Thursday, June 30

3 questions for every believer

1. What are you doing to deliberately make disciples?

2. What are you doing to intentionally plant/reproduce new churches?

3. What are you doing missions-wise to be His witnesses in your Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and ends of the earth?

While I realize there is more to being the Bride of Christ than the answer to these three questions, it is hard for me to conceive of a follower of Christ or church calling herself a church that is not making disciples of the nations. The heart of God is a missionary one that loved the world so much that He gave what was most precious to Him, Jesus, so that we might be called the 'children of God'.

While there is certainly room in the Church for more than evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and missions, if we allow these to become anything less that priority mandates, the inevitable result will be a turning inwards and the beginning of a decline resulting in eventual death of that body of believers.

My own observations about the continual decline occurring within the Southern Baptist Convention is directly related to the loss of this focus we have traditionally had as a denomination.

QUESTION: So how do we turn the decline around?

ANSWER: Try answering honestly the above three questions!

Monday, June 27

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 "the action."

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 decreased to 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. 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. 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 capable nationals who are doing an excellent job.

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.

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 that existing 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.

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. However, in the later stages of a ripe harvest field (like Ecuador) missionaries best serve the King by helping the church understand 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.

Saturday, June 25


No me canso de escuchar esta canción de Tercer Cielo. Es definitivamente una de mis favoritas. La letra me levanta y me inspira seguir adelante. Si has sentido desánimo y crees que no vale la pena continuar, escuche el mensaje de esta canción y adelante mi hermano! Dios está contigo. Creo y vivo para ver al Ecuador rendido a los pies de Jesucristo. Y que de aquí saldrá un ejercito para hacer discipulos a las naciones. Con estas palabras y este hermoso canto me despido del Ecuador por unos meses. Ore por nosotros durante el tiempo que estaremos fuera del pais. Sepa que siempre los guardamos en nuestras oraciones y en el corazón. Ahora, con la música...sube el volúmen y CREÉ EN EL SEÑOR!

Friday, June 24

What would it look like if...

What would it look like if, as leaders, we focused less on the things that make our churches entertaining and more on making disciples?

Monday, June 20

Pastoring is a gift, not a title

One of the people I follow on Twitter is Kathy Escobar. The following blog excerpt comes from a post entitled rethinking the word 'pastor'. I like what she has to say.


i believe pastoring is a gift, not a title. many have come to believe that being a pastor means someone who 1) has gone to seminary; 2) “runs” churches; 3) preaches sermons; 4) marries and buries people. i really don’t think this was the biblical idea of the word poimen, which is synonymous with shepherding...

pastors are the people who are caring for, shepherding, loving, and journeying in close-relationship with people wherever they are, whether that be as part of church, at work, in their neighborhoods, etc. their focus is on relationship, relationship, relationship. years ago a young woman told me that the weekend communicator at the mega-church she was going to was a “really amazing pastor.” it was hard because i wanted to say back to her, “honey, he is not a pastor. yep, he’s an amazing speaker and teacher and extremely gifted CEO,but he will never, ever know your name, let alone your story… he will never counsel you or have you over for dinner, hold your babies or be with you when you or one of your family is sick in the hospital or going through a rough patch. he will never do anything that someone with a true pastor’s gift will naturally do.” yet, he will get all of the kudos and benefits of being a “pastor” without ever actually shepherding or being in pastoring relationships with people. i can’t tell you how many times i have heard from a variety of different churches that their senior pastor “isn’t really a people person.”

to me, pastoring doesn’t require an education. sure, we can all learn new skills and strengthen our gifts, but i know many-a-pastor-in-the-truest-sense-of-the-word who has never taken a class at Bible college or seminary. again, we are mistaking a gift for a role or a job, a leader for a pastor. often people will ask me if they should get seminary training to learn how to become more pastoral. my response “um…well….in my opinion, the best education you can get is to start working the 12 steps for yourself and steep yourself in learning about codependence, boundaries, and spiritual and emotional healing individually and in groups. and yeah, that’s free!”

