Sunday, November 29

Strong medicine from Victor and Bindu Choudhrie

One of the honors we had last month at the Antioch Gathering was meeting in person some of God's chosen servants from around the world. One of the most delightful was Bindu Choudhrie, wife of Victor Choudhrie of India.

In one of the sharing times, Bindu reported that in May of this year, they witnessed the baptizing of 300,000 new disciples. In passing, she mentioned this was "considerably more" than the previous 120,000 they baptized in March, and 100,000 in January of this year. It is mind boggling that they are aiming for 1-million baptisms this year!

One day as we were chatting, Bindu asked if we might be interested in her husband's book, "The Apostolic Gardens"? The book is their attempt to "help position the ekklesia to finish the unfinished task of discipling all nations in our generation." Anyone who has been used by the Lord to see 500,000 baptisms in a six-month period, is someone who has my attention. Of course I was interested in getting my hands on a copy!

There are 131 pages, and just as many subject headings. In a sense, the book is a church planting manual coming from an apostolic point of view rather than a pastor-teacher perspective. The apostolic knowingly and unapologetically thrust the sheep out amongst the wolves. The pastoral, by nature, do their best to nurture, teach, and protect the sheep.

In the chapter, "Are You A Failed Pastor?" Choudhrie questions the seriousness of anyone calling themselves a pastor and not starting "houses of peace."

"It is not necessary to go to church to connect with Yahweh, especially when your city is going to Hell...We must pray to Yahweh to take to heaven all the Reverends who compel us to come to church instead of letting us go fishing."

What makes the book fascinating is that it is written more from an Eastern mindset, rather than a polished logical Western argument. It is very direct "straight talk" to men and women who are not sitting in church pews, but out in the harvest fields making disciples. There is no beating around the bush. For example, Victor writes on page 7, "Most of the 40,000 denominations are suffering from senility and out of date. Tens of thousands of their retail outlets (churches) have succeeded in keeping two billion Christians of the world unengaged and condemned to sit in the pews as cash cows until they are ready to shift six feet underground in the church cemetery." OUCH!

"The ekklesia exists, not to protect man's traditions which are costly perversions, but to fulfill Yahweh's plan." He goes on to state, "Traditions are like the Indian curry with hot spices. They add nothing to the nutritional value but leave your palate on fire at dinner and lost of sound and fury at the other end in the morning." (Pg.6)

Choudhrie makes statements that would get most of us fired, "Churching the unchurched is the bane of Christianity. Yeshua taught us to allow the yeast to leaven the whole community. We need millions of Crypto Christians who stay below the radar and quietly catalyze their communities. Churching them leaves the rest of the community not only unleavened but hostile."

"Yeshua never said, 'Go to church.' He said, 'Go and tell others what great things Yahweh has done for you.'" (Mark 5:18-20)

"Revival is not for churching the unchurched and increasing membership and money, but for unchurching the churched and sending them out to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." (pg.82)

"Churches that cater only to Christians need an urgent audit. The ekklesia exists to finish the task of discipling all nations."

"How can justice roll like a river and righteousness like a mighty stream unless Christians take their butts off the pews to go and deliver people from darkness and translate them into the kingdom of His dear Son?" Good point, if you ask me!

Still not offended? This next one actually comes with a warning from Choudhrie, "CAUTION: All drugs have a limited shelf life. Similarly, a generic Christian has a limited pew-life after which, like the out-of-date drug, he must be buried six feet underground." (pg.78)

"We are training the wrong people, with the wrong motives, in the wrong place, by the wrong teachers in the wrong traditions." He goes on to explain, "Thousands of unemployed youngsters, driven by economics, are being trained in Bible schools to be cultural misfits...Millions are being spent to train and support them, but despite triumphalistic reports, the return on investment is just peanuts...They know the scriptures but not the mechanics of discipling or ekklesia planting. Entry points, bridges from other religions, spiritual warfare, mentoring multi-generational disciples and other relevant topics, which are powerful predictors of CPM, are not taught."

"Tithing is a Stronghold: The purpose of all our wealth is to fulfill the Great Commission. Hence, all money and gifts must be expended for apostolic purposes. (Acts 4:25, 27; 5:2) Money must follow the apostles and not the other way around."

"The NT model of clergy-free, building-free and sermon-free churches will free up billions of dollars, empower millions for the priesthood...and make world evangelism a practical reality." (pg.80)

I could go on quoting page after page of similar statements. I can pretty much guarantee no major Christian publisher will be picking up "The Apostolic Gardens" any time soon! Quite frankly, though, Victor says a lot of the things I would like to say, but cannot due to my not living some of these personally. I wish the book were made more widely available. It is the kind of strong exhortation that a passive Western church needs to hear. You may not agree with everything Victor writes, but I am quite sure those coming into the Kingdom by the thousands through the ministry will be most thankful come Judgment Day for their being more concerned about bringing in the harvest, and less what others might think of them.

Dr. Victor Choudhrie studied medicine at Christian Medical College in Vellore. He married Bindu Sukhnandan and went to England for higher studies in surgery. He returned to serve in a tribal village in central India. Later he served as Director (CEO) of the prestigious Christian Medical College in Punjab. In 1993, he and Bindu, committed themselves to Saturation Church Planting Movement. Since then God has blessed this ministry and thousands of house churches have been planted in India and in many other countries.

