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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?
“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.
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)
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!
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.
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.”
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.
The revelation of a “new heaven and new earth” offers a destination, where Jesus will “dwell” with “his people” and all things are “new” (Rev. 21:1, 3, 5). Like John who was commanded to “come up here” (Rev. 4:1), Paul also claimed higher ground with his “revelations” (2 Cor. 12:1, 7) of God’s eternal plan. Paul emphasized the vision of one new humanity (cf. Eph. 2:15). Revelation exhorts the church to “wake up and strengthen what remains” (Rev. 3:2-3) in order that they may fulfill their calling to “reshape a humanity previously warped by sin.”
Jesus’ eternal nature, embodied in human flesh, implies a very human understanding of eternity, with limitations of embodiment. Just as John by implication, dramatically portrays the eternal nature of Jesus’ incarnation, he likewise implies the nature of the structures and spheres of life are eternal. The “harp” and “trumpets” imply the arts (Rev. 5:8, 8:2, 6, 13); “leaves for healing” imply health care and counseling (Rev. 22:2); the “scroll” (Rev. 5:1-9) and “golden bowls” (Rev. 5:8) imply the media; and “every tribe” implies that family will exist for eternity (Rev. 7:4-9, 13:7, 14:6). Education (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14) is implied where learning is present (cf. Rev. 3:9). And as the elders present their “crowns” (Rev. 4:10) in worship to Jesus, the King of Kings who became a servant of all, the model of governmental leadership is made plain for all eternity. Perhaps to communicate this point was not John’s intention. Little matter, the implication is evident. Revelation is a message of God’s rule, bringing peace and justice to all creation, every nation, and every structure of human existence, for all eternity in the new heaven and new earth.
The notion of the “Cosmic Race,” popularized among Latinos by Mexican author Jose Vasconcelos, is a philosophical basis for pride in the mixture of races. González writes, there is “no single perspective or a single clue to ‘reading with Hispanic eyes.’” Therefore a people of varied backgrounds sharing a single identity is dubious. However, this is Paul’s vision and the message he preaches to the Gentiles. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul (or one of his disciples) writes that Jesus’ “purpose was to create in himself one new person.” He (or she) continues with the message of solidarity, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” (Eph. 2:15, 19 NIV) This “unity in the faith,” misunderstood by Paul’s contemporaries, has also been misinterpreted in every generation since.
Before meeting Jesus, Saul/Paul’s aim was to eliminate the threat that the new sect of Jesus followers represented to Judaism. Ethnic and religious purity, which was tied to the ultimate conquest of Israel’s Messiah over all nations, defined his worldview. Sadly Spanish missionary endeavors in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries interpreted the Scriptures envisioning a kind of religious purity through coerced conversion in Latin America, which appears to be an amalgamation of the purity ethic of Second Temple Judaism and the conquest ethic of the Roman Empire. Modern Protestant missionary endeavors continued a triumphalist interpretation, albeit separated from military coercion, by expanding into the “frontiers,” which implies redrawing the “borders” of Western civilization. Western individualism, informed by the Protestant Reformation’s doctrine of justification by faith, which possesses an important “supporting role” in Paul’s gospel, became the central understanding the expanding Protestant missionary enterprise. Today, when Westerners read the stories of Moses at the burning bush (Exo. 3:1-10) and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-35), they read how the individual finds God, rather than a calling, “to go back to their people to do the work of God with and among them.” Westerners interpret the purpose of the Church (and of the Bible) to be a functionary agent to meet individual needs, rather than an expression of the gospel itself and a “foretaste of the kingdom.” This misinterpretation of the gospel message has resulted in a new form of “exile,” “a dislocation from the center,” as people are either left out, pushed out, or choose to remain outside the center.