we need to quit calling people who don’t like to be with people pastors because it is diminishing and unempowering the ones who do. it’s so funny to me how there are women in all kinds of churches who shepherd, love, and care for people and can’t ever be called “pastor” and yet i have seen men-who-can’t-stand-people-and-only-are-in-charge-of-networking-the-computers be called an “operations pastor.” it’s comical on one level, but on a whole other one, it’s not funny at all. my vote is to call preachers who never interact with a person in their congregation beyond the big-donors-they-golf-with “weekend communicators” or “executive directors” and reserve the word pastors for people who are providing spiritual and emotional care to people.

most people’s true “pastors” aren’t the pastor of their church, they are close friends or people in community who care for them and love them. the person who you are going to call when you are hurting, who will be with you in the hospital when you are sick, who loves your babies and cares about their well-being beyond just words, who will provide prayer and spiritual and emotional support when you need it, that’s your pastor. i have a lot of amazing pastors in my life–some with pastor titles, some without–but they are all lovely naturally gifted people that do all of these things for me in different ways. i have one challenge for us this week–tell those people, whoever they are, that you consider them one of your pastors and are thankful for their love & care. it will encourage them–and maybe surprise them more than you might expect. i think that is a step in the right direction to re-claim the word far beyond official church leaders.

i do believe there are all kinds of amazing pastors truly pastoring their churches. their gifts line up with their role and they love their people in amazing ways. i am privileged to know some of these pastors and see their heart for shepherding their communities. it doesn’t bother me a bit that they are called pastors; i honor their heart and commitment to live out what they are built to do. journeying with people is hard work, and i deeply respect those shepherds out there who are really shepherding.

like the word “church”, i don’t know if we will never be able to fully redeem the word “pastor.” i think it might be too far gone. there’s too much baggage with it. the seminary system that cultivates people who have to get “paid pastor” jobs to pay their bills after all that debt perpetuates it. people confusing leadership & pastoring perpetuate it. people who don’t have anyone to fan their natural gifts into flame and validate them will stay underground thinking they might not have what it takes to contribute as much as they could. and so we’ll keep re-creating little systems where there is a separation between the “professionals” and the “not-so-professionals”, the “strong leaders” from the “real shepherds” and those who aren’t the pros or loud or leader-y enough will continue to feel inadequate or unprepared or un-infused with support to use their gifts. i recently told someone that the refuge is “full of pastors.” it is. there are so many mercy-people, shepherds, true lovers of people. they have no education or training or any of the put-together requirements we have placed upon the role. but they naturally pastor people, advocating, caring, and loving for others.

i am not calling for the abolishment of pastors. i believe it is a beautiful and lovely gift; one of the many beautiful and lovely gifts that it takes to make a body whole. i’m just calling for a re-thinking of the word so that its true meaning & purpose shines through instead of associating it with a whole bunch of things that have absolutely nothing to do with the heart and spirit of pastoring...


For the entire article click here.

Sunday, June 19

Disciple-Making Movements - David Garrison

Inspiring stories of what God is doing around the world through disciple-making movements (CPM).

David Garrison: Disciple Making Movements Around The World Today [VERGE 2010 Main Session] from Verge Network on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 18

Small is Big

I absolutely loved Small Is Big: Unleashing the Big Impact of Intentionally Small Churches by Tony & Felicity Dale and George Barna. 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 authors 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 with their words:
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 is totally marked and highlighted with the practical suggestions shared in this "return of the church to the people." For example, 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 three chapters of the book: "Pitfalls to Avoid"; "No Empire Building, No Control, and No Glory"; and "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 three chapters, and the spirit of humility in which this book has been written, that I give "Small is Big" my highest recommendation. Even though I first read the book months 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.

Get hold of a copy today!

Thursday, June 16

Great Commission Myths

Joey Shaw shares five Common Great Commission Myths. Regretably, the original links no longer function back to the original source of this fine article.

