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“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.
“If you work the words into your life you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid a foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last.” (Luke 6:48 Message)
Jesus said, “These words I speak to you are not merely additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.” (Luke 6:47 Message)
Sounds pretty important to me
But what was Jesus referring to exactly? What are we building and why?
Jesus was wrapping up his Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes, the DNA of the Kingdom of God, and the Lord’s Prayer, instruction on how to appeal to God for his help in fulfilling his mission in the earth. Jesus was a carpenter by trade; he used the metaphor of building to get his point across. His sermon was kind of like a builder’s “shop-talk” for the large crowd that gathered to listen to him in Galilee.
Do you find it interesting that the crowds that gathered around Jesus were often too big for the buildings of his day? On one occasion when Jesus did gather people in a house, a few determined men who sought healing for their paralytic friend “removed some tiles” from the roof, and “let him down in the middle of everyone.” (Luke 5:18 Message) Of course, Jesus healed the man because he and his friends had great faith.
The Building Process: Internal and External
Imagine walking through the trailer on the site of a major new building project. On the wall is a chart showing all the various tasks for each of the contractors. Jesus sermon was about all the tasks and tools used to build our lives, our families, our communities, and our nations. He was speaking of how to build a community which would soon be called the “Church.”
Jesus was teaching his audience about the tools of the kingdom, how to love enemies, how to be merciful, giving, forgiving, and not-judging. He said, “Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” (v.42) He spoke of the organic nature of the kingdom when he spoke about fruit-bearing, “your true being brims over into true words and deeds.” (v.45) It appears the “building” Jesus is referring to is NOT a place of worship; it’s a people of worship.
Who is doing the building?
Neil Cole, in his book “Organic Church” asks: “Do you trust laymen on their own?”
Look again at what Jesus said: “If you work the words into your life you are like a smart carpenter …” Sounds like Jesus intends for “you” to be the builder.
Unfortunately down through the ages spiritual authorities, whether they are Pharisees or modern ministers, have too often failed to trust God’s people to “build”.
Roland Allen‘s important book focuses on the fact that Paul’s missionary activity was church planting and that he quickly turned over leadership to the “builders.” Without exception, all the churches that Paul planted in the gentile world were left alone; and, in every case, God’s people managed to survive and express Christ and His church. Certainly, Paul’s missionary work produced what we call “New Testament churches.”
Paul’s “New Testament churches” seem to be different than ours. Our concept of New Testament Church keeps coming up with a “senior” pastor and a passive and mute laity. Paul’s method was to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” which is to proclaim Jesus is Lord in every family, every community, sphere of society and every nation.
A Changing World
Today’s world is very different than the Paul’s world, but let’s look at the similarities. The first century was dominated by a single world power, Rome. Today’s world also has a single world power. At the same time, the Roman world was culturally diverse, pluralist. And today, when you visit any major city, university, or shopping mall, you will see and hear people from many cultures. In fact, there has never been a time in history like the first century quite like there is today.
And yet, the world is vastly different from the first century and any other time in history. Within the past few years, the demographic center of the Christian world has shifted from the North and West to the South and East. The new Majority Church is in the Global South. The accessibility to information technologies is rapidly changing the world, including the Arab world and China. It appears the pressures caused by the flow of information among the people in the Arab world will effectively change Middle Eastern nations and their primary business models. OPEC will likely face pressures and break up, releasing a more market-based system. Those nations will likely shift from economies based on a single product, crude oil, to a market-based economy. That change will likely also open the way for alternative energy sources; a change that is too restrictive now due to our dependence on foreign oil.
The emerging generation has more access to information and connection with “friends” than any previous generation. Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat helped frame the significance of these changes. Friedman’s book was out before the emergence of FaceBook. If Facebook were a country, the number of people on that one social media tool would be one of the five most populated nations on earth. It is second nature for most people today to collaborate for social change. This change alone will affect every modern institution including churches. The effect of these major socio-political, economic, and demographic shifts is “like a flood.”
Like no other time in history is it necessary to build on a solid foundation in obedience to Jesus. Building the people of God to do the work of God everywhere. We must trust God’s people to be the priesthood to proclaim the good news by every means, inside the domain of church ministries and outside that domain. If we do follow Jesus’ instruction and Paul’s method, what is built will be “build to last.”
Cultivating Communities of Practice, by Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), is one of several required books I read for Fuller Theological Seminary‘s MA in Global Leadership. The following are my reflections:
I have a great interest in how organizations, particularly those with Christian leadership, work and how they respond to change. This book is rich with practical insight as to how non-profit organizations, churches, and christian ministries may develop in a globalized society.
One trend I have observed helps me see the way forward. In recent years several international conferences, training courses, and outreaches have been convening around points of passion and global human need, like water, women’s issues, slavery, and children at risk. YWAM International and other Christian missions agencies have also begun to look at a new mapping paradigm for global strategy called Project 4K wherein the map is divided into about 4000 geographic units, Omega Zones, highlighting those areas still requiring engagement.
What appears to be needed is a new cross-platform, multi-disciplinary team approach to properly engage each of those geographic regions.
Through the Student Mobilization Centre‘s School of University Ministries & Missions, we are equipping field leaders who will be able to coordinate multi-disciplinary field project teams. During the past 15 months, we have presented this 12-week training program in India, USA, Korea, and Colombia. I leave today to teach on Missional Collaboration for the final week of the school. Participants in the SMC school learn how to collaborate with leaders and communities to harmonize outreach teams to serve broad-based long-term community development project goals while mobilizing students for field based learning.
YWAM’s University of the Nations operates according to what Wenger, et al conclude in Communities of Practice; that is, “useful knowledge is not a downloadable commodity.” It requires participation.
The best learning experiences are in the context of relationships, especially those experiences with others that at the same time unfamiliar and familiar. In my experience, students learn best when taken out of their familiar culture to serve and learn in a context that challenges their expectations and status quo learning experiences. They also learn best if put in a situation where they are challenged to work together with those who share their skill set, academic training, and/or missionary goals.
By cultivating these communities of learning and serving, I believe we will ourselves learn how to do world missions and how to participate as a global church in the twenty-first century. By developing this field project model of university ministry, placing students as interns into a wide array of community development projects with national leaders who require their service, we will all learn, we will become a community of practice.
By requiring students as part of their internship to research and write about their cross-cultural serving-learning experience, we will thereby share knowledge gained both with the field project leaders and with the universities and professors that sent the students. These project teams will help us steward and share the knowledge gained. These long-term community development field projects could serve as “laboratories” for curriculum development as well as cross-disciplinary field project leadership development.
By working together across cultures toward a big vision of collaborative ministries, leaders of missional communities, churches and organizations, will increase their ability and speed generating and implementing creative ideas for community development, evangelization, and training.
To accomplish this, we will need to form missional communities in university settings, and cross-platform, multi-disciplinary, communities of practice at field sites where internships may be hosted and field project staff leadership may be trained.
The most essential element of this field-based learning community is the authentic cross-cultural ministry that must be the foundational intent and the fruit of the project.
Where missional communities of practice exist, the witness of the Kingdom of God will be evident in a much greater way, both in the university and at that field projects’ community. These communities of learning and leadership equipping may in turn affect a change in the whole of the Christian missionary enterprise through an integrated development model of field ministry and leadership equipping.
This book is ‘salty’. I am thirsty for more with each page turned. Even more so, I am hungry for the practical outworking of this vision within the context of my own life and ministry. That is why I am developing a seminar and a 12-week course on Missional Collaboration. The challenge to me is to deliberately form communities of practice in my ministry context, the universities of the world.
The noise of the one hundred students moving their metal chairs into circles was deafening. The Nairobi Church auditorium echoed with loud screeching as students from nearby University of Nairobi shuffled to form their groups according to the spheres or domains of society; arts, media, business, education, family, government, etc.
The room was buzzing with excitement. The intensive seminar, “Calling Quest 2001 – Transforming Your Nation Through Your God-given Vocation” is one of a series of seminars I have presented around the world for Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. At this event, I had the help of three of our YWAM Madison School of the Bible interns. After the first of several presentations, the students were anxious to discuss and search the Scriptures for answers to the hard questions.
Accompanying us was a team of thirteen students from Brown University, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design, UC San Bernadino, and UVA, all of whom had been prepared to lead the Domains Small Group discussions during our week-long Field Ministry Internships orientation in Switzerland. When we arrived in Kenya, they came with questions too. Ju Rhyu, one of the Brown students, brought these questions:
How can I bring transformation in a world of injustice? What is my place in this world? Though I yearn to see justice in a world with nations rejoicing, the burdens and problems that stand before me seem too daunting, too massive. AIDS, poverty, corruption – how do I even begin to think about these things?
It was the week of July 24-27, 2001. Yes, only a few weeks later the world would be shocked at the events of September 11, 2001. (Several American colleagues and I were still in Nairobi on that day. We were attending an international conference for the University of the Nations. We were stranded in Kenya and then Europe, waiting for the airports to unclog so we could return to our families and friends in the USA, and a very different world.)
