God Directed Deviations

Culture, Discipleship, Evangelism, Making Disciples, Missions, The Church, The Gospel

Can a Local church (ekklesia), be Born in a Day?

11125093_10153450248615087_2028852251_nCan a local church (ekklesia), be born in a day? On the surface this would appear to be a simple question, but unpacking it with our own experiences, assumptions, and theologies can be prove to be a bit challenging.
Before you attempt to do that, here’s a brief story.
Last week, with a team of short-term missionaries, I visited a place which I will not name, and up to that point, had little or no gospel awareness. There was a bit of plowing going on since December of last year. We brought food to families who were in need, we visited with some afterwards, and I’ve been present among them quietly on more than a few occasions.
When we entered the village, I sought permission to enter a public elementary school that had about 50 children.  I introduced myself to the administrators and asked if I could bring some folks in to share a message of God, give them some gifts, play with the kids.
With slight hesitation,  that permission was granted. The gates were unlocked and I entered. It’s still a bit strange to me to be granted access to a public school after 10 years here in Ecuador, but in the rural fringes, people are much more disposed to a ‘cultural exchange’ without the hangups about proselytizing etc.
After speaking with the kids for a few minutes about what was going to happen next, I brought the team of 60 onto school grounds. They were super excited at the sight of  a strange looking bunch of Gringos bearing gifts, but also very curious.
For the next few hours, the kids were loved on, listened to, played with, lavished with goodies, facepaint, balloons, and THE MESSAGE OF THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS. While there were some gospel presentations made to large groups of kids in traditional ways, there was also a tremendous amount of one on one time.
As a missionary who has made major paradigm shifts in the way I present the gospel, make disciples, and do ‘church planting,’ I am always afraid that short-term missionaries will be more disposed to dog and pony shows than communicating love and a transforming message. It takes a long time to build trust with individuals and even longer with communities, and I guard that trust forcefully. But with this team, things were different.
While it’s hard to pull short-termers away from their agendas, this particular group of people were ready to meet needs and be flexible to the Spirit’s leading.  They were teachable and in sync with what was going on around them.
As our time at the school drew to a close, the parents of some of the children started to come to pick up their kids. In fact, almost a dozen sets of parents came. It’s unusual because normally only a few parents come and the rest of the kids walk home.
The fervor of the gospel being relayed was still present. Some members of the team, including myself, sought to share the gospel with the parents and the administrators of the school. This may seem sort of cold or intrusive or even like cliché pressure tactics associated with ‘evangelism,’ but it was not. There was genuine interest expressed by EVERY SINGLE PARENT that walked into the school grounds.
I had a thousand thoughts running through my head. Questions that are common to evangelism etc., like “Aren’t we supposed to be ‘earning our right to speak into their lives?’ and “Is it right to ‘preach’ to those that we have not established a relationship with?” and even “Is all of this just more of the same Christian activity that inoculates people against the truth of Christ?” Finally, “Is this what ‘church planting’ is supposed to look like?” Yeah, it might be a little strange to ask myself these sorts of questions after having spent nearly 10 years on the mission field, but a bit of self-reflection and analysis is important when so many lives hang in the balance.
Despite some of the apparent stereotypical behavior going on, God was in our midst in a special way. Almost every parent received the message of the gospel with joy and tears.
We packed up our beads and bobbles, took a break, and then split up into small teams to ‘blanket’ the entire community with the good news. Yes, we went house to house, knocked on doors, and had a myriad of genuine conversations with most of the community.
The receptiveness of the gospel prevailed. The word of God prevailed. (Acts 19:20) Nearly everyone we came in contact with listened to and received the gospel.
As the day was going on, people from others teams were ‘reporting in’ about how miraculously their day was going. I’ll have to admit I was stoked! It was then that I thought, “Is it possible that a local church, an ekklesia, could be born in a single day?” Maybe it was the wrong question, Maybe I need to reexamine my ecclesiology. Maybe I need to reconsider what a church or a church plant really is.
You see, I’ve been so down with normal functionless Christianity that my pendulum has often swung too far in the other direction. My weariness of congregations that have no ministry, no mission, no reconciliation, no justice, and no transformation outside of church doors has made me critical of every inkling or semblance of those sorts of behaviors and attitudes.
As the day was drawing to a close, I met with a man and his family who were very inquisitive about what was going on in his community. We took the opportunity to explain what and WHO was going on. After sharing the gospel with him and his receiving of it, he said “Look, I understand what’s going on here. I also feel like I need to provide a place, a place out of the weather where my neighbors and I can gather together and grow together in this message and in the person of Christ that you told me about.” He then offered his home and very spacious garage and covered parking area. BOOM! People and place.
To me, there’s no doubt that a local church can be born in a day. I watched it happen, and this wasn’t the first time. The last time it happened like this, it transformed a another local community which is still thriving spiritually. I am hoping that it will repeat itself here.
So, one more time… Can a local church (ekklesia) be born in a day? 
Evangelism, Ministry, Missiology, Mission, Missions, Social Justice, The Gospel

What About Plowing In Short-Term Missions Trips?