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.”

Below are five of the more common myths about the Great Commission...

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”... 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 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.

Tuesday, June 14

How church doctrines develop over time

I have always found it intriguing how Christians reading the same Bible can come up with such a wide variety of beliefs and practices about the church. I recently downloaded a free Kindle copy of John Hayward's The Book of Religions Comprising The Views, Creeds, Sentiments, Or Opinions, Of All The Principal Relgious Sects In The World Particularly Of All Christian Denominations In Europe and America To Which Are Added Church and Missionary Statistics Together With Biographical Sketches (obviously with a title like that I wasn't surprised by the 1860 publishing date!)

Of particular interest are the summary chapters of the dozens of varying Christian Denominations existing at the time of Hayward's 1860 writing (not to mention the thousands added since that time!) All claim the Bible as their source of faith and practice. Each draws its ecclesiolgocal distinctions from Scripture and sees everyone else as "missing the mark." How is it that believers professing the Ephesians 4 Pauline creed, "one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" can have so many different--and often conflicting--ideas about the church?

After years of bewilderment, I recently stumbled upon a very simple explanation of how such a wide variety of beliefs can exist within the Body of Christ. Much to my surprise it was through reading Father Zachary J. Hayes explanation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory where he points out that our understanding of church doctrine and practice hinges upon our overarching view of Scripture itself:

"While the Protestant viewpoint looks for a pure form of doctrine at the beginning of Christian history and sees any deviation from that pure form as a corruption, the Catholic viewpoint sees the beginning more like a seed planted in history. It is the nature of a seed to grow and develop...

Catholic theologians have been inclined to think of the church as a community that grows through history like a living organism. The idea of a seed and the plant emerging from the seed became common metaphors to express this sense of growth. Like a seed, the revelation of God germinates in the ground of history and of human cultures and gives rise to a plant. While this plant is intrinsically related to the seed, it still looks quite different from the original seed, just as an oak tree looks very different from the acorn from which it grew...

In terms of doctrine, this has come to mean that, while the Scriptures have a normative and irreplaceable role to play in the faith life of the church, nevertheless, we ought not to expect any one-to-one relationship between the formultations of the Scriptures and the later formulations of church doctrines..."
--Father Zachary J. Hayes
Wow! If Scripture is merely the initial "seed" from which the plant--the church--matures and grows; then yes, we can have all kinds of beliefs, traditions, and church practices.

But is Scripture meant to be only the initial seed? Is God's Word meant to be only the starting point? Where in Scripture, itself, is the church referred to using a seed metaphor?

The predominant metaphor used for the church in the New Testament is "the body of Christ" found in multiple references (such as Rom.12:5), the "bride of Christ" in Revelation, "God's household" (Eph.2:19), "chosen race", "royal priesthood", "holy nation", "a people for God's own possession" (1 Peter 2:19), but I do not find the church referred to as something that grows out of a seed.

This might not seem like a big deal, but to me the seed metaphor has enormous implications. If Scripture is just an initial seed that grows and matures into something else down through history (as Hayes describes above) then everybody is right to nurture their "seed" and hopefully mature it into something they are comfortable with. Isn't this what we have done with the church? We have made church into our own image. We see Acts and the Epistles not as blueprints, but as "seeds" that need to be developed into what they were intended to become.

I believe it is not only the Catholics who have misunderstood the church, her doctrines and practices as deriving themselves from Scripture seeds, but Protestants and Evangelicals as well. All of us tend to justify what it is we believe (or want to believe) by copying/pasting favorite proof texts about the church and making them fit our current ecclesiology. We have taken the seed found in the Bible, sowed it into the soil of history, nurtured and watered it down through the ages, and think what we have today is an improvement over what Jesus and the apostles left for us. After all, why gather in a simple home to stimulate one another to love and good works, when we can meet in multi-million dollar complexes complete with state-of-the-art technology and artificial waterfalls cascading in the foyer?