Ju’s questions loom even larger in the face of a world terrorized by a few radicals. What could a few Christ followers do in the face of such evil? How could they help end the injustices of the poor? What is God’s good purpose for humankind? What does it mean to be created in the image of God? And are we called to serve the needs of the world?
Actually, we have two calls from God. Enjoying friendship with God, not merely right relationship, is our first call. Adam and Eve, the first inhabitants of the world in our God Story, enjoyed friendship with God. They were called twice. First, they were called to serve in the garden with the words “dress it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). God made human beings in His image to rule and to be fruitful under His reign with full dependence on Him. Second, after Adam and Eve disobeyed and sin entered the world, God’s call became a cry seeking his lost friends. “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
However, calling changed after the tragic Fall of humankind. Because of the Fall, our first call is not to service, but to restored relationship. St. Augustine expressed the call to restored relationship to God in his Confessions,
“Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
When we are lost and outside relationship with God, our first call is to restored relationship through faith.
Calling to do something in the world was not separated from the call of intimate friendship. Both callings are integral to our relationship with God; both are integral to the imprint of God’s image.
Sadly, most of the students I spoke with in Nairobi that summer were not able to see a valid contribution or calling beyond the domain of the church.Though many were students of architecture, business, and communications, they did not understand the God-given calling to be an architect, or business person, or journalist. They thought the call to be a pastor or evangelist was the highest calling.
What do you think?
Our Domains Small Groups continued to press in diligently with their questions. They began to understand the imprint of God, what it means to be created in God’s image. The student groups searched the daily newspapers to see what was happening in their chosen sphere of society. Then they sought the Scriptures to understand God’s ways of governing the world.
Our team of student leaders prayed together with the Nairobi students for the very real and very current needs in the domains of health care, education, business, family, etc. They began to see past the stigma and blindness to the ills of their own society. For example, though there were already ten million AIDS orphans, it was only that summer that the first newspaper article reported that AIDS was the cause of someone’s death.
After the intensive seminar, the students continued to meet weekly to study and pray in their groups. They even took prayer walks around major centers of business, education, media, etc. They became activated in God’s calling to “dress and keep” the world. One group was ushered into the Deputy Mayor’s Office to present some of their findings and discuss the need for a better sewage system.
The students began to understand the high calling of living according to God’s design, offering their gifts, skills, and natural abilities in service to their neighbors and their world. Much of our ministry to the Poor is in helping our them understand their high calling, that they are created in the image of God. This leads us to Key #4.
Key #4: Defend the Image of God in the Poor.
The Nairobi university students at that CallingQuest and other seminars conducted over the summer of 2001 were among the most privileged of Kenyan society. However, they were missing something. We too are “Poor” if we fail to know our identity and vocation, our calling in God.
Those who know God have responsibility to the Poor. We are called to define and defend the image of God in the Poor. Because we know we are created in His image and we know His voice calling us to intimate friendship and purpose in this world, we must be diligent to defend the image of God in the Poor.
The Poor are not lazy or stupid. Jayakumar Christian writes,
“A people so close to the edge cannot afford laziness or stupidity. They have to work and work hard. Most of the lazy and stupid are dead.”
We too should be diligent. Our church life and worship should celebrate our relationship with Jesus Christ, our reconciliation with God. However, we also have the responsibility to minister to the Poor. We must look for ways in which the Poor have been limited in their access to love, justice, or peace.
Ministry to the Poor is not merely about access to material needs; it’s about removing obstacles and giving access to the cultural, social, spiritual, personal, and biological spheres of community.
Our outreach to the Poor should affect the whole system of poverty, the diabolical web to which they are bound. Our ministry is reconciliation. We are called to restore relationships, including relationship with God (religion, philosophy, theology), Community (political science and economics), the Environment (biology, ecology, engineering), the Wider World (sociology, international relations, justice), and Individuals (psychology, health care).
Ju Rhyu expresses her deepest desire that:
Through our time in Nairobi we would be able to teach that God reigns over and in and through all. He is Lord of government, business, science, technology, education, family, the church, arts and communications. The sacred should not be self-contained and relegated to a position of non-influence, but rather, should extend itself to influence holistically.
Key #2: A Kingdom View of the Poor.
“Line up!” shouted the man who climbed out of the Ford Econoline 350 box truck. “Stand back! Stand de vuelta!” Clowns, balloons, and face painting helped attract people from the nearby pueblos. The dry wind swept up the grey dirt as the crowd of people from Cuidad Juarez, and the surrounding Mexican border squatter villages, gathered to receive clothes, food, and other donated items. Obediently, the people stood in line and waited for the man to open to back of the truck. I have no doubt the man and the others with him had kind intentions, however my heart sunk as I watched these people reduced to pitiable passive recipients of American excesses.
The truckload of donations was part of an outreach ministry of a church on the El Paso side of the Rio Grande. It was the summer of 1990. We were in Juarez for six weeks with our Field Ministry Internship student teams of Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. On this hot July afternoon, we were assisting the American group that came to plant a church. We were asked to conduct simple health examinations, primary health care, in a makeshift medical clinic. This personal contact also gave us opportunity to ask if we can pray for the children and their families.
However, the oversized sound system and overzealous worship leaders made it difficult to pray, let alone conduct any thorough examinations in the clinic. The loud and raucous singing and music was giving me a headache.
I stepped out of the clinic to observe the open air meeting. The music continued as young American evangelists, many with clown outfits, went into the audience to pray for the sick.
Please understand, I am a firm believer in prayer and God’s power to heal.
But this disturbed me.
A small Mexican child, obviously frightened by the clowns laying their hands on him, was crying and reaching out toward his mother. Others were surrounding “Mom” and praying for her. The noise and confusion even had me anxious to leave. I wondered what this child and family would think of Jesus after this traumatic day.
This brings us to the second key to ministry among the poor.
Christian ministries will always reflect their leadership’s view of the poor, their understanding of the nature of poverty. That view may be less biblical and more the prevailing view of the surrounding culture.
What is your view of the poor?
The way we approach our ministry to the poor communicates value, either positively or negatively. No matter how many dollars or valuables we donate, our posture and attitude in what we do and say communicates far more than what we give.
When Christians reach out to the poor, we too often unintentionally communicate what we think of their value.
This is what the poor “hear”:
“We are complete, you are not.”
Simply put, the goal of our outreach to the poor should be to avoid communicating that lie. Our goal should be to identify with the poor in our mutual recovery of identity in relation to God’s creative design and purpose.
How do we do that?
In order to communicate value to the poor, we must first communicate value to the volunteer serving alongside us in ministry to the poor.
This is why we emphasize “Calling” in our university student ministries and outreaches. If our outreach emphasizes the discovery of vocation in the life of the volunteer, the Christian participant in ministry to the poor, then we will effectively communicate the value of the design and purpose of God to the community in which we minister.
Then we will fulfill the commission to preach the good news to the poor.
Our aim is the same as that of Jesus’ public ministry:
“And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.’” (Luke 4: 17-19)
Our goal is to ‘set free’ the poor from their destructive relationships so they may enjoy Shalom, a Hebrew term for peace, completeness, and welfare. All of us are called by God to an abundant life of healthy kingdom relationships.
The way we reach this goal must begin with the right posture, the right attitude. We must begin by demonstrating a servant heart, the nature of our servant King Jesus.
In our outreach to the Poor we must represent a kingdom community, demonstrating the biblical story and representing God’s identity and purpose in our relationships.
Our outreach should portray the kingdom of God, which represents the character of God in all the various expressions of his callings.
God is healer, communicator, builder, author, creator, artist, counselor, teacher, etc. Therefore, these vocations are representing God’s character in community.
Outreach is best when we represent the kingdom of God in a community of servants. We represent the character of God and the holistic and interrelated spheres of His ministry.
Ministry to the Poor requires a view of the poor and a vision of the kingdom of God.
In this series, I am referring to the book: God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God, by Christian, Jayakumar.
Looking into the hollow eyes of Paulo, I wondered what we could do. Paulo was emaciated and gaunt, but with a bloated belly. His parents asked us to come see him. They worried that he would no longer eat the corn tortillas they had been feeding him. Because he was weak, his mother kept Paulo hidden in the dark corner of the small mud brick house. She feared that the sun and the warm air in the mountains of Guatemala would harm him.
It was 1991 and our university student Field Ministry Internship teams visited this mountain village to serve the Rabinal Achi people, a poor community with little or no access to health care and education.
Bonnie, a nurse and our health care team leader said Paulo was dying; he was at the final stages of starvation.
With the mother’s permission and Bonnie’s recommendation, I picked up the frail boy and held him to pray. He was light as a feather. I carried him into the sun. A member of our team ran to get some 7Up and soda crackers to attempt to rehydrate him, but he would not eat. I fed him the liquid with a tea spoon, which appeared to help him. We prayed earnestly as tears welled up in our eyes for the boy and his family. “Jesus, please heal this one today.”
The clinical name for the condition is called Kwashiorkor. The belly swells due to the lack of protein. The parents did not understand that the diet of tortillas, the only food available for their little boy, was insufficient. Paulo was not getting the nutrients he needed to survive.