Friday, November 27

Learning by analogy

A few more thoughts from our recent CPM training with E3 Partners...

I asked those on our team what they thought about the MAWL concept (model-assist-watch-leave) for starting churches. Nobody knew what I was talking about. However, when I reminded them of the bicycle illustration Curtis used to illustrate the MAWL steps, they immediately knew what I was talking about, and enthusiastically agreed it was a great methodology for starting churches.

Not once did anyone make reference to any of the statistics, strategic initiatives, graphs, charts, websites, or other step-by-step methods that were shared. However they remembered well what was said about "horses and mules", "rabbit and elephant churches," and "mother ducks with their ducklings." And, of course, what stuck the most in people's hearts were the stories Curtis shared from his own life and ministry.

This reinforces something Seth Godin recently wrote on his blog post Learning by analogy ...

The other day, I was talking to someone about a complex and specialized issue...He [asked], "do you have an example of how this has worked for you?"

Put aside your need for a step-by-step manual and instead realize that analogies are your best friend. By the time there is a case's going to be way too late for you to catch up.
Stories, analogies, illustrations are more powerful in getting our points across than our step-by-step manuals and information-style of sharing.

Wednesday, November 25

Critical transition points when planting new churches

David Watson refers to five critical transition points that must be managed properly if a successful church plant is to take place.

I have changed some of the language David uses to reflect our own terminology, methodology, and experience. However, the idea of five critical transition points in church planting is all David's. I hope he doesn't mind my borrowing his ideas to share some of what we are learning about church planting transition points.

1. Getting started. This is possibly the biggest hurdle of all. Taking that first step of faith and believing that God can use me to plant a church. While it sounds obvious, if we don't start something, somewhere, there will never be a church plant. In our training we have discovered that if an outreach group is not started within the first 4-7 weeks, there is little likelihood that anything will ever develop. It is better to get out there and put into practice the basics of disciple-making, than to sit around endlessly attending CP seminars and buying the latest books. Books and seminars do not plant churches. People do. Churches are started by people who get out there and put into practice the little they know. The NIKE slogan, "Just do it" is some of the best church planting advise we can give people. There are really only a few basic principles that need to be understood before getting started. The Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus to be our teacher and guide. He will guide you into all the truth for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak, and He will disclose to you what is to come...

2. Identifying the person of peace (POP). The POP is that key individual that will open up doors to his/her family, community, friends, neighbors, etc. It is out of the oikos of the person of peace that the nucleus of the new church plant will arise. In our experience one might have to make many contacts with different people before "discovering" who the person of peace is. One of the things we ask our trainees to begin praying from day one, is that the Holy Spirit will reveal clearly who the POP is. If a POP is not identified in this second crucial transition period, it will be difficult to proceed further. In our context, more than often, the POP will end up being one of the newly won disciples we are working with. Once we have a solid, influential person who is open to us and welcomes us, making the transition to the third step will usually not be too difficult.

3. Moving from the POP to facilitating an outreach group. For us, an outreach group is a group consisting of not-yet-believers who are open and interested in discovering in a group setting what it means to become a follower of Christ. We have found that there is an incredible openness to spiritual matters in most people. What is rejected is the way this truth is often presented. In other words they are rejecting our methods, but not necessarily rejecting Christ or His message. The way we teach church planter trainees to make this transition from their POP disciple(s) to gathering together a group, is to simply encourage the new disciple to invite his family, friends, neighbors to join us for what we call an open group time of discovery. It is an informal gathering, usually held in the home of the POP, where we discover together what the Bible says about certain issues that relate to real life issues people deal with daily. Subjects such as forgiveness, anger, worry, fear, family, honesty, etc. are examined according to what the Bible teaches about these matters. We begin to interact and dialog with one another about these heart felt issues. It usually isn't long before one of two things takes place: 1) they lose interest and stop coming to the gatherings, 2) they give their heart to the Lord.

4. Facilitating a group of new believers to becoming a New Testament church. Each progressive step is a little easier than the one preceding it. If #1-3 have been successfully transitioned, this fourth step is not usually complicated at all. Since the new believers know one another, are continuing to be discipled, are growing in their faith, knowledge, and obedience of Jesus, have grown to love and appreciate the one who came bringing them the Good News of Jesus, this fourth transition is usually--and should be--the smoothest of all. However, in our own ministry we have "dropped the ball" countless times at this transition point and ended up with the group disbanding. Why? Wolves dressed in sheep's clothing step in and steal away the sheep from the innocent church planting shepherd. One of the most common scenarios we face is that after a group starts meeting regularly, a well meaning brother/sister in Christ from an existing established church will come in and begin to sow doubt, discord, fear, and division amongst the new believers. They will often question the credentials of the novice church planter. They will ridicule the idea that a church can meet in a house. They will share with the new believers how much better their "real" church is than the home grown "improvised" version of church they are getting with the "lay person" who led them to the Lord. What normally should be a smooth transition of new believers meeting and functioning as a NT church, is quickly nipped in the bud by wolves in lamb's clothing. The simple, natural church life of believers gathering under the Lordship of Christ and learning together to obey what Jesus says, is substituted for an institutional, programmed, professional clergy-led version of church. While this may sound harsh, it is nevertheless what happens more often than not.