SONY DSCIf we’re honest, much of short-term missions is about harvesting. The unsettled urgency to ‘win souls,’ and the expenditures towards that end drive the reaping, plucking, and gathering of ‘fruit.’ In many cases that fruit is considered to be the canny but hesitant confessions of unripened and uncultivated hearts, or the hastily repeated prayers of  an accommodating people.
When did inducing the labor of preemies become the norm in mission?
 In Jeremiah 4:3, The Lord says;
“Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns.”
Plowing is to be done corporately by the people of God with people who are not yet of God. Plowing is a family affair. There are planters and waterers in abundance and they have their rewards, but where are the plowers?
Plowing isn’t glamorous, there’s little recognition to be had in it, and it’s just plain hard work. It is most strenuous and the most unyielding stage in the harvest process. There’s nothing do show for your efforts except overturned dirt. Who remembers the work of one who plows?
Many times, people will say to a mission’s coordinator, “Put Us to work!” or “We’re not afraid of getting our hands dirty,” or even “We’ll do whatever it takes to be of service in your context,” but the hard word of plowing rarely enters into the picture. Could you imagine the look on the faces of a locally sponsored church mission that reported, ” We plowed up much fallow ground and prepared the way for others to seed, weed, and water?” Can you sense the tension of the impending question;
“Umm, that’s great, but how many souls were saved?”

“Where are the sharecroppers? Where are the cultivators of love? Where are the plowers of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 

 

A few questions;
What if your next short-term mission trip dedicated itself fully to plowing?
 
What would that look like?
 
How would you muster support for this mundanely perceived aspect of mission?  
Christianity, Culture, Mission, Missional, Missions, Morality and Ethics, Uncategorized

When White Chocolate Missional “Sent-ness” Becomes a Yoke Not of Jesus’ Making.

white-chocolate-dipped-strawberries1At the outset, and with all the transparency I can muster, I admit that I believe every believer is sent. What does that mean to me? It means I believe that deep within the Image of God DNA that we as believers have inherited, is the impulse for movement and mission from where we are, spiritually, attitudinally, and physically, to other places and spaces from the Holy Spirit. It’s genetic. (John 17:18) Those other places don’t have to be geographic spaced, but they often are. That movement, that recognizable gait, assumes that of its Father. It’s like when people say “he walks just like his father.”
That sent-ness was manifested as “the exact representation” (Hebrews 1:3) of the Father in Jesus’ mission. He did the will of the Father who sent him. (John 6:38) As a missionary in the more traditional understanding of the word, I can get too focused on the idea that everyone is sent and worse, that everyone must ‘live as sent,’ even if I can substantiate my understanding of that from scripture. My purpose in writing this is not to debate whether or not every believer is sent, but to express a concern that sent-ness can quickly descend into the burdensome yoke category.

What is a burdensome yoke? It’s the heavy burden of a system of works that religious purveyors lay on the backs of the people who Jesus is offering relief to. Jesus was, and is, offering a streamlined yoke that goes from zero to eternity without burning the environment damaging fuel of human religion.

Within the various ‘missional’ movements, and I’m not picking on any particular stream, there’s a lot of pressure to;

1.  Accept sent-ness in your heart. – “Confess with your mouth that you are sent, and you will be saved.”
2.  Wait in Jerusalem for power from on high. – You shall be my witnesses at the conference, in the parking lot, at the coffee shops, and in the uttermost parts of the world.
3.  Be baptized. – Believe in our sent-ness and be baptized, or you shall receive eternal strife.
4.  Do not forsake the gatherings. – as the manner of some is; but exhort one another: and many more, as ye see the end of the missional movement approaching.
5.  Make Disciple of all nations. – Teach them to consume all that we have written.

Yes, I’m being cheeky. Forgive me of my haphazard hyperboles.

Timothy C. Tennent said that,”Evangelicals would rather be a respected “acolyte in the Temple of the Global Market God” than a prophetic voice in a culture that revels in using religious, even Christian, language to baptize the autonomous self.”

I must confess that I have carved out a few yokes of my design. I have called others to minister like I do, work like I do, and mission like I do. Oddly enough, I discovered that those yokes were not ‘one size fits all.’ Even ‘best practices’ discovered through genuine trial an error may not be the best practices for others. Reverse engineering from missional success stories rarely works. Being all missional things to all missional people is easy. Being all things to all people is not. My white chocolate dipped yoke does melt in other people’s hands. And so, as I try to figure out at what point my own sent-ness rhetoric becomes religion I’ll ask you two questions;

How do you promote sent-ness without imposing it?