Yes, the kingdom of heaven is referred to as a mustard seed in Matt. 13:31. Faith is likewise referred to a mustard seed in Matt.17:20, and the Gospel itself as "seed sown in a field." But does this give us the right to morph original NT teaching about the church into something that goes far beyond what we find in the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles? Wasn't that Jesus primary objection to the Pharisees that they added to the Law of Moses and held people accountable for the additions? Aren't we doing the same thing today with our own church traditions and practices when we elevate them as being equal (or superior) to actual Scriptural teachings?

And that is how church doctrines get developed over time. What do you think?

Saturday, June 11

For all our talk, we are not about making disciples of the nations

After reading the dismal 2010 church growth indicators for the Southern Baptist Convention as published by Lifeway, I am embarrased by how distracted and disobedient I have become towards making disciples of the nations.

The LifeWay article reports a total of 332,321 baptisms from 45,727 churches. That comes out to an average of 7.3 baptisms per church per year, or a 49:1 baptism ratio. It took 49 S. Baptists an entire year of work and ministry to baptize one person.

Saying it another way, it took one disciple twelve months to see one new person added to the Kingdom through baptism, while the other 48 of us "disciples" did nothing. On top of that, the cost of that single baptism was $35,270!

I know many might point out the flaws in my over-generalized and unfair playing around with the reported numbers, but the figures speak loudly for themselves. For all our talk, we are not about making disciples of the nations.

The only number that did not show a negative from the previous year was church plants. According to the report, 717 new churches were started in 2010. From our own experience of seeing the vast majority of baptisms coming from new church starts; I dare say, without these 717 new church starts, the SBC numbers would have indeed fallen into the "F" range--failing big time at what our Lord commanded in Matthew 28:18-20.

While our own baptism ratio has fluctuated over the past decade from a high of 3:1 (three believers for every new baptized convert) to a low of an embarrasing 8:1 ratio, the fact remains that the house churches we relate to are far more serious about evangelism, baptism, discipleship, and church planting than our Stateside brothers and sisters. I have said it many times, but our people here have a lot more to teach their Stateside counterparts, than the other way around!

What differences are there between our Ecuadorian national brethren and their Stateside counterparts? Why are the folks here so much more effective with their evangelism than Stateside Christians?

I can identify at least seven overlapping things I see house church believers consistently doing that are not usually seen in most Stateside churches:

1) Praying daily for the lost. Talk to believers in a Guayaquil house church and they will show you their list of people they pray for daily of unsaved family, friends, and neighbors.

2) Active regular sharing of the Gospel. It is a very natural part of their Christian walk to share the Gospel with people they encounter in their daily lives. Christ has made such a difference in their lives, and they cannot help but share with those they come in contact with.

3) Planning regular evangelistic events. The house churches plan regular evangelistic events inviting those they are praying for to attend (concerts, outdoor street meetings, special programs, family conferences, DVD/Videos, invited guest speakers, neighborhood evangelistic door-to-door blitzes, meals, etc.)

4) Visiting the sick and personally ministering to lost friends, neighbors and family in times of crisis. They are very good about visiting sick people outside of their church family, praying for healing and ministering to lost family and friends during difficult times.

5) Not distracted by a lot of secondary theological issues. We certainly have our share of problems and distractions, but they are more along the lines of things like: can unmarried couples who get saved be baptized? How to counsel people with difficult problems? How to discern if someone is demon possessed or just emotionally unstable? How to handle tough theological questions. Why doesn't God always heal someone when they are prayed for?

6) Intentionally focus on evangelism as a life priority. Talk to them and they will tell you that their ministry is to win/disciple at least four people to Christ this year. They expect God to give them these souls and are consciously praying and working to achieve this goal.

7) They maintain friendships/relationships with lost friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc. They play soccer on the street with their neighbors, visit them in their homes, minister to them in times of need. How are we ever supposed to win people to the Lord if we have little/no relationship with the lost? How is a Christian supposed to win lost people if they do not even know any? Folks here know plenty of lost people whom they are burdened for their salvation.