5. Leaving to start another church elsewhere. The natural way of planting an organic NT church is that the church leadership will arise out of the harvest itself. The church planter should be a transitional figure. We do not plant a church to stay there and pastor; we plant a church so that out of the group new leaders will emerge, freeing the church planter to move on to another needy area. We do not import pastors, leaders, workers from the outside to take over once the church planter moves on. Leadership must arise out of the existing group. This is the normal, natural way of organic church life. So, when does the church planter leave? If he/she stays too long they create a dependency upon themselves. If they stay too short a time, local leadership may not yet be ready to assume leadership of the flock, and the risk of disbanding increases dramatically. We have found that "church planter" and "pastor/shepherd/elder" are often used as synonymous terms. The reality is that they are different giftings and functions. Both are needed, but the church planters have to learn when it is time to move on. I confess this is one area we are still trying to get a handle upon. We need a lot of guidance on this fifth transition point. It is indeed a hard thing to know when to leave.

Anything else you would like to add? What are your own observations about critical transition points in planting new churches?

Sunday, November 22

FBC Dallas launches $130M Building Campaign

First Baptist Church Dallas launches $130M Build Campaign. So what does one get for $130 million dollars?

The Baptist Press article states, "...a new 3,000-seat, 90,000-square-foot sanctuary, a six-story education building and a parking garage with sky bridge. The project is designed to complement the revitalization initiative in downtown Dallas, which has included the recent opening of a new performing arts center and construction of a new convention center.

I am sure FBC Dallas needs a new sanctuary, six-story education building and a parking garage with sky bridge, or they wouldn't be launching such an audacious campaign.

The question I would like to ask FBC is whether anyone bothered to ask the Head of their church, the Lord Jesus, about any of this? Don't get me wrong, I am sure everyone voting for the campaign certainly must have prayed about it--or at least I hope they did! But it is hard for me to imagine the Jesus I read in the Gospels being the same Jesus who would give a "green light" to go ahead and spend such vast sums of money on something that is "a critical and important investment in downtown Dallas" and "will benefit the entire community by providing an open and inviting atmosphere and additional parking." This sounds less like Jesus, and more about what WE want to do with OUR money.

Grady at MissionalSpace asks Are we going the right direction?
  • 4.5 billion people have never heard the gospel in a clear way
  • 50,000 people die each day without knowing Christ
  • 6,000 people die each day due to lack of clean drinking water
  • 40,000 die each day from starvation and hunger related diseases
  • 2.5 cents on the dollar goes to international ministry
  • 95% of seminary graduates stay in the US
In light of Grady's heart-breaking statistics, I am still scratching my head how FBC Dallas justifies spending $130M to "provide spiritual support for downtown's denizens that brings glory to God." Is providing support for Dallas's downtown's denizens the modern interpretation of how God is glorified? What happened to obedience? Can anyone shed some light on this for me? I'm just not getting it.

And what is the connection between Jesus' command to "make disciples of the nations" and FBC Dallas desire to "have an impact on this community and what we're trying to accomplish of creating more of an urban setting that is vibrant and exciting and brings people downtown..."? Are we in the business of creating vibrant, exciting urban settings when 4.5 billion people are on their way to hell?

"This is going to be exciting effort, not only in terms of Sunday but all the other different activities and what it will to contribute." Exciting? Maybe for FBC Dallas, but what might be more exciting for the 40,000 mothers watching their children die of starvation and hunger related diseases would be a bowl of rice!

In a November 13 article, also highlighted in Baptist Press, Jerry Rankin (IMB President) states,

"If Southern Baptists truly want to experience a Great Commission resurgence, they must turn their backs on business as usual and be willing to make radical changes in their missions commitment and approach..."

“If you define the Great Commission as anything and everything we do as a denomination...there’s not going to be a lot of change because we will just continue to do anything and everything the best that we can..."

"I am convinced that God has blessed Southern Baptists, He has raised us up in numbers and resources, not to take pride in being a great denomination and how many programs we can implement and how well we can do them but to be His instrument to reach a lost world and fulfill His mission."

"We are at a watershed time in history, with an unprecedented opportunity. God has blessed us and we must not become ingrown and self-focused, committed simply to continuing what we are doing in the way we are doing it. We've got to be willing to change...we've got to be willing to ask, 'How does it all stack up in relation to reaching the nations and getting the Gospel to the ends of the earth?'"
Is anyone at FBC-Dallas listening?

Friday, November 20

Why the emerging global house church movement can no longer be ignored

Andrew Jones links to a report by Wolfgang Simson of the Nov. 11-14th gathering of 200 Christian leaders from 40 nations in New Delhi, India. One of our team members, "Jewel", was invited to this conference in representation of South America and to speak on the significance and scope of house based discipling communities and emerging house church movements worldwide. We are eagerly awaiting her report upon her return to Ecuador later this week. But for now, here is a taste of what God seems to be doing off the radar screen of mainstream Christendom...

