Home » Calling
Category Archives: Calling
Being an innovator and change agent can be challenging, especially when it takes time to define, develop, and produce the results of an idea.
Discipleship training is not a program; it’s a command to every believer. The way we have traditionally fulfilled this responsibility has been through formal instruction in a classroom or auditorium setting. We have called those formal gatherings “church.” In time this tradition of gathering and sitting in formal settings became more important than fulfilling the command to “go, make disciples.”
Let’s get back to the command; let’s get back to where we once belonged, making disciples. Let’s let Jesus be our example. Yes, Jesus did have people sit down and listen to him, sometimes in the Temple, sometimes in a field, on a mount, or in the intimate setting of a home. However, we should notice that the setting for his instruction was rarely formal. Instead, he practiced a non-formal and often informal method of making disciples. He said, “Come and follow me.” This was Jesus’ invitation to a life of a disciple.
Let’s “flip” discipleship.
What I am suggesting is that we change things up a bit. Let’s “flip” discipleship. If we were intentional about a reversed teaching model we could deliver instruction on the go, in the regular rhythms of life. If we were to “flip” discipleship, we could follow Jesus’ model and use the education tools of the 21st century.
Everywhere, in nearly every corner of the world of education, learning is going online. Some like it and some don’t. Let’s step back a moment and consider how today’s online learning tools might help us “flip” discipleship training.
Consider a moment how an interactive online learning environment might enhance discipleship of today’s Christ followers. What if we created hundreds of short Youtube videos to deliver content and we made discipleship more personal? What if we moved lectures outside of the classroom and allowed teachers, mentors, and disciplers to spend more 1:1 time with each disciple? What if Christ-followers had the opportunity to ask questions and work through problems with the guidance of a personal mentor/teacher and find the support of others on the same journey? What if we “flipped” church and made it a community learning on the go? What if church became a community on mission, making disciples?
We have developed just such a method with online tools and videos for discipleship training. It’s called the IPO Connection (Internship Placement & Outreach Connection). Through the ipoconnection.org and corresponding online course site, we are matching students (disciples) with field projects through homestays (sharing biblical hospitality), and equipping the students through dozens of short video lessons followed by personal interaction with a mentor (discipler).
What are the advantages of flipping discipleship training?
- Gives teachers/mentors more time to spend 1:1 helping students
- Builds stronger student/teacher relationships
- Offers a way for a collaborative community of students, mentors, project hosts, and donors to move together on mission with Jesus
- Produces the ability for students to “rewind” lessons, review them, and share them with peers. These video lessons are powerful!
Visit ipoconnection.org for more information.
Gen. 12:1-3 : The beginning of the story of the Father of Faith
1 God told Abram: “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.
2-3 I’ll make you a great nation
and bless you.
I’ll make you famous;
you’ll be a blessing.
I’ll bless those who bless you;
those who curse you I’ll curse.
All the families of the Earth
will be blessed through you.”
It is time for me to be honest.
Fathers do not typically share their frustrations. They tend to be reserved, sometimes emotionally distant. Some more affectionate fathers are more engaged, but they choose to protect their children, keeping the hard realities of life out of sight. That is understandable and appropriate. But this is time for honesty, as a father.
I’ve been frustrated with religion & politics lately. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between the two. Political movements can get too much like religious cults. And churches can be way too political.
Listening to political ads and news reports can get a bit surreal! Obviously, both sides have placed their faith in what they believe, the candidate they support. Sadly, others simply check out. They say it’s all a waste of time. They say it doesn’t matter. Some believe Jesus is returning when the world goes to hell, so why try to stop it? What kind of faith is that?
Yes, the Church is political too. Sometimes our Christian friends, pastors and leaders, are caught up in political games. Or perhaps I should call it business games.
I’m a missionary, so I believe businessmen and women can fully participate in Christ’s mission; Business as Mission. The trouble is, too many Christian leaders have adopted a kind of Mission as Business.
What do I mean?
Playing to the crowd, too many church leaders are marketing, rather than ministering; competing for members or attendees among the shrinking percentage of evangelical christians, rather than contending for lost souls;
controlling the agenda, rather than equipping the saints for the work of the ministry and the vision God is giving them; organizing for church growth, rather than discipling people of all nations to walk in the promise of receiving the blessings God has promised.
Really, what frustrates me most is the impact this lack of spiritual leadership is having on people. (Recently, two people close to me asked if faith really matters. They asked: What good does it do?)
We should not seek leaders, or train for leadership in the church. (There is very little reference, in fact, to “leaders” in the bible. The word Pastor only shows up once, Eph. 4:11) And there is an important reference to “shepherds”
Jeremiah 3:15 (NIV)
Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not picking on your pastor.
What I am saying is this: Instead of seeking leaders (political or pastoral), we need to seek the Lord. We need to bring forth fruits of repentance on behalf of our generation and our children. We need a revival of faith and faithfulness.
Let’s stop putting our faith in a political platform or a politician. And let’s stop finding refuge from our broken world, hiding behind the stained glass windows of our churches.
It’s time for believers to once again be equipped (as it says in Eph. 4:11) through a plurality of servant leaders for the work of ministry in every sector of society, among every people grouping, in every way God blesses us to be a blessing.
We need to stop seeking security in anything or anyone other than the Person of Jesus Christ.
Are you with me?
Could it be there are some that are not discouraged or frustrated as I have been? Maybe your faith in Christ is strong and this message is not connecting with you so far.
Maybe you are one of the Fathers (or Mothers) of the Faith. Maybe you ARE reaching across cultural boundaries into the lives of people with extraordinary need. It’s difficult, isn’t it? It can be just as frustrating, if not more, to watch our leaders pick at each other when there is such need, when time and money could be directed to help people who are really hurting.
Perhaps others learn from you.
Honestly, sometimes I worry. I wonder if seeds I’ve sown into the lives of young people, in poor and in church communities will bear fruit, fruit that will last.
I always watch for faithfulness and fruitfulness so I can fan the spark into flames with encouragement.
And I admit I get tense. I’m an intense guy. I want to push with my own strength to get my way, my hopes fulfilled. I want to say I trust the government to meet my needs. I want to say I trust the church to be all it says she is in my bible. But then reality strikes and I’m disappointed again.
How do you respond when life throws a curve ball, when disaster strikes, when you lose a job, a child, a marriage?
Here are our choices:
1. Turn from God?
2. Reject the church?
3. Refuse to ever participate in community again?
4. Renounce my citizenship?
5. Fight back! (One of three ways: as a religious zealot, as a materialist seeking personal gain, or as a political crusader)
6. Pretend everything is okay, paint a religious smile on my face, but allow anger to fester just under the skin.
Or finally, …
7. Fall broken before a God who allowed himself to be broken for me.
God sets before us a choice: Life or Death, Blessing or Curses.
I don’t know much, but I know this much. Life is better.
So choose life, grace, and truth,
and with it, choose the way of the cross.
The only way the devil, sin, and death can be defeated is through the cross.
Politically, I believe it is time to choose life. Here’s a basic question to guide us in this political season: Do human rights come from Nature, or Nature’s God? (This is what many of the Founders of the US Constitution wrestled with and they chose God. Only they didn’t choose a Church to guide the State. They believed we have inalienable rights, including freedom to choose, to speak, and to congregate in public gatherings to worship God. The State does not give us rights; God does. This is the arena of battle for the minds of men and women and of the future of this nation. Let’s choose life and truth.
Truth is not merely an objective, scientific, and observable reality; Truth is embodied in the Person of Jesus Christ who said, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but through me….
The enemy, Satan, hates it when we preach Jesus. The world is confused, thinking we are being exclusive. We do not choose who belongs to God; he does. We preach Christ and him crucified. This is taking the battle to the enemy.
Yes, there is a very real enemy.
One day when the angels came to report to God, Satan, who was the Designated Accuser, came along with them. (Job 1:6 MSG)
Satan is a liar, a deceiver, and dedicated to killing and destroying all that God loves, including you and me.
If he can’t destroy us, he’s satisfied to shut us down. He is happy to frustrate us and anger us so we will not talk with each other. He’s happy to deceive us into believing God may not be as good as he says he is. He may bless other people, but not me. Why bother to serve him? Why preach Jesus if your neighbor is just going to get angry? Stay quiet, be a good citizen, and go to church.
After Jesus sent out the 70 to preach on a short term outreach, he said,
“I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky.” (Luke 10:18 MSG)
He told them to go and enter homes and accept hospitality, leaving a blessing when they went. What an interesting missionary strategy to our neighbors!
Here’s a suggestion: Instead of creating ministry programs with big budgets and lots of work, we could simply sit down for a meal with neighbors, sharing “Table Fellowship”. That’s what Jesus did, and that was the issue of the early church as she crossed cultural boundaries.
The big religious hang up of the early church was Table Fellowship, Believing Jews sitting down to eat with Gentiles. Perhaps, we could avoid all the politics and simply offer services in our homes, breaking bread with neighbors, offering hospitality, friendship with strangers, extending the grace and fellowship of the Holy Spirit in the simplest form, in the relaxed setting of our home. Certainly, Mothers and Fathers of the Faith can do that.
Jesus gave us his authority; he said “Go, in my name!”
He didn’t say to form a committee and set a budget and ask the leaders of the Temple or the Synagogue.
We must not allow ourselves to get so frustrated with politics and disappointments that we lose faith.
He said that we would do all that he did and more, including the huge task of teaching entire nations (peoples) to obey him.
So we have a choice.
I choose to believe God is good and true and faithful. We need to choose to trust in The Lord; he has always been faithful.
We preach, and teach, and live as witnesses of the truth of this gospel message.
What will you do when disappointments keep coming? What happens when you’re so discouraged that you wonder if you can continue?
I asked the two people who questioned their faith last week to read Ps. 73.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26 NIV84)
Imagine you are holding two apparently identical eggs and I asked you:
“What’s the difference between the two eggs? One egg is completely different. One will remain an egg and the other will completely transform to become a chicken.”
Answer: One has been fertilized, one received DNA information.
It’s like looking at two people. Both may claim to be Christians, each with reasons that cannot be distinguished with our eyes. But one has not surrendered his life, while the other has submitted his life to King Jesus. One really believes.
How do you know if you believe? Here’s how John 8:31 MESSAGE reads:
Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure.”
It begins with words that come up out of our hearts.
Romans 10:9 says:
“That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
And when you believe, when you speak with faith. Something happens. It’s like a mighty rushing wind, a Tornado effect, that will change the landscape and all your relationships.
Look below to vs. 14:
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
Obedience of one will have a big effect. Small things make a big difference.
Like a contagion, the gospel of the kingdom is like a little yeast, it changes the whole lump of dough.
This is simple, yet impossible for anyone to grasp without a full surrender. The battle for the hearts and minds of every living soul rages everywhere, in thousands of languages, hundreds of nations, and millions of families.
We are in a battle, and the battle belongs to the LORD.
The word of God to my Lord: “Sit alongside me here on my throne until I make your enemies a stool for your feet.” (Psalm 110:1 MSG)
The battle is about belief, not religion or politics. That’s small stuff. As believers we must follow Paul’s advice:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. (2 Corinthians 10:3 NIV84)
We are called to
… Take every though captive.
“Be very careful. Keep a sharp eye out for the contaminating yeast of Pharisees and the followers of Herod.” (Mark 8:15 MSG)
What is this Yeast-teaching?
While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, (1 Corinthians 1:22 MSG)
Yeasty Teaching is often missed, not understood. It’s hidden, a mystery to many.
Some heard thunder, others heard angels. But God did speak a word from his heart.
Paul understood Yeasty Teaching. It’s not “baptizing” (religious acts), not “words of wisdom” (philosophy); it’s the gospel of power.
The power of the cross is the full working of the power of God through a surrendered life.
This is the essence of what it means to be a Great Commission witness. This call to carry this message of God’s grace and favor for every family is his forever dream.
Gen 12 is the Promise; it’s God’s plan to bless. He is good. He is True.
We all know the New Testament Great Commission texts. Each has a different focus.
Mt 28-go, teach, nations…
Mk 16-go, preach, individuals…
Act 1:8- The Holy Spirit enables you to be his witness, a testimony to his truth and goodness.
Here’s another Great Commission text; one that you may not have considered:
2 Cor 4:7-11
If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.
Here’s one for Missionaries & their current (and future) Supporters.
It’s been since the Fall of 1985 that I have been a “faith missionary;” I have depended on the faithfulness of God through his people who give out of their love for God and his mission and their love for me and my family. I can testify, through all the years and many tests and trials, that God IS faithful.
Much of what I have learned has come through our living example of faithfulness, our Ministry Partners. One of our Ministry Partners said it well: “John and Mary, you have a calling to go; I have a calling to send.” It is such a privilege to be in partnership with friends who know their calling and honor the Lord through their obedience to His calling.
I want to share a few of those lessons with you. Whether you are a missionary or a supporter, these lessons are for partners in Christ’s mission:
1. Whether you are a missionary or a supporter, choose a Ministry Partner to pray for. We may not always communicate who we are praying fo or when, but God often stirs our hearts for one or more of our supporters.
2. Communicate regularly. We have sent a prayer-letter every month with only one or two interruptions. And many of our supporters send a monthly note with their support. This communication is an amazing encouragement. Ministry Partners can use email, Skype, Facebook, and even short text messages to stay in touch.
3. Be hospitable. Hospitality literally means “friend of the foreigner.” The result of hospitality is friendship; we become closer. Host your Ministry Partner for a meal or an overnight. If you can, help provide temporary housing or transportation too.
4. Connect your small group or ministry team with your Ministry Partner. Broaden your hospitality, inviting your network of friends to also become Ministry Partners.
5. Invest your vacation. Invite Ministry Partners to visit your ministry site or community. Travel with your partner; its a great way to spend part of your vacation. (Most of our vacations are combined with visits with supporters.)
6. Help create or strengthen a ministry project for your Ministry Partner. My wife and I have volunteered with several churches to help them with outreach preparation, youth ministries, missions and leadership training, consulting and counseling. Virtually all of our short term teams have served the long term work of Ministry Partners on the field. You can offer your time to a special project, outreach, or event. You could take a volunteer job, like weekly administrative tasks, driving shuttles, or kitchen duties.
7. Be generous. For years we sent YWAM Prayer Diaries or other books as gifts to our Ministry Partners. We try to bring gifts from the field, especially when we visit Ministry Partners. We have also received care packages, baskets of food, and surprise gifts. These are acts of generosity displaying the goodness and faithfulness of God. Very often those surprise gifts have been direct answers to prayer, which helped us meet our monthly bills.
We all, both missionaries and supporters, are walking by faith. We all are called to put our faith in God to supply our daily needs. When we, as Ministry Partners in the work of Christ’s kingdom, give our hearts, our time and resources, we cause thankfulness to overflow and bring pleasure to the heart of God.
Special thanks to all our Ministry Partners. We love you!
Be Missional: How can you support and encourage your missionaries or your supporters in their calling?
“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. 2 Cor. 10:12-18
All young leaders need encouragement, and sometimes correction. Some young leaders are timid, always looking inward, and wanting circumstances to be “right” before they can faithfully fulfill the call of God. Other young leaders seek to do too much too soon. They idolize celebrity preachers seeking to by-pass the growth period and discipline necessary to produce lasting fruit. They repeat what they have heard, the stories of those they idolize, but fail to endure hardships that prove God’s faithfulness in their own lives. In order for “our sphere of activity among you [to] greatly expand,” as Paul the apostle suggests, we need both a clear vision and a work in “regions beyond you.”
In fairness to young leaders, it is also true that too often older leaders- those who ought to be mature, “boast” of their vision to “change the world.” See James Davidson Hunter’s book, To Change the World.) Hunter provides a penetrating appraisal of several approaches of Christian leaders to change the world. He highlights their inherent flaws and the presumption of ministry leaders. What is too often ignored is this: change implies power. Christians seeking to change the world have all eventually embraced strategies of political engagement. Sadly however, few Christians are taught a theology of power or how to engage the world.
In this post, I am offering an important foundational understanding necessary to grow as leaders and ministries as we obey Christ’s command to “make disciples of nations,” to change the world.
There is a tension in any growth. Babies cry when they are teething and small children cry when their bones are growing. There is always a painful maturing process if we are to grow. It is painful for an individual to grow in giftings and calling. It is painful for a ministry to develop leadership teams. And it is painful for families of churches, ministries, and organizations to learn to network and cooperate in their calling to make disciples of nations.
During the past 1500+ years, the Church has been led by people, mostly men, with two primary giftings: pastors and teachers. The tension of growth naturally feels uncomfortable for anyone, but especially painful for pastors and teachers. Both pastors and teachers want to protect and teach their members in a safe environment of learning and growing in the Lord. A safe place to hear and study the Bible is very important. I thank God for the protection and wisdom of leaders who watch and pray in Christian communities. However, putting too much emphasis on safety and a kind of lecture-style learning-without-doing will stifle the growth of leaders and ministries.
We Need Everyone to Help
Have you heard that before? “We all need to help right now!” When we work with a ministry or church, including a Youth With A Mission location, we are challenged to take up the urgent issues that frequently emerge in any growing ministry. YWAM particularly, at its foundation, is a pioneering apostolic organization. There will always be an urgent call to reach into “regions beyond.” This is consistent with YWAM’s global calling. Why? Because there will never be enough people, money, or time to do all we are called to do. Actually, it’s also consistent with the calling of any church community. Jesus did tell all of his followers to “Go into all the world…” (Mk. 16:15) and “Make disciples of every nation.” (Mt. 28:18-19)
When a church or ministry location leader calls his or her staff team or volunteer leaders to help in the urgent issues of the moment, every one of them is under pressure to lay aside their “primary call,” if they know what that is. Their “primary call” may or may not be directly related to the urgent issue at hand. This urgent call is always to action, rebelling against the status quo, and not to the tension-free lecture hall experience of most church experiences. Of course, this tension between individual and corporate callings presents an opportunity to grow and mature in the Lord far more fruitfully than if they remain in a safe, secure, and relatively inactive lecture setting.
It is not only the proactive call to action that creates this tension; it also comes as a reaction to crisis. When times are tough, the natural tendency of any community, including a YWAM community, is to hunker down, to enter into a spiritual warfare mode. It may or may not be readily apparent, but “battle lines” are increasingly drawn, and the whole community is mobilized to meet the urgent challenge of the moment through prayer, sacrificial giving, and long hours of sacrificial service. Making this kind of urgent call is actually proper for pioneering and apostolic leaders and it is proper for the community to rally to help.
However, if this rallying to help is not sufficiently aimed toward the apostolic purposes of reaching new spheres or territories, the community will become in-grown. If the reactive “battle” rages on and on without time for reflection, for creative and re-creative thinking, and without releasing initiatives of pioneering activity, the members of the community will grow weary. (Of course, the community may also become ingrown where there is no “battle cry,” where the members of the community are without direction and focus. We can discuss this in a later post.)
When there is a continual “battle,” the community can take on an “us against the world” cultural ethos. If unchecked, this ethos can result in organizational silos growing taller. Those organizational silos can be departmentalism within an organization, or they can become wider organizational silos between political groups, church denominations, or cultural Christian identities. When it happens in a ministry or church, worldviews shrink, attitudes narrow and positions tighten. Unaware, the increasingly in-grown community will begin to find fault in the leaders and criticize anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Some members seeking to grow may feel disloyal, and they may be labeled “rebellious” if they raise questions that point out an increasingly ingrown ethos.
About the Apostolic and Prophetic
This tension between the ministry organization or church community and the apostolic visionary impulse to pioneer is normal. This is what Paul is writing about to the Corinthian community about “spheres of activity” greatly expanding into “regions beyond.” However, this expansion of growth does not automatically occur; it requires spiritual leaders with apostolic and prophetic gifts, those with vision to expand ministry outside cultural boundaries, and those who bring a “check” or correction to leaders and communities who cannot see outside their cultural boundaries.
This “check” against organizational silos comes from a prophetic gifting. Prophets are called to “build up,” but they are also called to “tear down.”
See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and teardown, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:10
Perhaps the reason the Church has splintered into hundreds of denominations and local churches split and individuals hop from church community to church community is because their has not been a sufficient understanding and appreciation for the apostolic and prophetic leadership giftings? Perhaps our communities would grow more and more in unity if we appreciated all five of the leadership gifts Christ gave to the Church, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers?
Just a thought. What do you think?
“He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves.” 2 Cor. 5:15
As I was teaching, I stressed the importance of Jesus message: “He said ‘Repent!” Who was Jesus speaking to? He was speaking to Jews. He was preaching the gospel of the kingdom, which calls for the necessity to “repent.”
Think about it. Jesus was preaching to those who were already assured of their covenant relationship with God. They needed to repent. How about you?
“He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves.” This is the gospel of the kingdom. People who live ultimately for themselves are not living the Christian life.
The gospel of the kingdom begins with one word: REPENT. It doesn’t say, “Accept Jesus in your heart.” The gospel of the kingdom is not just about going to heaven. The gospel is about changing individual lives, however it is also about changing everything, changing whole cultures, including our own.
So, to begin, it is about individuals. It’s about the conscience. It’s about heart transformation, a heart that is tender and obedient. That nasty word, repent, is difficult to use in the modern world. Flaky people use the word “repent.” Call me flaky; I’ll follow Jesus. Jesus said:
This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Mt. 24:14)
Before we continue, we need to clarify the definition of the kingdom of God. I presented a question to the Perspectives participants: “If you had a map and a set of keys, which best represents the kingdom of God?”