Southern Baptists, and Stateside churches in general may be doing a lot of neat things, have wonderful church programs, great worship services and solid Biblical preaching, but if we are not winning people to Christ, baptizing, making disciples, and teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded, are we really healthy N.T. churches?

Wednesday, June 8

To all our friends who come down for mission trips

Summer has arrived. We begin what is traditionally the season for volunteer groups coming down to help in our mission work. We are always grateful to the Lord for those who come year after year and do such a great job.

For those coming, or thinking about coming down there are a few things I would like to share. These are a few things seldom mentioned due to our not wanting to do say anything that might be misunderstood.

1) We desire an on-going relationship. Most of the groups coming down see the trip as a "missions experience." Something to talk about for a few days once you get back home. You want to DO missions, not just give to some missions offering. For a few short days you are eager to do things you normally wouldn't do. You take lots of photos. You meet new friends, experience a taste of a developing country's culture, food, and way of life. You have a lot of fun. Your heart is broken at seeing the how the poor barely survive from day to day. Once your 7-10 days are up, you get back on the plane and we never hear from you again. That is, unless you decide you want to come back, and then our communication is about dates for next year.

This is not what we want.

After you leave, we want to stay in contact with you. We want to know that you are praying for the people you have met and worked with. We want you to pester us with questions, updates, and actually stay in contact with those new friends you met while here. We want to feel that you too are committed to finishing the task you came to help out with while here.

Most are deeply touched by what you experience while here. Many express how much their life has been changed by the experience. Eyes have been opened to things one never knew was out there. Why then, once you leave, we never hear back from you? It is also strange to the nationals that after all the hugs and tears and moments shared, you never call, write, or even ask about them. Where are all the promised copies of those photos you took while here holding their kids on your laps?

2) We want you to become advocates for us there in the States. If the trip meant so much, share it with everyone you know back home. Make everyone look at your photos. Tell them how your life was changed by the trip. Share with them people's stories; not just, "oh, it was awesome!" Request time at church to share. Start an Ecuador prayer group, or at least keep Ecuador in your prayers. If God spoke to your heart while on the trip, follow up with the Lord about what He opened your eyes to. Don't return to life as it was before you came down. Be an advocate for missions. Keep Ecuador and global missions on the front burner of your church's attention.

3) Come prepared. It is amazing to me how many come down knowing they will be spending a lot of time sharing the Gospel one-on-one and yet not knowing how to do so. One of the comments we hear from our national brothers after every volunteer team has left is, "They apparently had never shared the Gospel with anyone before this trip." While there are certainly people who have come down who do know how to share an effective Gospel presentation, I would say that it is a very small percentage. Many coming on missions trips are doing so for the first time, and have never shared their faith back home, little less, overseas.

4) Be ready for the schedule to be changed. I know how frustrating it is to have one's plans changed at the last minute. But that is just the way things are here. Americans plan months and years in advance and like to have an hour by hour schedule of what they will be doing to maximize their time. That isn't the way things work here. We can plan all we want to and make out nice, organized sensible schedules, but most of the time things here are decided on the spur of the moment. I know it is frustrating (it is for me too) but being flexible is and willing to adapt quickly is something I wish I could say and not upset you.

5) Eat what is set before you. Most of you do a super job at eating all the foods and drinks offered to you while here. You make our people feel that their food is the best in the world. It really is! But there is always at least one of you in the group who is picky about what they eat. To not eat what is offered is a huge offense here. The people will always give you the best that they have. They are often embarrassed by the little they have to offer, but when it is rejected they are hurt. No excuses are acceptable, such as: "I am on a diet", "this is too much starch on one plate", "I can't eat this much", "has this lettuce been washed?", "what is this?", "if I eat this it will make me sick." Eat what is set before you (that is Biblical--see Luke 10!) The people who are hosting you have been eating/drinking these foods for eons and they are doing just fine. You'll be fine too.