Known best from the history of the underground house churches in China that report by now more than 100 million members alone, a similar phenomenon has emerged in the last 15 years in numerous nations outside of China. Conference reports indicate that, from very small beginnings, in many nations fairly sizeable house church movements have emerged, including on the continents of Africa and Latin America. The latest research indicates that the number of house churches in Europe have already reached or surpassed 10,000, Australia could have up to 10,000, and New Zealand up to 6,000 house churches. Research in the US shows that between 6 and 12 million are already attending house churches, making house churches one of the three largest Christian groups in the country. In the case of Bangladesh or India, with many hundreds of thousands of house churches, the various networks of house churches have already become the largest Christian movements in their respective countries.

For the complete report Global House Church Summit Report.pdf

If interested in hearing some more fascinating stuff about what is going on out there listen to this mp3 audio interview with Rad Zdero.

Wednesday, November 18

Radical, immediate, and costly obedience

The Guayas Mestizo Team in Guayaquil is made up of ten Ecuadorian church planters and two IMB missionaries. Last week we were privileged to have Diego Trujillo, Dave Johnson and Curtis Sergeant from E3 Partners come down for three days of intense CPM training.

On Monday afternoon of this week our team met to debrief and share with one another what we had learned and experienced in the training.

What seemed to summarize everyone's thoughts was something Curtis shared the first day about immediate, radical, and costly obedience. His story of a Chinese woman who had attended a missions training, and ended up leaving the training that very night to go to Myanmar, greatly impacted our guys.

As each person shared what they learned, I began taking notes. What follows is a brief summary of what was shared by various team members...

MONICA learned she didn't have to always be the one leading. It was OK to delegate to one of the newer believers she was discipling. After the end of the conference she went home to Balerio Estacio and began sharing with a neighboring family she has been discipling all that she had learned at the training. She taught them that rabbits reproduce a lot quicker than elephants, and shared with them how they could start rabbit churches!

PEDRO latched on to the idea that it is "easier to give birth, than raise the dead." He too connected with the idea of the importance of passing on to someone else what he himself was learning. It is not learned until it is shared with someone else. Pedro confessed the Lord "broke him" during one of the sessions. This past weekend he returned to an abandoned work he had started last year about an hour outside of Guayaquil in Cruce Bueno. He met with the believers he had led to the Lord last year. He asked their forgiveness for having left them alone in the care of another pastor. This other pastor had criticized Pedro for being "unqualified" and "unauthorized" to start a church. Pedro had become discouraged and stopped discipling the new believers. After the training, Pedro went back to Cruce Bueno to take up where he had left off. He also shared that his wife had listened to Curtis during a live TV interview. After hearing what he had to say, she decided maybe her husband was doing the right thing after all, and now wants to work alongside him in the works he has started in Sergio Toral, Monte Sinai, and in Bastion Popular where they live.

FELIPE shared he'd had a lot of conflict with his wife because he had decided to leave the established church they had always attended. During the conference, she "saw the light." This past weekend, Felipe convinced his brother, Vicente, to accompany him to a remote village in the neighboring province of Manabi. They got up at 5am on Saturday morning with only $10 in his pocket and took off to La Soledad (five hours away.) They took with them several bags of used clothing and began looking for a "person of peace". Right before dark, they met a woman who was open and receptive to the Gospel who invited them to use her home to start teaching God's Word. They plan on going every weekend until the church is planted.

JUAN (far left in photo) was convicted by the Holy Spirit during the three days of training to say "yes" to the Lord as well. He had never had a problem with starting small groups in the city. But working out in the province was something he had long been resisting. During the training, the Spirit made it clear to Juan he was to go to Naranjal. Right after the sessions ended on Wednesday afternoon, he left for Naranjal. In his first visit, he made found his "person of peace" and had his first meeting in the home of a woman whose son Juan had visited in the hospital a while back.

BLADIMIR is a traditional church pastor transitioning into a network of simple house churches in a densely populated sector of the city. After the conference, he too, did not delay, but gathered his church together and began teaching the entire congregation everything he had understood and learned during the training sessions. He expects everyone in his church to now go out and plant at least one other new church!

GEOVANNY was sick, and unable to come to our Monday afternoon meeting. However, on Thursday and Friday night after the training had ended, he told me he had already begun to train three young women in his own house church in just what they needed to do. I don't know if they went out this past weekend; but assume if they didn't, they will certainly do so in the coming days.

To keep this post from becoming too long, there isn't time to share the stories from the others in our network who attended. Suffice it to say, the world would have long ago come to Christ if all had the same level of obedience as those on our team. The key is not knowledge of what needs to be done; but obedience to use what we already have.

I love the fact that while Geovanny and myself are trying to figure out the best way to package and implement what we received; our guys aren't waiting around for the plan, they're just doing it!

Monday, November 16

Reports on the 2009 Antioch Gathering

There is a growing number of reports of what took place in the October 2009 "Gathering in Antioch."

What follows is a list of those I have run across. If you are aware of others, please include these in the comments so that I might add them to the list.

The Antioch Gathering 2009 by Tall Skinny Kiwi, "The Antioch Gathering last week was one of the most important mission/church event of 2009. It was probably also the least blogged and least photographed church event this year."