Has “this gospel” been preached everywhere? Is the gospel of the kingdom about claiming territory for Jesus? Yes and No. Yes, it is about claiming territory, but not in the way it has historically been done by the Crusader-type sword-bearing missionaries of European nations. The kingdom is not about a realm or land. What is the kingdom then?
Jesus compared the gospel of the kingdom to keys (Matthew 16:19), which represent authority. All authority has been given to Jesus Christ. There is no kingdom without the King. The kingdom is defined by allegiance and obedience to a good King. The gospel is the message of Jesus. The dramatic historical events of the New Testament, Jesus birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and his appearing to many is the gospel. Jesus is the gospel. He is the King. (1 Cor. 15) The King gave the command to all of his followers saying:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. – Matthew 28:18-20
So then, is the gospel of the kingdom, obedience to the King, preached to all nations? Are we discipling nations?
We have churches. Some cities have big beautiful cathedrals, with few members or attenders. Some mega-churches are attracting tens of thousands of attenders. Some nations have majority populations of “christians,” such as Malawi with nearly 90% christians. However, Malawi has been among the poorest in Africa and the world. Malawi has been among the worst in corruption and the highest in infant mortality. Has “this gospel” or the number of “christians” made a difference?
Perhaps you are from the United States or another Western nation where the gospel has been influencing the nations toward a more just and more merciful society. Agreed. Western nations, where the gospel has been preached for centuries, have more just governments and better living conditions. But let’s take another look.
The latest U.S. Census shows in 2009, there was no difference in the rates of divorce and abortions between the more progressive citizens of Oregon and the Bible-belt citizens of North Carolina. The murder rate in North Carolina is double that of Oregon. And did you know the United States has more prisoners than any other nation, including China. The USA has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Landa Cope, author of the Old Testament Template writes:
Christian pollster George Barna finds there is “no significant difference” between the behavior of people in the United States who call themselves born-again Christian and those who do not make that claim. Muslim evangelists in Africa ask, “What does Christianity do for the people?” The answer today is nothing. Nothing changes. The churches get bigger. More and more people get saved. But nothing changes. They are still poor, diseased, uneducated, and left in political and economic chaos.
Perhaps this seems is unfair, and perhaps a bit too pessimistic. Certainly, over the long stretch of history, Jesus has been doing his work of building his Church as a witness for all nations. True. Isn’t life better where the gospel has been preached? Yes, materially. For example, the per capita annual income in the USA is over $45,000 compared to $980 in Malawi.
On the other hand, we need to get honest, the positive influences of the gospel in culture do not happen in a moment. And some of those positive influences require tearing down before there can be a building up. Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Second Temple, freeing the Israelites from their bondage to tradition, but it took about 60 years for the prophecy to be fulfilled. And the destruction of that temple, which God intended to be a place of welcome for all nations, resulted in the complete destruction of Jerusalem. Israel had been called to be a “light to the nations” (Isa. 51:4), but they failed. Jesus himself became the representative of Israel, fulfilling Israel’s calling.
The destruction of the Second Temple amplifies the importance of the message of the kingdom. We must not cling to our cultural traditions, no matter how good the original intention. He is the King! His gospel will be preached Are we preaching and obeying the message of Jesus?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 3:2
Have we heard this gospel of the kingdom?
The gospel of the kingdom is not merely about personal salvation, saving yourself for heaven, which ultimately serves the selfish interests of sinful people. It’s not about personal incomes and comfort. It’s not about us building a church and a “christian culture” to which we invite others to enter. It’s about Jesus sending us out of our comforts and our culture to preach a message for every other culture. It’s about Jesus building His Church, which is the extension of his family. However, that family looks different in every culture.
The gospel of the kingdom is an all-encompassing declaration of Jesus as King, over our individual hearts and over every culture. It’s a radical message, which I fear many of us still have not heard.
On my next post, I will pursue this message of the kingdom further. We will consider the powerful influence of “teachers,” and the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” that Jesus warned his disciples about.
William Carey’s influence on “Haystack” Students
Setting the stage for the historic prayer meeting with the five students who gathered under that haystack to find refuge from a storm in August 1806 was a little booklet written only a decade or so earlier by William Carey. The booklet was entitled: “An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for [...]
A “New” Kind of Church Minister: George Isley
My pastor, George Isley, who went to be with the Lord five years ago, modeled a kind of leadership in the Church that is, from my perspective as a missionary of 25+ years, too rarely seen. One of George’s classmates, Dr. Don Lundgren, Missions Minister at College Church in Northampton, MA, said George had been [...]
Introduction to Missional Collaboration
As I develop a new training course on Missional Collaboration for the University of the Nations, I will be unveiling several aspects of the course through this blog. Today’s post originates from one of my papers and in response to an article on the Trinity by Mark Avery, professor of a course on Collaboration at [...]
New, Old Meaning for Hospitality
Hospitality has taken on fresh meaning to me lately. I’ll explain. I understood hospitality to be mainly “friendship with the stranger,” and NOT primarily how to set your table to impress your dinner guests. Welcoming strangers, radical as that view seemed, isn’t broad enough. Recently, while doing some research on church eldership, the word hospitality [...]
Our table is the center of our home. It’s the place our family comes together, the place we welcome friends, neighbors, and strangers. We invite others into the kitchen where we chop and sauté vegetables, bake bread, stir sauces, pour the fruit of the vine (juice or wine, you choose), and prepare to savor the [...]
History: Adoniram Judson
In September 1809, college student Adoniram Judson began to ponder seriously the subject of foreign missions. At the age of twenty-one, he had just finished his first year of theological studies at Andover. Judson read a sermon which was preached in the parish church of Bristol, England, by Dr. Claudius Buchanan. Buchanan had been a [...]
Calling: What I’m looking for…
U2 singer songwriter Bono expresses a spiritual yearning in the 1987 album The Joshua Tree hit single: “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for…” New Musical Express (a pop music mag in the UK better known as the NME), points out that the popularity of the song may be due to the way it showed [...]
Easter Note: Holiness is Intimacy with God
“What language should I borrow, to thank Thee dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.” This line comes from “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” a 12th century hymn by Bernard of [...]
Sitting here warming in the sun and listening to the gentle spash of the waves along the jagged lava rock of the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i, I find it difficult to believe this is where a tsunami slammed the small shopping center along the shore on March 11, 2011. That contrast [...]
Holiness is MORE than Intimacy with God
At Easter I wrote about Holiness, that holiness is intimacy with God. (Here’s that post.) I described how Bernard of Clairvaux’s 14th century hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, was a personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ. I return to this subject because I did not adequately describe the beauty and [...]
#11 Special Tribute:
It Happened at a Haystack
I first learned of the monument on the Williams College campus in 1988 while researching student missions. In 2006, I joined several student ministries leaders from across the nation at the 200th anniversary of the event that led to the establishing of this memorial. Do you know why there is a monument on the small [...]
Thank you for a great year! – John Henry
1. To foster missional partnerships, placing interns to serve field projects worldwide.
2. To recruit and place students and staff ready to serve and learn a biblical worldview as a missional strategy worldwide.
3. To establish an international coordination office, including guest house, study center, and library.
‘… Yet if the gross national product measures all of this, there is much that it does not include. It measures neither the health of our children, the quality of their education, nor the joy of their play. It measures neither the beauty of our poetry, nor the strength of our marriages. It pays no heed to the intelligence of our public debate, nor the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our wit, nor our courage, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worth living, and it can tell us everything about our country except those things that make us proud to be a part of it.’
Robert Kennedy, US Senator;
Kansas city, 1968.
Amid all the protests of 2011, Robert Kennedy’s words are a timely reminder of what is really important for the citizens of a nation. Of course, the famous words of Jesus of Nazareth are most appropriate for the citizens of his kingdom. Jesus instructed his disciples by telling a story about a king that went on a journey. He told them to “Occupy Until I Come.” He told them to stop concerning themselves about when the end of the world would come (hello 2012!) or when the world would somehow suddenly have justice (hello “Occupy”). Instead he told them to remain faithful and fruitful in their life and work.
Ps. 90:12 (Message) reads: “Teach us to live wisely and well!”
Before this New Year begins, stop a moment to consider making these three things your priorities for 2012. I’m convinced by doing so, we will avoid the dead-ends of life, such as climbing the corporate ladder, joining a protest movement, or sitting in a religious sanctuary waiting for the return of the king. Instead of measuring our bank accounts or the days until Jesus returns, we can choose to measure what is really important.
1. Be Creative.
Eleanor Roosevelt said it well, “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Invest the time to do that big project you hoped to do “someday.” I’m not getting any younger. I’ve been around the world several times, but I still have very big dreams. So, this year I recommit to getting some big projects started and some smaller projects accomplished. This year, I recommit to closing the door and shutting myself off from distractions so I may finish my book manuscript and seek to get it published. I also recommit to a radical redesign of our student outreaches. By the end of 2012, I commit to identifying 100 Field Projects for student outreaches doing things like volunteering in orphanages and clinics in China, helping start businesses in the Middle East, and teaching forgiveness in war-torn cities of Africa and Ireland.
What about you? Stop dreaming and start doing. There’s no better time than now.
If you have dreams, or ideas that you think would change the world for the better, write them down.
“And then God answered: “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.” Habukkuk 2:3 (Message)
2. Enter the Story
The thought of making New Year’s resolutions is a bit annoying. Lose weight? Pay off debt? If you are like me, you can get a bit overwhelmed with the realities of life. Paying bills, family pressures, deadlines to meet, and the barrage of bad news and suffering we read about and see on the nightly news, it’s too much to handle. And yet, this is our reality. It’s a drama playing out in our lives and the lives of our families and neighbors. Some may seek escape from the pain with a diversion. That diversion may start as a harmless hobby and become an obsession, a wall around your heart to protect you from seeing and hearing the suffering all around. Whether you drown your sorrows with a six-pack of Budweiser, smother the pain with another brownie, or resolve to lose the weight, fit in those jeans, and buy that new car, you may have lost something important along the way. You’ve lost your story.
This year I am committing to enter the story more fully, to listen, and pay greater attention to the drama playing out all around me. I recommit to engaging with the grand narrative through prayer.
“Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” Matt. 26:40b-41
When we are wide awake, we can learn the art of storytelling. I recommit to learning from the stories of the Bible. But I want to learn from the stories playing out on the world’s stage, in my neighborhood, and in my family. I also want to learn from the great fiction writers. Their stories may not be “true,” but it’s “truth.”
3. Enjoy God’s Presence and Listen to His Voice
If you are reading this post, you are likely “connected” to Facebook or Twitter and the expanding blogosphere. I’ve found it tempting to get distracted, to check Facebook before reading the Bible in the morning. True, God can speak to you through a friend’s post. However, you need your time with the Father. In order to share the good news of the Father’s love with a hurting world, you and I need to first enjoy his presence. I recommit to time with my dearest friend, my hope, and my king in 2012. I love his presence.
Though I may experience pressures and fears of failure, and though I may not have a lot of money, I know I have a calling from God to fulfill. He’s my source and my supply. He does not call the qualified; he qualifies the called. The concern for paying bills and raising funds sufficient to accomplish all that God has called me to do may weigh heavy on my, but when I am in his presence there is joy and hope with faith to fulfill all he asks of me.
Whether you are rich or poor, we all have the same precious and practical asset. It isn’t money or even knowledge; it’s time. I read recently that time is the currency of the most successful people in the world. My prayer for you in 2012 is that you really live in the time you have this year, that you really live each day before the face of God.
Oh! Teach us to live well!
Teach us to live wisely and well!
Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?—
and treat your servants with kindness for a change.
Surprise us with love at daybreak;
then we’ll skip and dance all the day long.
Make up for the bad times with some good times;
we’ve seen enough evil to last a lifetime.
Let your servants see what you’re best at—
the ways you rule and bless your children.
And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us,
confirming the work that we do.
Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do!Ps. 90:12-17
- To foster missional partnerships, placing interns to serve field projects worldwide.
- To recruit and place students and staff ready to serve and learn a biblical worldview as a missional strategy worldwide.
- To establish an international coordination office, including guest house, study center, and library.
At first I feel Christmas pressure, a negative reaction to the appearance of Santa in shopping malls. Have you noticed he’s earlier every year? What are they going to do, have him sit on pumpkins next year? I react to the World’s Way trying to press me into it’s mold. That first wave of pressure makes me resist shopping. So I put off shopping to the last week or so, until after a careful look at my budget. It’s not that I don’t want to give gifts; I just want to give freely, and without all the commercial expectation.
The Appearing of Christ at Christmas
That early phase of unholy pressure begins to fade as the date draws near. My heart warms to a different expectation. I begin to hope for the appearing of the Christ of Christmas. But then I notice the World’s reaction. Here in Madison, the Freedom from Religion foundation objects to a Christmas tree on public property and so they protest by placing a fake crèche and a baby girl doll and Thomas Jefferson figurine in the Wisconsin State Capitol. Sadly, those who reject Christ are stuck in a world without hope, a Darwinian world where survival of the fittest remains the ultimate value. The hopelessness of a purely materialist worldview will drive people to seek significance and happiness in material things, including saving the planet.
Then, the deep hope of Christ’s appearing takes new root again in my heart. Slowly, subtly, I find the grace to celebrate the birth of Christ. I realize that the expectation of his appearing is not complete in merely remembering that manger scene, where the Son of God was born 2000 years ago. He has come. He is Emanuel, God with us.
The expectation of Christmas, the Advent season, is his appearing AGAIN. He is coming. And all creation is longing for his appearing. That same longing is for the appearance of the sons of God, the Body of Christ. Not only will Christ Jesus come, he will set all things right.
Because we received the free Christmas gift
Meanwhile, the sons of God, those of us who have received the free Christmas gift of faith, are urged to “appear” with Christmas gifts. We’re called to make things right, reconciling relationships of all sorts, in his Name. We’re called to reconcile all relationships, beginning with our relationship with Him.
We “appear” as “Sons” when we love God and our neighbors. The Christmas season is the time to be reconciled with family, with our community, and with our nation (despite political differences), It is the time to be reconciled with our world. It is wrong to reject the world, the world to which Jesus was sent, because he loves the world.
Receive and Give the Free Gifts of Christmas
This Christmas, we can receive again the free gift of our world and we can choose to love it. We can love the amazing creative structure of our world, and we can help reconcile the mis-direction, the way of the World.
This Christmas, may you enjoy the wondrous appearing of Christ again in your family, in your world. Have a blessed Christmas!
And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. (Luke 19:13 KJV)
This call to “occupy” is not new. Jesus of Nazareth told a story to his followers to encourage them, especially the ones who were asking if the kingdom would appear right away. They asked, “Will we live in a world with justice and mercy today?”
Interestingly, the people in the story actually “hated” the king. According to the Message, a popular common language translation of the Bible, those who hated the king…
“…sent a commission with a signed petition to oppose his rule: ‘We don’t want this man to rule us.’ (Luke 19:14 MSG)
What does it mean “to occupy”?
Well, according to this ancient use of the term, it refers to good stewardship. Those who were faithful to what the king entrusted to them, those who increased the King’s wealth, were given more than they already had. And to those who did not faithfully invest his wealth, the king took away everything.
Why was this the story Jesus told when asked if he was going to establish his kingdom now?
Perhaps the cry for justice in the heart of every generation can help us understand.
Most people do not want a king. They do not want to serve another, to be faithful to the cause of another. Most would choose not to trust a leader. While crying out for justice, they would reject the most faithful, the most merciful, and the most just leader the world has ever known. Few would see the importance of their own faithfulness.
Most did not, and still do not recognize him. He hid his identity in his humanity. Born in a little corner of a Roman Client State, Palestine. Entrusted to human parents of a middle eastern tribal people, Israel. Jesus was born a king. And only young shepherds and angels knew it. A few odd astrologers too.
Jesus, the son of God, preferred to be addressed as “son of man.” He occupied a human body. And, even after being rejected and killed by those to whom he came to love, he did not reject his creation. Raised in a resurrected body, he occupies that body today.
And he will return, no matter how many Freedom from Religion petitions are circulated, or similar petitions rejecting leaders. No matter how many continue to hate the thought of anyone being their leader, Jesus will return as king.
Have you been “occupying” in anticipation of the king’s return? Have you been faithful with what he has entrusted to you?
He is coming soon. In this Christmas season, may we all occupy our human bodies, our neighborhoods, and our world with the same attitude that Jesus did. Though he was privileged, he became a servant of all.
Have a blessed Christmas!
Interested in partnering with SMC hosting student interns for a Field Project serving the poor?
In order to become a Field Partner with SMC, your organization must be leading (or in partnership with an in-country organization) a Field Project, which will at least:
- Have a history (at least 2 full years) of serving the poor, excluded, and/or vulnerable people for the purpose of alleviating poverty or reducing vulnerability.
- Be registered as a legal entity in your country of operation. (Note: We understand that the Field Host may not qualify. For this reason, we encourage the Field Host to place students with legally registered organizations.)
- Provide opportunities for the intern(s) to practice and/or research components of your Field Project related to the intern’s field of study.
- Provide the intern a weekly schedule, including participation in your community/team practices of worship and intercessory prayer, and community living work duties. The FMI intern will function in the regular schedule as if he/she were a member of the Field Project staff team.
- Be personally available to the intern(s) for advising, including at least a (one-hour) One-on-One interview at regular weekly intervals. You will agree to offer timely and candid feedback on the quantity and quality of the intern’s work.
- Provide a short online evaluation on the intern’s performance at monthly intervals (after every 30 days at your location) and upon completion of the internship term. All hours accumulated by the intern will be signed off by the Field Project Internship host supervisor.
What SMC Offers:
- We offer you the widest possible participation in the internship program decision-making. We want you to actively engage in the process. We agree to actively recruit qualified student interns on your behalf if you allow us to post your Field Project opportunity on the SMC web site and at various mobilization and recruiting events throughout 2012 and 2013.
- With your help, we are creating a registry of 100 Field Projects for university student internships to be displayed at YWAM International’s URBANA 2012 Exhibit. Registration as a Host for student interns is just $50 USD until June 1, 2012. After that date, the fee will be $100 USD.
Since the summer of 2006 a group of friends in Madison, Wisconsin have met monthly to discuss books we have read related to Missions and History. Recently we decided to create a blog to list the books we have read and make comment on them. The initial work of posting all the books, over 40 in all, is now accomplished. As time allows we will post comments about each of the books. Take a look and consider reading one or more of them. I highly recommend everyone of them for anyone interested in university missions.
John Henry, SMC International Leader
In this short post, I invite you to think a bit about this quote from a book I read by Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret:
“Significant advances of the church have not been the result
of our own decisions about the mobilizing and allocating of resources…The significant advances in my experience have come through happenings of which the story of Peter and Cornelius is a paradigm, in ways of which we have no advance knowledge. God opens the heart of a man or woman in the gospel. The messenger (the ‘angel’ of Acts 10:3) may be a stranger, a preacher, a piece of Scripture, a dream, an answered prayer, or a deep experience of joy or
sorrow, of danger or deliverance. It was not part of any missionary ‘strategy’ devised by the church. It was the free and sovereign deed of God, who goes before the church…this mission is not ours but God’s.” (1995:64)
In this respect, we can see that significant missionary advance is not primarily a human enterprise. We should be fully and actively involved in missions. However, we must reorient our posture, because it is not God’s Church that has a mission. Instead, it is God’s Mission that has a Church.
Every church community must recognize the Lord Jesus, not merely for their own salvation and acceptance, but for their orders and instructions in His Mission to all people.
If we properly understand our Identity as “members” of the Church, we will then fully participate in our Responsibilty in Christ’s Mission.
What Happened in San Francisco at the SMC Consultation Sept. 14 & 15, 2011?
A brief summary report by John Henry.
A big “Thank You” to Tim and Karol Svoboda and the team at YWAM San Francisco for extending their gracious hospitality in the Gold Rush City and the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Thanks especially to Karol who was so engaged in hosting us that she rarely sat down, let alone sat in on our meetings. Bless you!
I must apologize to everyone for the delay in writing this summary report on our consultation. Thank you all for coming and participating. For me, the meetings and conversations kindled new and growing friendships. I must admit I did not keep very good record of all that was said. I invite you to pass along your notes if you can complement what you see here. In any case, I came away with an expanding vision and a deepening sense of the call of God to the universities, especially as they relate to the cities.
Exegeting the City and the University – Tim Svoboda
Tim, you gave us an excellent picture of the contrasts, the “Geek”/Silicon Valley with its algorithms on one side and the artists/wealth and wine community on the opposite side of you. You helped us feel the tensions between Berekley, and its Prophetic voice, and San Francisco, with its extending of Mercy without boundaries, which may have a tendency toward anarchy. I wish we could have stayed longer to experience the small, organic church life, the marina, and the multi-lingual mosaic of peoples, the Vietnamese, Yemmeni, Cambodian, and Afghani, etc.
As I was departing the city at the end of our consultation, I was struck by the story of William Taylor, the Methodist preacher, who in the 1850′s wrote the book, “Seven Years of Street Preaching” and how hundreds would come hear him sing on the streets and then preach. Though his church is now a law college, I am also moved by the continuing story of how a Hastings Law College student, Randy Shaw, applied his studies to reality in the Tenderloin. The start reality of the story is both at your front door and inside the Ellis room where institutionalized poverty and homelessness now costs over 1 billion, with several non-profits enriching themselves off government system.
