world, but we live in this world for the Lord’s rights and interests. We, collectively, as the ekklesia of God, are Christ in and to this world.

May God have a people on this earth who are a people of Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. A people of the cross. A people who are consumed with God’s eternal passion, which is to make his Son preeminent, supreme, and the head over all things visible and invisible. A people who have discovered the touch of the Almighty in the face of his glorious Son. A people who wish to know only Christ and him crucified, and to let everything else fall by the wayside. A people who are laying hold of his depths, discovering his riches, touching his life, and receiving his love, and making HIM in all of his unfathomable glory known to others.

The two of us may disagree about many things—be they ecclesiology, eschatology, soteriology, not to mention economics, globalism and politics.

But in our two most recent books—From Eternity to Here and So Beautiful—we have sounded forth a united trumpet. These books are the Manifests to this Manifesto. They each present the vision that has captured our hearts and that we wish to impart to the Body of Christ— “This ONE THING I know” (Jn.9:25) that is the ONE THING that unites us all:

Jesus the Christ.

Christians don’t follow Christianity; Christians follow Christ.

Christians don’t preach themselves; Christians proclaim Christ.

Christians don’t point people to core values; Christians point people to the cross.

Christians don’t preach about Christ: Christians preach Christ.

Over 300 years ago a German pastor wrote a hymn that built around the Name above all names:

Ask ye what great thing I know, that delights and stirs me so?
What the high reward I win? Whose the name I glory in?
Jesus Christ, the crucified.

This is that great thing I know; this delights and stirs me so:
faith in him who died to save, His who triumphed o’er the grave:
Jesus Christ, the crucified.

Wednesday, July 1

Tidal Wave

Interested in learning more about the global simple/house church movement? Have questions? Tidal Wave is an excellent introduction to the organic church movement and answers many of the common questions.

Tidal Wave from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.