What sorts of signs, in your view, are indicative of sent-ness becoming a religious rack? 

Christianity, Church, Discipleship, Leadership, Missiology, Mission, Missional, Missions, Scripture, The Church, Worship

How exactly, are we supposed to be ‘led by the Spirit’ in Missions?

listen-to-the-spirit2The idea of ‘being ‘led by the Spirit,’ is often touted and dropped in cliche-esque fashion into Christian conversations. It’s use by others (“You need to be led by the Spirit”), tries to invoke an “ah ha” moment, as if by saying it, the receiver says, “Oh yes, that’s it, that’s the key to everything, ‘being led by the Spirit!’ But, after only a bit of self-reflection, it retracts into what everyone already assumes. Namely, that the same Spirit that moved over the face of the waters in creation (Genesis 1:2) is the same power mover of recreation, regeneration, and reconciliation today.
“Of course we’re supposed to be ‘led by the Spirit!’ Duh! And so, we’re left with another powerless platitude that fails to engage our hearts, minds, souls, and strength in the divine mover’s mission. The Spirit is sanctifier (Romans 8:12-13), comforter (John 14:16), informer (1 Corinthians 2:10), empowerer (Acts 1:8) animator (Acts 17:28), and guider (John 16:13). If He is to be all of those things in our one to one relationships with God, then He is certainly to be those things in our one another relationships with people.  It seems counter-intuitive, but the church doesn’t take a bunch of spiritually empowered individuals, cram them together, and get a power enabled body for mission. The church becomes a mission power as it walks together collectively in Spirit directed and centered service to Him and for others.
Before going any further, I think it’s important to explore the often felt but rarely expressed subjective nature of being led by the Spirit. What do I mean? Well, as many times as I’ve heard “the Spirit told me,” or “you need to listen to the Spirit,” I’ve often sensed that those phrases used pithily, are empty attempts to get me to come around to another’s way of thinking. Or to stealthily suggest that you’re not being led by Him. Those independent streams of thought are rarely based in truth, wild in speculation, irresponsibly imaginative, and in many cases, outright falsehoods. The urging to test the spirits (1 John 4:1) is met with incredulity and pride. “How dare you question what the Spirit is telling me?”
I don’t believe that the Spirit will speak anything into an individual heart or a collective that is blatantly contrary to what He has already breathed out in scripture. “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)  The Spirit was promised to the first gospel missionaries long ago by Jesus when he said “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” That some of that was later tattooed on pages changes nothing. There is, like in the days of the Old Covenant, a written source by which we can sift spiritual action and proposition. There is Kingdom nobility in comparing prior revelations with current machinations. (Acts 17:11)  Attempts to minimize the the Spirit’s breath-out scripture only serve in being led by a self-fabricated spirit.
The retort “But, the early church didn’t have the bible and they did just fine,” is an inadequate contribution to the discussion of being led by the Spirit.  Additionally it is moot.
That said, I think it’s far easier to see what roles the Father and Son play in mission. The Father was the first mission sending agency ever. He sends His son into the world, and later sends the Spirit in the Son’s name. (John 14:26) The Triune God is the premier sending organization. With Jesus the Son, the art of missioning becomes very clear by recounting His worship, works, and words in the world. The various commissionings of Jesus and His subsequent examples of action in scripture are both blatant and authoritative. There is a certain objectivity to be had in determining mission’s course of action by what both Father and Son have already said and confirmed.
This leads us to where we began. How exactly, are we supposed to be ‘led by the Spirit’ in Missions?
While the Spirit plays a critical role in the personal sanctification, He also empowers the Church as a whole for “works of service.” (Ephesians 4:12)  Mission is the supernatural outward result of the Spirit’s inner-working.  It should be noted here that corporate sanctification, or in particular, the setting apart of certain people for certain tasks, as in the case of the great prophets and teachers gathered in the church at Antioch, is a given. The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)  There wasn’t any doubt or wondering whether what the Spirit said was from Him, another source, or the gatherd’s imagination. Likewise, and later on, the Spirit tells Phillip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” (Acts 8:29), He tells Peter “three men are looking for you” (Acts 10:19), He also tells Peter “to have no hesitation about going with a group of men,” (Acts 11:12), and that the Spirit “kept some from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” (Acts 16:6)  These examples represent but a few cases by which mission was ‘Spirit led.”
The Spirit’s leading in these examples are purposeful, directive, informative, encouraging, and in the case of the last, prohibitive. There is a curiosity in these examples in that none of them were solicited requests for information on what to do next. They were all prompted by the Spirit as the receivers were already worshipping and doing mission.  I’m not saying that the church shouldn’t solicit the Spirit on “what to do next,” but in many cases, individually and corporately, the church seems to seek out the Spirit’s approval of what it wants to do regardless of the Spirit’s leading and after the fact. So much of the church’s spiritual gyrations are given license by claiming that the Spirit, when asked, gave His approval for such, or that it’s obvious because ‘everyone else is doing it too,’ or because the manifestations are happening independently by people groups that have no contact with each other and so considered a ‘move’ of the Spirit.  I can’t help but think about ‘holy laughter,’ ‘barking like dogs,’  gold dust falling from above, and flopping around on the floor as if you’ve been tased.  These manifestations, while fascinating, seem only to bolster emotion and ecstasy that leads nowhere in mission.
How else are we to be ‘led by the Spirit in mission?’ I think that beyond listening and waiting for directives, we should expect that our equipping and empowering by Him, the gifts, are to be fruitful.  Incessant preparation without action, teaching without deployment, consumption without production, and conferencing without execution only lead the church deeper into having an imaginary friend called the Holy Spirit.
I’ve left this a little open-ended for the sake of conversation, but how else, specifically, do you suppose that you as an individual, or the church as a whole is supposed to  ‘be led by the Spirit,’ in missions?
Apologetics, Christianity, Culture, God's Kingdom, Incarnational, Morality and Ethics, Scripture, The Bible, The Gospel