Yes, I was struck by the thought that God may intend for the Bay Area to be ground zero and the epicenter of the next major move of missions and the transformation of a Church caught up in the Fourth Wave of Missions. I was struck with the thought that it may all begin with students, prepared to act “Because Justice Matters” and collaborate, because they are equipped with tools unlike any previous generation. Perhaps, God in his mercy is calling for a new generation of followers to get their own “better cut of steak,” like NYC Tenderloin’s “Clever or Cleaver” Al, without the extortion and beatings, of course.
Perhaps God is calling for a new engaged church community, those Donald McGavran would say are not “birds of the same feather” and do not “tend to flock together.” The newly engaged church with a broad vision for the city must include students in university, especially the vastly different demographic of today’s universities. (i.e. Berkeley Enrollment: African American 3.4%; Asian American 45.7%; Latino 11.5%; White 31.7%)
Amid the wasteland of broken dreams where 11,000 people live in SRO’s and where police are social workers, God still offers hope and a future. The YWAM community and the Ellis room is not only a peaceful place to drop in: it’s also a peaceful place for guests. The Ellis room is a beautiful “third-space” between the streets and a 10×10 over-priced single, where conversations can lead to relationships and relationships can lead to prayer.
The Ellis room and the ministries of YWAM San Francisco are ripe with opportunities for university students like Randy Shaw. However, I believe God may be calling a different generation of Christ followers to leave the lecture halls of universities to enter a live-learn laboratory of urban life. Yes, the city is a funnel for 360 discipleship, your 1 year program in 4 phases of 3 months each. However, there are many more learning-serving internship experiences that may be also be honored in academic institutions, as Doug Batson so adroitly told.
I came away from our meetings with some action items and some books to read. Among them, I am committed to read The University and the City (1988). Tim, you are modeling the way by asking the right questions to exegete the city. And you began a process I will continue when you began to exegete the university.
Theology of Evangelism & Place
Tim, you and Karol and your team are helping provide a “Theology of Evangelism and Place”, which will be most readily adopted by university students. Church folk, even YWAMers, may be a little slow to see and hear, smell and taste, the gut level “pull” of the gospel to the city. However, students will need far less convincing; they will respond as you (and we) present a gospel big enough for the city, living as stakeholders and adding value to the city.
What is missing in university community? Yes, they are transient neighborhoods.
There are few automobiles, particularly on campus. Everything is roughly in walking distance. The are institutionalized young adult free agents cloistered in a tightly defined neighborhood. The contrast of the diverse typically cloistered university to the diverse un-cloistered urban community must be examined. We must come to grips with the fact that we are, most of us, not insiders; we are outsiders. As with any missions endeavor, there are implications and consequences for the missionary. Tim, you said it well: “If you are an insider, it’s because you are a resident and have a theology of place.”
And then you asked, “How does a city transforms a university?” and, inversely, “How does a university transforms a city?” Hmmmm….Good questions. “The world is the domain of the university, not just the city,” you added. Yes, in the origins, the university would pick up and move if they did not receive the benefit of the city. However, the earliest prototypes of universities were on the frontiers where the need was great. Today’s urban centers are areas of incredible need, including the spheres transportation (GO), communications (PREACH), and cultures (ALL NATIONS).
What I saw in San Francisco are myriads of opportunities for students in the Bay Area’s 200 colleges/universities looking for ways to apply their studies to reality. Everything from urban agriculture and art to law and economic development, from health and beauty to medicine and social work, every field of study has application in the city. There’s opportunity to study and serve as we all exegete the city, including issues related to the Poor, Suicide, Church, Media, Family, Prisoners, Muslims, Government, Business, Gutter Punks, Homeless, Drug Addicts, Migrant workers, Elderly, Street Kids, Handicapped, Arts, Education, Prostitutes, Sports, Middle Class, Unemployed, and Hindus.
Opportunities for University Students
I came away with some important words ringing in my ears, “The weakness in YWAM is the need for a central database.” That statement is something I have been giving a lot of thought to. How can we connect students in universities outside of YWAM with the myriad of opportunities for student internships/outreaches both at YWAM ministry locations and at partner organizations around the world? I have been working furiously to answer that call through our new web site and Salesforce.com cloud-based database. The programming I am doing (way over my head, so I hope to get some expert help from Kyle and Angie) is linking many-to-many applicants-to-projects, all though a web-based applications and approval system. To see the new SMC web site (embedded applications not all operating yet), go to http://www.studentmobilizationcentre.com.
Tim mentioned another book, Salt & Light, about Knoxville, TN and how partnerships have formed across the entire city. This approach, city leaders setting the stage for collaboration, is necessary to begin the mobilization of students into city projects. What kind of partnerships can be created for internships? One of the partners can be the university or college. For example, Grand Canyon College wants to plug their students into internships. Their goal: “Break their hearts for the city.” Another example: Westmont Urban College, which offers internships in city, and their professors visit YWAM. The city is divided up according to majors, partners, etc.
For SMC’s Field Ministry Internships (FMI) teams, students participate in five phases, including:
- Orientation (mini-DTS type; one-week),
- Enculturation (history of project, leaders and cultural background),
- Assessment (listening, observing, and interviewing while serving the project),
- Ministry (serving the project while writing a research paper or proposal for ministry related to the students’ field of studies), and
- Debriefing (final 3 days of reporting and celebrating). – initial times
Note that FMI students are not experts. They serve as learners, with the accompanying vulnerability. In so doing, the students observe, listen, and interview leaders and clients of a project in order to discern, while on the ground serving, how their field of study may best be offered as a research or proposal for an extended ministry project. The posture of a learner is fundamental to FMI. YWAMers who work with FMI student teams are few and far between, however this kind of ministry project with students could help us “get YWAM out of YWAM.”
How to Mobilize a New SVM – Doug Batson
Doug Batson, Human Geographer with US Gov. DOD, and Analyst for Turkic Speaking World spoke about adult continuing education, which he did mostly while with the Department of Defense DOD. Doug notes that missionaries (and missionary candidates currently in high school) are a traveling constituency, like the thousands of soldiers and family members he has helped to earn college credit. Doug suggests an approach to education that examines and addresses global needs, which thereby can fuel a new Student Volunteer Movement. What would that look like…tens of thousands from North America every year? Doug writes:
“Today, millions of 18-23 year olds pursue an increasingly costly campus-based undergradaute education with decreasing relevance to globalized business environments and their own life goals. Many believers would rather choose the mission field as a place of Christian service, learning, and building relationships, if only that were a valid option. Good news! With the right counsel, it is a very valid option! Via exams and portfolio assessments (not on-line courses), young adults can serve Christ cross-culturally and, as a by-product, earn a B.A. degree from a State University in the same 4-5 years, and for the same $40,000-$50,000 charged by traditional institutions! How? Through assessments of relevant learning acquired from missions fields: foreign languages, cross-cultural communication, comparative religion, social sciences, administration and leadership.”
Why pursue such a radically different education path?
- Offer the first fruits of one’s life to make Christ known where He is not
- Test one’s God-given gifts and talents in real-world environments
- Avoid student loan debt
- Become a local church missions catalyst and mobilizer—before age 30
- Choose graduate education based on reflections from a purposeful personal journey
Students may desire to go, but they are too often caught in debt trap, and therefore, despite their best intentions, often do not get involved in missions. There are currently 1,000,000 students in North American colleges every year. If 10% are evangelical enough to desire Christian service, then that’s quite a few candidates for missions mobilization!
Doug suggests a plan to move these missionary candidates from institutional structures of universities to a Christian missional community, with options to gain academic credit, saving thousands of dollars, through testing. Some institutions will recognize genuine learning and offer transcripts with minimal expense. Should we present an alternative to earnest missionary candidates currently in high school? Should we help them save 4-5 years, and $40 to $50 thousand dollars for education and career training? For many parents and many forward thinking high school students, this will be a very attractive option.
Goal: Minimize Tuition cost and residency.
Doug listed three regionally accredited secular state colleges/universities that require have no residency requirement:
- Excelsior.edu – part of SUNY system
- Thomas Edison State College – tesc.edu
- Charter Oak State College in CT
What would it look like ON a university campus?
Imagine a missional community of students with a few students taking courses, but with no intention of graduating. Those students could graduate with far less expense and far less time from Excelsior.
The plan would be different for every student, so making this work will require some basic information accessed perhaps by a web site and a deeper consulting service for those needed additional help. Here’s an example of College Level Examinations that Doug says every high school student could do…
- Analysis and Interpretation of Literature. (6 semester hours.)
- American Lit. (6 semester hours.)
- British Lit. (6 semester hours.)
- Gen’l Humanities (6 semester hours.)
- UNC challenge exams. (pay $150 for proctor) NT & OT as Lit. 3 semester hours.
What kind of savings would this mean for a student/family? For 30 semester hours, it’s $10,000 = One year of college credits.
Doug suggests a supportive missional learning community could help prepare students for these exams.
Doug is a living example of this method of gaining credit. He has a Ph.D. and he’s never been a resident. Most all of his credits were gained through testing. He got 36 hours credit, saving $12,000, by taking German language tests while a soldier in Germany. He didn’t get German degree, but he said he didn’t need it. Then he took the GRE Subject Test – Aptitude predictor in Grad School, testing content knowledge of a full grad degree. He asked Excelsior.com: “What if I took a GRE Subject Test and got a top half score? Would you give me degree?” They answered: “YES. We’ll give you 30 sem. hrs and a degree.” He did it all for just $89.
Doug says this is a matter of educational justice. The University of the Nations does not have regional accreditation, but has excellent training. He asks: “Why shouldn’t UofN students be recognized for their knowledge of the subjects?”
Consultation Summary: Take Away Action Items
Most participated in our wrap up session, listing take away actions on PostIt Notes. That list is below. Thank you again for praying and participating in this important gathering in San Francisco. I believe God has already formed new friendships. I trust the fruit of our time will be new partnerships and a focused mobilization of university students.
The following is a summary of all action items:
- Continue study of Worldview/cultural studies.
- Spend more specific prayer time for campus-on campus.
- Read Salt & Light book re: Knoxville, TN
- Read University & the City book.
- Be a servant-hearted minister to current campus ministries.
- Be more intentional about prayer.
- Write a blog for student audience.
- Pioneer house of worship to strengthen and encourage campus ministries.
- Focus our outreach teams around prayer.
- Create a summer opportunity to immerse students in city-wide evangelism locally and overseas.
- Develop closer working with international bases for partnership, especially in Latin America (Mexico).
- Encourage campus groups in strengths to develop love of place and to engage.
- Develop alongside to provide symbiosis at UC Berkeley & YWAM
- Networking between campuses through quarterly combined prayer meetings.
- Evangelism & Service workshops held off campus in central location (maybe YWAM SF?) and/or Niko?
- Join in meetings of campus ministries alliance
- Participate in campus ministry activities whenever possible
- Survey: Inventory what’s present on campus (CM’s, service orgs, student orgs) What does each do? What are the gaps?
- Create a tool to assess campus issues and various projects
- Create database of projects
- Create a web-based platform to highlight and help students to find overseas ministry opportunities.
- Challenge students to take language courses to gain long-term affinity with that people group.
- Perspectives Course was originally designed for secular campuses, but gravitated to churches. Praying for it to return to campus, with result of sharing Christ.
- Presence on Campus; regular place, meetings, and exegetes campus.
- Present models for communities of faith, with best practiced on web site. Restart more on UW campus.
- Start a UDTS
- Continue to pray for for the start of a YWAM engagement at Berkeley
- Launch DTS with focus on releasing students to support and strengthen ministry outreaches.
- Visit YWAM bases with university focus.
- Develop relationship with regionally close based (Tyler, CSprings, Denver)
- Connect base leaders to vision through regular SMC updates
- Christians and mission orgs= student-led and missionary mobilized prayer mtgs. & missionaries equipping supporting students in leadership& students leading other students on mission trips= Missional generation of influence.
- Connecting students & Professionals
- Have a network of Christian professionals who would mentor/be available for students looking to go into that field. E.g. Med students connecting with Christian doctor once a month?
- Investigate running perspectives intensive Boise In mendecino (w/college credit)
- Maintain contact with this group of direction seekers: mutual prayer, shared resources.
- Adopt-A-People group incorporated into campus ministry. Many of us have been processing deeply the implications of a fourth wave of missions, which we believe will include a flourishing of missional communities, a fresh movement of church planting with missional focus. Our goal is to ride this wave of change by fostering missional communities in university settings. We believe these missional communities will be very strategic if they work in collaboration with global missions, leveraging the resources of universities and NGO’s, and churches of all kinds.
Rituals are among several ways we picture and practice our ideals, our vision of a kingdom with human flourishing. For example, the marriage ceremony is the ideal of marriage. The bride is in white, representing purity, and celebrated for her surrendered devotion to one man. The groom is in tuxedo, honoring the bride with his commitment to love and cherish one woman.
In a few months the two will be settling into married life, with daily chores, and other habits. Some habits are not bad at first. However they can grow in their influence, often with ill effects on cherished institutions like marriage. Shopping at the mall or jockeying a recliner in sweats for weekend football games are not harmful if we are attentive to their potentially destructive power.
In his book, Desiring the Kingdom, James Smith outlines how over time our rituals, especially our most cherished practices, help train our desires. Rituals mold and shape our worldview, our precognition of the world. Our daily motions and rhythms, our embodied routines, train our minds and hearts so that we develop habits. Habits are like attitudinal reflexes; they make us tend to act in certain ways toward certain ends.
For example, most of us use a keyboard pretty regularly. So, where is “d” key. Do you know? Not so easy to say where it is, is it? But, your hands “know”, don’t they? How? By practice. rituals, routines, and exercises. It’s not reasoned thought that tells you where to find the “d” key.
Philosopher-scientist Blaise Pascal writes, “The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.”
There are different levels of habits according to Smith: thin and thick.
The thin habits are mundane, like brushing teeth; they are the instrumental things we do. Thin habits do not touch our identity, or our fundamental desire, our love.
Thick habits are meaningful, significant to identity. They are representative of our core values. Often, they are religious habits.
Cultural anthropologist Charles Taylor emphasizes that we understand before we “know”. And we love before we know. Ancient Christian ascetic tradition had the axiom: “Desire forms knowledge.”
So James Smith proposes: “We must shape desire in order to know.”
He continues: “What we do (practice) is intimately linked to what we desire (love), so what we do determines whether, how, and what we can know.”
Maximus the Confessor in One Hundred Chapters of Love, writes about the key to directing and increasing one’s desire for God; it’s in the acquisition of virtues.
How are Christian virtues acquired? Through concrete practices like confession, communion, prayer, service, etc.
According to research by Bargh & Chartrand, “the development of most acquired forms of automaticity (habits/virtues/skills) depends on the frequent and consistent pairing of internal responses with external events..over time, conscious choice drops out as it is not needed.”
In my final post on this book, I will ask several questions to help us think through the implications for our lives, particularly as habits and “cultural liturgies” relate to Christ’s mission. Of course, for those of us in university life, the implications are culture forming. Look for that final post very soon.
The Student Mobilization Centre is a centre of the University of the Nations, a ministry of Youth With A Mission. The SMC is not a local ministry; we are an international network of YWAM staff fostering the emergence of a new movement of university students serving Christ’s Great Commission through their life-work and calling.
Through our ministries, university students are challenged to lead the next major wave of collaborative missions by partnering with global projects with holistic witness in every arena of society and major field of studies. In addition, we are affirming and assisting the emergence of student missional communities in universities worldwide.
To recruit, equip, and place students ready to serve and learn cross-culturally.
We Gather - Students & Leaders through Consultations, Events, and Projects.
We Train - Developing curriculum through contextual research, and conducting seminars and schools.
We Send - Mobilize students into service projects according to their field of studies and the spheres of society. Our short-term programs, while bolstering long-term projects, serve the students as they discern their calling.
We Network - Cultivating missional collaboration in and around university communities for the purpose of mobilization of an emerging generation of student volunteers serving Christ’s Great Commission.
Immediate SMC Goals
- We will host Passion Points Conferences: 3-day events in 2013.
- We will host Consultations in Australia, Europe and Africa – By Sept. 2012.
Train: We will post Best Practices and Curriculum Resources for all our SMC Programs and Courses on web site by Mar. 2012
Send: We will send hundreds of Field Ministry Interns (FMI) by Jan. 2013
- Redesigning to attract non-christians
- Tie internships to UDTS outreaches
- Focus FMI for Thematic, Passion Points, Causes, and Projects in Society
- International & year-long projects: Megacities/Africa
- We will unveil a new Web-based Project Development Registration Process for Hosting FMI – By Jan. 2012
- Develop new Strategic Alliances/International Partners (Call2All-Students, UofN Colleges, YWAM CMI, Christian Colleges, Churches, National & International Student Organizations, IJM, etc.)
In addition, the new SMC Web Site will provide a collaborative information gateway for strategic networking.
The SMC offers student organizations and churches access to a missions networking centre where credit card payments, donations and field support can be channeled to mission projects globally. The SMC is providing a new framework for student groups and campus churches to cooperate with YWAM and other global partners and nongovernmental organizations.
The SMC represents a global Kingdom community for the emerging student missions movement. Our goal is to provide the arena—the forum—where students who are embracing a missional life-style and life-work can learn from one another.
John Henry – SMC International Leader
Hospitality has taken on fresh meaning to me lately. I’ll explain.
I understood hospitality to be mainly “friendship with the stranger,” and NOT primarily how to set your table to impress your dinner guests. Welcoming strangers, radical as that view seemed, isn’t broad enough.
Recently, while doing some research on church eldership, the word hospitality emerged again. I thought a practical, personal, and local expression of hospitality helps us engage with Christ’s mission. It does and it should. However, it should not be limited to a ministry of elders.
Of course, Paul’s instructions regarding elder qualification, at first glance, is rather unremarkable: “Don’t get drunk.” I’m pretty sure that didn’t mean everyone else should get drunk.
The elder, besides being “apt to teach,” must be hospitable. Certainly it means elders should be friends to strangers, including strangers from distant cultures, as part of Christ’s mission. Perhaps the broader meaning is given if we drop a letter, “r”. It’s not merely welcoming the stranger; it’s welcoming the strange.
Hospitality has been reduced in modern times; it’s about folding napkins and making table decorations. The original meaning of hospitality is much broader, tied to Christ’s mission.
That little “r”
The challenge to my missional view of hospitality is that even “friendship with strangers” is too narrow a definition. Drop the “r” and you get “friend of the strange.”
Our modern definitions of biblical terms tend toward reduction, therefore “Mission” has been reduced to reaching every individual from every nation. Sounds like a broad definition, doesn’t it? However, reducing the kingdom message of Jesus to individual decisions has contributed to a church of spectators and a society that demands their rights at the expense of others. As a result of the modern interpretation of mission, the modern church formation and leadership has separated out the missionary to go do missions elsewhere, not inside the church structure or the culture in which that church has settled.
Paul was not a modernist. What Paul instructed Timothy and Titus, and the members of the early church, was a Missional meaning to hospitality, that elders were to welcome the “strange.”
Certainly, the gospel and the message of the kingdom of God is a “strange” message; it’s “foolishness to the Greeks” and a “rock of offense to the Jews.” God’s message is fresh bread from heaven; we’re called to live by every word that proceeds from God.
That message from God will tend to be “strange,” shaking us out of our complacency and our tendency to settle into the surrounding culture, protecting our position, our power, and our privilege gained.
Hospitality is a vital part of leadership of a church community because an elder must be careful to listen for the word from the Lord, even though strange to the ear or delivered through a strange means. The message may come through a prophetic word, a tongue to be interpreted or a vision of something like a “sheet with animals”.
The elder must be hospitable, protecting the freedom in the Spirit for anyone to bring a word and not be hindered, including women and little children. The elders must welcome that strange word and test it carefully as a community, always ready for that teachable moment led the Spirit of God.
Now, the table is set. This is hospitality. Enjoy the feast!
“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
So then, as creatures of desire, created to love and be loved, we have an intent, a direction and purpose in life. We seek a vision of the good life. All our choices, actions, and habits emerge as we are pulled by our hearts toward a picture of that good life, the city, or that kingdom.
Such a vision will always include implicit assumptions, which may include some kind of answer to the following questions:
What is a good relationship?
What is a just economy?
What play or recreation do we value?
How do we relate to nature and our environment?
What is good work?
What is flourishing family?
What, therefore, does it mean to be “saved”?
Everyone has answers of some kind tucked away in our hearts. Possessing a vision of a future is implicit in the fact that we are created in God’s image. Our hopes and dreams are what get us up out of bed in the morning. Our desire for a kingdom may or may not be the same desire, or the same kingdom, for which Jesus of Nazareth went to the cross. However blurred or distorted our vision may be, the fact that we have a vision is testament to God’s creative impulse within us.
The question we must ask ourselves in the quiet place is this: Does my heart pull me toward the One who created me for good?
Your answer will lead you to live a life worthy of such a calling.
Desiring the Kingdom
I’m writing from Kona, Hawaii where I am attending the University of the Nations Workshop, an international gathering of YWAM leaders. Before the Workshop we had Student Mobilization Centre leadership team meetings. I shared with that team a devotional with refections from James Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom. This is a portion of that devotional:
During much of August, I woke early to take my daughter Becca for swim team practice. She was not happy at first, having to be in the water by 5:30am, but before I left for Kona, she was adapting. As a father with some experience in sports, including early morning swim team practice, I’m aware of how this experience is helping Becca develop character. Her coach says she’s pushing the team with morning and afternoon practices now in order to develop “muscle memory.”