We learned the next day that Paulo died. Even as I write this today, I agonize over the loss of this small child that had so little hope of survival. Even now, I want to bring a good report; I want to say, “Jesus healed Paulo!” But that is not what happened.
Paulo’s family is among the poorest of the poor. He is not merely a statistic, but he is among three billion people, almost half the world’s population, who live on less than $2.50 USD a day. Approximately 24,000 children like Paulo die every day due to malnutrition and impure water. (See Facts on Global Poverty.)
That experience, and dozens of others like it in as many countries over the past two decades, shaped my vision and passion for mobilizing university students toward their calling in Christ’s mission to a needy world. I ache to see a generation of university students offer their lives, including their studies and their careers, as living sacrifices in worship of Jesus. I long to see communities of faith, churches, devote more of their resources to mission and less to the one hour event on a Sunday morning. I long to see Christian business leaders, educators, scientists, communicators, food growers, builders, health care specialists, and families connect, conspire and collaborate to serve the world’s poor, starting with one small boy or girl in one small village.
One of the most important books I have read on the subject of ministry to the poor is God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God by Jayakumar Christian. (Amazingly, this book is not available for less than $200.00. Therefore, I will provide a brief synopsis for my next four blog posts.)
As I read this book I was challenged to understand several keys to ministry among the poor. I’m convinced these key principles are important for any ministry, any Christian desiring to serve Christ’s mission. Additional posts with stories of our ministry among the poor will follow soon.
(Note: The name “Paulo” may not be accurate, but the story is true. I may have confused this boy’s name with another we ministered to some time later.)
Sitting here warming in the sun and listening to the gentle spash of the waves along the jagged lava rock of the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i, I find it difficult to believe this is where a tsunami slammed the small shopping center along the shore on March 11, 2011. That contrast is stark, but the story of a young boy named Henry who lived here two hundred years ago details an even more striking contrast. For more than a generation the island was inhabited by a war-like Tahitian tribe that enslaved the more peaceful Polynesians through violence and fear. I wonder what it was like for the first known Westerner, British explorer Captain James Cook, when he arrived in 1778. The inhabitants thought Cook was Lono, the god of fertility and peace. In time, they realized he was merely human, so they killed him. Henry’s is the story of Hawai’i, beginning with violence and fear, but ending in hope and joy.
I’ve been to this island many times over the years. For over 20 years, my work with Youth With A Mission has brought me here over a dozen times. This island is home to University of the Nations-Kona Campus, one of our largest training locations. I made this place home and had offices for our ministries here in Kona two times, once in ’89-’90 and later in ’98. My son, Justin, was born on this island in 1990. The story of this campus is significant; it is found in the book “Is That Really You, Lord?” by Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With A Mission. The back story, the story you will not find in Loren’s book, is how the gospel first came to the Kona Coast.
When I first moved to Hawai’i with my wife in 1989, I was surprised by the contrasts. This island is volcanic and hazardous. The barren expanses of jagged black lava fields are contrasted by amazing vegetation and beautiful aromatic flower trees. Amid the harsh surroundings is a rich dark soil producing coffee beans, pineapples, and coconuts. The amazingly diverse climate has several micro-environments with unique weather, plants and animals. When we lived here, we took a few long drives around the island, which took us through tropical rainforests, cool alpine regions, stony deserts and sunny beaches. This is the place Henry grew up about 200 years ago.
When Henry Opukahai’a was just ten years old he saw his parents killed as two warring men fought to show their manhood. Henry took his baby brother on his back and fled. Sadly, Henry’s brother was killed by a spear and he was captured. Orphaned and alone, he was forced to live with his uncle, the man who apparently killed his parents. Henry was being trained to become a pagan priest. Henry saw the emptiness of the rituals and chants. He and a friend Thomas Hopu successfully escaped swimming out to the Triumph, an American tall ship and became cabin boys. Some time later, the ship was anchored off the shore of New Haven, Connecticut. Henry was found weeping on the steps of Yale College. He is quoted: “Someone please teach me the truth.” Timothy Dwight, the president of Yale, took him to his home and Henry began his formal education. He studied Greek and Hebrew and translated parts of the Bible. It is important to note that Timothy Dwight’s daily messages in in the chapel are attributed to have sparked the Second Great Awakening.
Henry and Thomas became the first Hawaiian Christians in 1815. They were befriended by Yale students. Henry was later introduced to and discipled by Samuel Mills, the leader of the Haystack Prayer Meeting in William’s College, Williamstown, MA. (See my previous post about the Haystack.) Henry was very intelligent and his zeal for Christ led him to pray for his homeland, the Islands of Hawai’i. In his memoirs, which sold 500,000 copies, Henry Opukahai’a wrote:
“My poor countrymen who are yet living in the region and shadow of death, without knowledge of the true God, and ignorant of the future world, have no Bible to read, no Sabbath.”
Henry’s faith and courage led him to sign up as an original member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the earliest foreign missionaries in the new nation. He intended to return to Hawai’i as a missionary. But Henry died of typhoid fever in 1818. His life and faith inspired Thomas Hopu and Hiram Bingham, and a team of others, to be the first missionaries to Hawaii. The words of this sermon show the influence of this faithful young Hawaiian native who died at the early age of 26 years:
“‘It is the Lord’s doing, and marvelous in our eyes.’ To him it belongs to bring good out of evil and light out of darkness… Ah! Opukahaia cannot go with you. He will not, however, forget you. Perhaps, if you should prove steadfast in the faith, he may look down and smile upon you from heaven. …. From a land of Bibles and Sabbaths and churches, where you have been nurtured and instructed in Christian charity; where you have enjoyed the prayers and counsels of the wise and good; and where some of you hope that you have been made savingly acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ, you are going back to that land of idols and darkness, from whence you came…”
They landed at the Kona Coast on April 12, 1820. Before they arrived, the ruthless King Kamehameha the Great died. Idolatry and human sacrifice had ended by King Kamehameha II and his Queen mother Ka’ahumanu. The queen soon became a Christian and helped spread the Gospel in the islands.
Revival swept the islands. By 1840, 20,000 Hawaiians had become Christians. Just prior to her death, Queen Ka’ahumanu was presented with the newly completed version of the New Testament in the Hawaiian language. Her last words were: “I am going where the mansions are ready.”
“But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor.” – Gal 2:18
This phrase penned by the Apostle Paul follows the prophetic impulse of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:
“Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-11 (NIV)
For those of us with that same prophetic impulse, I hope that you will be fueled with a passion to “build” what God is wanting to build and “tear down” those systems, beliefs, and practices which God does not approve. The apostolic and the prophetic are essential to the laying of foundations of the Church (Eph. 2:20). The “builder” anointing and impulse of the apostolic and prophetic is coupled with the “destroy and overthrow” anointing. The Spirit of God resists the proud. Anything, temples, kingdoms, or belief systems which resist the gentle flow of the Holy Spirit are marked for destruction.
Isa 57:14 And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
Then, after the destruction, the anointing to build takes the lead. Those whom God has rescued, the poor and the needy, the ones who have humbly sought God for grace, then become the builders.
Isa 61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
The caution Paul offers in the building process is to beware of building systems that will resist the gentle flow of God’s Spirit as He seeks to rescue and restore the poor and needy.
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.
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.
Reading the Gospel of Matthew is a journey into creative tension experienced by the author who understood the heart of a predominantly Jewish exiled community of the early church. In fact Matthew held out this tension, between the pastoral and the prophetic, “in the way in which he portrays the call to a mission to both Jews and Gentiles.” (see Transforming Mission, by David J. Bosch, p. 82)
The embattled and refugee community of Jewish followers of Jesus Christ mid-80 AD, probably living in Syria, were faced with internal and external pressures, a struggle for their identity and purpose. Pressure from Jews who did not believe the message that changed everything and that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah culminated in the extremely conservative Jewish 12th Benediction read aloud in synagogues (Temple worship had ended with its complete destruction) at the end of the first century: “Let the Nazarenes (Christians) and the heretics be destroyed in a moment…Let their names be expurgated from the Book of Life and not be entered with those of the just.” Pressures from within the Jewish Christian community involved questions of adherence to the Law and table fellowship with the growing numbers of Gentiles that had come to faith in Christ.
Matthew wades into this arena of controversy to communicate with pastoral encouragement to a community facing a serious identity crisis. Central to his message, however, is an over-arching missionary identity. Matthew encourages his fellow believers to see the opportunities for missionary witness and service in their context.
This first Gospel is written to a primarily Jewish audience. But Matthew instructs his community to no longer think of themselves as an isolated separate group of Jews; he tells them in no uncertain terms that they are the Church of Christ. (This is the only gospel in which we find the word ecclesia, “church.”) To communicate this identity however, Matthew again holds together a dynamic tension, presenting both a pastoral concern and a missionary outreach. Matthew employs Old Testament scriptures to redefine their community as the “true Israel” and to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.
Matthew combats the rabbinical teachings of the day with Jesus’ parables, such as the “Tenants”, declaring: “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” It appears, according to Bosch, that it is Matthew who first took up the “theme of the substitution of Israel by a new covenant people.” (62)
Though this approach may contribute to anti-Semite views, it’s clear Matthew is no anti-Semite. Instead, he is navigating tragic circumstances of his community, including Israel’s failure to be a light to the Gentiles, with his belief that God has and will continue to act in history.