Saul interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures and carefully observed the Torah with increasing zeal. He saw himself as an instrument to bring the fulfillment of Israel’s story. Following the Torah according to Second Temple Judaism meant that God’s people must “mark boundaries of separation” through food laws, circumcision, and the Sabbath. Second Temple Judaism had defined holiness as a relative purity, a relative status before God. Saul’s zeal for the Law, however, should not be interpreted as his attempt to gain personal salvation. Instead, he sought to follow the covenant and increase Israel’s power for deliverance from her captivity through the holiness of God’s people. Therefore Saul determined to put a stop to the emerging community of Jews, members of the Way, who had “thrown open the doors to a new expanded membership,” not based on purity rituals of Second Temple Judaism.
Outside the city of Damascus the sudden appearance of the brightness of God’s holiness had blinded Saul. After falling to the ground, he heard a voice calling his name saying, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:3,4) Who could this be other than the One God he sought to honor? “I am Jesus,” came the voice. (Acts 9:5) Saul’s profound and personal encounter with Jesus did not disengage him from Judaism, rather it realigned his wayward zeal with a more complete revelation of the God of Israel. Rather than leaving Jewish monotheism, Saul found the center of Israel’s ancient faith. Having met Jesus, Saul continued to engage in a prophetic critique of Judaism, speaking “to the heart of their tradition.” Israel’s failure is her “relentless pursuit of national, ethnic, and territorial identity.” The “Son of Man” is revealed to Saul as the One who conquered sin and death through the Spirit of Life as Israel’s representative. Therefore, Saul not only found Jesus to be the fulfillment of Israel’s promised deliverance; he understood the purpose of God for all humanity through Israel’s Messiah.
Next post will be about Paul’s Eschatological Vision.
A Paper written in partial fulfillment of NE500 New Testament Gospels
Fuller Theological Seminary
March 11, 2009
Let Anyone With Ears To Hear Listen
The challenge for Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a twenty-first century international missionary community, is to examine what Jesus said and did in Palestine two thousand years ago, compare that to our contemporary picture of Jesus, and then to assess how the Jesus of history informs how we understand him here and now. Chaim Potok’s novel, The Promise, presents the comparable struggle of a Jewish Talmudic student who faces critical questions regarding the ancient texts relating to faith in the Orthodox and Hasidic communities Kelly Brown Douglas’s The Black Christ similarly describes the struggle of understanding a contemporary Jesus within the African-American community. In his book, The Challenge of Jesus, Bishop N.T. Wright offers a portrait of our struggle to know the Jesus of history, his life in first-century Palestine, in order that we may more faithfully follow the resurrected Christ of faith today.
Could the YWAM community misunderstand the biblical testimony and historical context of the Jesus of history? It is very possible. This study is an attempt to reconstruct the original historical setting of a selection of key passages that relate to YWAM’s understanding of Jesus’ practice and teaching of hearing his Father’s voice. Recognizing our personal knowledge of Jesus is not the same as a scientific certitude; we must avoid the extremes of the liberal quest for the historical Jesus and the conservative reaction against it. YWAM, an international mission committed to know God and to make Him known, follows the Christ of faith to the best of our understanding in our present day reality in every nation.
YWAM leaders periodically gather from across the globe to listen to God’s voice for direction by studying the Scriptures, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and through our communal sharing. The doctrine of hearing God’s voice is our understanding of the practice of listening to God, which takes place in virtually every YWAM community. Why do we have the expectation that Jesus will speak? Have the Scriptures informed us or have we created some other Jesus through the influence of our cultural context? I will argue here that Jesus speaks to anyone who will listen and obey. I will show that Jesus modeled the way, taught the importance, and interceded on behalf of all nations to know God through the practice of hearing his voice.
Jesus Modeled the Way for Us to Hear God’s Voice
YWAM is part of a long history of communities seeking to translate the Jesus of history into a contemporary and often changing cultural context. YWAM leaders encourage fearless and courteous conversation among Christian traditions by inviting those from many denominations to teach and participate in its various programs. This continuing conversation, including discussions of the lives and backgrounds of the Gospels’ authors and the literary relationships of the Gospels and other source materials, is appropriate for those seeking to hear God’s voice today. In this section, I will show that the Jesus of history has modeled the way for YWAM’s understanding and practice of hearing God’s voice.