What does that mean?
With the next few posts, I wiill attempt to unpack the formation and re-direction of human desire, the shaping of habits, the establishing of institutions, and the discipling of a culture and nation.
At Easter I wrote about Holiness, that holiness is intimacy with God. (Here’s that post.) I described how Bernard of Clairvaux’s 14th century hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, was a personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ.
I return to this subject because I did not adequately describe the beauty and purpose of holiness. There’s something else at work here. Holiness is also an outward response to that intimate friendship. To live in holiness, we must walk in holiness. The apostle Paul writes:
I am a prisoner because of the Lord. So I am asking you to live a life worthy of what God chose you for. - Eph. 4:1
Building on the foundation that I laid in the previous post: Holiness is more than intimacy with God. Holiness is both:
- Personal intimacy resulting from relationship in righteousness through faith and
- Public witness of ethical behavior. God’s people are called to represent God’s holiness to a hurting world.
Holiness is not merely intimacy; it is also action and ethical behavior within the community and with all people. Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright‘s book, The Mission of God, expains that holiness is manifest through ethical behavior, works of righteousness. The New Testament narrows it down to loving our neighbors. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you have fulfilled all the law and the prophets. Holiness, in contemporary language, may best be summed up in social justice. Paul writes:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
Please understand, you do not earn holiness through any actions of your own. Neither are you holy if you simply do good works of social justice. However, those who have been called to intimate friendship with God have no choice about whether or not they are to love their neighbor, through ethical behavior in and through their community and through acts of mercy and social justice among the nations.
To be sure, holiness literally means to be ‘set apart,’ to be wholly different. God is holy, completely different, other than all other gods. And God in Christ Jesus calls his people to be holy as he is holy. Israel was also called to be holy, unlike any other nation.
In his book The Mission of God, Christopher J.H. Wright outlines the nature of being “set apart”, the election of Israel. Israel’s election is:
- In the context of God’s blessing of “every nation”
- Does not imply rejection of other nations
- Not due to special features of Israel
- Founded only on God’s inexplicable love
- Instrumental, not an end in itself
- Part of the logic of God’s commitment to history
- Fundamentally missional, not just soteriological
When God accepts us and welcomes us into close fellowship with him through the blood of Christ, we are “MADE HOLY.” That holiness calls us to be wholly different:
Finally, brothers and sisters, we taught you how to live in a way that pleases God. In fact, that is how you are living. In the name of the Lord Jesus we ask and beg you to do it more and more.You know the directions we gave you. They were given by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God wants you to be made holy. – I Thes. 4:1-3
Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), by Jane Vella, will challenge you to adopt principles of listening, learning, and teaching, useful for leadership, relationship, and ministry.
Vella educates adults; however, she does not simply teach. And she does not merely stick to her own cultural group. She facilitates learning in many cultures and for many different groups, mostly community development projects.
I’m personally very familiar with this kind of work and many of the places and people Jane Vella writes about. Vella’s books are important to me because my goal for summer outreach teams of interns is for the students to have the best learning experience of their lives. I want students to gain a deep revelation of who God is, His love and grace for the world, and their calling to engage the world in response to His amazing grace. Vella refers to this kind of learning as the ‘quantum’ concept, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
To teach effectively, we must listen.
To teach effectively, we must listen.To truly listen, we must ask open-ended questions.
Our Student Mobilization Centre (SMC) team is in the process of writing their own job descriptions. This is a very open process, requiring each of the members to engage, initiate, and define their contribution to the whole. That process and this book has helped me realize I need to be even more effective at listening and giving open questions when teaching.
Open questions need to be put to the ‘safe’ environment; they are usually best when posed in small groups. For example, when I teach I ask participants the question,
“What was your best learning experience?”
When forming small groups to process questions, Vella encourages teachers to define learning tasks and follow through on them so that the participants truly participate in the learning process. Defining the learning task is done when we apply Vella’s Assessment Principles, which is simply done by asking questions.
Applying Vella’s Principles
Who needs What and defined by Whom? or ‘WWW’
Vella’s key assessment principle is the question:‘Who needs What and defined by Whom?’ This assessment is best accomplished by building questions into the application process, either before or immediately after acceptance to a training program or internship. Prayer for participants and decisions about what should be emphasized in a training experience can be made with greater effectiveness when we ask the right questions, keep record of responses, and assess the information gathered. This WWW assessment is not only for training; it is also an important leadership tool for assessing the needs and capacities of our team, their staff and their projects.
Field Ministry Internships (FMI), a principal program of the SMC, is a serving/learning outreach project for university student teams. Students integrate their field of study with a cross-cultural ministry over an eight-week summer intensive. Jane Vella, her books and other web resources for Dialogue Education, have confirmed that many of the aspects of our FMI program help students gain that quantum learning experience.
For example, to help students feel ‘safe’ we form small teams of 4 to 7. During the first few days in the host country, we typically send small teams out on a scavenger hunt in order to expose them to the new surroundings and help them learn how to get around with some measure of independence. However, this exercise is also a bonding experience that takes place within the safety of their small team.
Another reason for small FMI teams is that they may integrate well as a short-term team on a long-term field project. In this way, the students also gain a greater level of participation in the serving/learning process. The students design their own field projects on site as they learn to observe and listen to nationals and long-term project leaders. They are taught to assess the needs of the long-term personnel and projects while they are serving.
The safety challenge for FMI is the uncertainty of a cross-cultural experience. This challenge is overcome when FMI participants are safely embedded into the long-term project team. Within that safe environment for learning, FMI participants become more deeply involved in the learning process, which raises the creativity and energy level. Participants are therefore offering more of themselves in service and learning more about the contribution God has specifically called them to make during their summer internship, and perhaps, over the course of their lives.
3. Listening: Student Participation in the Assessment
Applying the Assessment Principle is a leadership challenge. We set the example of Listening and we invite our participants into the Learning process by giving them a Leadership assignment: Participate in an Assessment.
Before reading Vella, FMI was structured with four phases:
- Orientation – an intensive seminar, like a mini-Discipleship Training School, and project preparation.
- Cultural Awareness – the first few days at the site of the field project, getting acquainted with the new surroundings/people, including a scavenger hunt.
- Ministry - while serving the field project, participants write a proposal for a 5-year ministry project.
- Debriefing – the final few days reporting, saying good-bye to new friends, and evaluating.
I have since added a fifth phase, an Assessment Phase, just after the Cultural Awareness phase and before the Ministry phase. The assessment of the project was originally assumed by the FMI leaders. However, students had little appreciation for that important phase. To better equip the student participants for leadership in learning, we now require them Listen and to document their Assessment before writing their project proposal. By doing so we are showing more respect to the field project and the community they serve. We also show more respect to the FMI students, giving them more opportunity to participate and take responsibility for their project proposal.
These are only three principles, however Vella’s books outline 7 steps for course design (PDF download). I commend this amazing teacher and her principles to you as you develop training in your context. Pay particular attention to the key words, RESPECT and ENERGY, which are at the top of my list of priorities for equipping students for the life-work and calling.
If you or your group would like to learn to apply these principles for outreach and training, please contact me. If you would like to know more about the Field Ministry Internships program, and the Student Mobilization Centre network of Youth With A Mission‘s University of the Nations, send me a note.
I am expecting quantum changes as we train emerging leaders for every arena of society in response to Christ’s command to ‘make disciples of all nations’. (Matt. 28:19)
My pastor, George Isley, who went to be with the Lord five years ago, modeled a kind of leadership in the Church that is, from my perspective as a missionary of 25+ years, too rarely seen. One of George’s classmates, Dr. Don Lundgren, Missions Minister at College Church in Northampton, MA, said George had been so brilliant at Princeton Seminary that many expected him to become a professor there. However, his vision was for a small church in rural New York. He started as a Presbyterian minister in Valatie, NY.
George’s methods were always “unorthodox,” according to the old guard, whom I came to know years later. He led the youth to memorize scripture and rewarded them with money for Bible Summer Camp or Mission Trips. This practice began in the ’60′s and one young couple, Tom and Libby Little, were among those who joined him on outreach to Guatemala one summer working alongside Ralph and Roberta Winter. They were sent out as missionaries and, long before the Taliban, and before Soviet occupation, Tom became an optometrist to help the people of Afghanistan. Tom was martyred in Afghanistan last year. He and Libby worked at the Noor Eye Institute in Kabul for about 30 years. Libby received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House for Tom and spoke at the Lausanne Congress in South Africa last year. In closing her address on “The Church and Other Faiths” to the Lausanne Congress, I could almost hear the heart of Jesus in the life of George Isley:
‘In communities where power rules, strength prevails, where you work hard to attain honor and avoid shame, where you get what you deserve, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, this talk about God’s grace, the vulnerability of God, his loving kindness is too foreign. It’s too distasteful. It’s almost repulsive. It needs to come in small doses over a long stretch of time.’
When the old guard voted to have George and Carol Isley removed from the pastorate in the early ’70′s because they had experienced and taught a more complete faithfulness through fellowship in the Holy Spirit, half the congregation followed them. Shortly thereafter, he and several others started Christian Community Church (affiliated with the CCCC) and met in a partially renovated barn outside Kinderhook, NY. The community was not led by one person, but rather through a plurality of elders. And rather than fill the church schedule with meetings, this community decided there was no need for any more than the one Sunday morning gathering, where each member was encouraged and afforded the time to bring their offering of a poem, a hymn, a word of exhortation, a testimony, or a prophecy. The members ministered to each other, oftentimes for the majority of the Sunday gathering time. The elders would rotate as teachers, and when there was no time for that, George would offer a short summary word about what God was saying to us through his people that morning. The rest of the week was freed up for informal gatherings in homes, sharing their tables with friends, neighbors, or just to enjoy quality family time. The community still meets there today under the leadership of Bill Otterbeck and his team.
I was invited to live with George and Carol and his family for two years. The table was the center of George and Carol Isley’s home, and all important discussion, questions, stories, and jokes, were held until everyone was gathered at the table. I was working in the community as a District Executive for the Boys Scouts of America, while I was being equipped for ministry, giving direction to Solomon’s Porch Coffeehouse, a Friday night ministry of the church. George met with me every Wednesday morning for a few hours and, after praying and sending me out as a missionary in 1985, I returned to Kinderhook to meet with George to debrief and pray for each other.
Because he loved hiking the Adirondak, the Catskills, and the Berkshire mountains of Upstate New York, we chose to spend time together on a mountain nearly every year for the following 20 years.
George’s vision for a community was not your typical “church-growth” strategy. He served the community in a way that brought a deeper growth in me and the others in the community through a few key strategies:
1. Forming a team of elders, all of whom were being equipped for ministry.
2. Receiving only a housing allowance. Rather than receive a salary from the church, he worked in the community as a bus-driver for the public schools and as a chaplain for Berkshire Boys’ Detention Center.
3. Relaxing the typical church’s weekly schedule, so families can be more intentional as neighbors and friends (MISSIONARIES) in the community.
4. Allowing the members of the community to share testimonies and minister from the front and to one another during the Sunday morning gatherings. This resulted in less passivity and a growing maturity among all the members, including a greater tendency to minister to their neighbors during the week.
At first glance, the life and ministry of George Isley seems unimpressive, uncelebrated, and somehow lacking the “marketable leadership skills” of a “well-trained” church minister. However, George lived his vision for a community that follows Jesus. The “New” Kind of Church Minister may not be all that new; George simply set a true example of a surrendered life, minimizing “church” expenditures and maximizing “missions” expenditures. George Isley’s example exemplifies what I believe is this shift from a traditional “attractional” church to a “missional” church. It starts with leaders. The value of this kind of “church growth” strategy is not readily apparent and it may only be measured at the Throne of God.
There’s no day in my life that has had more impact on the future of this world than the day I became a dad. Really. When my first child was born, everything changed for me and my future, but it also changed for a future I will not see. The day I became a dad changed history. Future generations will be changed, either positively (or negatively), through my children, and their children…and so on.
We were in Hawai’i in a little block-walled clinic on the Big Island the day our first boy, Justin, was born. Yes, Justin is ‘Hawaiian’ and his birth certificate looks just like Obama’s. I will never forget the intense emotion of holding my wife’s hand at the moment she was giving birth. I made the mistake of offering my left hand with my wedding ring. She squeezed very hard and my ring pinched. I was tempted to say, “Mary, that hurts.” But of course, that’s not what you do. (Hint to expecting fathers: Take off your ring or offer your right hand.)
This has me thinking today about what Mom’s already know best: There is no future without the pain of anticipation in the present moment. Every major decision or purposeful act in life, has painful consequence. Living life with purpose is difficult; you must forego easier options, less painful choices. Fearing the pain may lead to the failure to act or decide. But that also has consequence, a delay of living with purpose. A delay of fulfilling a greater purpose, a greater contribution to this life. The future is shaped by those who decide, those who make sacrificial choices, not for themselves, but on behalf of a future generation. Father’s make sacrificial choices in hope that their children will make choices that will please them.
Sadly, there is a deep pain that father’s can carry into the future too. My own dad went through plenty of pain with me when I was a boy, especially my teen years. My mom and dad broke up in the late 60′s and my four brothers and I were, there’s no other word for it, brokenhearted. The result: we all carried the pain. We failed to communicate and I ultimately turned to rebellion.
My choices produced a lifetime of strained relationship with my dad. My utter failure in so many categories when I was younger has made it difficult for my dad to forgive me. I also know I am not the only cause of the pain of those past years. Nonetheless, I know my choices in life, including those choices after I met Jesus, have been different than what my dad would have chosen for me, especially my call to serve as a faith missionary.
Whether I make him proud with my life choices or not, I know my life has been shaped in part by my dad’s commitment to do the right thing. Doing the right thing, as a father or as any leader in any organization or any nation, will require courage and a willingness to be misunderstood. This is why I regularly teach the biblical doctrine of vocation or calling. I will be teaching again this week in our University Discipleship Training School in Madison, Wisconsin. Beginning with the example of Fatherhood and Motherhood, we need to teach calling, which extends into every sphere of society. Understanding God’s calling and leading by example is so urgently needed in our society today.
Leaders must be willing to make the difficult choices on behalf of their community. For example, here in Wisconsin, we have Gov. Walker and the duly elected legislature making difficult budget choices on behalf the community and future generations. The US Congress is facing the same difficult choices, requiring leadership and an understanding of calling that transcends party and politics. Making the decisions required will cause pain in the present; certainly those making the difficult decisions are facing terrible accusations and threats. Like a father and mother paying down a household debt, elected leaders need to balance the State and Federal budgets. Today’s challenges require leadership that chooses to trust and not control those they serve. Like the trust I must now have for my adult sons, Justin and Nathan, our society needs leaders who trust members of the community, other leaders in the private sector, to take risks, create wealth and jobs, and thereby serve their community.
May we all walk worthy of the calling.
As a dad, I know there is probably no more difficult calling on planet earth (probably second to being a mom.) This Father’s Day, I sent my dad a note thanking him again for the many ways, even through the pain of a broken home, he sacrificed and made good memories for me and my brothers. Thanks dad!
“What language should I borrow, to thank Thee dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
This line comes from “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” a 12th century hymn by Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was a reformed Benedictine abbot in France during the time of great challenges to the Church. Islamic nations, European kings, and even as many as three simultaneous popes all vied for power in “Christendom,” where the Roman Church was preeminent in the Western culture. I cannot defend all that Bernard did during his thirty years as a minister, however I can safely say that his life’s work elevated personal faith over religious ritual. He called upon his generation to truly know Jesus.
I am moved again today by this personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ.
Nearly every time I teach for a week in a Youth With A Mission training school, I invariably return to the primal call of this hymn to intimacy with Jesus. This call is consistent throughout the Bible and throughout history. God calls us to intimacy.
When God called him by name, Moses replied, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exo. 3:5)
How strange. What made that place holy? The Almighty not only introduced Himself to Moses, but He shared the deep things of His own heart with someone he chose to trust. The LORD said,
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.”
What made that place holy was intimacy; God revealed his deepest hurts to Moses. It is the same when I share from my heart the things that cause me pain. These things are not for everyone to know. If I choose to trust someone and share my pain, it is a ‘set apart’ conversation, a holy moment with a trusted friend.
That place of trusting relationship is ‘set apart’ – it is a ‘holy’ place. When God chooses to open His heart to reveal His thoughts, it is a most Holy place because His character is perfect and His abilities are limitless.
God knows all things perfectly. He saw the suffering of the people of Israel in captivity that He chose to represent His name and bring forth the Messiah. They were in chains and cruelly mistreated and He heard their cries. God felt something in His heart that He shared with Moses. God invited Moses to the Holy place of intimacy where He felt that pain.
Centuries later, the apostle Paul went to Athens where he found an altar with the enscription: To the UNKNOWN GOD. This was Mars Hill, the place where people considered ultimate questions of origin, destiny, and value. Plato had taught his students, including Aristotle, to consider the uncaused cause, the wholly unchangeable and ultimate good. Perhaps Plato was a pre-Christian prophet to the Western world?
The difficulty with Plato’s line of thinking is that the ultimate good, the UNKNOWN GOD, cannot change. He cannot experience anything, including pain. This line of thinking became the frame of reference for Western theologians for most of Christian history.
However, the God who is revealed in scripture, Righteous and Holy, is also honest when He says He feels pain. Scripture says in Genesis 6:6:
“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”
Some say these ‘human-like’ expressions of God are anthropomorphisms, that God is only using language that we can understand in our frailty and limited understanding. They say God is pretending to be like us so that we may relate to him.
If that is true, the ultimate anthropomorphism is Jesus. The ‘Word’ became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). He is Immanuel, God with us, offering intimate friendship to all who will come near.
Jesus is ‘the exact representation’ of God’s being (Heb. 1). He represented perfectly the love and justice of His Father. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
When Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, the Father wept. When Jesus felt the pain of rejection, the Father felt pain too. When Jesus made the atoning sacrifice on the cross, the Father made the sacrifice as well. God knows everything about everyone, including me. He knows every sin act that produces broken relationship and it causes Him pain.
God is all-powerful and all knowing, but He restrains His power and knowledge for the sake of relationship with us. If I had all power and all knowledge, I am sure I would determine to make use of my abilities. The results would be disastrous. However, I am not God. Inasmuch as I chose to break with my conscience and choose to selfishness, I became morally depraved. I was without hope and without God. I was in need of a Savior.
God could judge the earth and all the wickedness, but he waits patiently for you and me to return to our source of life and hope and love. God is restrained from judgment for the sake of relationship. He always chooses the highest and best for everyone.
“For this is what the high and lofty One says–he who lives for ever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa. 57:15)
His invitation to “Take my yoke … and learn from me” is a call to intimacy with Him, “for (He is) gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
God is patient. He limits His judgment, not his ability or his knowledge, for the sake of relationship.
God stoops down to love you and me, free moral beings, because He is condescendingly gracious. God’s eternal nature is limitless from time eternal past to time eternal future; He is eternal in duration. The Greek notion, representing mankind’s highest thinking, says God is timeless. This sophisticated human invention gave rise to the ultimate ideal, the UNKNOWN GOD, who exercises His power and knowledge without restraint.
There is no point in confusing this issue; we either worship an ideal UNKNOWN who controls all things perfectly and is therefore responsible for all things good and bad, or we worship the God who is all powerful, yet patient, humble, and not responsible for the evil acts of humanity. We either worship a god who could not limit his power or we worship the One Moses met at the burning bush, the all-powerful “I AM” who shows restraint. We either worship a god who absolutely never changes, including no emotional responses to the acts of his human creation, or we worship the God of the Bible who responds to our prayers, is touched by the feelings of our weaknesses, and feels the pain of rejection and the joy of new life. We either worship a god who controls all things, or we worship Jesus who makes us free to choose to love him or reject him. We either worship a god who is created after our own image, or we worship the Suffering Servant of Isa. 53 who went to the cross to die for my sin.
Relationship with an UNKNOWN GOD is impossible. That is how we have true intimate relationship with a wholly blameless Eternal God. And this is why my prayers echo the words of Bernard of Clairvaux:
“Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
Cultivating Communities of Practice, by Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), is one of several required books I read for Fuller Theological Seminary‘s MA in Global Leadership. The following are my reflections:
I have a great interest in how organizations, particularly those with Christian leadership, work and how they respond to change. This book is rich with practical insight as to how non-profit organizations, churches, and christian ministries may develop in a globalized society.
One trend I have observed helps me see the way forward. In recent years several international conferences, training courses, and outreaches have been convening around points of passion and global human need, like water, women’s issues, slavery, and children at risk. YWAM International and other Christian missions agencies have also begun to look at a new mapping paradigm for global strategy called Project 4K wherein the map is divided into about 4000 geographic units, Omega Zones, highlighting those areas still requiring engagement.
What appears to be needed is a new cross-platform, multi-disciplinary team approach to properly engage each of those geographic regions.
Through the Student Mobilization Centre‘s School of University Ministries & Missions, we are equipping field leaders who will be able to coordinate multi-disciplinary field project teams. During the past 15 months, we have presented this 12-week training program in India, USA, Korea, and Colombia. I leave today to teach on Missional Collaboration for the final week of the school. Participants in the SMC school learn how to collaborate with leaders and communities to harmonize outreach teams to serve broad-based long-term community development project goals while mobilizing students for field based learning.
YWAM’s University of the Nations operates according to what Wenger, et al conclude in Communities of Practice; that is, “useful knowledge is not a downloadable commodity.” It requires participation.