Readers will notice the tension, especially how Matthew portrays Jesus’ repeated words of commitment go only “to the lost children of Israel” and his repeated actions reaching out to the Gentiles, such as the Centurian, the Syrophenecian, and the Samaritan. Matthew is a master at showing how to live amid the tension of historic change taking place in Christian community.
Matthew does not direct his people to cease their identity, either inwardly or outwardly, as children of Israel. However, Matthew’s gospel is infused with the missionary call of his community, and every believer, to make disciples of all nations.
Matthew indeed takes the notion of discipleship beyond the traditional preparation to become a “Rabbi”. To be a disciple of Jesus means to become a life-long follower of Jesus Christ, identifying with the “Twelve” in all our weaknesses and lack of faith. This “teaching” for followers is not merely the modern intellectual enterprise either; it’s an appeal to the will of the follower and a call to submit to God’s will. This teaching does not take place in a classroom, bowing down to a human teacher, and certainly not in a church pew a few hours a week. This teaching takes place as we “worship” (fall prostrate) before Jesus as followers and obey the mission to take this message and life-transforming love of neighbors to all the world. In other words, orthopraxis becomes the critical yardstick for orthodoxy. This “theme of discipleship is central to Matthew’s gospel and to Matthew’s understanding of church and mission.” (73)
Again, Matthew is presenting a message that is both pastoral and missionary. Pastorally, he holds up the first disciples, with all their blunders (“little faith”, “afraid”) as models for us to follow. His missionary message is urging us to “make disciples” that will follow their example.
Matthew writes this first gospel story a generation after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to clarify his community’s identity as a community on mission to both the Jews and the Gentiles. Christians find their true identity in the creative tension between Law and Spirit, Church and Mission, pastoral and missionary; the place and posture in which we may truly follow Christ in mission, in communicating to others a new way of life, including a way of following Jesus in a full surrender individually and witness corporately.
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.
Learning, the kind of learning that can only transpire in vibrant community through service to the needs of neighbors, is foundational to the purpose of the Church. The modern university was borne out of such communities and, by design, served to benefit the Church. Pope Innocent 12th, 1243 AD said, “Universities are rivers of knowledge that feed and fertilize the universal church.” The attitude of the Church toward universities was at one time positive, however many in the Church today overlook the missional origins of the university. Jesus told his followers to “Go, make disciples,” that is to say, “Go teach students.”
Paul’s testimony of the “school” he ran for a few short years in the lecture hall at Tyrannus shows the mentor teacher role can be extremely effective with a wide area of influence in a relatively short period of time. Though we do not know much about the dynamics of that “school”, we must assume that there was mobilization toward practical application of what was taught. Paul, it may be assumed, mobilized his students to spread far and wide with a living witness of his message.
The formation of communities of learning was a response to Jesus’ command and core methodology for ministry and our task of completing the Great Commission. However, because many church communities have “failed to revisit the theological and biblical underpinnings of our mission,” we have reduced the scope of the Church and the scope of our mission. (Taylor 2001:7) “Crippling omissions,” such as reducing the gospel to proclamation, created Christianity without regard for culture or the nations. (2001:4) The mission for the Church is to make disciples of all nations, including the powerful institution of the university, which will in turn “feed and fertilize” the Church.
How then shall we again engage university communities, not merely to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God with students, but in addition to obey all that Jesus commands, extending his reign beyond individual hearts, into all the world, every nation, tribe, and tongue?
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.”
I think about words a lot. Bible believers should know how important words are. Unfortunately, we live in an age when words often do not carry the meaning they once did.
To say a leader is “one among equals” must have true meaning in the day to day push-comes-to-shove political moments, when resources are few and opinions are varied. In a church community, a leader who is “one among equals” has a commitment to a value that must be backed up with words that translate into policies and decisions. Those decisions will produce the fruit of the community’s ministry. The “soil” from which this fruitfulness comes is the worldview of the leaders of the community. Without the soil of faithfulness to the Word of God, the fruit of the ministry of the church community will be limited.
To be “one among equals” is to be a team player, committed to the value of team, the value of every individual, the value of the words themselves. I know of a church community that is wrestling with this “promise” to have a “team leadership.” Such a promise represents the possibility of deeper relational and missional commitment to Jesus, to his Church, and to the world. It has promise for a new season of fruitfulness!
The re-formation of a church community is possible! However, in a community words of good intention must be backed by written policies. The power of a leader facilitating a team must be limited in the language of the bylaws of the organization so that “one among equals” is not merely a slogan. Good intentions are not enough. Words must be backed up by a true commitment to the stated values of the community. It is not difficult to operate as a team when roles are defined and power is distributed, checked, and limited.
On a personal note, our visit to China and Hong Kong has ended. We took our daughter Becca (13 years old) to see the foster mom and village where she was cared for before she was adopted. And we took her to the spot on the steps at the government orphanage where she as left in a box. Needless to say this has been an emotional journey. Hard as it has been, it’s been so important for her identity, the story of her life.
I just completed a week-long strategic development process for the Hong Kong Master’s Beauty Ministries staff team. They are learning the beauty of team ministries. Our return to Madison comes after being away for about eight weeks. We depart from Hong Kong in 2 hours.
Have you asked this question? What kind of leaders does the church need today?
There is no simple answer, unless you say that it needs more and better leaders. But it takes more than wishing for better leaders. What is needed is better training. Churches and those training church leaders need to clarify their purpose.
Recently, I completed significant training with Fuller Theological Seminary. I now have a Masters in Global Leadership. Yippee!
But seriously, what was emphasized in my training was the basic questions. I was taught to name the “why”, to clarify the purpose for training.
Certainly the purpose for training Christian leaders must be founded on the Great Commission. When training emerging leaders the emphasis needs to be on “obeying,” not just “knowing.” More importantly, our training must be centered on obedience as an overflow of our relationship with God. We obey God because we love Him; we look to Him and follow His lead, His way, and His extraordinary love for everyone.
So let me ask you this: Have you received teaching that has led you to greater obedience or has that teaching just filled up your head?
Every Christian leader is charged with the task of making disciples. We’re directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead people, modeling a life of learning and loving. We’re called to equip them who follow the One who loves them unconditionally. As we personally follow God’s extravagant ways in response to His amazing love, we will equip emerging leaders to do the same.
Those disciples, those learners, will also obey all that Jesus commanded because they will see us doing it as a response to God’s love. Whether you are involved in formal training of emerging leaders or whether you do it informally, every Jesus follower, every lover of God, will be involved in teaching the next generation to obey the Great Commission.
What do you think is the best way to train people to obey?
I think we’ll miss the real importance of this question if we jump right to the questions of technique. We should not be so concerned about how to lecture, what materials to use, or how to create a syllabus. Our primary purpose should be life on life, or live-learn experiences, teaching with the goal of obedience.
The paradigm from which we operate our training is what will determine our results. Have you considered the results of the past century or so of seminary training for church leaders?
From my studies of leadership emergence, the history of the church, and my personal observations in 30 countries and almost 25 years of faith missions, it is obvious that in many cases the paradigm of training has been ineffective.
To be effective in training emerging leaders to obey, we must begin with full on love for God and a passion to know him. We must be whole-hearted followers fully engaged in the Great Commission. As we respond to God’s love through our own obedience, he will give us the understanding of the most appropriate way to teach every individual emerging leader he brings to us.
Too many have been concerned about knowing Jesus as a means to an end. That kind of teaching will never produce life in our churches. Jesus spoke these words in prayer for you and me, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
Hi. I’m John Henry. Some say I have a contagious love and passion for Jesus. I say I have a passion to teach Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations. If invited to speak I will inform and challenge your group to re-align your vision and programs toward God’s plan and purposes. I offer high content and inspiration in my presentations. My focus is to help every participant in the sessions I teach to focus on what is really important in life, love, and learning.
Through carefully customized presentations designed to meet your group’s specific needs, I will emphasize God’s calling. I will help people of all ages to discern their gifts, strengths, and callings in the context of God’s purposes.
In addition to being a mission mobilizer, I have been a frequent guest speaker in churches, conferences, seminars and workshops around the world. I am the founder and international director of the University of the Nations’ Student Mobilization Centre. The Centre was first commissioned internationally at the UofN Workshop in Korea in 1997. I serve a growing network of over seventy YWAM university ministries in over thirty countries.
Following the Youth With A Mission foundational value of “first do, then teach,” I bring 25 years experience “doing” what I teach. Since 1985, I have been a faith-missionary with experience in many different aspects of church, missions, and leadership, especially among university students.
Since 1989, I have learned many essentials for spiritual formation and leadership emergence as I have coordinated, equipped, and mobilized seventy-five student teams from over 100 colleges and universities from nine nations to serve and learn alongside long term field projects on short-term internships in over thirty countries.