6) Don't make promises you can't keep. After being here for a few days you realize how blessed you really are. You want to help the dear brothers and sisters whom you have grown to love in the few short days you have been here. But please be careful in what you tell them you are going to do after you leave. Few follow-up on what was offered. Closely related to this one is #7 below...

7) Consult with the missionary team about any money matters. Money is something you have a lot more of than those you are working amongst. When you see needs, the tendency is to want to do something to help. I'll be honest, there are many things that we definitely could use money for. But most of the time we are not consulted. This usually causes problems after you leave. For example, if you give to one dear brother whom you met and grew to love, what about all the others? To give to one and not to all the others causes problems. I could write pages on this, but suffice it to say, if you want to leave some money, tell us how much you want to give, and then ask us where/what/who would it best be used.

After all the above, I hope you hear my heart. We really want you to come help us. We have definite areas of our strategy that you can play a major role. What we are asking for is probably more than most are willing to give. But these are some of the things I have always wanted to say to the teams coming down.

Saturday, June 4

Guayaquil de Mis Amores

Scenes from the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, the city where we have lived and served for the past 25 years: The "Guayaquil of My Loves."

Thursday, June 2

Baptist identity

What makes a Baptist a Baptist? Is it our traditions and practices? Our programs? Exactly what is it that determines if one is truly a Baptist or more identified with some other group of evangelical believers?

One of the earliest attempts to define who Baptists are is the London Baptist Confession 1644/1646. While too long to quote in its entirety, I pulled a few of the articles that caught my attention. As I read this document many of their original convictions mirror my own. After each article are my own comments in italics. Some of my observations are particular to our own context here in Ecuador and not necessarily issues in other parts of the world.

BEING thus joined, every church hath power given them from Christ, for their wellbeing, to choose among themselves meet persons for elders and deacons, being qualified according to the word, as those which Christ hath appointed in His testament, for the feeding, governing, serving, and building up of His Church; and that none have any power to impose either these or any other. Acts 1:23,26,6:3,15:22.25; Rom.12:7,8; 1 Tim.3:2,6.7; 1 Cor. 12:8,28; Heb.13:7,17; 1 Pet.5:1,2,3, 4:15.

"...choose among themselves" seems to be the pattern of those early Baptists who preceded us. The current practice of importing trained professionals from outside the congregation seems foreign to the wording in this article. As is the idea of home-grown plural "elders and deacons" which is in contrast with the more common "Senior Pastor" model which seems to be the norm today.

THAT the ministers lawfully called, as aforesaid, ought to continue in their calling and place according to God's ordinance, and carefully to feed the flock of God committed to them, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Heb.5:4; John 10:3,4; Acts 20:28,29; Rom.12:7,8; Heb.13:7.17; 1 Pet.5: 1.2,3.

"...ought to continue in their calling and place..." means to me that if they are a school teacher, they are to continue in that profession and not abandon it for the ministry. Our modern idea of having full-time professional church ministers seems out of tune with this earlier confession of Baptist belief and practice.

BAPTlSM is an ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ, to be dispensed upon persons professing faith, or that are made disciples; who upon profession of faith, ought to be baptized, and after to partake of the Lord's Supper. Matt.28:18,19; John 4:1; Mark 16:15,16; Acts 2:37.38, 8:36,37,etc.

" be dispensed upon persons professing faith..." is the only prerequisite for baptism. In many Baptist contexts, especially in Ecuador, other prerequisites are often added to that of "professing faith"--usually in the insistence that the person requesting baptism be legally married (not living in adultery/fornication) before consideration is given to their profession of faith.

THE person designed by Christ to dispense baptism, the Scripture holds forth to be a disciple; it being no where tied to a particular church officer, or person extraordinarily sent the commission enjoining the administration, being given to them as considered disciples, being men able to preach the gospel. Isa.8:16; Eph.2:7; Matt.28:19; John 4:2; Acts 20:7,11:10; 1 Cor.11:2, 10:16,17; Rom.16:2; Matt.18:17.