Antioch 2009 good summary by Wolfgang and Mercy Simson, "Rather than focusing on strategy issues (facts, numbers, methods) many of us felt God wanted to call together a token group of people in order to share what is on his heart at this decisive hour in the history of Missions."

Antioch-Part 1 and Antioch-Part 2 personal reflections by Linda Muse, "I have a purpose to fulfill in Ecuador and I needed to be there to learn what that was."

Linda's personal photos and descriptions of the gathering can be seen here. Many more were taken of new friends, but for security reasons cannot be viewed publicly.

The Antioch Gathering (Part 1) and The Antioch Gathering (Part 2) report and reflections by Guy Muse, "The gathering was like no other meeting Linda and I ever attended. There was no set schedule, no assigned speakers, no morning devotionals, no singing, and no hot water!"

The Legacy of Antioch by John Piper (though he wasn't there, it is an enlightening article about the Antioch model of church and missions), "The Legacy of Antioch is that it was a mission church that became a sending church through the partnership of Barnabas and Saul, who in the end were sent out by the church to which they were sent."

Antioch 2009: Going back to where it all began by Mike and Leslie,"What we learned from the experience: WAIT AND LISTEN! It is of utmost importance for us to humble ourselves, lay down our organizational agendas and personal kingdom-building, and just listen to God."

Lessons from Antioch by Linda Muse, "If I learned anything at all this week, it was that I am first, and foremost, a citizen of God's Kingdom. I needed to put down my flag and take up the Banner of the Kingdom. I could no longer allow the flag to compete with the kingdom."

Turkey photos taken by Curtis Sergeant in and around the site where we gathered (really awesome pictures!)

Curtis also shares thoughts on various subjects arising out of our time together in Antioch: Parable for the Institutional Church/Missions Effort?, A New Kind of Disciple, The Bible Channel, Travel Back Through Time, and Central Asia, "God reshaped missions here nearly two thousand years ago. I am gathered here with about 70 people to hear from the Lord together about what He might be saying to us in these days about reshaping missions yet again. It seems to be a particularly fitting place to hear from Him about it, given the significant history here."

Saturday, November 14

Why Denominations Cannot Complete the Great Commission

By David Watson
Irving, Texas
September 10,2009

First of all, I am not anti-denominational. I spent more than 15 years as a denominational employee and 10 years in various denominational church staff roles, and have been a member of the same denomination’s churches for 50 years. So, please reserve your judgments until you finish reading this article.

What distinguishes a denomination or denomination-like church is the insistence that all related churches and any churches they start adhere to a particular and peculiar perspective and associated practices related to the Bible, as well as their particular church history. All denominational churches are Bible-based and history-based. They may require a strict or loose adherence to their doctrine and/or practices. Their doctrine, however, is at best a subset of what Scripture has to say, and at worst contain extra-Biblical teachings and practices based on their church history. All worship styles, leadership styles, and governance styles are mostly extra-Biblical, even though all denominations will claim a Biblical background for their practices.

All denominations and denomination-like churches exclude or minimize certain passages in the Bible and highlight other passages that support their views. They will often play the “interpretation” game when challenged with passages from the Bible that do not support their doctrine, or they may even redefine those passages as “spurious” or not really Scripture, or not relevant today.

In almost all cases denominations and denominational-like churches will raise their historical extra-Biblical beliefs and church practices to the level of Scripture. Some denominations openly embrace this practice. Others deny it, but in practice affirm it. I’ll let you look at your own denomination and determine where your beliefs and practices are in light of the whole counsel of Scripture. (Hint: Look at the doctrines and/or practices on which you are unwilling to compromise or look at the doctrines and/or practices for which you criticize others.)

And herein lays the problem.

When we look at the attendance records of any given denomination, even in state church countries, we find that a small percentage of the population even attend any particular church. In most cases this number is only 2 to 5 percent, even in countries with state churches. Everyone who wants to go to a particular church is already attending. Everyone else knows something about that church and chooses not to attend and not to be a part of organized and religious Christianity.

So, no matter what denominational stance is comfortable to you, it will only appeal to about 5% of the population, at most. And everyone who is interested is already a member, most of whom only attend on special occasions.

So, what makes us think that any one denomination or even all denominations working for the Great Commission can succeed in reaching the world for Christ? We have had 1600 years of denominational Christianity, and best case numbers of those who call themselves Christian put us roughly at 1/6th of the world’s population. And we know that only about 20% of so-called Christians ever participate in any kind of church on a regular basis.

If we keep doing what we have always done, we will keep getting the same results. Denominational approaches to the Great Commission have not succeeded in 1600 years or the 492 years since the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517. The reality is that Christianity does not have a good name in most of the world. We have made Christ like us, which is the vilest form of idolatry, instead of becoming like Christ. What makes us think that anyone wants our religion? They have seen it at work, and have rejected it. And the heart of Christian religion is denominationalism.

Another barrier that results from denominationalism is that leaders must go through extensive educational and indoctrinational processes before they are qualified to lead. This bottleneck precludes any hope of completing the Great Commission before another generation dies. All the seminaries, theological schools and Bible schools combined cannot produce enough leaders to finish the task. The denominational education and indoctrination processes make it impossible to fulfill the Great Commission. We have come a long way from First Century illiterate fishermen entering new people groups, nations, and cities and starting a church within months and then moving on. With the loss of simplicity we lost the ability to replicate leaders quickly and move through people groups efficiently. By over training and over managing new believers we stop the process of replication that could reach a nation and a world.