Through various lecture and activity presentations, I not only show people what to do, I teach and model how to think Christianly and listen to God’s heart. I can honestly say I am a tested witness of God’s faithfulness in Christian ministry and mission. I have personal experience in over 30 countries and I approach learning from an integrated relational perspective. I would be honored if you invited me to come share my life with your group.
My wife, Mary, and I have three children, two boys, and one girl adopted from China. As a Christian parents with active involvement in our family’s education and local congregation, we are also in touch with the daily challenges confronting families, young people, and churches. Mary and I have also taught together. We are able to share through experience what works, what doesn’t, and what makes the difference in your family, your Church, or ministry group.
Part of my experience includes serving on a Pastoral Search Team for a mid-sized evangelical church community. I offer insights from that experience for churches in transition.
My Education: MA Global Leadership, Fuller Theological Seminary. (Graduated: 2009)
Experience: Speaker (Since 1983) Short-term Outreach Leader/Trainer (Since 1987) Church/Mission Consultant (Since 1989).
Keywords of all my messages include: Faith, Calling, Mission, Learning, and Leadership
General Topics include: Careers, Ministerial Training, Education, Culture, and Leadership & Motivation.
Most Requested Topics:
1. Call to Relationship: Hearing and Responding to God
The heart of every relationship is found in four essential elements. Without a working familiarity with these elements, relationships eventually break down. Listening to God is urgently necessary if we are going to understand our value, our identity, and our purpose in life. Until we have that relationship with our Creator, we will struggle in virtually every other relationship. This most vital relationship is not merely for our own benefit, however. It is necessary to have a living relationship with God in order to have a living relationship with our families, our friends, our neighbors, our leaders, our teachers, our church community, and every aspect of our world, including our physical surroundings.
This message will penetrate through the non-essentials to help participants respond to God’s initiative of grace in relationships.
2. A Biblical Christian Worldview
Worldview is more than what we see; it’s how we see. I will surprise your group as I lead you into a worldview learning experience. I will help you discover how learning happens and how to understand worldview and how it influences every area of our lives. I lead my audience into a path of discovery, emphasizing the role of personal relationship in the learning experience. I will explore revelation, paradigms, and the four basic questions of worldview. However, this lecture is not a presentation of a simple reduction of philosophical concepts; it is an exposition of the breadth of worldviews, from materialism to spiritism, in contrast with a Christian worldview. Your group will discover together, through small group discussions, the relational nature of learning and the impact worldview has on every sphere of society.
3. Leadership and Collaboration: State of the Church in the 21st Century
The world has changed. Have you noticed? I bring my experience, travels and ministry in thirty countries in four continents over the past twenty-five years, to messages on Leadership and Collaboration. My studies of culture, theology, and the history of the church will be obvious as I lead your group into a thoroughly engaging discovery of the major waves of mission advance during the past 200 hundred years including global shifts which have occurred during the twentieth century. Your group will examine the implications of the significant shifts of the Western Church and the Church of the Global South. In so doing, I will present the need for a new kind of leadership for the Church, and the need for partnership and collaboration in the 21st century.
4. Being Sure about God’s Calling
Where do you fit in God’s unswerving plan to make disciples of all nations?
God is calling you to do kingdom works that he has planned and prepared for you and your community. The Creator of the universe desires you to work alongside him as he crafts his work on planet earth. In this lecture, I share about finding your place in fulfilling God’s plans for your community and for the nations.
I recently read Brian Stanley’s new book “The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910 (Studies in the History of Christian Missions).”
I read this book wondering what may have been learned among Protestant church mission leaders during the 20th century. My biggest question as I read this book: DID THIS EVENT “ENLARGE THE STORY”? In other words, was the presence of “younger churches” heard? Brian Stanley has provided a thorough and useful study, a snap shot of the state of Christian Missions at the height of Western Christendom.
Probably the most important appeal made at the conference was that the “individualistic view of the missionary task must now be ‘entirely abandoned’.” (p.133)
I have selected some excerpts for those interested in what happened at that event.
p. 4 – “…however vibrant the state of missionary passion among the evangelical public may have been in 1910, the intended appeal of the conference was not to the popular Christian imagination so much as to the concentrated attention of serious Christian minds. “A Grand Council for the Advancement of Missionary Science.”
p. 16 – Two intermingled voices of the conference:
The first and most audible – boundless optimism and unsullied confidence in the ideological and financial powers of western Christendom.
The second – “the more muted and discerning voice, heard periodically throughout the text of the Commission reports, and deriving from the more astute serving missionaries whose questionnaire replies formed the raw material for the reports. The voice spoke of crisis and opportunity, of challenge and competition, and occasionally even of threat and danger.”
p. 25 – “emphasis was to be on study and consultation by the leaders of the foreign missionary forces of the world concerning the large and most vital questions of missionary opportunity and policy.” (Apparently following the template of the Shanghai conference in 1907)
p. 33 – Eight Commissions – reports allowed only 7 minutes.
p. 99 – If the African churches were deemed to be insufficiently ‘advanced’ to merit their own representatives, it was not simply because these churches were young in years, but also because their members were thought to be starting from much further back in the process of human development than were Christian converts in Asia. Africans were regarded as “primitive, childlike, and at the bottom of the evolutionary hierarchy, relatively unimportant in the future of the world church.”
There were no Africans present and no one noticed.
p. 108 – The young Chinese made a profound impact, even “disturbing” through two speeches. … urging … not to be afraid to allow Chinese Christians to assume the challenge of sustaining and managing its own life. Cheng’s second speech to the debate of the report of the Commission VIII on “cooperation and the promotion of unity” – “Without question, the best speech.” Cheng presented a vision of a church in China without the denominationalism of Europe. Was this the beginning of post-denominationalism?
Was Cheng correct saying denominationalism and nationalism limit apostolic missionary power? If so, how do we now respond 100 years later?
However, some commissioners, including Gairdiner, pushed back – claiming Cheng was “artless” and apparently naive of fundamental ecclesiology.
p. 111- Nationalism issue emerged with Japan’s delegates. “The spirit of nationalism, so deeply stirring in all lands, found utterance again and again at the conference. …China, Japan, India must bring their own traditions and their own passion of patriotism into a Church of Christ, truly become also the Church of China, Japan, India. Missions exist to make missions unnecessary.” Japan especially demanded autonomy.
p. 112 – Rev Dr. Harada Tasuku (studied at Chicago, Yale, with Ph.D in England and Germany.) Prof. Japanese History, Literature, Language – Dean of new dept. of Asian studies at U. Hawaii. Spoke three times at Edinburgh – Expressed his indebtedness to western theology, while arguing for uniquely Asian expressions of Christianity. He argued that “a church’s expression of faith should grow naturally out of the distinctive Christian life and spiritual experience of its adherents.” He urged that christianity’s should teach bible without too much of our interpretation, and then be patient as well as watchful to await the outcome of the Christian life in non-Christian lands.”
p. 113 – The heart of Harada’s paper was an exposition from an organic liberal Protestant perspective of the essential qualities of the three Asian nations could offer to the body of Christ.
p. 123 – Samuel Azariah – Anglican from S. India – very upset about his 3rd class treatment during his travels, later being told to dress in a turban, etc.
p. 124 – Made remarks with this backdrop “The problem of race relationships is one of the most serious confronting Christianity today.” He went on to complain of ‘a certain aloofness, a lack of mutual understanding and openness, a great lack of frank intercourse and friendliness’ between European missionaries and their national Christians.
p. 125 – He identified the problem as the “financial structures of mission movement.” Which he revealed was a “failure of basic Christian spirituality.”
p. 128 – This speech was the first shot in what became the campaign against missionary imperialism.
p. 130 – Speer’s review of these key Asian speakers was that “true listening to their message had been, at best, partial.” Speer had a “progressive enthusiasm” for “a substantial modification of our interpretation of Christianity.”
p. 133 – Important general conclusion – “individualistic view of the missionary task must now be ‘entirely abandoned’. The church on the mission field could no longer be regarded as a mere by-product of mission work, but the ‘most efficient element in Christian propaganda.” – The church was not simply the goal but also the instrument of mission.
p. 136 – church structures and emergence of new “overtly episcopal role of missionaries” among independent Baptist and Congregationalists guaranteeing voice for laity.
p. 145 – only one Indian church being wholly self-governing, self supporting, self propagating in Orrissa Baptist do not have power over churches, so no transfer necessary
p. 160 – theology “must be written afresh for every fresh race” and “not misrepresented as if it were no more than a precipitation from the antiquated text-books of the West.”
“what was conspicuously lacking was a ‘living form of Christian knowledge’ …
p. 163 – “a vigorous theology..is likely to arise…”
p. 176 – “three aims of missionary education – evangelization, edification, and leavening”
p. 164 – “the churches of Europe & america should…give “full authority” to modify western forms…”
p. 195 – The vision of heaven is one where the cultural gifts of the nations are brought to the holy city
p. 198 – determined mission boards should not emphasize leavening function of christianity education
p. 216 – Howells saw no comparison between Christianity & Hinduism, rather approach should be the commendation of the person of Christ.
p. 222 – Hogg rejects view that Christianity is fulfillment of Hinduism.
p. 224 – The missionary should point out differences, to “upset the equilibrium of Hindu consciousness” -a dialectic approach offering Christ as Satisfier to those with a newfound sense of need.
p. 228 – Gaidner (Anglican expert on Islam) said it’s explicit attitude was to “supersede” the original Revelation of Jesus. Therefore, not compatible.
p. 229 – “Islam is the greatest direct contradiction of christianity.. (and) could not be said to be a preparation for christianity.”
p. 236 – The Commission found nothing in Africa “fetish belief” that was a help, consolation.
p. 238 – Most respondents saw no congruence with tribal high god and Christian deity.