12 Self-Reflective Questions To Know Whether or Not You Have Caused Others To Sin or Stumble.

Soldiers drowning woman with millstone tied around her neck“We don’t cause people to sin or stumble, people choose to sin or stumble all on their own.” Ever heard that, or something like it? Is there any truth in that? Before answering, consider these:

We can be an agent of temptation. – “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Luke 17:1) Can you recall a situation in which you might have tempted someone to sin recently?

We can cause sin. – “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6) Can you clearly remember the last time you caused someone to sin? If not, is that a history that’s doomed to repeat itself?

We can decide to be a hindrance and a ‘stumbling block.’ – “but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13) It does seem from this text that believers have the ability to decide not to do that which might harm another.  Have you purposefully made decisions to be a hindrance or stumbling block to another?

We can excessively defend our rights in such a way that weakens others. – “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13) And, “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9) This would include defending our freedom in Christ by doing what is perfectly fine for us in front of those who do not yet have that freedom.  Have you declared your rights or acted in such a way to be the demise of another?

We can manhandle scripture. – “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) This gets tricky. It is far too easy to get the approval of others for your actions when your peer group has all chosen to interpret or handle scripture in a way that’s most convenient for them.  Have you misconceived scripture in such a way that enforces or invites another to sin?

We can be unhelpful. – “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)  Have you been unhelpful to another in need and be a catalyst in their sin?

We can dress inappropriately. – “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness with good works. Before anyone has a brain rupture here, that’s guys and gals, and not, in my opinion to be taken absolutely literally. But there is a principle here. There are two questions to be considered here; first, “Am I adorning myself in such a way that will tempt others or cause them to sin?’ and second, “Am I doing it on purpose?” Feel free to unload on me in the comment section on this one.

We can be offensive. – “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:32) Notice that this short verse includes everyone. We can be offensive to believers and unbelievers. Do you tend to be offensive to others?

We can be boastful. – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Has your boastfulness boastfulness deconstructed another or cause them to sin or stumble?

We can be doubtful. – “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23) You know when you’re doubtful about a particular action. Others know hen you’re doubtful too. They sense it. But, operating from doubt or ‘letting the chips fall where they may in our actions can wreak havoc in the lives of others.  Has something you’ve been doubtful about pushed another towards sin?

We can love falsely. – “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …” (1 Corinthians 13) Have you faked love, and has this fake love caused another to sin or stumble?

We can be oblivious to the struggles of others. – “Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20) Now, this doesn’t justify heresy hunters or sin skinners, but neither does it permit us, as we go about the course of our daily lives, to ignore the works of service (Ephesians 2:10) that God places before us. Has your being oblivious or aloof caused another to sin or stumble?

This is not intended to be a hit list or a judgmental tirade. This should not be used to bolster your Pharisaism. This is a sifter of self-reflection. When ever I have read the warnings Jesus gave in Luke 17, Matthew 18, and Mark 9, to those who would cause others to sin or stumble, I probably thought “Wow! I’m glad I’m not one of those guys.” but in a bit of my own self-reflection today, I can clearly see that I have.  I am thankful I can go to the one who can unburden me. How about you?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”