Jesus left eleven men, some of whom doubted, standing on a hilltop. Some were illiterate. Others were rebels. All would be considered ill prepared to fulfill the task Christ gave to them and the Church. If Christ deemed these eleven-very-marginal-leaders fit enough to carry forward the Great Commission, perhaps we need to rethink what we are doing.

CPM is about doing what was done in the First Century. Give the Gospel to a people and teach them to obey it. See them become faithful Disciples of Christ. Leave them to struggle in obeying the Word of God in their own context and history, developing their own unique practices for worship, leadership, and governance within the confines of Biblical obedience.

When denominations forget their differences and get back to planting the Gospel instead of their doctrines, we may have a chance to complete the Great Commission. When we turn to making Disciples of Christ instead of converts for our denominations, we may have a chance to complete the Great Commission. Until then we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of our forefathers. I prefer to learn from mistakes, not repeat them.

When denominations and denominational-like churches begin to plant the Gospel, make obedient Disciples of Christ, and forget their own pet doctrines and practices, we will see the Great Commission fulfilled in a generation. When denominations and denomination-like churches do this, they will see their own denominations grow as never before, because they will become relevant to the people as they serve them in obedience to the Word of God.

In the mean time, I will keep working with lost who want to know the Creator, and help them to become obedient Disciples of Christ who will take seriously the planting of the Gospel, the making of Disciples, and the salvation of a generation.

What are your thoughts about what David says above? To me they have huge implications on the current way we work, relate, partner, and minister.

Friday, November 13

Dying to self

In my previous post, Our changing roles, Shelly from la bella veritá commented from a recent John MacArthur Bible study what dying to self entails. For me, this is a timely and needed word. I share with you what she sent...

Dying to self is...

-When you are not forgiven or you're neglected or purposely set aside and you hurt with the insult or oversight, but your heart is happy and you're content to be counted worthy to suffer for Christ- that's dying to self.

-When your good is evil spoken of; when your wishes are crossed, your advice is disregarded, your opinions are ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger arise in your heart or even defend yourself but take it all in patient loyal silence- that's dying to self.

-When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, or any annoyance; when you can stand face to face with foolishness, extravagance, spiritual insensitivity, and endure it as Jesus endured it- that's dying to self.

-When you see another brother prosper and see his needs being met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor even question God while your needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances- that's dying to self.

-When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up in your heart--that's dying to self.

-When you never care to refer to yourself or record your own good works or seek commendation; when you can truly love to be unknown- that's dying to self.

Truly loving to be unknown...faithfully serving so that others may prosper and draw closer to Jesus. Accepting any and all tasks, regardless of where that leaves you.

Tuesday, November 10

Our changing roles

My wife and I arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador as missionaries in December of 1987. In those early missionary days we labored at the center of where "the action" was taking place. We were in high demand by the churches, associations, and Ecuador Baptist Convention and all their related institutions and programs. A lot of our time was spent attending all the different meetings of both our own denominational work, as well as the events and programs of other evangelical denominations. I served on various denominational boards, committees, and task forces. Our advise and opinions were respected and listened to. We were constantly called upon to preach, teach, administer, counsel, train, and coordinate ministries, institutions, and strategy. Each of us wore multiple ministerial hats. All of us were responsible for carrying out an assortment of assignments, often in areas we were not particularly gifted in, but "someone" had to fill those shoes, so we took on these tasks as well. Our phone rang incessantly. Rare were the days when we had an entire evening to ourselves without someone in our home, someone dropping by to chat, or the phone ringing day and night.

Over the years, all of the above has continued to decrease to, what is today, a mere trickle of what it was 20 years ago. Has the work diminished? Not at all. In fact far more is happening now on multiple levels than anyone could have ever imagined. But our personal influence and role has definitely diminished from what it once was. Probably to be fair, a better description would be our influence and role has changed. While we are certainly still loved and respected by our Ecuadorian brethren, the things we used to do--as "principal actors on stage"--are now being done by those we poured ourselves into years ago. The very men/women/youth we taught, counseled, trained, and encouraged have taken our place. They are the ones now that others call upon, serve in "important" capacities, speak, teach, train, travel, lead, preach, etc.

One of the hardest missions lessons is the one John the Baptist must have also struggled with: "He must increase; but I must decrease." Someone once defined missionary success as working oneself out of a job.

But actually saying these words is a lot easier than living with the consequences of someone else now doing and filling the roles one used to have. We too want to be needed, sought after, consulted, and called upon. In fact, instead of the phone ringing in the evenings with yet another crisis for us to solve, we now can sit most nights quietly reading a book without interruption.

As I reflect back over the years of all the assignments, responsibilities, tasks, and roles we have played; ALL, without exception, are today in the hands of nationals who are doing an excellent job--including our current assignment of leading a church planting team.

So what are we still doing here if we have successfully worked ourselves out of all our jobs?