The best learning experiences are in the context of relationships, especially those experiences with others that at the same time unfamiliar and familiar. In my experience, students learn best when taken out of their familiar culture to serve and learn in a context that challenges their expectations and status quo learning experiences. They also learn best if put in a situation where they are challenged to work together with those who share their skill set, academic training, and/or missionary goals.
By cultivating these communities of learning and serving, I believe we will ourselves learn how to do world missions and how to participate as a global church in the twenty-first century. By developing this field project model of university ministry, placing students as interns into a wide array of community development projects with national leaders who require their service, we will all learn, we will become a community of practice.
By requiring students as part of their internship to research and write about their cross-cultural serving-learning experience, we will thereby share knowledge gained both with the field project leaders and with the universities and professors that sent the students. These project teams will help us steward and share the knowledge gained. These long-term community development field projects could serve as “laboratories” for curriculum development as well as cross-disciplinary field project leadership development.
By working together across cultures toward a big vision of collaborative ministries, leaders of missional communities, churches and organizations, will increase their ability and speed generating and implementing creative ideas for community development, evangelization, and training.
To accomplish this, we will need to form missional communities in university settings, and cross-platform, multi-disciplinary, communities of practice at field sites where internships may be hosted and field project staff leadership may be trained.
The most essential element of this field-based learning community is the authentic cross-cultural ministry that must be the foundational intent and the fruit of the project.
Where missional communities of practice exist, the witness of the Kingdom of God will be evident in a much greater way, both in the university and at that field projects’ community. These communities of learning and leadership equipping may in turn affect a change in the whole of the Christian missionary enterprise through an integrated development model of field ministry and leadership equipping.
This book is ‘salty’. I am thirsty for more with each page turned. Even more so, I am hungry for the practical outworking of this vision within the context of my own life and ministry. That is why I am developing a seminar and a 12-week course on Missional Collaboration. The challenge to me is to deliberately form communities of practice in my ministry context, the universities of the world.
The noise of the one hundred students moving their metal chairs into circles was deafening. The Nairobi Church auditorium echoed with loud screeching as students from nearby University of Nairobi shuffled to form their groups according to the spheres or domains of society; arts, media, business, education, family, government, etc.
The room was buzzing with excitement. The intensive seminar, “Calling Quest 2001 – Transforming Your Nation Through Your God-given Vocation” is one of a series of seminars I have presented around the world for Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. At this event, I had the help of three of our YWAM Madison School of the Bible interns. After the first of several presentations, the students were anxious to discuss and search the Scriptures for answers to the hard questions.
Accompanying us was a team of thirteen students from Brown University, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design, UC San Bernadino, and UVA, all of whom had been prepared to lead the Domains Small Group discussions during our week-long Field Ministry Internships orientation in Switzerland. When we arrived in Kenya, they came with questions too. Ju Rhyu, one of the Brown students, brought these questions:
How can I bring transformation in a world of injustice? What is my place in this world? Though I yearn to see justice in a world with nations rejoicing, the burdens and problems that stand before me seem too daunting, too massive. AIDS, poverty, corruption – how do I even begin to think about these things?
It was the week of July 24-27, 2001. Yes, only a few weeks later the world would be shocked at the events of September 11, 2001. (Several American colleagues and I were still in Nairobi on that day. We were attending an international conference for the University of the Nations. We were stranded in Kenya and then Europe, waiting for the airports to unclog so we could return to our families and friends in the USA, and a very different world.)
Ju’s questions loom even larger in the face of a world terrorized by a few radicals. What could a few Christ followers do in the face of such evil? How could they help end the injustices of the poor? What is God’s good purpose for humankind? What does it mean to be created in the image of God? And are we called to serve the needs of the world?
Actually, we have two calls from God. Enjoying friendship with God, not merely right relationship, is our first call. Adam and Eve, the first inhabitants of the world in our God Story, enjoyed friendship with God. They were called twice. First, they were called to serve in the garden with the words “dress it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). God made human beings in His image to rule and to be fruitful under His reign with full dependence on Him. Second, after Adam and Eve disobeyed and sin entered the world, God’s call became a cry seeking his lost friends. “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
However, calling changed after the tragic Fall of humankind. Because of the Fall, our first call is not to service, but to restored relationship. St. Augustine expressed the call to restored relationship to God in his Confessions,
“Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
When we are lost and outside relationship with God, our first call is to restored relationship through faith.
Calling to do something in the world was not separated from the call of intimate friendship. Both callings are integral to our relationship with God; both are integral to the imprint of God’s image.
Sadly, most of the students I spoke with in Nairobi that summer were not able to see a valid contribution or calling beyond the domain of the church.Though many were students of architecture, business, and communications, they did not understand the God-given calling to be an architect, or business person, or journalist. They thought the call to be a pastor or evangelist was the highest calling.
What do you think?
Our Domains Small Groups continued to press in diligently with their questions. They began to understand the imprint of God, what it means to be created in God’s image. The student groups searched the daily newspapers to see what was happening in their chosen sphere of society. Then they sought the Scriptures to understand God’s ways of governing the world.
Our team of student leaders prayed together with the Nairobi students for the very real and very current needs in the domains of health care, education, business, family, etc. They began to see past the stigma and blindness to the ills of their own society. For example, though there were already ten million AIDS orphans, it was only that summer that the first newspaper article reported that AIDS was the cause of someone’s death.
After the intensive seminar, the students continued to meet weekly to study and pray in their groups. They even took prayer walks around major centers of business, education, media, etc. They became activated in God’s calling to “dress and keep” the world. One group was ushered into the Deputy Mayor’s Office to present some of their findings and discuss the need for a better sewage system.
The students began to understand the high calling of living according to God’s design, offering their gifts, skills, and natural abilities in service to their neighbors and their world. Much of our ministry to the Poor is in helping our them understand their high calling, that they are created in the image of God. This leads us to Key #4.
Key #4: Defend the Image of God in the Poor.
The Nairobi university students at that CallingQuest and other seminars conducted over the summer of 2001 were among the most privileged of Kenyan society. However, they were missing something. We too are “Poor” if we fail to know our identity and vocation, our calling in God.
Those who know God have responsibility to the Poor. We are called to define and defend the image of God in the Poor. Because we know we are created in His image and we know His voice calling us to intimate friendship and purpose in this world, we must be diligent to defend the image of God in the Poor.
The Poor are not lazy or stupid. Jayakumar Christian writes,
“A people so close to the edge cannot afford laziness or stupidity. They have to work and work hard. Most of the lazy and stupid are dead.”
We too should be diligent. Our church life and worship should celebrate our relationship with Jesus Christ, our reconciliation with God. However, we also have the responsibility to minister to the Poor. We must look for ways in which the Poor have been limited in their access to love, justice, or peace.
Ministry to the Poor is not merely about access to material needs; it’s about removing obstacles and giving access to the cultural, social, spiritual, personal, and biological spheres of community.
Our outreach to the Poor should affect the whole system of poverty, the diabolical web to which they are bound. Our ministry is reconciliation. We are called to restore relationships, including relationship with God (religion, philosophy, theology), Community (political science and economics), the Environment (biology, ecology, engineering), the Wider World (sociology, international relations, justice), and Individuals (psychology, health care).
Ju Rhyu expresses her deepest desire that:
Through our time in Nairobi we would be able to teach that God reigns over and in and through all. He is Lord of government, business, science, technology, education, family, the church, arts and communications. The sacred should not be self-contained and relegated to a position of non-influence, but rather, should extend itself to influence holistically.
Goliath (pronounced: “Go-lee-at” in Spanish) was an especially big baby born to a single mom in a four-foot high cardboard box with only a straw mattress on the dirt floor of the Guatemala City garbage dump. Thousands of squatters made their home living on top of the garbage. They made their “homes” out of scraps, tires, boxes, and other discarded items found on the dump.
It was our Field Ministry Internship health care team’s first day at the clinic at the City Dump. The clinic might have closed that summer in 1991 if we had not arrived. The YWAM staff team leading the clinic were all enrolled in the first University of the Nations Introduction to Primary Health Care School for Spanish speakers. They were glad we came. Our FMI team, led by Nurse Bonnie, kept the clinic open and operating.
Our journalism and social work interns took a walk with me through the Dump community. We met a man with bright yellow eyes, a key symptom of an acute and fatal case of hepatitis, probably due to alcohol abuse. He was silent, but his facial expressions betrayed the fact that he was a dangerous man. After we directed him to the clinic, a woman told us the same man regularly beat his wife.
Smoke rose over the mass of garbage burning at the center of the dump. Our eyes began to burn and I wondered how anyone could live in this place. We continued to visit families in their “homes.” One family of twelve seemed very well settled with a larger one-room hut, probably 12×15 feet, which included a large family bed and hammocks for the smaller children.
On our return to the clinic, we almost walked passed the “box.” But we heard the whimpering of a baby inside. I stooped down to look inside. This small box was a woman’s home and she held her oversized baby, Goliath.
We were welcomed “in,” but only one of us could fit on the straw mattress on the ground next to her. I looked in the sad dark face of the woman and joined her. I held her big baby.
I didn’t know whether to choke from the smell, or cry for the conditions this baby was born into. With the help of a translator, I spoke to the woman about her baby and the Child Jesus, who was born in an animal stall.
The woman paid close attention and I sensed the Holy Spirit drawing her as my words were simple and direct. I spoke of a hope that was beyond all hope. I shared Jesus.
Goliath’s mom prayed with me that day. As I opened my eyes I could see something happened; her grin was from ear to ear. The next day, Golaith’s mom was at the clinic asking to help. She became a true follower of Jesus that day.
Key #3: Power from the Throne of God.
The third key to ministry among the poor is “Power from the Throne of God.” The Poor are powerless in many respects. The Poor are most often born into poverty, like a lottery of life. Most of us, certainly most Westerners, would likely not survive in such conditions.
The Poor are denied access; they are held in powerlessness primarily because of broken relationships. All their relationships are working against them. It’s as if they were caught in a spider’s web, a diabolical trap from which there is no escape.
The Bible says there are “principalities and powers,” or rulers of darkness, which keep people in bondage to sin and misery. The evil spirits lock the Poor out of healthy relationships, especially from “seeing” Jesus Christ.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.” 2 Cor. 4:4
The enemy keeps the Poor in the cycle of poverty, a cycle of broken relationships. Relationship is the key dynamic of the throne of God.
What do the Poor need?
They need to be connected in relationship with God and others. They need a right relationship with their family, their community, and the resources of this world.
What is the problem with sin? It separates.
Sin separates us; relationships of all kinds suffer due to sin. The poor are no different from anyone; they need to be connected to others. The connection with others should not be primarily for the sake of provision; providing food, shelter and medicines has often been used as a means of control.
The poor need to be connected with the broader community where they have been restricted from access.
Kingdom-based Responses reflect Power from the Throne of God
A kingdom-based response to poverty will reverse the “process of dis-empowerment.”
A kingdom-based response will confront spiritual powers and principalities, including “god-complexes” that pins one group of people over another.
A kingdom-based response will heal bodies and relationships; it teaches and models a more complete worldview based on Christ’s character and authority to set them free.
A kingdom-based response will challenge the principalities and powers of darkness (including institutions that are instruments of those powers).
A kingdom-based response will establish “truth and righteousness”, and proclaim that “all power belongs to God.”
A kingdom-based response will restore a person’s relationship with himself/herself. As I wrote in the previous post, poverty, ultimately, is the poverty of “being” and of “purpose.” Conversely, abundant life is the abundance of “being” and “purpose”. It is from the vantage point of the throne of God that an individual and a people may find their God-given identity and vocation conferring the essential being and purpose.
My son, Justin, was there at the garbage dump clinic with my wife, Mary. Justin was just 15 months old. I held my son that evening and prayed with him as he went to sleep. We had little to no money, only $25 USD, on the day Justin was born. For many, we would be considered poor. What’s the difference?
Key #2: A Kingdom View of the Poor.
“Line up!” shouted the man who climbed out of the Ford Econoline 350 box truck. “Stand back! Stand de vuelta!” Clowns, balloons, and face painting helped attract people from the nearby pueblos. The dry wind swept up the grey dirt as the crowd of people from Cuidad Juarez, and the surrounding Mexican border squatter villages, gathered to receive clothes, food, and other donated items. Obediently, the people stood in line and waited for the man to open to back of the truck. I have no doubt the man and the others with him had kind intentions, however my heart sunk as I watched these people reduced to pitiable passive recipients of American excesses.
The truckload of donations was part of an outreach ministry of a church on the El Paso side of the Rio Grande. It was the summer of 1990. We were in Juarez for six weeks with our Field Ministry Internship student teams of Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. On this hot July afternoon, we were assisting the American group that came to plant a church. We were asked to conduct simple health examinations, primary health care, in a makeshift medical clinic. This personal contact also gave us opportunity to ask if we can pray for the children and their families.
However, the oversized sound system and overzealous worship leaders made it difficult to pray, let alone conduct any thorough examinations in the clinic. The loud and raucous singing and music was giving me a headache.
I stepped out of the clinic to observe the open air meeting. The music continued as young American evangelists, many with clown outfits, went into the audience to pray for the sick.
Please understand, I am a firm believer in prayer and God’s power to heal.
But this disturbed me.
A small Mexican child, obviously frightened by the clowns laying their hands on him, was crying and reaching out toward his mother. Others were surrounding “Mom” and praying for her. The noise and confusion even had me anxious to leave. I wondered what this child and family would think of Jesus after this traumatic day.
This brings us to the second key to ministry among the poor.
Christian ministries will always reflect their leadership’s view of the poor, their understanding of the nature of poverty. That view may be less biblical and more the prevailing view of the surrounding culture.
What is your view of the poor?
The way we approach our ministry to the poor communicates value, either positively or negatively. No matter how many dollars or valuables we donate, our posture and attitude in what we do and say communicates far more than what we give.
When Christians reach out to the poor, we too often unintentionally communicate what we think of their value.
This is what the poor “hear”:
“We are complete, you are not.”
Simply put, the goal of our outreach to the poor should be to avoid communicating that lie. Our goal should be to identify with the poor in our mutual recovery of identity in relation to God’s creative design and purpose.
How do we do that?
In order to communicate value to the poor, we must first communicate value to the volunteer serving alongside us in ministry to the poor.
This is why we emphasize “Calling” in our university student ministries and outreaches. If our outreach emphasizes the discovery of vocation in the life of the volunteer, the Christian participant in ministry to the poor, then we will effectively communicate the value of the design and purpose of God to the community in which we minister.
Then we will fulfill the commission to preach the good news to the poor.
Our aim is the same as that of Jesus’ public ministry:
“And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.’” (Luke 4: 17-19)
Our goal is to ‘set free’ the poor from their destructive relationships so they may enjoy Shalom, a Hebrew term for peace, completeness, and welfare. All of us are called by God to an abundant life of healthy kingdom relationships.
The way we reach this goal must begin with the right posture, the right attitude. We must begin by demonstrating a servant heart, the nature of our servant King Jesus.
In our outreach to the Poor we must represent a kingdom community, demonstrating the biblical story and representing God’s identity and purpose in our relationships.
Our outreach should portray the kingdom of God, which represents the character of God in all the various expressions of his callings.
God is healer, communicator, builder, author, creator, artist, counselor, teacher, etc. Therefore, these vocations are representing God’s character in community.
Outreach is best when we represent the kingdom of God in a community of servants. We represent the character of God and the holistic and interrelated spheres of His ministry.
Ministry to the Poor requires a view of the poor and a vision of the kingdom of God.
In this series, I am referring to the book: God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God, by Christian, Jayakumar.
Looking into the hollow eyes of Paulo, I wondered what we could do. Paulo was emaciated and gaunt, but with a bloated belly. His parents asked us to come see him. They worried that he would no longer eat the corn tortillas they had been feeding him. Because he was weak, his mother kept Paulo hidden in the dark corner of the small mud brick house. She feared that the sun and the warm air in the mountains of Guatemala would harm him.
It was 1991 and our university student Field Ministry Internship teams visited this mountain village to serve the Rabinal Achi people, a poor community with little or no access to health care and education.
Bonnie, a nurse and our health care team leader said Paulo was dying; he was at the final stages of starvation.
With the mother’s permission and Bonnie’s recommendation, I picked up the frail boy and held him to pray. He was light as a feather. I carried him into the sun. A member of our team ran to get some 7Up and soda crackers to attempt to rehydrate him, but he would not eat. I fed him the liquid with a tea spoon, which appeared to help him. We prayed earnestly as tears welled up in our eyes for the boy and his family. “Jesus, please heal this one today.”
The clinical name for the condition is called Kwashiorkor. The belly swells due to the lack of protein. The parents did not understand that the diet of tortillas, the only food available for their little boy, was insufficient. Paulo was not getting the nutrients he needed to survive.
We learned the next day that Paulo died. Even as I write this today, I agonize over the loss of this small child that had so little hope of survival. Even now, I want to bring a good report; I want to say, “Jesus healed Paulo!” But that is not what happened.
Paulo’s family is among the poorest of the poor. He is not merely a statistic, but he is among three billion people, almost half the world’s population, who live on less than $2.50 USD a day. Approximately 24,000 children like Paulo die every day due to malnutrition and impure water. (See Facts on Global Poverty.)
That experience, and dozens of others like it in as many countries over the past two decades, shaped my vision and passion for mobilizing university students toward their calling in Christ’s mission to a needy world. I ache to see a generation of university students offer their lives, including their studies and their careers, as living sacrifices in worship of Jesus. I long to see communities of faith, churches, devote more of their resources to mission and less to the one hour event on a Sunday morning. I long to see Christian business leaders, educators, scientists, communicators, food growers, builders, health care specialists, and families connect, conspire and collaborate to serve the world’s poor, starting with one small boy or girl in one small village.
One of the most important books I have read on the subject of ministry to the poor is God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God by Jayakumar Christian. (Amazingly, this book is not available for less than $200.00. Therefore, I will provide a brief synopsis for my next four blog posts.)
As I read this book I was challenged to understand several keys to ministry among the poor. I’m convinced these key principles are important for any ministry, any Christian desiring to serve Christ’s mission. Additional posts with stories of our ministry among the poor will follow soon.
(Note: The name “Paulo” may not be accurate, but the story is true. I may have confused this boy’s name with another we ministered to some time later.)
U2 singer songwriter Bono expresses a spiritual yearning in the 1987 album The Joshua Tree hit single: “Still haven’t found what I’m looking for…” New Musical Express (a pop music mag in the UK better known as the NME), points out that the popularity of the song may be due to the way it showed that the band cared about something which could not be reduced to a few words, principles, or statements to “save” them. The spiritual yearning, “climbing mountains” and “scaling these city walls” with a singular aim, “only to be with you”, made U2 “special” with a message that resonated making the song among the most popular of all time. Why?
Bono captured the heart-cry of a generation. Harvard University graduate Noah describes his own spiritual yearning: “My education has prepared me better than most to ‘make a living’. But once I have that living, I haven’t the faintest idea what to do with it…” He continues, “My expanded intellectual capacities make it more difficult for me to find anything to believe in… the American educational system has armed me with so much cynicism and has not allowed more opportunity to contemplate what I truly want of life.”
What I truly want…
The search, seeking what you truly want, should not cause any shame. If you are not on a search for something more, then it may be you have lost hope for the future. Or worse, it may be your search has resulted in a dead end, a fatalistic future, which requires no participation. Fatalists, whether Christian or not, have no reason to invest their lives, their resources or their work, toward something meaningful. The future is fixed and cannot be changed, according to their fatalistic belief system. To know that the course of your life has meaning, you must consider ‘what?’ or more appropriately ‘Who?’ will give your life significance.
Os Guinness writes, “First we must resolutely refuse to play the word games that pretend calling means anything without a Caller – and we must not allow people to play such games on us.” He continues,“If we don’t recognize the Caller, there are no callings; all that can remain is work without true meaning.”
A spiritual quest for meaning
Be encouraged. There is more and the future is made by those who seek a better world, those who are really living in this world as a witness of the goodness of their Creator, the God who is both the beginning and the end. The call of God is a spiritual quest. It is a call to be like him, believing in the future and creating it through our words and actions, our work and our investment, our hopes and our prayers. Even God seeks. He is the One who calls. With all his power and knowledge, God seeks those of us who will respond to his call:
“Heaven is my throne, earth is my footstool. What sort of house could you build for me? What holiday spot reserve for me? I made all this! I own all this! But there is something I’m looking for: a person, simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say.” Isa. 66:1-2 (The Message)
Responding to God’s call is taking this spiritual quest for meaning very seriously. I believe this generation, probably more than any other, is on a search for significance. Unfortunately, the search requires resources not readily available. Though some have been on the journey and could serve as guides, they often go unnoticed; the people who might serve as a guide or mentor are hidden in plain sight. They do not hang a shingle advertising their availability to lead you on a journey of significance. If they do, you might check for references. Those who can lead you on a journey of the discovery of God’s calling will not self-promote because the act of self-promotion is contradictory to the call of God. If you seek someone to help you on your quest, do not turn to a “professional” who has reduced the process of discerning the call of God to a “12-step program” or a costly university diploma. Instead, get on with your quest, respond to God’s call with all your heart. That quest, whether you are enrolled in university or not, will likely lead you to become more of a student, more discerning, and more prayerful. A quest is a “mystery discerning enterprise,” rather than a “problem solving” project. Your quest is not a self-help program and it is not merely an adventure. Those who go on adventures experience amazing things, but they return to their routine; their lives are not changed. Those who go on a spiritual quest are changed. If they return, they are never the same. They cannot return to the same routine. They have become pilgrims on a quest that will continue throughout their lives.