The Gospel writers’ selection, arrangement, and adaptation of their source materials portray Jesus in his own discourse between ancient Hebrew traditions and his contemporary culture. The Gospel writers appear to follow Jesus’ example. Rather than remove themselves from the story as teachers, the Gospel writers have entered the story by interpreting Jesus to their cultural context. All appear to agree that Jesus’ followers were to hear and obey God’s voice, which commands all to make him known among every people. Jesus is portrayed in each Gospel as the fulfillment of all that God said he would do. N.T. Wright argues that Jesus’ announcement of a new kingdom was also a judgment against Israel coupled to his own representative fulfillment of Israel’s purpose to be a light to the Gentiles.
The story of Jesus’ baptism shows how Jesus modeled the way to hear the voice of God. The Gospel writers all agree regarding the historical importance and particulars of the event. In the synoptic Gospels we find the near word-for-word account of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and “a voice from heaven, saying ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” John’s Gospel adds the Baptist’s narrative, “he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (Jn. 1:33). Matthew’s adaptation, likely on behalf of his primarily Jewish audience, includes the narrative of Jesus modeling the necessity “to fulfill all righteousness” (Jn. 1:15).
Three things should be noted regarding the Gospel writers’ accounts of this historic event. First, all the Gospel accounts agree that this event took place, including a sign of Holy Spirit’s appearance. Second, God’s voice is reportedly heard as an announcement from heaven, as well as privately to John the Baptist. And third, Matthew highlights Jesus’ demonstrated commitment to personally submit to all that is necessary to fulfill the requirements of the ancient Hebrew prophetic tradition. These ancient texts together affirm that God communicates in human history and that Jesus modeled the way for us to hear God’s voice. YWAM’s practice of listening to God’s voice corresponds with the Jesus of history who modeled a commitment to fulfill the purposes of God in his contemporary setting.
Jesus Taught the Importance of Hearing and Obeying God’s Word
Though often misunderstood, parables represent Jesus’ chief teaching method. The Gospels depict Jesus’ penchant for perplexing and mystifying his hearers with simple, ordinary, yet startling messages. Jesus’ parables were stories of fields, vineyards, yeast, houses, and a “high incidence of agrarian motifs.” Jesus parabolic teachings are more than an effective technique to teach the kingdom. In this section, I will show how Jesus taught the importance of hearing God’s voice through the parables, calling the hearers to obedience with resulting changed lives, which are the fruit of the kingdom of God.
Throughout the Mediterranean in the first century C.E., broadcasting seed, some of which would fall on a beaten path, or rocky ground, or among weeds, was common practice. Probably eighty to ninety percent of Jesus’ audience engaged in agricultural work. The people of Jesus’ day knew a good harvest would at best yield ten to fifteen times what was planted. Jesus taught his contemporaries the prominent Parable of the Sower, also found in all three synoptic Gospels , with the surprising conclusion that seed sown upon “good soil” would bring forth a phenomenal harvest of “thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” Certainly Jesus had the attention of his hearers! Jesus concludes this parable with the adage, “He who has ears, let him hear,” which presumes most anyone could and should.
The Gospel writers also select and arrange Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, including a triple-tradition explanation for speaking in parables. It appears the author of Mark’s Gospel had the help of an eyewitness who was one of Jesus’ twelve. All synoptic Gospel writers intentionally invite the reader into a more intimate understanding. Jesus tells the twelve with him, “To you has been given the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables” (Mark 4:11). N.T. Wright explains that, despite their rootedness in the prophetic language of return from exile, Jesus’ message to his contemporaries is that God is “sowing his people again in their own land ” The explanation Jesus offers is like a riddle. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus explains his use of parables, “so that they may indeed…hear but not understand.” (Mark 4:12) Jesus is in fact judging Israel while “simultaneously calling into being a new people, a renewed Israel.” While this background is not obvious to the twenty-first century YWAMer, the Gospel writers all suggest that this parable is to teach the importance of listening with a good heart and obeying by becoming a fruitful participant in God’s continuing story.