The task is far from completed. With only 5-7% of the population in Ecuador followers of Christ, much remains to see the Great Commission fulfilled in our region of the world.

What I sense is most needed is not more missionaries coming from other parts of the world to help us, but rather a needed shift in role we missionaries play.

We must begin to see ourselves more in the apostolic role of encouragers, enablers, equippers, trainers, motivators, connectors, and coordinators who are principally engaged in mobilizing God's people into the ripe harvest fields He has prepared over the past decades.

While there will always be room for the first generation apostolic church planter who goes into unreached/under-reached territory to proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, and leave a NT ekklesia; in the later stages of a ripe harvest field (like Ecuador) we best serve the King by shifting our tasks to helping the church see what remains to be done, how to accomplish the task, provide tools and training, and mobilize to lead hundreds of laborers to bring in the harvest the Lord has given.

Another way of understanding this role change is to explain it this way: I can feel great about spending 30-40 hours a week directly engaged in proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples, baptizing 15-20 and hopefully planting 1-2 churches in a year's time...or, I can spend that same time modeling, training, mobilizing several hundred others to do the same things, and at the end of the year see the Kingdom grow by dozens of churches and hundreds of baptisms and scores of new disciples also equipped to going out and making even more disciples.

In the first role we are the primary actors on stage. Everyone sees us, needs us, and looks to us for direction. In the second we are behind the scenes and the ones "seen" are those we are coaching. The difference in the way we understand our apostolic/missionary role is between planting a church, and being an instrument in the Spirit's hands for dozens of churches to be planted all over the region.

What do you think? As usual, your thoughts and observations are welcome.

Sunday, November 8

Rad Zdero's 'Top Ten' reasons for planting house churches

Rad Zdero's top ten reasons for starting house churches...

1. Biblical This was the normative New Testament pattern established by Jesus and the apostles and perpetuated by the early church of the first three centuries and in subsequent renewal, reform and revival movements throughout history. (Acts 2:46, 5:42, 20:20)

2. Exponential - To reach a growing world, we need to multiply, not just add. Current house church movements worldwide are outstripping more traditional church planting and church growth efforts.

3. Effective – The most effective method of evangelism is not growing existing churches, but planting new ones. House churches are the most easily reproducible form of church, and hence, are the most obvious choice for church planting.

4. Natural – House churches become part of the local community and easily tap into relationship connections, thereby more readily taking on an indigenous flavour.

5. People-Focused – They focus on relationships and the development of people spiritually, not on executing programs or projects.

6. Efficient – They are more mobile, flexible, and adaptable than conventional churches, especially in areas characterized by persecution and poverty.

7. Equal Opportunity – Because of their small, intimate and participatory nature, all believers have the opportunity to exercise their spiritual gifts during church meetings, and not just professional clergy or key leaders.

8. Unbounded – They are not limited by church buildings. Whatever use buildings may or may not have, history shows that they are not necessary for rapid church planting movements to start; in fact, they may be a hindrance. Although church buildings are not evil by any means, nor are homes in any way magical, the practical release of time, energy and money away from building maintenance, and into evangelism and discipleship, should cause us to rethink current practices.

9. Inexpensive – They are less expensive than traditional church, because no expensive buildings, programs, or professional clergy are required.

10. Immediate – It can start now, right in your living room. There is no need to wait for a gym to be rented or for a building program to be completed to begin a new church or for a full-time pastor to be hired.

Wednesday, November 4

This 'sect of the devil' known as Baptists

This past weekend the Ecuador Baptist Convention met in Cañar, Ecuador for their annual meeting. With dozens of churches represented from all over the country, few present likely realized just how significant this meeting in this place actually was.

I don´t remember exactly the year, but back in the early 70´s Cañar and the surrounding area was a stronghold against the Gospel. There were no known believers living in the region at the time.

As a fifteen or sixteen year old teen, I accompanied my dad and another missionary from Cuenca in what was to be the first known effort to attempt to reach this county seat city with the Gospel.

My dad had a large circus tent which he set up just outside of the city. During the day we would go through the streets and with a loud speaker attached to the car roof, announce the evening meetings.

People would throw at our passing car whatever handy pieces of garbage they could find. By their shouts and insults it was quite clear we were not welcome in Cañar.

The local priest handed out pamphlets all over town warning his parishioners of this 'sect of the Devil known as Baptists'. Any one caught attending the meetings would be excommunicated. It seemed to me like a hopeless venture to even attempt to have any kind of meetings in Cañar.

However, back in that period of time there was little to do in the cold Andean evenings. My dad's strategy was simple:

--Bright lights at the tent site, accompanied by loud speakers blaring lively Latin American Gospel songs to attract people inside the tent. Inevitably the tent's presence attracted a host of popcorn, cigarette and candy vendors, along with other local fast food delicacies roasting over charcoal fires around the perimeter of the tent!

--The meetings usually began with 3-4 short Gospel choruses. It was my job to stand on the makeshift stage and play my electric guitar for the out-of-tune congregational singing. I was always glad when that part was over.

--The main attraction, though, was when the lights were turned down, and the 16 mm evangelistic "Life of Christ" films where shown.