Pope Innocent 12th, 1243 AD said, “Universities are rivers of knowledge that feed and fertilize the universal church.” The attitude of the church toward universities, including the UW – Madison, was at one time positive. “We do not want to repeat the errors that have come from not revisiting the theological and biblical underpinnings of our mission.” (Taylor 2001:7) The mission for the Church in Madison is to make disciples of all nations, including the powerful institution of the university.
“The way of the Christian leader,” Henri Nouwen writes, “is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.” (Taylor 2001:9) The challenge of the cross today, is to enter the halls of the universities as reformers. Luther, a professor in a university, never intended to be a reformer. Christian professors at the UW may be unwilling, however these professors may be called to be the leaders in a reformation that is as significant for the university as Luther’s was for the church.
Prophetic engagement with the university is underway through various agencies, such as New College in Madison led by Vern Visick. The challenge is to allow that prophet call to stimulate apostolic response. The apostolic call to the Church in Madison is to engage global issues. With effective church partnership, for example, a challenge could go out to the Church in Madison in response to the global HIV/AIDS crisis: “If you adopt an HIV/AIDS orphan (of which there are over 10 million today), the church in Madison will sponsor that child’s education.” “If the Church of Jesus Christ rises to the challenge of HIV/AIDS it will be the greatest apologetic the world has ever seen,” writes Ravi Zacharias. The Church in Madison’s acceptance of a new apostolic call to engage the university with its influential role in the world, it will present a powerful apologetic of the love of God and the love of our global neighbor.
Ray Bakke points out that an “incarnational servanthood” model presents a “unique and profound combination of Jesus as message and Jesus as model.” (Sider 2004:137) Families opening their homes to students will counteract globalization’s isolating effect, for the host and the student. My wife and I have hosted internationals in one way or another since we were married in 1988. Relationships with students from Japan to Colombia, Ethiopia to Indonesia, and China to Saudi Arabia have been cultivated at our dinner table, living room, and backyard BBQ. This kind of hospitality, friendship with the foreigner, is biblical. It’s loving our global neighbors.
When the church responds to the opportunities for international relationships at the university community, she will find herself more apt to pursue answers to desperate social issues, presenting a more hopeful message.
The growing global need for pure water reveals our interdependency and our call to environmental stewardship. Because the “goal of the church’s holistic outreach is the transformation of people, communities, and society for the glory of God,” water is a primary operating theme for development.
The Au Sable Institute, a biblically based Wisconsin Idea, is pursuing a vision to help develop livable cities, energy-efficiency, and rising standards of living around the world. Au Sable presents a view of God that comes from the revelation of creation. By our faithful stewardship of God’s creation we witness to the world that our faith is real. The church is marginalized in influence in as much as Christians have little revelation of the God of the material world where environmental issues and global poverty are very real.
“The Christian answer to the educational problem must be given in unity with the answer to the problem of personality and community…it must point men (sic) toward such a community as is sufficiently concrete and commanding to claim the hearts of individuals and masses and yet also sufficiently transcendent and universal to embrace all human ideals and possibilities.” (Tillich 1988:18)
Why is it sixty-two percent of the churches in Madison, including ten congregations with one thousand or more weekly attenders, identified no missionaries serving on mission fields? (Jericho 1997:7) Perhaps the lack of significant cross-cultural engagement is the result of an insufficient biblical model of the church. Perhaps the weakness of the “modern” church is the preoccupation with growth and size as a measure of success. Many say that “bigger is better”, but this has no biblical foundation.
The church is a complex system, “a living organism.” The church is called to bear fruit. Jesus taught us the “mustard seed” principle, which like complexity theory “illuminates the long-range significance of small actions.” When individual decision is made the foundation of church identity, the fruit that is borne is a culture of individualism. Individual choice and personal need becomes ultimate, rather than the unswerving purpose of God to share his mercy with every person in every culture. To begin to overcome this culture of individualism, one must first deny self and then lead a community of believers to do the same. Only then will the church fulfill her mission.
The Madison Senior Pastor Survey conducted in 1996, found eighty-four percent of the congregations placed “some” or “a lot” of emphasis on meeting the needs of the poor. (1996:7) Madison area Christians may disagree, however it is obvious that their standard of living has gradually increased so much that they are blind to the influence of materialism. Living in the comforts of Madison, it is difficult to see the effects of materialism. Until we are shocked into awareness by a trip to a country, and not to the confines of a typical tourist hotel, where the annual income is less than an American child’s allowance. Those who earn more than ten thousand dollars per year share the top ten percent of the world’s wealth. (Barret 2001)
Michael Budde writes, the “Protestant ethic is dysfunctional in the consumption-driven postmodern era.” Budde adds that the apostle Paul’s admonition has been turned on its head in our materialist economy; it “dictates that if people will not eat (and drink, and buy compact discs, the latest in fashions, and home appliances) in sufficient volume, then no one will work.” If the Church in Madison does not allow herself to be shocked out of her slumber, she will fail to be effective confronting the desperate human needs of the world.
The good news is that technology has opened new vistas of communication and broken down centuries old barriers to the gospel. “The Information Age is boundary blind,” William O’Brien writes in his article “Mission in the Valley of Postmodernity” (from the book ‘In Global Good News: Mission in a New Context’). O’Brien adds, “There are no unique continental or regional areas identified exclusively as ‘mission fields’.” Easy access to people of every nation and culture is suddenly made available through the world wide web.
This access provides opportunity for the flow of up to the minute information for prayer, generous giving, and a deepened understanding of the plight of peoples around the world. However, as desperate needs cascade across our computer screens, there may not yet be sufficient spiritual equipping for the Church in Madison to respond appropriately.
During his 1978 run for governor, the former UW-Stevens Point chancellor, Lee Dreyfus, was quoted saying Madison is “thirty square miles surrounded by reality.” (Moe 1999) There are major “gaps between gospel values and the practices of Christianity in ‘Christian’ Europe” and other formerly Christian territories. (Budde 1997:5) Equally true is the gap between the early gospel values and practices at the University of Wisconsin. A plaque on Bascom Hall reveals the commitment to “encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth may be found.” Etched in the stone of South Hall, is: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Class of 1955.”
The following posts will discuss four characteristics of globalization in the Madison context and how they affect the Church in Madison. They are post-modernism; materialism; secularism and pluralism; and individualism, environmentalism, and poverty.
I was asked “Why do you think Paul did not write the Letter to the Ephesians?” Well, there are a series of questions that lead to that one. First, who was the audience? Was it the Church at Ephesus? Possibly not. Why? Because the text “in ephesus” was not in the earliest writings of this letter. This is an important question, because the answer definitely reveals something of the author. The author apparently has no first hand knowledge of Ephesus. (1:15, 3:2, 4:21) There is no reference to Paul’s earlier visit.
Then who was the letter originally addressed to? Was it the Laodiceans (Col. 4:16)? Possibly, but there was no manuscript found with the text “in Laodicea.” Was it a general letter to all the churches? This is very possible. “In Ephesus” could have been added later since it was the third largest city in the Roman empire and letters were often circulated in this way. (Eph. 6:21 & 2 Tim. 4:12) Note that all the “churches” in the book of Revelation were centered around this major city of Ephesus.
So back to our question: Did Paul write the Letter to the Ephesians? If it was addressed to Ephesus, then NO, it was not Paul because it reveals that the author does not know Ephesus.
I’m not a Greek scholar, but I’ve read that the style of Greek is different. Many words and phrases are different from those of Paul. The letter is similar to Colossians though. In fact, the author seems to use Colossians as a reference.
So then, why was Paul’s name on the letter? Apparently custom demanded giving reference to the person whose ideas are being used. Writing in Paul’s name would have been a form of citation of reference common in that period.
If not Paul, then who did write Ephesians? It was likely a follower of Paul. Whether we agree on authorship or not, we can agree that the letter is very useful to learn of Paul’s theology. The author is clearly dedicated to Paul’s message. It was someone who obviously knew Paul’s gospel of grace.
By the time the Letter to the Ephesians is written, the church has emerged as a social and political force. The author, likely not Paul, has identified problems of the universal significance of God’s act in Christ. This letter shares the theme of Romans (Jew & Gentile conflict), but that conflict is apparently fading. There’s little reference to that conflict in Ephesians. However, a wider conflict in the Greco-Roman world has emerged: The challenge of the pagan worldview of pantheism. In this letter, the author argues that Christ is supreme.
This author is not likely to be Paul. Though clearly dedicated to Paul’s message, the author brilliantly outlines Paul’s gospel of grace. The message is Christ and his supremacy. In this letter we find a “representational Cristology”, which is the revelation that we can determine our future based on Christ’s life and resurrection.