Jesus Interceded on Behalf of All to Hear His Father’s Voice
YWAM’s commitment to listen to God’s voice is not merely for the purpose of private guidance and individual fruitfulness. YWAM’s mission is not limited to one nation or group; we are an international family of ministries called to listen to God’s voice together for the purpose of knowing God’s plans and purposes to preach the Gospel to every person and disciple all nations in our generation and in our varied and particular cultural settings. In this section, I will show that YWAM’s practice of listening to God’s voice is congruent with Jesus historical example of interceding on behalf of all nations to communicate with God.
Appealing for every person, from every background, nationality, and economic status, Jesus said, “He who has ears, let him hear.” The political, economic, and religious systems of second-temple Judaism presented an insurmountable obstacle for the ordinary person of Jesus day to approach God freely. Jesus likely knew that religious protest movements of his day sought “to become ‘political’ by contesting elite control of religious institutions.” It is into this larger story that all four Gospel writers portray Jesus driving out all those selling animal sacrifices and moneychangers. Jesus was not merely driving out a few opportunists trying to profit off religious pilgrims, his subversive message and action was to single-handedly confront the Temple’s political establishment and redistributive economic system, which had become an obstacle to God’s plan for Israel to be a light to all nations.
Appealing with the ancient text of his own Jewish tradition, Jesus asks, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be…a house of prayer’? Interestingly, Mark’s Gospel, likely the source for Matthew and Luke, also includes “for all the nations.” The exclusion of this appeal for all nations in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels is a concern, however further examination will show that the act of turning over tables was clearly an appeal for all nations to come to his Father’s house. In John’s Gospel, Jesus told those who sold pigeons, which were offered to restore the “postpartum woman to normal life while acknowledging God’s sole authority to establish pure blood relations,” that they should not “make my Father’s house a house of trade.” This dramatic act overturning tables is coupled with his appeal for his Father’s family, which he indicates should not be a matter of “trade” or limited to an exclusive bloodline. Jesus appeal that day was within view of the inscription in the Court of the Gentiles, which restricted those outside the bloodline of Abraham. Jesus instituted a new Temple (himself), through whom purity and forgiveness is now available to all people everywhere. Jesus has made the way for all nations to pray to and communicate with his Father, fulfilling the covenant given to Abraham. (Gen. 12:1-3)
The calling and the mission of YWAM is to enter this continuing story fulfilling all that is required to reflect the life of Jesus in our multi-cultural and multi-national contexts. Just as Jesus taught the abundant fruitfulness resulting from hearing and obeying God’s voice, Jesus followers may expect the same abundance. And just as Jesus confronted political, economic, and religious systems that hindered people from coming into relationship, including the intimacy of hearing God’s voice, Jesus followers must also appeal for every person and every nation to enjoy the blessedness of intimate relationship with his Father.
The Gospels, especially John, have much more instruction about the importance of hearing God’s voice. This study has been limited to only a few events paralleled in the Gospels. In those events, the historical Jesus demonstrated the attitude and obedience required to hear God, as well as God’s inclination to speak. He modeled the way at his baptism, he taught the importance of hearing God through the bearing of fruit from a heart of faithfulness, and he overturned symbolically every hindrance to hearing God’s voice. Jesus instituted a new Temple worship, constituted in himself and wherever two or more gather in his name, through which all nations are welcomed to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Youth With A Mission practices hearing God’s voice through the Christ of our faith in a multi-national and multi-denominational community. This Christ of faith can be properly understood to be the Jesus of history. Through YWAM communities around the world, Jesus’ words echo today: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Aland, Kurt. 1982. Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Completely Revised on the Basis of the Greek Text of the Nestle-Aland 26th edition and Greek New Testament 3rd edition: The Text is the Second Edition of the Revised Standard Version. English ed. [New York]: United Bible Societies.