Should I seek a guide?
Keep your eyes open, especially the “eyes of your heart” (Eph. 1:18). Paul the apostle prays that you may “know the hope of his calling.” Discernment and humility are needed when considering who may be a guide as you seek what is really important. The guide will be someone who is on their own journey, discerning and seeking to obey their own call from God. That they are on their own quest will likely conceal their spiritual identity from you and their value to you as a guide. Recall the characters from J. R. R. Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings? Frodo’s quest came after Bilbo gave him the “One Ring” and Gandalf charged him to take the ring to Rivendell. On their way, Frodo and his friends met a stranger at the Prancing Pony Pub. Little did they know the stranger is the son of a king. Aragorn’s identity is concealed to others and partly concealed to himself. He is first introduced by the name Strider. Strider joined Frodo’s quest while serving as a guide and protector for the hobbits.
Please understand: This is not a formula for seeking a guide for your spiritual journey. However, Tolkien’s story is useful here. From my experience, the most valuable mentors/teachers to me have been humble individuals who were/are on their own spiritual journey. Their identity and their significance was largely concealed from me when I first came to know them. The extent of their service, guidance and protection, and their ultimate contribution to my spiritual quest is immeasurable. These individuals have been like spiritual fathers, investing themselves unselfishly as part of their own spiritual journey.
The struggle…the work
Your search will take you far from familiar territory. You cannot respond to God’s call hidden safe behind the comforts of your own culture, whether material comforts or theological/ideological comforts. Responding to God’s call takes the honest seeker both deep inside the needs in their own heart and out to a world of desperate needs. If there is deep within you a passionate desire to make a difference, you will need to become desperate enough to free yourself from the shackles of your own culture, your own hurts, and your own false beliefs. To get to know your own identity, which includes your family, your culture, and your personal trauma in life, is hard work. The call of God will always lead you to a thorough assessment of your motives and values, your woundedness and your strengths. To know that passion and the difference for which you are called is not found by taking an online survey for $50. Bottom line, it takes work to discern your calling.
“Doing anything as a calling-especially doing something quite difficult-is a lot more fulfilling than merely drifting.” Michael Novak, from his book, Business as a Calling.
What does revival look like? I was in a pastor’s meeting recently where the topic was discussed. I think they were correct when they said it’s like a wave that you cannot control. All you can do is begin paddling like a surfer to prepare to catch the wave.
What I have noticed, paradoxically, is that revivals down through history have rarely been met with a great welcome by the religious leaders of the community. When revival comes, it raises the hope of the community for a future with Jesus at the center of every home and every conversation. Revival brings a transformation of culture, a culture of hope.
I believe the way to create hope in a community or even a wider culture is to proclaim the good news by word and deed. The message of hope gets drummed up like a political slogan, but hope is much more than that. What is taking place in the Middle East today is the activation of a fervent hope for a future that honors individuals, families, communities, and whole nations.
We cannot control the destiny of nations, but we can participate. As a missionary, I believe hope can be realized in a community by consistently reporting the good news. The good news is the gospel story, but it is much more. Christians need to engage their world with active involvement, even in small ways. We can visit prisons, hospitals, shut ins, and neighbors. We can invite strangers, the lonely, and the lost into our homes. We can enjoy a simple meal with the hungry and share our time and belongings with the poor and needy.
Proclaiming the good news is done, not only through word, but also through deed. And hope is fostered in a community when those words of Scripture are matched with actions of love. Hope grows as we report on the many small actions that are making a difference in our community. You might call them “achievable wins”, simple acts of love in community.
Hope is not found merely in acts of charity, however. Hope must be firmly rooted in the Person of Jesus Christ. That hope should not be rooted in this world. Neither should the hope be rooted in heaven, which has caused too many lovely Christians to ignore the needs of this world. So proclaiming the good news, reporting on our “achievable wins”, must include a clear presentation of the overarching vision of relationship with Jesus in our daily lives and in our neighborhoods.
A culture of hope will grow under that vision and mission of Jesus. What grows in that culture are is a spirit of missional unity, which produce many missions partnerships. The hopes of pilgrims in the no-man’s-land of collaborative culture, those who recognize each individual, family, church, and organization’s identity as a contributor to the whole task of Jesus’ mission, is what makes up the culture of hope.
Some people will be early participants in this “culture.” They are the boundary spanners who are willing to examine and work to span the chasm between different groups, churches, and organizations. Though each expects something different from their emerging partnerships, they will work to enhance their part so that their group may in turn develop a culture of collaboration, a willingness to enhance the vision of Jesus in their community.
The early participants will often begin the task before everyone else is on board. They continue to remain open and hospitable, content to not be leading a large public movement. They choose rather to open their homes and share meals and prayer times with those who would catch the vision later. These courageous ones are willing to address difficult questions. They do not study theology; they DO theology. Their every conversation is dripping with theological hope. They are students. These disciples of Jesus are learning together in community. They are learning to manage tensions and complexities of the new places God is leading them and the new culture that God is promising. They are working like gardeners, creating a collaborative environment in order to produce a culture of hope.
These people embrace a high cultural value of personal responsibility, the language of stewardship and shared responsibility, recognizing the task of collaboration is not everyone else’s responsibility. These people are accountable to each other and to the overarching vision. They may work toward achievable wins, however they are not seeking immediate rewards; they are looking toward the long-term.
This culture shuns the zero-sum game with competitive winners and losers so often found in the religious movements of yesterday. This new culture resists isolation and looks for synergy. It is not stuck in past structures; it is open to a variety of possibilities and structures to serve the purpose of accomplishing Jesus’ vision. This culture is like a bridge, easy to get on and easy to get off, as necessary to the current task.
The question is when and how do we collaborate. Ultimately, these people embrace and create a culture that recognizes Kingdom values, that we are all already working together. Our calling is not to create unity, but to preserve it.
The effective Kingdom partnership culture is breathing out Spirit-filled prayers and exhortations, speaking truth with mutual humility. It is a “place” where Jesus is Lord, and the voices of all constituencies are heard, especially the voice of God. It is a partnership “by people in Christ from within organizations for the Kingdom.”
Setting the stage for the historic prayer meeting with the five students who gathered under that haystack to find refuge from a storm in August 1806 was a little booklet written only a decade or so earlier by William Carey. The booklet was entitled:
“An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.”
Carey was a cobbler and lover of maps. He was homeschooled and he made several world maps out of leather which hung in his shop where he made shoes. In that little booklet, Carey asks:
“Are Christians under an obligation to help transform societies that live in intellectual, moral, social, political, and spiritual darkness?”
This profound question provoked at least one elder in his church while listening to Carey’s presentation. The elder said:
“Young man, if God had wanted to save the poor heathen, he would do it himself and he would not need your help.”
Ruth and Vishal Mangalwadi have written an excellent little book about William Carey entitled: “The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of Culture” (formerly: “Carey, Christ, and Cultural Transformation: The Life and Influence of William Carey”). I am referring here to what I have learned from the Mangalwadi book.
Carey was known as the Father of Modern Missions because of his work in India and his written appeal to the institutional Protestant church of his day to respond to the Great Commission. Carey is mostly known for his commitment as a missionary to India, but few have understood that commitment or his understanding of the gospel and its power to reform society, Hindu Indian society as well as the powerful East India Company (a precursor to multi-national corporations). Though largely still unreached today, Carey had an incredible impact on India.
William Carey began his life work as a cobbler in England. Educated by his parents and a life-long learner, Carey developed a true concern for the calling of the Church to obey the commandment of Christ to preach the gospel to every creature. His understanding of that calling became personal as he endured the opposition of Church leaders and his own wife and set sail to serve God’s purposes in India for over 30 years.
What most do not know about William Carey is the extent of his work and vision for Christian missions. Mangawadi writes:
“He was a pioneer of the modern Western Christian missionary movement, reaching out to all parts of the world; a pioneer of the Protestant church in India; and a translator and/or publisher of the Bible in forty different Indian languages. Carey was an evangelist who used every available medium to illuminate every dark facet of Indian life with the light of truth. As such, he is the central character in the story of India’s modernization.”
Today India is the largest democracy in the world. What most do not know is that this simple cobbler from England was much more than a clergyman. His vision for the church and his understanding of the gospel to transform culture included nearly every arena of society, every sphere of influence.
Carey was not only a preacher and translator; he was a botanist who published one of the first books on science and natural history in India. He was an industrialist who developed the first indigenous paper for the publishing industry in India. He was an economist who introduced the idea of savings banks in India. He was a medical humanitarian who campaigned for humane treatment of lepers. He was a media pioneer who built the then largest press in India. He was an agriculturist who founded India’s Agri-Horticultural Society in the 1820′s, thirty years before the Royal Agricultural Society was established in England.
Carey was a translator and educator, a professor of Indian languages at Fort William College in Calcutta. He was an astronomer, introducing India to the scientific culture of astronomy, which made it possible for India to devise calendars, study geography and history, and plan their work and social order.
Carey was a library pioneer who started lending libraries. He was a forest conservationist who wrote essays on forestry and said that as the gospel flourishes in India, “the wilderness will, in every respect, become a fruitful field.” Carey was a crusader for women’s rights who was the first man to fight against the ruthless murders and widespread oppression of women, which was virtually “synonymous with Hinduism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
Carey lived the life of a missionary, not hidden behind the confines of a church structure busying himself with merely religious duties. Carey was a public servant and moral reformer; Carey was a cultural transformer.
This man, his writings, witness, and work, is what inspired five students in a new nation, the United States of America, to pray and fervently seek the Lord for the people of Asia and for their own fellow students. And history continued to unfold…
BTW- Do you know what happened to that church in England where one of the elders told Carey to sit down?
That church is a Hindu temple today.
My definition of calling is: “Engagement with the world in response to God.” It may be too simple, but it comes down to this: Are we living for God or ourselves. The ancients used the term Coram Deo, which means “To live in one world before the face of God.”
Coram Deo. To live Coram Deo is to live in one world before the face of God. The notion of calling comes from the fact that God communicates to his people; He speaks! He calls us by name. Vocation comes from the Latin root, Vox or Voice. A vocation is not merely a choice of career, but a call from God. Calling comes from outside of us, not the inside. However, God places within each of us individual gifts and talents and strengths, which help us to “hear” , to find and to fulfill our calling.
The challenge for many of us is this: Are we listening? Are we seeking? Are we pursuing God’s dreams or our own?
When our motives are not to pursue God’s dream, God hides himself.
We are to live our lives on purpose because we are created with purpose. We are spiritual beings with dreams much bigger than ourselves. God has set eternity in our hearts. He has created us unique, unlike any other being or individual in all of creation. We have unique finger prints, retina, voice print, and DNA. God made you a spiritual being. Calling is important because the spiritual life is to impregnate every area of life.
When we begin to seek God to know his loving heart for us and for every individual, every nation, and the planet we walk on, that is when we begin to understand his calling. Calling is the summons to participate in the will and work of God in human history.
If you are ready to pursue God’s dream, take some time now to get alone and listen to the heart of God, the One who created you and everything else. In the words of Francis Schaffer, “He is there. And He is not silent.”
The story of the Haystack Prayer Meeting is an account of the power of prayer and a portrayal of the courage of colleges students who provided a new generation of Christian mission leadership. Led by Samuel Mills, this small, seemingly insignificant gathering of five students from Williams College in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts in 1806 changed the course of history.
“History is a search for wisdom from the past to help us today,” writes Kenneth Scott Latourette, Professor of Missions and Oriental History at Yale University. For example, understanding the Christianizing of the Roman Empire requires an analysis of the story, which was more than the deterioration of a corrupt society. The expansion of Christianity is “a series of power encounters, exorcisms, and healings,” writes Latourette. Ultimately, he adds, “the ‘mustard seed’ toppled the Empire.” History, it would seem from the Christian perspective, requires an understanding of the power of prayer. (Latourette 1970)
We will return to the story of Samuel Mills and his friends in this new series of posts. This new page on the Barefoot Blog will broaden the story of universities, their role in the discipling of nations in fulfillment of the Great Commission, and of students, professors, and others who have served God’s purposes as part of His-Story.
Wikipedia strongly espouses verifiability and a neutral point of view, but critics of Wikipedia accuse it of “systemic bias and inconsistencies”. They say “favoring consensus over credentials gives undue weight to popular culture” in its editorial processes.
From a vantage point of a missionary, I see an important similarity here to the argument that laity, those lacking credentials from a church denomination or seminary, have no business leading a church plant or Missional community. The argument goes like this: “Those untrained leaders could lead their people into heresy or false doctrine.” That was a major concern of the early church.
If reliability and accuracy are really the issue, and not the status of “experts,” then it’s worth noting that “an investigation in Nature (scientific journal) found that the science articles they compared came close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopedia Britannica and had a similar rate of “serious errors”.” In this Nature article, Alex Bateman and Darren W. Logan write:
“Ten years ago, it would have been inconceivable that a free collaborative website, written and maintained by volunteers, would dominate the global provision of knowledge.”
So then, should an “untrained” leader draw together a group of Christ’s followers and attempt to demonstrate and declare the gospel of Jesus by making disciples from within their specific people group, their neighborhood, workplace, or school? Could such a group represent an authentic church gathering?
For centuries leadership of churches has been left to “experts”, those with credentials, degrees, and funny hats. Concern for this issue was pronounced during the recent post-colonial period, after WWII, when newly independent nations opened the opportunity for multiplied thousands of new independent churches which resulted in the greatest expansion of christianity in history, especially the Global South (see Inter-Varsity article). Many attempts to train the multitudes of new church leaders in Africa and China, through programs based mostly in the West, such as TEE (Theological Education by Extension), could not keep up the pace of church growth at the end of the 20th century. At issue: what would come of these “younger” churches? Would they slip into heresy and error?
Perhaps a little humility is required as we respond to these questions. The church in the West has not been without error, despite her theological “maturity.” The early church had error, the Medieval church had error, and the Protestant church has had error. Some error is difficult to perceive from a purely Western mindset. What could be wrong with promoting individual choices for Christ, reducing the gospel message to “three steps” or “four laws”? Well, getting “saved” for heaven is not the kingdom message Jesus preached. And it’s not the gospel message Paul preached. Salvation is much more comprehensive, and not just a private decision. The West has exported this erroneous gospel message through the modern missionary enterprise for more than a century.
Examining the laundry list of error in Western theology would require several other posts, so let’s just humble ourselves long enough to accept our brothers and sisters in the now Majority church of the Global South, not as immature “younger” churches, but as full fledged churches.
Like the world of Wikipedia, we now live in a new, “flat” and globalized world (See Thomas Friedman’s popular book, ‘The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century’), where information, correction of error and validation of facts now spread instantaneously around the world. Whether we are ready or not, it is time to consider our ways, to search the Scriptures for understanding the way to reach our new world.
Jesus did not make it complicated and neither should we. It is simple to experience community with those you already have an affinity, a similar culture. People who already share interest and time together are more likely to worship together and work together on a mission of Kingdom expansion.
This is the approach to missions and church planting in India put forth in the 1930s by Donald McGavran, the late missionary statesman who coined “Homogenous Unit Principle“, groups which can be a culture or language, a tribe or caste, a clan or geographical unit. McGavran was studied church growth, proposing a church which is not sending mission so much as it is itself sent. With so many different cultures in India, McGavran saw the need to encourage many cultural expressions of church. The different people groups should not be forced into one church cultural mold, like your neighborhood mega-church. Could it be that McGavran’s approach would also now be appropriate for churches in the Western world?
Lesslie Newbigin, another great missionary statesman, spent over 30 years living as a missionary working with the Church of South India. When he returned to England, Newbigin noticed something: the Western world had become as pluralistic as India, with new “faith” in materialism. (See Newbigin’s book: The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society.) The West, especially Europe with the USA not far behind, had already lost much of its “Christian” heritage. Once vital Church structures in England are now nightclubs with names like “Ministry of Sin.” Newbigin saw the need to not only continue to send missionaries around the world, but also to receive missionaries to re-evangelize the post-Christian West. He suggested the formation and structure of Western churches require a new reformation in order to reach our Western society with the gospel. He and many of the leaders in world missions today, contend that the Church in the West must again become primarily a missions station sponsoring Missional communities among the people groups in our cities. The Anglican Church is championing “Fresh Expressions” of church formation for the communities in which it has been established for many hundreds of years.
What am I proposing? Three things:
- First, I propose we learn humility, perhaps unlike or feeble attempts to humble ourselves in religious services, temporarily weeping at the altar and then returning to our comfortable lives behind our TVs, in our over-sized houses, and compressed lifestyles. We must humble ourselves, relinquishing our supposed rights to power, privilege, and too often prestige.
- Second, like Wikipedia, we should learn to trust every believer to gain access, participate, and contribute to theological conversations. We should trust those with a desire to be a witness to their community.
- Third, we should flatten our church hierarchies, eliminate the exclusivity of church “membership”, and commission believers to “go” into their world to plant simple church communities.
Imagine if Jesus could once again become the main focus of conversations and life in your neighborhood, your workplace, and on a your campus, perhaps it would also be possible for the message and works of Jesus to fill an entire city. No, I am not suggesting we merely “unite” churches (which tend to be organized in a competitive business model anyway). Unity is not something we create, it is something the apostle Paul exhorts us to “preserve”.
This vision for a new church-planting movement in our neighborhoods could only be realized if everyday believers, people like you and me, choose to go on mission in our sphere of influence, planting the church where you are through non-formal gatherings in homes, workplaces, and campus dorms. Of course, those with the status as “experts” may resist this missional movement for various reasons. But I am confident that the leaders whose hearts belong to Jesus will cheer ANY effort to reach our world with the good news.
The hard part is this: We have to renew our thinking, repent of our fixed cultural habits, and begin to walk worthy of this calling. Church is not just something you attend…it’s something you are. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you; that’s true of every believer. The good news is within us.
We need break our individualistic mindset in order to see our world is not just one big community of individuals. It is hundreds of people groups, small communities put together to make up your city.
So I am proposing ‘simple churches’ or missional communities to be formed by two or more believers among these people groups. Missional communities are incarnational in that they arise out of and focus on the communities they desire to reach. Imagine multitudes of new small groups of believers in Chicago, LA, and New York, and in university campuses, businesses and suburbs in your area… Leaders need to find courage to once again be the church and release a new generation of churches in their most localized and organic form. This is what I propose: Form simple churches that are “Wiki-Missional.”
Our table is the center of our home. It’s the place our family comes together, the place we welcome friends, neighbors, and strangers. We invite others into the kitchen where we chop and sauté vegetables, bake bread, stir sauces, pour the fruit of the vine (juice or wine, you choose), and prepare to savor the meal. Rich conversation with others around food is how we live, how we love each other, how we teach our children, and how we learn about others and our world.
We thought everyone enjoyed meals as families. We thought everyone invited people into their homes to share their lives. Sadly, we’ve met a growing number of people who rarely if ever sit at table with their families, let alone anyone else. By sharing our table with international students, young people from various religious and non-religious backgrounds, happy homes and broken homes, we’ve learned how very desperate this generation is for authentic relationships.
But that’s not all. The simplicity of sharing meals and intimate conversation may be more than we thought.
Think about it. Table fellowship was central to early church gatherings. Long before all the complex religious practices, the beautiful sanctuaries and the hierarchy of leaders were added to the simplicity of sharing life in Christ with others, believers shared meals from house to house. Though some gatherings may have been in the synagogue or a rented hall, much of the growth of the church came about in the intimate spaces, especially table fellowship. Without the New Testament scriptures, people gathered to remember the words Jesus spoke. They experienced the power of the Holy Spirit and spoke the simple gospel message and the church rapidly grew. People opened their homes and others brought their appetites, desiring to grow in their relationship with Jesus, which caused the growth of the “spiritual house”, the new temple of worship. It appears Jesus intends, and the early apostles taught, that we should be priests offering spiritual sacrifices from the altar of table fellowship. Peter writes:
“Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:2-5
There’s more. The New Testament “priesthood” is very different from the Old Testament priesthood and their focus on Temple worship. Before Jesus went to the cross, he prophesied the total destruction of the Temple, which came about before the end of the first century, and which resulted in the end of Temple worship. Jesus instituted a new form of altar worship, table fellowship. He instructed his followers to remember his sacrifice. Paul writes to the Corinthian believers:
“the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Cor. 11:22-24
Jesus instructed us to “remember” and Peter instructed us to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. Priests offer intercession, prayer for the people, including all nations. The Old Testament priests were born priests; they were from the tribe of Levites. The Levites offered the blood of bulls, goats, and doves for the remission of sin. Some became corrupt, seeking and maintaining power, and failing to intercede for the nations. Of all the words Jesus spoke, he spoke most harshly to those corrupt leaders that failed to be priests and a light to the Gentiles.
The “tribe” of priests in the New Testament are also born to a priesthood; they are born of the Spirit. They are not individually priests with special callings. The priesthood is all those born of the Spirit. New Testament priests do not shed blood, as the Levites did. Instead, they recall the complete and finished work of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, our high priest:
“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” – Heb. 7:23-27
So this priesthood is not for a select few in the Church, not a specialized role that must be earned and not a special class of people within the Church. This priesthood of all believers is the call to intercede, to pray and offer a different kind of “sacrifice” on a different kind of altar.
Table fellowship had become very controversial in the early church. Peter struggled with the issue and Paul confronted him about it:
“But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” – Gal. 2:11-12
Jewish believers needed to learn Christ’s mission. They needed to be free from their cultural and religious systems of power. They needed to recognize how those systems resist Holy Spirit.