The desire to view these films, with Jesus speaking Spanish, proved to be more enticing than their fear of being excommunicated! Every evening as the sun set, people would quietly slip in under the cover of dark and take a seat to watch the miracles of Christ, hear Jesus' words, and see Him die on the cross, rise from the grave, and ascend to Heaven.

--After the film, the bright lights were again turned on, and before people could begin a mass exit, a short 10-minute Gospel message and invitation was shared by my dad or the other missionary.

I remember, night after night, the tent would fill to watch the evening's film. Most even stayed around to listen to the short Evangelistic message. But fear of the consequences of taking a stand for Christ, was like asking someone to turn their backs on hundreds of years of tradition, their family, their religion, their identity as Cañaris.

NO ONE in Cañar came forward during any of the invitations to give their lives to Christ.

After many evenings of meetings, the final night arrived. Once again the songs were sung, the film was shown, the message was preached, and the invitation given.

As long as I live, I will never forget what happened next. Almost as if preplanned, a group of about a dozen Cañaris men locked arms in a long human chain, and together came forward as a group. Through a designated spokesperson they announced they were giving their lives to Jesus Christ!

That dark, cold, windy night the light came to Cañar and the rest is history.

This past weekend I wondered how many Baptists in attendance at the annual meeting of the Ecuador Baptist Convention were probably aware of all the history that has taken place in and around Cañar and Tambo over the past 40 years. I was there at the birth of the church in Cañar. It is something I will never forget.

Monday, November 2

The Trip

This past month, October 2-20, Linda and I made a trip to Spain and Turkey. The main reason was to attend the Antioch Gathering Part 1, and Part 2 as blogged on previously.

But there was a lot more to the trip than described in these two posts. Since my wife Linda has already done a good job in describing the trip on her blog A Foreign Life, I will refer to her posts and photos to look through according to your interest.

Madrid where we spent a short two days with our friends the Dixons. Our Madrid photos can be seen here.

Sunday afternoon, Susie dropped us off at the bus stop in Madrid and we went by land to the Granada portion of our trip to visit with our friends the Irwins. Besides the joy of seeing them again, we were able to fill a life time dream of seeing Alhambra. As for all our Granada pics, click here.

From Granada we flew to Barcelona where we stayed with our good friend Chachi from Guayaquil who recently married a Catalán and currently lives just outside of Barcelona with daughter Andrea and husband. See photos here.

After too short of a time in Barcelona we flew back to Madrid and boarded a Turkish Air flight to Antakya (Antioch) in far eastern Turkey. Here we spent seven incredible days. You can read Linda's account of them here and here. Our photos of this time can be viewed here. After viewing our photos, you might also enjoy these superb photos taken by a fellow participant in the gathering.

From Antioch we returned to Istanbul where we were able to see our friends Pete and Allison and their kids, and take in a few of the "must see" sights in this amazing and ancient city.

As you view all of Linda's photos, there are good descriptions which will help to describe the trip and a taste of what we experienced.

Thanks for reading and viewing! Any comments, questions, etc. are welcome.

Sunday, November 1

How to get our churches interested again in missions

I think Richard Ross is onto something in the article he writes below for Baptist Press...

FIRST-PERSON: The path to a missions resurgence
By Richard Ross

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)--Real men eat rare steaks cut from the grizzly bear they killed with a hunting knife. And, they think the only real sports are those that routinely result in crushed vertebra and ripped ACLs. Real men played football in high school and now they think that is the only sport that matters. They are certain that kicking a soccer ball into a net is a sissy sport, not worthy of their TV time.

But all of that begins to change when the real man's son shows an interest in soccer. It doesn't take long before he starts telling the guys at coffee break about the new soccer trophy sitting on his mantle. Suddenly the dad finds himself online, learning all the intricacies of the player positions and strategies. When his son makes the traveling team, the dad cancels important meetings to help the coach on the trip. And without blinking an eye he pays $500 for a summer soccer camp that will give his son a leg up on the other players.

Why would a real man give this much attention to sport he doesn't like? Because it is important to his daughter or son. And why would a parent who has dozed through years of missions challenges suddenly become vitally interested? The answer is the same -- because it has become important to a son or daughter.

I dream of a day when God's people will call out and send out almost all students to spend a summer, semester, or year in front-line missions, within a year or so of high school graduation.

God seems to be orchestrating a cultural shift to make this practical. An increasing number of secular and Christian universities are granting admission to recent high school graduates but not requiring them to register for classes for one year. They use the term "GAP year" to describe this period where students are allowed to do something immersive before beginning university studies.

For Christian students, that could mean going to the hard places internationally, nationally or even locally. Parents will never see missions the same after they get the e-mail that says, "Daddy, I held a baby while she died last night. I cried a long time because this is so needless. If believers just sent a little money, we could dig a water well and the dying would stop." Or, "All the people crowding around our van wanted Bibles. But I ran out before most got one. I do not understand why Christians don't live more simply so they could give more."

For the life of me I do not know why some theologically confused people in Utah would be the only ones to prepare and send out all their sons and daughters on an adventure that will shape their lives.

The Great Commission Task Force and then the Southern Baptist Convention must weave together many elements to achieve a true resurgence in missions. But sending our own children to the front lines can capture the hearts of churches in ways few other things can.

-- Richard Ross is professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.