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1994. The Black Christ, The Bishop Henry McNeal Turner Studies in North American Black Religion;. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.
Hanson, K. C., and Douglas E. Oakman. 1998. Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Potok, Chaim. 1969. The Promise. 1st ed. New York,: Knopf.
Powell, Mark Allan. 1998. Fortress Introduction to the Gospels. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
Wright, N. T. 1999. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
I have been asked for a definition of shared leadership. I’ve tested this response on several leaders, each of whom have given me a strong positive feedback. Therefore, I am posting this for your response.
In my reply to the question, I suggest first looking at the purpose for shared leadership. That purpose is found when we understand the current context in which the Church, the Body of Christ, exists. The world at the time of the early Church was a diverse pluralistic society. Today, we find ourselves in a similarly diverse and pluralistic world, an “unchurched” world.
Kennon Callahan, in his book, Effective Church Leadership (1990), gives a compelling argument that the day of the professional pastor in a traditional church is over. Society is changing from a “churched” society to an “unchurched” society and this requires that a pastor become a “missionary”. Callahan writes, “In many ways, the church in America is in the same situation that American business is in: the world is changing and passing it by! This calls for a radical change in the way the church “does business.”
Businesses have been changing and many books are available on the topic of shared leadership, partnership, collaboration, and alliances. I have read several and can loan them to you if you are interested. This shift from the professional pastor began quietly on the mission field many years ago. As the world became increasingly more diverse and increasingly “unchurched,” the need for change in the approach to church leadership became more apparent and more urgent. The missionary strategy is not the same as the pastoral strategy. The focus must be outside the church walls, equipping workers to lead missional communities as the church in their cultural setting. In today’s context, we must set as a high priority the building of new leaders who will function as facilitators on teams.
I have been with Youth With A Mission for 23 years. One of YWAM’s Foundational Values is that we are called to function in teams in all aspects of ministry and leadership. This YWAM Foundational Value states that: “We believe that a combination of complementary gifts, callings, perspectives, ministries and generations working together in unity at all levels of our mission provides wisdom and safety. Seeking God’s will and making decisions in a team context allows accountability and contributes to greater relationship, motivation, responsibility and ownership of the vision.” Team leadership is shared leadership. This value is just that, a value, and the actual practice is different in every setting. It does not stand alone: Team Leadership is complemented by all of YWAM’s Foundational Values, including Relationship-Oriented, Broad Structured and Decentralized, and Exhibit Servant Leadership.
Team leadership is shared and not invested in one person. Leaders of local churches need not direct or set the agenda, but rather facilitate a process by which the community sets the agenda. A shared leadership posture will support and foster the emergence of what I call ‘Commission Groups’. These Commission Groups are not merely small groups; they are small churches, missional communities bearing witness to their community with no control exerted over them.
The leadership challenge, then, is in finding the answers to some key questions: How do you decide who leads? and How do you lead without control?
J. Oswald Sanders (from his book Spiritual Leadership) writes: “Jesus knew that the idea of leader as ‘loving servant of all’ would not appeal to most people. Securing our own creature comforts is a much more common mission. But ‘servant’ is His requirement for those who want to lead in His kingdom.”
Scott Rodin, in his article “Leader of No Reputation” writes: “In the end, our work as leaders is all about lordship. Before it is about vision-casting or risk-taking or motivating others or building teams or communicating or strategic planning or public speaking, it is about lordship. Where Jesus is singularly and absolutely lord of our life, we will seek to be like him and him only. That will be our sole calling. We will be called to our work and that work will carry God’s anointing. We will be called to decrease, that Christ may increase. We will be called to be people of God before and as we do the work of God.”