The flow of the the argument is in two parts. First, the “Universal Significance of Christ” (1:3 – 3:21), which includes meditations on the meaning of Christ and the revelation of God’s eternal plan, with the presence of Holy Spirit as guarantee until inheritance. Christ is described as “head” of creation and of the church, but Christians sit with him in heavenly places. Therefore, Christians are free from the prince of the power of the air. God’s mysterious and eternal plan has always been Christ’s death & resurrection.
The purpose of the Church, then, is to make the mystery known, to declare the outcome of Christ’s finished work. That is, the church is to declare the unity of humanity in Christ, that there is no longer any “wall” or distinction between Jew or Gentile. Through the cross, Christ has reconciled all to God. (4:1-6:20)
The author then directs the reader’s attention to behavior, how we should then live, in light of these realities. Believers need to understand how to relate to non-believers and how to make their stand against forces of darkness. We are called to “live worthy”, functioning as members of a family, with good order, and self-sacrificial love.
Understanding González’ paradigms of culture helps us understand Paul, who reconciled his identity as a Mestizos. González’ paradigms help us understand why Paul stood so strongly against those who preached a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6 NIV) which throughout history has fragmented, marginalized, exiled, and made aliens. These paradigms help us interpret how God is at work among people in the margins or between cultures. The paradigm of solidarity helps us see in the Scriptures and throughout history the need for give-and-take dialog between cultures and the need for proper engagement within culture. As González relates, “The most exciting things have happened, not at the traditional centers of the life of the church, but at the edges.” The disarming of principalities and powers occurs as we participate with God in the example of Pentecost through which God’s Spirit inaugurates the character of openness to outsiders. Interpretation of the New Testament, without attention to the influences of culture, may lead to alienation and distort the message, however the Bible will always affirm the purpose of God, directing the readers’ understanding to the call of the new community of Jesus’ followers to open their hearts to every culture to become One New Humanity.
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.
“Mestizos,” a pejorative term used by the powerful and “pure” Spaniard conquerors, was used to convince the “mixed-breeds” that they were inferior. One of Paul’s Hellenist Jewish parents made him a kind of mixed-breed who likely experienced a severe oppression and “double alienation,” which undermined the “barriers of separation that consolidate self-identity and security.” Saul, “also known as Paul,” was a Roman citizen misfit among the Hellenist Jews in Tarsus. It appears he had to overcompensate to assure his fellow Jews that he was a true believer, which produced the “persecutor” of the Jewish Christians with his consent to the death of Stephen. After his conversion, Saul continued to experience this challenge to his identity. Not only did he have to overcome his past as a persecutor of the Church, his Mestizos identity contributed to his need to continually defend his calling as an apostle.
Saul comes to terms with his Mestizaje, allowing himself to be known as Paul, when he turns in anger to defend a Roman official’s faith in Jesus against the lies of Elymas, a Jewish sorcerer. “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Paul rebuked, “You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:6-10) Paul’s use of his Hellenist name at this juncture, setting aside pride in his Benjamite heritage, represented his commitment to stand against forces restricting the pronouncement of the gospel for every culture. Certainly, this event was as significant as his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul understood the gospel message and set out to implement the purpose of God for all humanity which had been completed through Israel’s Messiah.
Based on his missionary journeys in the Book of Acts, it’s very likely that among Paul’s letters in our Bibles, his letters to the Thessalonians were probably the first. Paul’s main concern for the Thessalonian believers relates to Christ’s second coming. Nothing has changed. For as long as I can remember, Christians have had similar questions about Christ’s second coming. What can we learn from Paul’s letters regarding the second coming? More than I can relate in this short post.
Because Paul’s first letter shows a curiosity among early Christians about Jesus’ return, we should not be surprised when today’s Christians are also curious.
The Thessalonians were despairing over the long delay of Christ’s return. The fame of their church had spread beyond Macedonia, even though there was apparently little formal church organization. It was truly an organic movement of believers radically committed, no matter what the risk, to a new king, Jesus.
Paul writes to assuage the early Christians’ worries about Christ’s delayed return, especially their questions about those who have already died. This is when the letter gets interesting.
Paul writes about what Christian tradition has called the “rapture.”
Paul writes with pastoral compassion. He is particularly intimate in his first letter, as he not only teaches and corrects, he also admonishes with advice regarding behavior. This is not a private letter. He admonishes the one who receives it to read it aloud for the whole community.
In his second letter, Paul addresses the Thessalonians’ anxiety that Christ may have already returned. They thought they had missed it. This was a festering eschatological confusion, which continues today. In this second letter, Paul is comforting those suffering under persecution and uncharacteristically speaks of the coming wrath and judgment.
Again Paul is primarily addressing apocalyptic issues, which are consistent with his background in apocalyptic Judaism. So what does he say about the rapture?
The return of the Messiah will be sudden and the events preceding his coming will be observable. It will be sudden, like a thief, but it will not be a secret. No, you won’t wake up from your nap on a plane and find your neighbor’s underwear “left behind.”
This notion of being “left behind” is the popular view, but it does not stand up to an honest and thorough study of the scriptures. Jesus is coming. But everyone will know when it happens.
More on this in a later post.
How can a small community of Christ followers serve as a catalyst of a new, broad-structured, international missions movement for the 21st century?
Answer: By creating collaborative partnerships among ministries and leaders in university communities building “bridges” of community transformation.
The following action steps are what our ministries are attempting in this new season of development. Our plan is to serve as a catalyst with YWAM Campus Ministries creating “bridges” of community transformation by:
1. Committing to a coherent set of learning outcomes, a core curriculum, for all School of University Ministries & Missions (SUMM) participants, and in seminars. All SUMM participants will develop an understanding of the 21st century mission field.
a. The school will emphasize YWAM’s commitment to the Christian Magna Carta. Participants will learn how to facilitate a spirit of collaboration in response to dramatic shifts in the Church globally and extraordinary economic and societal crises.
b. Mobilizing students on cross-cultural, serving-learning experiences is an integral part of YWAM’s discipleship of students in every campus ministry location. (See: Field Ministry Internships)
c. Designing Seminars & Conferences, which target and rally university communities for mobilization toward effective ministry addressing Global Human Need. (See: Human Development Index.) These desperate needs, including poverty, corruption, children at risk, HIV/AIDS, malaria, human trafficking, and impure water, are targeted as “giants” which we are confronting with “smooth stones” in our Slingshot Camps. Slingshot is a discipleship camp with an intention of training young people in how to live and share the gospel. This Slingshot is built on the concept of David’s five smooth stones defined as:
(1) Identity in Christ
(2) Intimacy with God
(3) Integrity in Life
(4) Influence in the world, and
(5) Involvement in Missions.
2. Recruiting and Dispatching Volunteers: Field Project Interface and University Community Interface. These staff assignments will be limited to those who have completed the School of University Ministries & Missions (IDM/HIS 313 & 314) -or- a YWAM staff with a Four-Year College Degree and Student Ministries Leadership Seminar (IDM 501).
If either Field Project Interface or University Community Interface serve in locations where there is no YWAM team or ministry, they must have a minimum of two team members working together. All SMC staff require a two year commitment.
A. Field Project Interface: A minimum of two Field Project Interface, serving as SMC staff, will live and work in a YWAM Campus Ministry community in the developing world with the task of coordinating field projects for student teams, particularly Field Ministry Internships. Field Project Interface will assess community needs (health, education, economic, family, environment, etc.), create partnerships with churches and ministries, and interface with the YWAM host when student project teams travel and serve in their location. Field Project Interface will have a particular liaison role with the SMC preparing for summer teams, drawing up project plans for students to gain academic credit, and assisting the SMC to apply for project grants.
B. University Community Interface will partner with existing YWAM ministries and campus ministries, facilitating collaboration and adoption of a whole community in the developing world. University Community Interface will recruit outreach teams for field projects in a single developing world community, drawing from the resources and personnel of a single university community, including churches, student organizations, and Christian faculty and staff.
3. Emphasizing “Community Bridges” – a collaborative and transformational approach to ministries. As a catalyst of transformation, we are building “bridges” of engagement between university communities and developing world communities. The SMC will work with Campus Ministries and associate ministries and churches to remove barriers of collaboration that get in the way of transforming students’ lives and transforming whole communities.
The Community Bridge approach will broaden the radar of any single student organization or church ministry in the university community to focus resources to accomplish far more than any single organization could.
This community transformation approach will require a model, an example, to stimulate a long-term commitment of two Christian communities in two university settings. Emphasizing collaborative field projects to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and fulfill the Christian Magna Carta.
4. Creating a robust “Community Bridge” Model between one YWAM campus ministry/university community and one developing world community, preferably where we have another YWAM campus ministry. For example, YWAM Kingsway Maryland, with campus ministries at the U. of MD and Johns Hopkins, is developing a “community bridge” with a series of integrated projects to serve Delhi, India.