Finding freedom in the Spirit will lead us to cooperate with him. He is here to make Jesus known in all the earth. The Holy Spirit is spreading the good news. Our part is to be that priesthood, inviting our neighbors to table fellowship. Preaching is important, but we must not neglect breaking bread with neighbors as part of our intercession for our neighborhood as a kingdom of priests.
The Christmas story is more than the idyllic picture of stars and shepherds and the birth of a baby in an animal stall. It’s also about an amazing story of God’s justice and his Mission, contrasting attractional and missional messages in the Christmas story. It begins with the faith of a young girl from Nazareth who arrives in Judah to see her relative. Her first words are:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49)
Mary is a walking miracle. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, she is now a pregnant virgin with a promised son. Gabriel, an angel who stands in God’s presence, makes an amazing declaration to Mary: “The Lord is with you! You have found favor with
God.” The promise to conceive came true. But would this baby boy really “be great“, and who will call him “the Son of the Most High”? How will the Lord God give to him “the throne of his father David”? How will he “reign over the house of Jacob for ever” with a “kingdom that will have no end“? This is what the young Galilean girl is pondering in her heart as she flees from the scorn of her neighbors, and apparently the temporary frustration of her fiancé, for this untimely pregnancy and walks to the city of Judah to stay with her relatives, Zachariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth had her own miracle baby; she was old and never had children. Elizabeth was promised a child, John, who would become the prophet, calling his people to repentance and preparing the way of the Lord. At the
sight of Mary, Elizabeth feels her baby leap in her womb. In that moment, Elizabeth experiences the infilling of the Holy Spirit and exclaims a prophetic word with her joy:
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your
womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord
should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting
came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And
blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of
what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:42-45)
Without the knowledge that comes through the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth could not have known that her young niece was indeed “the mother of the Lord”. Similarly, the Holy Spirit sets ablaze Mary’s tongue as she continues her prophetic, and strangely
“And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.” (Luke 1:50-55)
This young girl recalls God’s promises of justice and mercy and exclaims that God has already “put down the mighty from their thrones.” There is a strangely political tone here, a sense that God’s justice was coming or had come in this miracle child. Mary, no doubt, pondered things in her heart for many years. Who is this boy? Surely he cried as a baby, vulnerable and in need of the many forms of sacrificial love of his parents. We can also wonder about those growing years when Jesus worked with Joseph, his earthly dad, and cared for his younger brothers and sisters. The writer of Hebrews gives us a hint at his early years, disclosing that he “learned obedience through what he suffered“, likely including rejection due to his dubious birth (Heb. 5:8). We also know from Luke’s
gospel that before Jesus’ public ministry, he had a regular practice of standing up to read the Scriptures in the synagogue. The portion we find in the gospels after John baptizes him, after the devil tempts him in the wilderness, and after his public ministry begins. Jesus returns to his home country, Nazareth, and on the sabbath he enters the synagogue, stands, and begins to read from Isaiah 61:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:18-19
Right then he closed the book, something nobody expected. They wanted him to read the next phrase: “and the day of vengeance of our God“ (Isa. 61:2) Instead, Jesus gave the book back to the attendant, and sat down. Everybody just stared at him. Breaking the tension, Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
Suddenly everyone was happy and thought very highly of “Joseph’s son.” They too began to wonder. (v.22) That’s when Jesus seems to stick his proverbial foot in his mouth. Everything goes sour when he says:
“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.’ Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” (vs. 23-27)
Jesus does not seem to care if people liked him or thought highly of him. He is not attractional; he’s missional. He just put it all out there. The people were expecting
a word of God’s vengeance, God’s promised deliverance exclusively for the people of Israel. But Jesus instead speaks of God’s initiative of grace to the outsider, the Gentile nations. Jesus gives a message of God’s Mission. What happens? All hell breaks
loose. They were all “filled with wrath.” No longer did they wonder at the grace of Joseph’s son; they rushed him and got ready to push him over a cliff. (vs. 28-29) Somehow, Jesus managed to walk away. The Day of Christmas is a day of vengeance, but it is not what most people think.
Run!” “Keep going!” “You are almost there!”
If you are like me, that is what these final days and hours of 2010 feel like. The year has been chock-full, jam-packed, and well, overflowing with ministry, travels, and fruitful activity.
To all our friends, thank you for supporting our family serving with Youth With A Mission.
“Keep going!” Yes, I still hear that. Do you? As we come to the end of 2010, I need to ask you for a favor. Would you take a moment to make a contribution, ANY amount, to help us finish the year and extend our ministry in 2011? This year-end request will help us overcome a personal shortfall this year AND help us get a good start in 2011.
“You’re almost there!” There it is again. A call to finish strong. Would you help? You can also forward this note to a few friends who might also join our team of supporters for 2011. Would you do that too?
“You can do it!” In response, and as we reach our goal of $10,000, we will sponsor the full school tuition for an emerging missionary in Latin America to take the next School of University Ministries & Missions.
As you may know, our work is with university students. It is no surprise to us that students all over the world want to be spiritually equipped to respond to God’s calling to engage issues of global human need, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, clean water, and children at risk. Since 1989, we have prepared and sent students from nine nations and over 100 universities to integrate their field of studies serving long-term projects that minister to the poor and needy in 34 countries.
“Run!” To expand the work, we began a training course for YWAM staff. With the help of our nine member international team, we started the School of University Ministries & Missions (SUMM). We launched in Delhi, India in 2004 with 24 participants from nine nations. Since then, the 12-week course has run in Thailand, Korea, the USA, and three additional times in India. Our most recent school had participants from Madagascar, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Thailand, India, and Korea. To date, we have trained over one hundred of our YWAM campus ministry workers in 32 countries.
“Don’t stop now!” The next course is scheduled to take place in Cartagena, COLOMBIA in January 2011. Our goal as a ministry is to provide full tuition scholarships for all qualified Latin American YWAM staff who enroll. By faith, my family and I are granting one full scholarship. But we need you to help right now. Any gift will help.
“We’re with you!” The love and support of family, friends, church communities, and some former student interns have helped us keep going after over 25 years of living by faith and serving Jesus’ mission. Thank you. Truly, we could not do what we do without your support. God bless you!
Your help is so appreciated!
“Almost there!” Donating through our online donation site is simple, fast and totally secure. It is also one of the most efficient ways to support our fundraising efforts. All gifts are income tax deductible and are requested with the understanding that SMC has complete discretion and control over the use of all donated funds. If you prefer to give with a check by mail, send it payable to “YWAM” with a separate note “for the Henry’s” to:
YWAM-SMC, PO Box 6412, Madison, WI 53716
Many thanks for your support — and don’t forget to forward this to a few people and ask them to join our support team in 2011 too!
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” 1Cor 9:24
Follow this link to our secure online donation page. Thank you!
Dave Fitch, Life on the Vine in Chicago area, writes…
“attractional and missional churches are such because they have divergent understandings of basic Christian doctrines. What we need is a theologically robust understanding [of] the relationship between the the Missio Dei [God's Mission], the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the Church. This will lead us not to the ‘best’ of these two models, but to a cohesive vision of a missional ecclesiology. This is the great error of ‘AND’ thinking; you never get to core issues because you spend all your time trying to artificially hold incompatible things together.”
Fitch is right. Simply trying to do both Missional and Attractional forms of Church will not work. We need a little perspective to understand and communicate a “cohesive vision of a missional ecclesiology”.
As a mobilizer for missions these past 25 years, my attention has always been directed toward Missio Dei, or God’s Mission, not to be misunderstood with “missions,” which is traditionally understood to be the Church’s missionary activity or a department of the institutional Church of the West. Consistent with a vision for God’s overarching Mission in the world, my part has been to work with university students, helping them grasp the love of God and global neighbor through obedience to God’s calling. My hope remains that if a sufficient movement of students engage with God in his Mission, a significant reform of higher education must follow.
That hope for the reform of higher education is only part of God’s Mission. Another reform is necessary. As my understanding of God’s work in human history has grown, my attention has become focused on reforming the Church, especially in the Western world, where christendom has been the established norm and expectation.
My missional journey began in 1982 when I was embraced by the members of Christian Community Church in Kinderhook, NY, a small community that worships in a renovated barn called “Solomon’s Porch” and celebrates community and mission as a lifestyle. The team leadership, led by George Isley (my spiritual father in the faith), the warm hospitality, and the commitment to listen and cooperate with God’s Spirit at Solomon’s Porch are the characteristics of community that have sustained me as a “sent one” in a wider world of mission mobilization with Youth With A Mission and the Student Mobilization Centre.
In recent years I completed a MA in Global Leadership at Fuller Seminary. That reflective period of study coupled with my extensive travels around the globe has deepened and widened my appreciation for what God is doing on planet earth. Many of you may know that the Majority Church is no longer in Europe and the USA. The Majority Church is outside the West; it’s the Global South, including Africa, Latin America, and much of East Asia. Not only is the Church larger in numbers, the Church of the Global South (see article from Lausanne Congress) is also now sending more missionaries than Western nations. Thanks to Lesslie Newbigin and David J. Bosch, (including Bosch’s book Transforming Mission, which I am currently re-reading) my understanding, and the understanding of most of the Church’s leaders around the globe, has shifted.
That paradigm shift in understanding is evident in the many African churches that are now sending missionaries to Europe and the USA. The fastest growing churches in Europe are led by Africans. Back to Jerusalem, a growing movement taking the gospel from China through Central Asia and back to Israel, has emerged out of the Chinese house church movement, where there is an estimated 100 million believers today. Like my brothers and sisters in the Global South, I now see the Western world, especially Europe but also the USA, is a key mission field. The need for reforming our understanding and practice of Church in our Western context is quite urgent.
In fact, I believe the call for reform today is greater than at the time of the Protestant Reformation, which began 500 years ago with Martin Luther’s appeal when he nailed 95 complaints against the established church on a university bulletin board, the Wittenburg Door. Reform today should, in my view, re-emphasize scripture, faith, and the grace of God. However, reform in our day should not be a re-instatement of a 16th century Western understanding of scripture. Instead, we would do well to be faithful to the scriptures by digging deeper. We should explore more thoroughly the authors of the New Testament texts, their backgrounds and understanding of words they introduced, such as Paul’s use of the word “Justification.” We would do well to pay attention to the “New Perspectives on Paul”, including N.T. Wright’s pursuit of a more faithful understanding of Jesus and the gospel Paul preached, and not only a 16th century European take on Jesus and Paul.
The current reform of the Church should not be merely structural, replacing the altar with the pulpit as in the Protestant Reformation. Neither should it be the putting on of a new image, a new marketing scheme, so often associated with Western “success” stories. Reform will require a recalibration of our spiritual and cultural posture in the West, from privilege and power to servanthood and simplicity. Certainly, reform will change the way we equip our leaders; it will reform higher education, beginning with seminaries and bible schools. However, I do not believe reform today will require a great struggle between two opposing ideals or two opposing structures, as was the case in Europe’s Thirty-Years War. Instead, reform will come quietly as believers follow the voice of God’s Spirit calling them toward a lifestyle of surrender, which can only result in a simpler, more relational, more sacrificial love of God and neighbor.
This reform is toward a missional ecclesiology. It’s not a dichotomy, an either or, Attractional vs. Missional. It’s a thoroughgoing change from the inside out, a heart-change in the lives of an emerging leadership, many of whom will not be well known even at the time of their greatest influence. These emerging leaders are fathers and mothers ready to open their homes, appealing to a generation longing for permission to dream with God, to hear his voice, and to create with him. This kind of leader is not new; like Paul, these leaders have always been in our midst offering a quiet and authentic, affirming and releasing example. They offer an example to those with eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand that God’s mission is his Church and it is through his church. As Fitch writes, ”we need … a theologically robust understanding [of] the relationship between the Missio Dei, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the Church.” It’s happening.
Biographers and historians have conferred the title, “Father of Modern Education,” on John Amos Comenius primarily due to his contribution to modern educational methodology. Comenius was born on March 28, 1592 in Moravia, now in the Czech Republic. Much of this Moravian theologian’s writings suggest that the overarching objective of his life and work was of greater consequence than reformed educational method. The examination of the life and works of this seventeenth-century educational reformer will help us to understand if it was the intent of Comenius to influence positively the work of world mission.
Kenneth Scott Latourette writes that Comenius was “a pioneer in an educational theory which was to exert a wide influence.” Comenius’ set out to organize the teaching process in a way that “everything be [sic] taught through the senses.” He demonstrated this idea by including pictures in a textbook on foreign languages, something that had never been done before. Comenius’ chief task may be lifted from the title page of his Great Didactic, “teaching thoroughly all things to all men.” However, the purpose of his task of teaching was broader; he sought to “shape the human creature into an image of the divine.”
His proposals for universal education and the use of pictures in children’s education make him a forerunner of many modern developments in the field of education. Comenius advocated many basic principles of our modern educational system, such as “the free and universal opportunity for education of members of all classes, and both sexes.”
He is considered the first educator to have put forward the concept of international education. Comenius’ efforts on behalf of universal education earned him the title of “Teacher of Nations.”
At the time of Comenius’ birth, the Catholic Church sought to recover territories lost to the Protestant Reformation, doing so by purging heresy and burning renaissance thinkers at the stake. The pope who had the greatest influence on Comenius’ early life was Paul V, a pontiff who was intolerant of the growing numbers of Protestants in Europe, including the Bohemian Brethren. Comenius lived during the time of the first truly worldwide war, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which caused the destruction of wealth, cultural values, and freedoms the Bohemian Brethren had enjoyed. The Bohemians faced the fears and dangers of tyranny, accusations of heresy, and martyrdom. As we shall see, Comenius was not only aware of the over-reach of papal authority in previous generations; he was intimately acquainted with that tyranny in his own generation.
Exile and International Influence
The first decisive battle of the Thirty Years War between the Protestant and Catholic States in Europe directly affected Comenius when Catholic armies defeated Czech Protestant armies in 1620 at the “Battle of the White Mountain.” Comenius witnessed the horrors of Protestant leaders publicly executed in Prague and the brutal imposition of Catholicism on the total population of his people in Bohemia and Moravia. Comenius lost “all his property and library in 1621, when the town was taken by the imperialists.” All protestant clergy were banished from Bohemia by an Imperial mandate in 1624. Comenius fled to the mountains to hide, but secretly visited his congregation as often as he could. Exiled from his congregation, his home and his family, Comenius began the life of a writer who eventually had an international influence.
Comenius had an extraordinarily large circle of acquaintances, including royalty, and people from all branches of the Church. His life of travels afforded the breadth of multi-cultural relationships he developed. “I led a wandering life, I had no homeland. I was constantly propelled from one place to another, never and nowhere did I find a permanent home.” As a refugee, he came in contact with many of the intellectual leaders of his time in Germany, Poland, Sweden, England, and Holland. In 1641 he was called to London and in 1642 he traveled to Sweden and then to Prussia where he lived until the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648. After the war, he lived in Hungary, in Poland, and finally in Amsterdam until his death in 1670. Comenius maintained correspondence communicating his ideas with several learned men, church leaders, publishers, and historians. His extensive travels granted an ever-widening influence through which to share his dream.
Comenius possessed a passionately optimistic view of the future. His optimism appears to have come from his understanding of the character and purposes of God. He writes: “Focus on Jesus Christ as the Coming One, the Lord of the Future, Christus Renovator.” He apparently lived in expectation of God’s promises and at least their partial fulfillment in human history. As Comenius saw it, education was the best way out of the Thirty Years War. Comenius lived in a time when war was tearing apart the political, religious, and social fabric of Europe. His view of the world and apparently his work as an educational reformer was informed by his faith in God’s plan. He writes,
Jesus Christ is Lord. He is not only the Savior of souls and the teacher of wisdom, but the king of the Church and of the world. He will reign! What really matters, then, is to live in conformity with his coming kingdom and in this light to shape the alienated world, first within the Church, and then also in society.
Comenius’ dream was that “all men would participate in a universal civilization.” Out of his biblical view of the world, he pioneered an educational system that promised that all people could acquire the knowledge that led to understanding and peace. He called it “Pansophism”, an integrative and holistic system embracing all knowledge. If he indeed intended this system to make a positive contribution to world missions, further examination of his major published works will reflect that intent.
His major work, Labyrinth of the World and the Palace of the Heart, was written in 1623, his first year in hiding. The Labyrinth describes the “wanderings, bewilderments, errors, vanities, and miseries of all of every age and sex, in all circumstances and conditions.” It is a devotional classic written in the Czech language in which he describes “the journey of a pilgrim through the marketplace of seventeenth-century Europe.” Comenius identified with the “pilgrim” who he portrays as “an outsider, a voluntary exile, searching for a spiritual home,” and “a wandering scholar who worked in seven countries and was doggedly pursued by war and personal misfortune.”
By examining this personal disclosure, we can learn something of the difficult personal journey and profound calling of Comenius:
I came to the decision that I should first look into all human affairs under the sun and then only, having wisely compared one with another, choose a vocation and arrange for myself the things necessary for leading a peaceful life in the world. A pilgrim who wishes to visit the world in order to choose his vocation views all the ranks and occupations of mankind, and finds shams and confusion reigning everywhere, he withdraws from the world into his inner self and, as a true Christian finds solace in converse with Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals to him a society constituted by his true disciples whose lives are governed by the precept of disinterested love for one’s fellow man.
The Labyrinth reveals how Comenius saw the turbulent social system of his day and the way that God called him to love his fellow men, bringing reformation to more than the Church. Comenius took on huge projects such as his Didactica Magna or The Art of Teaching All Things to Everybody. Apparently this is a change from his earlier work. His concern was no longer only with teaching children; his vision was broadened with concern for all human beings.
Comenius was a theologian of hope, hope for a new generation. He believed a new order of society could be established, but with special devotion to Jesus Christ. He writes of the need to prepare “for generations of those and future times, a simple system of training . . . to qualify youth for the discharge of the important duties of life and fit them for their highest, their eternal calling.” He set out “to accomplish the means of disenthralling the world from the meshes of false principles in the affairs of religion and state,” and to compile “suitable educational works.”
Through the “means” of education, Comenius devoted his life to bringing peace to the church, the state, and ultimately in the world. He stood out among the Reformers as a true peacemaker. “In his day, we hardly find any theological thinker who was as energetically involved for the unity and harmony of Christians as he.” His hope was for the unity of all Christians. However, it was not limited to the Church alone; he hoped for “the integration of all civilization under the leadership of religion.” He wished to unite the warring Christian factions, “whose strife was wreaking an unprecedented havoc upon Europe of the Thirty Years War period.”
His passionate concerns were for the souls of all humankind, his own devastated country, and his fellow expatriates from the Unity of the Brethren. All of these things “completely engrossed his soul.” However, disappointment and failure seemed to stalk him. His greatest discouragement came in 1648 when he felt deeply betrayed by the Swedish Chancellor who failed to support the Unity of Brethren’s case in the Peace of Westphalia, a treaty that completely altered the socio-political framework of nations. No provision was made for the Protestants in Bohemia or Moravia. If they returned, they would live under the rule of the Hapsburgs with no permission to practice their Protestant faith. Rather than accept failure, the indomitable Comenius decided to work for the unity of the universal Church.
Comenius was an “apostle of reconciliation who dreamed a better future that could be built only by better men.” While war and destruction were brought through the unbridled powers of the State or the institutional Church, he argued “the only constructive task capable of really changing the world [is] molding better men by educating and inspiring them to strive after more humane ideals.” “Comenius’ inspiring motive was that of all leading educationalists, social regeneration,” writes the historian Laurie. But society, as the secularists see it, was not all he intended to reform. In his final work published in 1668, Comenius writes of his hope for “a utopian church to unite all religions in Christian love through education.” His view of the goal of schooling was “to mold students into the image of Christ.” For Comenius, Christian character, not just absorption of facts, was the goal. Comenius was an early pioneer for ecumenism, but not at any cost. He disagreed with Michael Servetus’ idea that unity could be achieved even with the Turks, if we sacrificed the Trinitarian dogma. He believed unity must be sought, but not at the cost of the truth.
Vision for Education
Comenius wrote a tract, entitled The Way of Light, with the purpose of bringing about a “national disquisition as to the manner in which wisdom, the intellectual laws of minds, may now at length towards the evening of the world be felicitously diffused through all minds in all nations.” The university is important as a teaching institution, but what is essential, Comenius writes, is “learned men in all parts of the world devoted to the advancement of God’s glory.” It is in his unique vision for the university that Comenius stands out as a true pioneer and apostolic leader in Church history. Not only did he call for universal education, Comenius had vision for his pansophic encyclopaedic college to “be found in every kingdom or large province.” His plan was for an international university that would have the same curriculum for training young men and women to embrace all knowledge, scientific and biblical, and teach all peoples of all nations the truth. His hope was that this universal education scheme would bring an end to all war and discord. His pansophic vision was to begin in Christian nations “and go from there to the Muslims, Pagan, and finally the Jews.”
Comenius understood that “neither one man nor one generation is sufficient for this great task.” To accomplish this vision, he needed a place to start. Despite the failure to raise the needed funds, his Reformation of Schools tract outlining his pansophic college vision was distributed and read throughout Europe. “It was the pansophic proposal which aroused such an enthusiastic interest in England that in 1641 he was called to that country by an influential group of churchmen and the nobility.” The English friends who invited him to England had in mind to present him “a plan for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen.” Parliament actually considered assigning the “Chelsea College, near London, as a suitable place for the Pansophic College with which the Comenian scheme was to be inaugurated.” Once again, Comenius faced disappointment and failure when the Irish Rebellion of 1641 put the plans for his pansophic college in England to an end. Parliament was permanently distracted from the Chelsea College project.