Becoming leaders can’t be left to the persons who want to be a leader. They must be called (and affirmed by the community for their individual anointing within the community and a recognized track record of character, capacity, and commitment), trained (not solely through formal training, but also the non-formal sponsorship of a Barnabas-type leader), and under authority (not seeking positional authority, but humbly serving under the anointing of the Holy Spirit).
The process of equipping and releasing servant leaders in the Body of Christ is the single greatest task of the Church, I believe. Leaders given positional authority tend to rely on that position for security, and worse they can tend to lead through control. By virtue of the positional leadership accorded to pastors of churches, these leaders can be isolated from true fellowship and accountability in the community. History, including recent history, is littered with the damage done by pastors who, in their isolation, became proud, abused their authority, or committed adultery. To maintain positional authority, pastors may hesitate to release others into ministry, unless there is a strong accountability and unless they can also exert control over those under their authority. While this is not true of all pastors, it can be argued that the structure of churches, including the role of the modern pastor, is the primary contributor to the problem.
Shared leadership works through a shared vision, but the primary vision behind shared leadership is not structural. The primary vision will be the cross, and the centrality of Christ. Working toward a shared vision requires that the leadership team manifests the quality of servant leaders, surrendered to the lordship of Christ. Their leadership gifts will be manifest with an understanding and appreciation of the common good, which extends beyond the boundaries of their own group, or their positional authority. Paul writes, “The manifestations of the Spirit are given to each one for the common good.” (I Cor. 12:7)
To define shared leadership, first it is necessary to define two kinds of “shared vision”, which result in the sharing of leadership, networks and partnerships. These definitions come from Phill Butler in his book “Well Connected”:
“Network: Any group of individuals or organizations, sharing a common interest, who regularly communicate with each other to enhance their individual purposes.”
“Partnership: Any group of individuals or organizations, sharing a common interest, who regularly communicate, plan, and work together to achieve a common vision beyond the capacity of any one of the individual partners.”
Butler writes, “frequently networks are incubators for partnerships.” Therefore, the development of a network is best as first priority, with a particular focus on common concerns and resources. By focusing first on individuals in a network, the empowering of participants or ministries is enhanced to a greater effectiveness in their own sphere of influence. The leadership team needs to come together with the same spirit of a network, empowering each others’ ministry gifts within their spheres. That team needs to be the catalyst for the broadening of the network and the creation of partnerships, both short term and long term.
The Lausanne Movement has identified a powerful trend in the Body of Christ: “the shift of power from the center to the edges.” Partnerships, Butler clarifies, have been “based on an ‘open architecture’ model.” He identified this trend first among mission agencies. He writes, “Any individual or agency clearly committed to taking Christ to a specific people group was welcome. While the partnerships developed their own criteria for involvement, leadership roles, etc., they clearly have been inclusive rather than exclusive.” Today, many local churches are partnering with other churches and agencies in their desire to be more missional locally and globally. (See Darrell Guder’s book, Missional Churches and the book Treasures in Jars of Clay.)
What I am recognizing in my studies is that those churches are not the only trend. There is also a trend among people to migrate away from traditional and evangelical churches to what are identified as “emerging churches.” I propose a way to integrate both trends, the trend to be more missional through partnerships and the trend to have smaller, more authentic communities.
Shared leadership needs a shared vision. The vision is of ‘Christ in You’ (individually and corporately), ‘the Hope of Glory.’ The leadership team must “model the way” (See Kouzes and Posner’s book, Leadership Challenge), for families, communities, and yes, nations. The local church community can model how to disciple nations? Yes! Think of the fruit of Calvin’s doctrine of depravity, which stimulated the Presbyterian model of leadership with mutual accountability within the leadership structure. No one individual or group has authority to make all the decisions for the church. Leadership was distributed in ways found in Scripture, which taught the nations the branches of government. This model of leadership literally taught the nations of Great Britain, The Netherlands, and The United States of America, how to have checks and balances of accountability in their governments. The world is watching what the church does and the world can learn through leadership of the church.