The administrator of baptism are disciples. No where in Scripture is baptism tied to a particular church office. Our modern practice (especially overseas where this is an issue) of only ordained, recognized church leaders being the only ones authorized to baptize seems to contradict not only our Baptist forefathers but Scripture itself.

CHRIST hath likewise given power to His Church to receive in, and cast out, any member that deserves it; and this power is given to every congregation, and not to one particular person, either member or officer, but in relation to the whole body, in reference to their faith and fellowship. Rom.16:2; Matt.18:17; 1 Cor.5:4,11,13;12:6;2:3; 2 Cor.2:6,7.

Again, what caught my attention is that "power" is in the body of believers, and not in any particular sub-group or special persons like it is in many Baptist churches here in Ecuador (usually the pastor.)

AND although the particular congregations be distinct, and several bodies, every one as a compact and knit city within itself; yet are they all to walk by one rule of truth; so also they (by all means convenient) are to have the counsel and help one of another, if necessity require it, as members of one body, in the common faith, under Christ their head. 1 Cor.4:17, 14:33,36,16:1; Ps.122:3; Eph.2:12,19: Rev.2:1; 1 Tim.3:15, 6:13,14; 1 Cor.4:17; Acts 15:2,3; Song of Sol.8:8.9; 2 Cor.8:1.4, 13:14.

While meeting in various geographic locations around the city, the "several bodies" are to "have the counsel and help one of another..." How I wish we could get back to this basic practice of understanding that we are all one in Christ and in need of one another. We are to be there for one another and not separate ourselves from our brothers in our own mini church kingdoms.

Also such to whom God hath given gifts in the church, may and ought to prophecy [viz., teach] according to the proportion of faith, and to teach publicly the word of God, for the edification, exhortation, and comfort of the church. 1 Cor. 14:3, etc.; Rom 12:6; 1 Pet. 4:10, 11; 1 Cor. 12:7; 1 Thess. 5:19, etc.

This is nothing more than direct teaching from Paul out of I Corinthians 14. Yet we have taken away from the people to publicly prophecy/teach and hired out professionals to edify, exhort, and comfort the church.

Comments? Oberservations? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wednesday, June 1

"Every truly Christian household is a church"

I am indebted to Alan Knox for pointing out the following April 5, 1874 excerpt from a message entitled, Building the Church: Additions to the Church. At the end of the quote is the name of the well known pastor who preached these words.

I want you to notice this, that they were breaking bread from house to house, and ate their food with gladness and singleness of heart. They did not think that religion was meant only for Sundays, and for what men now-a-days call the House of God. Their own houses were houses of God, and their own meals were so mixed and mingled with the Lord's Supper that to this day the most cautious student of the Bible cannot tell when they stopped eating their common meals, and when they began eating the Supper of the Lord. They elevated their meals into diets for worship: they so consecrated everything with prayer and praise that all around them was holiness to the Lord. I wish our houses were, in this way, dedicated to the Lord, so that we worshipped God all day long, and made our homes temples for the living God...

Does God need a house? He who made the heavens and the earth, does he dwell in temples made with hands? What crass ignorance this is! No house beneath the sky is more holy than the place where a Christian lives, and eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and praises the Lord in all that he does, and there is no worship more heavenly than that which is presented by holy families, devoted to the fear of the Lord.

To sacrifice home worship to public worship is a most evil course of action. Morning and evening devotion in a little home is infinitely more pleasing in the sight of God than all the cathedral pomp which delights the carnal eye and ear. Every truly Christian household is a church, and as such it is competent for the discharge of any function of divine worship, whatever it may be. Are we not all priests? Why do we need to call in others to make devotion a performance? Let every man be a priest in his own house. Are you not all kings if you love the Lord? Then make your houses palaces of joy and temples of holiness. One reason why the early church had such a blessing was because her members had such homes. When we are like them we will have “added to the church those who were being saved.”
--C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)