The fame of Comenius reached distant America. According to Cotton Mather, in his Magnalia Christi Americana, Comenius received an invitation to emigrate to puritan New England, possibly with a view to becoming president of the newly founded Harvard College. Mather writes:
“That brave old man, Johannes Amos Commenius [sic], the fame of whose worth has been trumpeted [sic] as far as more than three languages could carry it, was indeed agreed withal, by one Mr. Winthrop in his travels through the LOW COUNTRIES, to come over to New England, and illuminate their Colledge [sic] and country, in the quality of a President, which was now become vacant. But the solicitations of the Swedish Ambassador diverting him another way, that incomparable Moravian became not an American.”
SO THEN, WHO WAS COMENIUS?
Comenius has been remembered for the reforms that began the modern secular field of education. During his life span, his books earned him a reputation through much of Europe. He was invited first to England, and then to Sweden and Hungary to reform school systems. Comenius completed the reformation of the Swedish schools in 1648. His book, Orbis Sensualium Pictus, 1658, the first illustrated textbook, was used for 200 years. Czechoslovakia, which passed into history in 1992, celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of Comenius throughout that year. Recognition of Comenius was given in seventy other lands as well. The influence and fame of Comenius is reflected in a 2002 poll that shows over 27 percent of the Czech people consider him the most famous Czech in history. University projects, societies, and centers of language study have developed in honor of Comenius as his work has been interpreted in recent generations.
It is evident that John Amos Comenius was a pioneer in the task of world missions. With apostolic zeal, he worked toward international peace through universal education. Comenius may be remembered as an educational innovator, but he lived his life intentionally working to advance the cause of Christ and world mission. His vision was more than proud human optimism. Comenius dreamed of the equality of human races and an all-embracing community. However, he was far too experienced and too familiar with the forces that destroy and divide humanity to conclude that he was just a pious dreamer hoping for a pure utopia. His own words and his work exemplify a life responsive to Christ’s Great Commission, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” (Mt. 28:19 KJV). His apostolic passion is revealed in this paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer in The Way of Light:
“Through the whole of Europe, of Asia, of Africa, of America, through the Magellanes [the southern parts of the present-day Chile and Argentina], and through all the islands of the sea, may thy kingdom come, may Thy will be done!… raise up men to write Thy purpose in books, but books such as Thou Thyself mayest write in the hearts of men. Make schools to be opened in all parts of the world to nurse Thy children! And do Thou raise up Thine own school in the hearts of all men in the whole world that they may ally themselves together for Thy praise.”
[From a paper I wrote in June 2004 as part of my studies at Fuller Seminary.]
© Copyright 2008 John Henry. All rights reserved.
Paul writes to his friends at Corinth:
“I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Cor. 11:26-27)
Why was Paul going through so much trouble? Because he lived his life preaching the good news of the kingdom of God.
Sometimes when I read of all Paul’s troubles, I find myself identifying a little bit with his story.
My family and I have been on the move too. As missionaries with Youth With A Mission, we went to Asia during the months of September and October to help with the outreach phase of our Discipleship Training School, YWAM’s introductory training course.
Are we missionaries to China? No. It’s not one people group or nation that God has called us to. We’ve got a global calling.
We’ve spent sleepless nights in countless airports and transcontinental flights. We’ve endured Montazuma’s revenge in Mexico, a Military highjack of our bus in Guatemala. We’ve gone without as faith missionaries, taking no salary for 25 years. We had $25 to our names the day our first son was born. And three weeks after our second son was born, a Hurricane left us homeless and deeply in debt.
We’ve faced dangers too. A Virginia river flooded taking out 25 bridges and stranded us and our outreach teams which were heading to Albania, Brazil, and Ghana. We’ve endured blowouts and breakdowns on highways across the USA. We’ve worked in war torn villages in El Salvador, taken treacherous white knuckle bus rides to work among the Quechua people in the Andes Mountains of Peru, the Rabinal Ache people in the mountains of Guatemala, and the Maasai People in the Savannahs of Kenya.
I’ve been stranded and up all night talking to people about Jesus in train stations in Vienna and with gang leaders in New York. My family took a 53 hour train ride from Beijing to Nanning where we held babies in an orphanage in China. I’ve had doors slammed in my face, slept on a flooded basement floor, in tents in the Mexican heat, and in houses filled with every kind of animal across the USA. I’ve preached outside the Justice Department and the White House in Washington, D.C. and in poor communities all over Central America and the islands of the Caribbean.
About 24 years ago, I walked through the streets with a blow-horn announcing a revival meeting and slept in a trailer in a vacant lot guarding sound equipment in South Philadelphia.
I’ve bunked in a thatch roof hut in the bush-bush of Africa, with no electricity and no water, except by generator for one hour a day. I’ve prayed until my throat was raw in campus meetings around the world, preached until my voice was gone, and had sleepless nights talking and listening to Christian moms and dads about their kids, and with university students who argue about God’s existence. Why would we go through all this trouble?
What good has come from all this?
Today the fruit of our ministry is spreading around the globe. For example, the first outreach team I led planted a church at seventeen thousand feet in the Andes Mountains of Peru. We’ve started businesses, established HIV/AIDS counseling clinics, medical clinics and pharmacies, water pumps, and schools in slum communities in the Belize, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, India, East Timor, Guatemala, and Kenya. We’ve equipped and deployed hundreds of students to follow God’s call and watched some of them become doctors in remote places like Kazakhstan and Viet Nam. When we were not already busy abroad, we helped church congregations in the USA become more missional.
Since 1986, we have sent 75 Student Internship Teams from nine nations and over 100 universities. All these students have served long-term projects that minister to the poor and needy in 34 countries. Our interns want to be spiritually equipped to respond to God’s calling to engage issues of global human need, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, clean water, and children at risk.
SMC also trains YWAM leaders for university ministries around the world. We started the School of University Ministries & Missions (SUMM) in Delhi, India in 2004 with twenty-four YWAM participants from nine nations. Since then, the 12-week course has run in Thailand, Korea, the USA, and three additional times in India. To date, we have trained over one hundred campus ministry staff now working in 32 countries. Our next SMC course will take place in Cartagena, COLOMBIA in January next year with a focus on 20 Latin American nations.
Why do we work with College Students? Because today’s college student is tomorrow’s leader. My passion is to train world-changers who will proclaim the kingdom of God in every nation and in every field, every sphere of society. Why should we be so concerned about filling the earth with leaders who serve Jesus, the king of kings? Because the Bible says, “The whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord like the waters cover the sea.”
Why go through all this effort? Because our task is to represent Jesus as messengers of the kingdom of God.
What is the message we are called to carry to the ends of the earth? What is this kingdom of God? The best place to get understanding about the kingdom of God is to look at some of the parables Jesus taught.
Jesus said his primary purpose was this: “I came to proclaim the kingdom of God.” He said: “The time is now, the kingdom of God is near.”
WHEN YOU HEAR THE WORD “KINGDOM”, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF?
Do you think of Kings, Princes, Princesses, Armies, Power, Thrones, Palaces?
Jesus taught parables about the kingdom of God because people had the wrong idea about what happens when God rules! He was trying to change the expectations of the people. What was their expectation?
While the people listened to Jesus, they “thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” (Luke 19:11) The people had an expectation that Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman Empire. SOON! or Sooner!
The Jewish people thought the kingdom of God was all about a revolution. Kicking Roman butt! A great deliverance! A King that would deliver the Israelites from their Roman oppressors!
Many of us think this way when it’s time to elect a President of the United States. We put our hope in a person. People naturally look to a leader to make their world a better place, but that was NOT what Jesus was talking about when he preached the Kingdom of God.
When he taught the kingdom, he knew the people had the wrong idea. His parables were simple stories that could only be understood by those who were humble and hungry.
A parable does not fully explain what something is like. Like trying to describe a song or a painting, a parable is a story with words that are laid alongside the thing you want to describe. The parable can’t fully explain, but it can give a hint. Or it can be a story that describes exactly what the kingdom of God is NOT.
Look at this parable from Matthew 22:
“Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his field, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
So, are you excited about THIS kingdom?
I think this parable is very misunderstood. What kind of king is Jesus describing? It should be obvious that the king in this parable is NOT “like” God.
In this parable, Jesus did not say, “The kingdom of God is LIKE”, but rather “the kingdom of God is compared to” or more literally, “is made to look like”.
God is not a tyrant, or a narcissistic sociopath, who kills people that do not come to his party. In this parable, the king calls everyone and anyone to come to his party at the last minute. That sounds fine, but then this king binds and drags one person to outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, just because he doesn’t look right to him. It’s no wonder the man without a wedding robe was speechless.
Some people read, “many are called, few are chosen” and think God probably doesn’t love them. In fact, I know someone who believes they are NOT chosen. Because of this parable, people wrongly think God is an angry unjust judge. But that is not what Jesus was saying!
And most of us know that where God is king, it’s NOTHING like the kingdom in that parable. Instead this parable describes what happens when the people demand a king, when they turn to a human leader. In fact, the original Greek in verse 2 literally translated reads like this: “The kingdom of heaven has been made into one in which a human king gave a wedding banquet for his son.”
The people wanted Jesus to be the king of Israel, a king who would deliver them from all their enemies and make the world a better place. They wanted to take him by force to make him their king. But Jesus was teaching what the kingdom of God is NOT like. It’s NOT a human kingdom… okay?
I think we can all agree that the Israelites had the wrong idea about the kingdom of God, but many Christians today still think the wrong thing about the kingdom of God. Too many Christians think we will only experience the kingdom of God when the end comes, after Jesus returns to earth to establish his kingdom reign.
But Jesus says, “No.” It’s not an overthrow of the Roman Empire or any country’s government. It’s not the setting up of a human king, or prime minister, or president. AND it’s NOT a heavenly kingdom that we need to wait for until he returns.
So then, what was Jesus talking about?
Read this next parable, the one Jesus told his disciples was the most important parable: Luke 13:1
That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach. And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. “Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. “But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. “Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. “And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. “He who has ears, let him hear.”
Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? It sound boring. Like farming? What?
WHEN YOU HEAR THE WORD “SEED”, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF?
Tractors, Fields, Soil, Plants, Crops, Workers…Work! Eventually, we think of work to be done in a garden or a field.
Jesus goes on to teach another parable of the kingdom and it’s about the workers. See Matt. 20:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner (FARMER) who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard (FARM). After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
This parable seems to point at two different responses related to WORK and PAY. One response is jealousy, envy, and inequality (the First Workers), and the Second response is grace and gratitude for generosity. Both responses have work and workers, but they are very different.
My story? I have learned a few things about work. lived in Wisconsin where there is a lot of snow, so in 5th grade I began knocking on neighbor’s doors to ask if I can shovel their walks and driveways so I could make some money. I also raked leaves and then in 7th grade, I bought a lawnmower to cut neighbor lawns. I had a morning paper delivery route in 6th grade through 8th grade. I delivered papers during the cold winters in Wisconsin and one hot summer in Hollywood, CA.
In 7th and 8th grades I sold cokes at football and basketball games at the University of Wisconsin. The summer after 7th and 8th grades, I worked as a caddy at a golf course. I had to wake up at four in the morning to go wait on the caddy’s bench to get hired each morning.
As a young adult, I had a bunch of jobs too. As I worked my way through college, I worked as a dishwasher, a cook, an electrician’s laborer, a landscaper, a sewer pipe layer, a waiter, a clerk in a liquor store, a door-to-door salesman, car salesman, and a security guard. I even worked as a sub-contractor in a steel mill cleaning soot off the beams six stories over the Old Hearth Furnace. After I graduated college, I took a job as an accountant with a major accounting firm and I hated it. Then I took a job as an executive with the Boy Scouts of America, where I worked for three years.
When I was 27 years old, I resigned from the Scouts. My home church prayed over me and sent me out to preach the kingdom of God. For the past 25 years, I’ve not worked for money. I’ve worked as a faith missionary and God is the one who supplies my family’s needs. This kind of lifestyle does not happen without at least some understanding of the kingdom of God.
So what IS the kingdom of God like? It is like working in a field, sowing seeds…
Jesus sums up his kingdom parables saying…
Mt 13:31 “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.”
Like a seed, the kingdom starts small, gets buried in a field, in the dark earth, it dies, quietly without excitement, with nothing visible. Only faith and hope remain. And then, without any control by the worker who sows the seed, it grows like a plant really big…
Jesus again sums up the kingdom with this parable…
Mt 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
This parable highlights the value, and the joy of the kingdom. It’s like a treasure, hidden in an open field, not a forest, not a jungle. It’s hidden in plain sight, in a field. And to get the treasure, you gotta buy the whole field? Why?
Why do you have to buy the whole field before you get the treasure of the kingdom of God? Perhaps it is because the field and the treasure are connected? Could it be compared to water buried deep below desert land? If you want the water, you have to buy the land. You can’t have the water without buying the land.
Let’s recap what Jesus is teaching us so far:
• We must remember. The kingdom of God is not a human kingdom. It’s not better when human beings try to control everything. The kingdom of God is the place where God rules!
• We must remember that the kingdom of God is not a kingdom that will only arrive when Jesus returns. It’s near, now.
• Jesus will return and he is the king, but he has taught us that his kingdom is like a seed sown into a field.
It’s a treasure in a field, waiting for you to buy it right now. But where is this field?
Many very intelligent people have searched the scriptures and researched the holy land and thought about this question for 2000 years. Where is the field?
Jesus already answered this question:
LUKE 17:20-21 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
Your heart is the field and the seed is the word of God. The kingdom of God is near you when God rules your heart.
But not everyone allows God to rule their hearts. Jesus taught about that too. He said:
Mt 6:23 But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Lu 11:35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.
It’s your choice. You can live in the kingdom of darkness, where there is jealousy and envy, or with hunger and humility, you can enter the kingdom of God, where there is grace and gratitude for God’s generosity.
Jesus’ brother James writes:
James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
The message of the kingdom is not a one-time confession of faith, like a contract that God must fulfill to save your soul. Instead, the kingdom of God is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. Your heart has two spaces in it: one space for a cross and one space for a throne. You and Jesus take up those two spaces. Which space should you take and which space will you allow Jesus, the king of the universe to fill. If you remain on the throne, he must remain on the cross. If you come down from the throne, and surrender your life to him, then Jesus can take his rightful place as the king of your heart. That leaves only one place for you, the cross. In order for Jesus to reign in our hearts, his kingdom, we must live a life of full surrender.
When you do, you will find yourself like Paul, willing to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the kingdom of God. You will be willing to “be constantly on the move, be in danger from rivers, from bandits, from my own countrymen, from Gentiles; in the city, in the country, at sea; and from false brothers. You will be willing to labor and toil and go without sleep. You may know hunger and thirst and go without food, but you will know the love and generosity of king Jesus.”
Do you need to find a “happy optimum” between push and pull of being a part of your home church and being your own distinctive person with a calling and experience in your wider community? Does your work or school life look like a mission field to you? Perhaps you have a desire to start a bible study, prayer group, or plant a simple church in your community? Pursuing that desire will likely require that you will have to say “no” to appeals to volunteer in your local church.
Does your hope for your own community, your work, school, and neighborhood, make you feel like that your concern is in opposition to the needs of your local church?
This is the tension many of us are experiencing today. Why? While some mega-churches are still serving the needs of our culture attracting large numbers of evangelicals to a market-based church program, the attractional model of church is no longer effective in our growing post-christian culture. To put it simply: It’s a great time to be THE church, but it is not a good time to be A church.
This presents a tremendous personal challenge to us, and especially to pastors. Many will simply not understand your desire to engage your world and network beyond the local church. Some may find self-esteem and safety within the local church. Some will already find acceptance and significance within the church and therefore not have a strong sense of need to extend their relational group. The more successful and “tight” the church group, the less likely it is that some would sense any need to extend their relationships.
Those of us who reach beyond our church communities are in a dynamic tension called Optimal Distinctiveness. Optimal Distinctiveness is the desire to be identified within a group and distinguish oneself from the group. This is the dynamic tension, this shifting identity, distinguishing oneself from the local church group, is part of the process of a new missional spirit in a post-Christian world. This is a spirit of collaboration.
If you are experiencing this dynamic tension, you need to learn the spirit of collaboration. You must be able to balance your identity within the context of collaboration, working with other groups and ministries outside the local church. To explain, let me share a bit of my own journey.
For 24 years, I have been serving with Youth With A Mission. I have worked with and among many church groups, mission agencies, and student organizations in over 30 nations. All the while I have extended the “fame” of my own spiritual father, my pastor, George Isley. He died a few years ago, but he continues to be my model of pastoral ministries. Over the years, I have come to realize a significant part of my identity was shaped in that local church and with that pastor. Meanwhile I have also found a significant part of my identity in the extended inter-group ministries I founded with Youth With A Mission, the Student Mobilization Centre of the University of the Nations. Though it was often a challenge for me to find the right approach to ministries outside the local church, the spiritual identity of a humble servant-leader modeled by George Isley continues to be my standard. To sum up, I have not followed the model of the popular itinerant preacher with products to sell and a slick appeal for an offering. The spirit of collaboration is not self-serving; it develops trusting personal relationships, freely giving, serving, and loving in the Spirit of Jesus.
As faithful believer in Jesus Christ, our ultimate responsibility and loyalty is to the Great Commission and our Servant King Jesus. We must continue to respect the amazing work that God has done and is doing through our local churches and pastoral leaders. However, our commitment and loyalty to Jesus and his mission must be greater than our commitment and loyalty to our own denomination, local church, and even our pastors. Reaching out in the spirit of collaboration is not a disloyalty to the local church; it is a greater commitment to THE global church.
You could appeal to your pastor for “permission.” Though it is difficult, you could also appeal to your pastor’s own human need to extend relationship beyond the boundaries of the local church. Your appeal to your pastor will reveal something to you; it will reveal your own search for personal balance.
The challenge will come when you are expected to continue to work in your local church and perhaps meet your pastor’s expectations. I want to leave you with a few recommendations:
1. I recommend that you clarify your identity, the identity God has shaped in your life as a committed member of your local church.
2. I also recommend that you take it slow. If you change too fast and too much, you may find yourself ostracized or excommunicated from your home church.
This is the topic of the next several posts. Let me know you are reading and post your questions, suggestions, and testimonies.
Secularism and pluralism present a problem for the notion of progress. The Wisconsin State motto is “Forward,” calling all subjects of the state toward progress, including the university. But how can a society move forward without acknowledging its own history and knowing the core beliefs that produced it. If the core of belief is supplanted by the state itself, it will soon fail to produce the “good” it purports to do. In his book, “The Spiritual Situation in Our Technical Society”, Paul Tillich writes “education without a determining center is impossible. The nation became the ideological center that demanded absolute devotion, though itself was above criticism.” (Tillich 1988:17)
Once the state became the central defining institution, all religious influence was sequestered into the private arena, hidden behind stained glass windows. Os Guinness writes, “Secularization is the process by which religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations have lost their social significance.” How shall Jesus followers in Madison respond? Do they stir up their confidence in Jesus’ victory by redoubling their spiritual exercises, attending to religious duties, and gathering in religious settings? Or should they instead return to the God of their fathers who interpreted the words of the Lord for a public arena?
In that public arena, we no longer find the predominant values of a society informed by Biblical principle. Madison is home to many religious groups with very different values. Pluralism is what exists when there are “a competing number of worldviews available to its members, but no worldview is dominant.”
With no roots or absolutes, people in Madison represent “all religions and no religion;” they are “seeking for a sense of roots, an affirmation that there is something bigger than the existence we know-something of ultimate value.” In his book, “The Soul of The American University,” which traces the history of the secularization of American universities, George Marsden calls for academics of religious faith, including those in Madison, to re-think the connections between their faith and their scholarly endeavors.
Madison is progressive, leaning forward into a vision of the future with little reference to Biblical values. Without that Biblical reference and religious values, what should we expect to be the result of that progressive vision?
Marsden’s challenge is to re-think, and re-interpret a progressive vision of the future by reviewing the vision of those who have gone before us.
The Christian life is characterized by struggle; however the readers of Revelation are given hope. Revelation is not an eschatological timeline predicting future events; rather it is a prophetic call to be vigilant, faithfully following Jesus Christ’s example of being truly human. What is Left Behind, or rather is removed, are those created beings and the “elemental spirits” over which Christ triumphed (Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8, 20) and those who reject Jesus’ universal invitation. Jesus leads his churches to look forward toward a new reality. Churches are exhorted to remain faithful, especially in the face of hostility. They are roused from their temptation to be comfortable in their surroundings. They are called to remain committed to Christ’s vision for all humanity. Revelation is plainly understood as a call to be faithful and obedient. It is not a mystery, or a road map to gain access to heaven. Revelation is a testimony of Jesus, calling the reader to exalt and worship him by every means, following his example and his eternal purpose to become truly human beings.
Achtemeier, P. J., J. B. Green, and M. M. Thompson. Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001.
González, J. L. Santa Biblia: The Bible through Hispanic Eyes. Abingdon, 1996.
Suter, David W., Harper & Row Publishers., and Society of Biblical Literature. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.
Witherington, B., III. New Testament History: A Narrative Account. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.
Wright, N. T. What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.