Collaboration is a popular word among businesses working together today, however the use of the term and extensive literature does not mean the individuals within those organizations know how to do it. This kind of leadership requires the character of a servant (See Robert Greenleaf’s seminal book, Servant Leadership.) The church needs to equip the next generation of leaders by modeling the way in our structures and our lifestyles. Today’s spiritual leaders need to create collaborative spirit and capacity within a local church, through heart change and structure change, to stimulate missional engagement of the community, and therefore teach the communities and leaders in those communities to lead as servants. True collaboration and true shared leadership, requires a commitment to shared goals, a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility, mutual authority and accountability for success, and sharing of resources, risks, and rewards.
So, here’s my simple definition of Shared Leadership:
Shared leadership for the Church is a Christ-centered relationship entered into by two or more individuals, groups, or organizations to achieve common goals in obedience to Christ’s commission. It is the Body of Christ functioning according to Eph. 4:11-13, Rom. 12:1-11, and I Cor 12:11-28.
This question, “Can we transform the world through students?” calls for serious reflection regarding this generation, historical examples, biblical precedent, and issues of leadership credibility.The following reflection is an exercise I have undergone to refocus my own efforts and the ministries of Youth With A Mission’s Student Mobilization Centre.
First, we must ask, “What problem? What needs transformation?”
I believe the Glory of God is revealed as Jesus’ followers portray the truth of the gospel both by proclamation and by loving our global neighbor. The good news: There is a growing number of young people who are activated to help solve the world’s problems, poverty, HIV/AIDS, Malaria, etc. They want to serve among the poor and needy and make a difference. The problem: Those who desire to do something about global human need have little grounding in biblical truth; they either see little need or have insufficient understanding to proclaim the gospel.
Next, we must ask “What harm would be done if the problem isn’t solved?”
If this problem is not solved, a hopeful generation of emerging leaders may lose heart after facing the enormous global challenges without sufficient biblical christian worldview training. I see the urgent need to mobilize a new generation of student missions volunteers from every academic discipline who will learn to think biblically and who will preach and practice the gospel of the kingdom with relevance to the issues and needs of today.
Next, we need to consider the solution or solutions and why the solution(s) are desirable.
Why is it a good idea?
Jesus method of training was simply, “Come, follow me.” While classroom instruction has value, Jesus simply modeled his lifestyle and his followers experienced that life and learning while serving alongside him. Our solution for mobilization of today’s university students into short term mission projects complements the specialized training students are getting in universities. Our solution specifically engages the student’s worldview and motivation for service, providing a biblical framework, personal discipleship, and community involvement to help them relate personally with Jesus while they serve. The distinctive of our summer projects for students is the integration of the theoretical with the practical, the sacred with the secular, studies with service, the local with the global, and the personal with the corporate calling to make disciples of all nations.Students come to grasp the height, width, depth and breadth of God’s love for a needy world as they portray his kingdom through loving relationships in community.
We must also ask “Why is solving this problem relevant?”
More specifically, “Is this problem and solution relevant to you and to your community? Your church? Your ministry? Your profession? Your family?”
Our student ministries are designed with partnership in mind. Our Centre partners with student groups, church groups, professionals, and field projects. I believe today’s Church must be both a sending and a receiving church, which means we must make our commitment to the developing world a more complete partnership between the sending and receiving communities. The Student Mobilization Centre invites new partners to participate in these community bridges of 21st century missions.
Finally, “Is our solution credible? Do we have some kind of track record of results?”
The Student Mobilization Centre facilitates practical opportunities for university students to integrate into working cross-cultural ministry situations related to their fields of study. Our Field Ministry Internships teams are short term learning-serving summer experiences for students and christian leaders. Students gain academic credit serving collaboratively with one of our many integrated development and church planting projects in the developing world. FMI students from over 100 colleges/universities in nine nations have participated on 75 teams in 34 countries since 1989.