5. Making Grant Funding requests for Integrated Community Field Projects. Today’s foundations and major donors are more apt to assist collaborative efforts. Our Community Bridge approach to YWAM Campus Ministries will help us raise funds for projects, especially projects such as pure water, education, micro-business development, HIV/AIDS awareness, Malaria prevention, and Children at Risk in the developing world. Funds raised through SMC grants will be designated to the respective field projects, possibly allocating a portion for Field Project stipend for housing and travel, YWAM Campus Ministry expenses, and student team expenses.
6. Increasing the size of the SMC International Team of facilitators through rapid regional development. As the School of University Ministries & Missions trains workers on every continent, SMC Regional Teams are being formed to foster Community Bridges and Collaborative Networks.
7. Establishing New Call2All Students Networking Forums to bring together a wider collaborative movement of university ministries and missions mobilization Working collaboratively through international and inter-agency partnerships, cross-disciplinary teams, and campus-wide partnerships including faculty, staff, and students, the SMC will focus our catalytic training and resources on building bridges to serve whole communities.
A YWAM Campus Ministries International Celebration is already scheduled for 2010. Currently collaborative activities are underway through the new Campus America Wilder Project.
A new Call2AllStudents web site is being developed to serve the broader network of ministries. These efforts will culminate in periodic Regional Call2All Forums beginning in 2012 that present testimonials, instruction, and models with the best practices offering Christian communities tools to serve some of the world’s most vexing social, environmental, and economic challenges.
From my experience, evangelical churches are largely Gnostic, which removes Jesus from much of any daily practical consequence.
Today’s church leaders need to consider the incarnation of Christ. Jesus incarnation is eternal, therefore the practical concerns related to Jesus’ resurrected body (and eventually our own) are eternal. Because he has eyes, ears, and a nose, arms to embrace, and taste-buds to enjoy foods, every facet of our physical existence has an eternal stamp of Jesus incarnation on it. Education, Government, Media, Arts, Sciences, every Social and Cultural concern today will have a fuller appreciation in the resurrection. If trees are for healing nations, as it states in John’s Revelation, perhaps there will still need for some further healing between peoples, such as Palestinians and Israelis.
The question this all raises for liberals and conservatives is this: How then should we live? Should we not engage every facet of our existence on this green earth with respect to the resurrected Christ?
Jesus said it. What does it mean? Now you can listen in on a message I gave summing up all the nine practices of emerging churches. Let me know you heard it and if you have questions.
In honor of the Head of the Church,
I just read an article on leadership development in the church. The point of the article was that Jesus spent time with the few, as we read in Bob Coleman’s “Master Plan of Evangelism.” The important point I took away from the article is that developing leaders is done by modeling people to follow Christ’s example. The central act of Jesus is the cross; he modeled unrelenting surrender.
The “seed” Jesus refers to in John 12 is not only our willingness to die to our most favored activities; we must die to self, our egos. We must be willing to be of no reputation as we serve our pastor, Jesus.
The one thing to which leaders today need to die to is the image of the senior pastor. I am not a senior pastor. I am a missionary. Of course, Jesus is not only a pastor; he is also a missionary. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I send you.” We, the Church, are not only the sheep of his pasture; we are a sent people with a mission. God’s Church does not have a mission; God’s mission has a church.
The willingness to die to our reputations of churches led by a single senior pastor leader, a Jesus figure in the community, may be the most important breakthrough in the church, as a seed breaks under the earth, which is necessary to produce many new seeds for growth and release of leaders. This is the “way of Jesus,” modeling the way to bear much fruit.
Looking for alternatives to church forms will always challenge the status quo. Alternatives collide with traditional ways of doing things. However, alternatives will also encourage vision of the Church as a people and a community on mission with God.
Jesus used terms like “wine skin” and “cloth” to explain this tension between the new and the old. The nomenclature we employ, the terms we use to name things, is one of the greatest gifts of God. Like Adam who named all the creatures in Eden, God created us with the amazing privilege of naming things. What kind of God is this who would create all things and give away the privilege of naming them? We name our children and celebrate the wonder of God’s good gifts as we do so.We create with God and ascribe names to those creations, songs, books, events, buildings, even communities and cities. The power to name things is the power to assign character and our values to them.
This privilege of naming things is not an exclusive task for just a few experts or elites. God never intended to separate people by class or caste, giving more power and privilege to the few. Some might argue that it creates confusion to have so many names for things. Allowing a few to assign names to things may avoid confusion, but there will be a cost. It will limit creativity. The privilege of participating in a community, naming things creatively, is a gift of God to every member of Christ’s body.
When we share the responsibility of naming things, shared creativity ensues. This is the process of creating culture, I believe. It’s happening all around us, and it can’t easily be contained or controlled to avoid confusion.
Confusion may occur temporarily; it is part of the process of change. The Church has always been emerging and always will. When it stops changing, it becomes an old wine skin. The few may enjoy the old wine for a season, but there is no place for the new wine for the new generation. As we step out into an unknown future, as Abram did, we may experience some temporary confusion about where we are going. However, by setting out on this journey of change, we are the people of faith God called us to be.
God intends that his community of followers accept that there will always be change, transition, liminality, and a stepping into a future together. Certainly, the Children of Israel did not know all that was before them when they were delivered from Egypt. They entered into a transition in the wilderness. Nomenclature from the past carried meaning of the past and habits and sins of the past. The children of Israel needed to find terms for what God was wanting to do next. The Tent of Meeting was a new idea. Later came the Temple. But God would never dwell in a house made by human hands. Neither will he dwell, that is to stay permanently, in our contemporary idea of church. He has chosen to dwell in the hearts of his followers who are on a journey, on mission with him. This liminality is an exciting process; we are always following, always taking up our cross, always going in Jesus Name. You see, the Church, the community of Christ followers, is not a static central edifice in history. As a missionary, I’ve thought long and hard about this. Too many churches have relegated their understanding of the Great Commission to a department of the church, a line item in their budget. This formation, this attitude, has emasculated the Church. You see, the Church does not have a mission, God’s mission has a Church. We, the whole community of Christ followers, are called into his mission. This alternative view, this missional formation of church, will take us to new places, doing new things, in new ways, and assigning names to those things along the journey.
Those who have made the choice have within them Christ’s love compelling them to embrace and explore the new things God is wanting to do. When our hearts are full, we surrender our rights to the security of tradition. With faith and hope and love, we declare how majestic is the Name of Jesus in all the earth. This is the extraordinary “weight of glory” in naming things. Steven Hawthorne describes glory as “a relational beauty that every person’s heart yearns to behold and even to enter. The essential worth, beauty and value of people, created things and, of course, the Creator Himself.”
God told Moses, “Let my people go, that they may worship me.” As we set out through the wilderness of major transition, we’ll name things with the shared purpose of ascribing greatness to God. He’ll receive glory as we follow him in faith, so long as we don’t hold too tightly to the security of the ways we once knew.
We all want to change the world. Perhaps I’m just too old AND too young, but I’ve always disliked the word “revolution.” I was born in ’58, just old enough to really dislike the impact of the 60′s Revolution. That period was probably really from ’68 to ’74.
I can’t say for sure if it was due to the radical ideas of the ’60s, but it was during that time my family ripped apart with divorce. I lived in Madison, Wisconsin then. I witnessed the student riots (another excuse to skip class?) and the bombing of Sterling Hall (killing an innocent person). I saw the “peace” marchers turn violent. What do you think? Did those Sixties radicals, the ones who wanted to change the world for the better, have any core beliefs? Where are they now? Some are journalists, some in government, and some are teaching the next generation of university students. We’re hearing those voices more and more.
The word revolution has made a comeback in recent years. Today’s students, many of them, are wanting to change the world again. That’s good. We all want to change the world. But why are Christians using the word revolution? I’m all for social justice as part of God’s mission to the world, but I’ve felt a huge disconnect with those who call for revolution today, those who march, sign petitions, and claim by doing so they can end poverty. The way Jesus taught his disciples to turn the world upside down was by dying to self with open-handed surrender. Perhaps, if we are going to use the word “revolution,” we should be clear in our definition. We should not promote the closed fist posture, demanding of rights, with marches on Washington.
The dictionary definition of “revolution” includes “forcible overthrow of government,” “class struggle,” and “political change through uprising.” If instead, today’s revolutionaries could re-interpret the word to mean reorientation, making Jesus the center of our reality, both spiritual and physical reality, then I could join in the call for a revolution. I want to see every person, every family, community, people group, and nation find their hope in Jesus. Some argue that Jesus is too exclusive, that Christians are too narrow in their beliefs. My reply is that Jesus is the most inclusive personality in the universe. Christians are not exclusive, their particular; they want everyone to meet the One who created everything and everyone with good intention.
What the Church often gets wrong, I think, is that they set up a “missions department,” as if the Church were the center of all things. This posture communicates to church-goers and the surrounding world that the task of reaching every person for Christ is just one of the many things the Church must do, a line item in their budget, a committee, something to remember at the annual missions conference.
Reformation, not revolution, is needed. I propose a different attitude and posture for the Church. The Church does not have a mission. God has a mission. The Church must once again apprehend the Misseo Dei, that God is on a mission. We should reorient the Church to join Christ’s mission. The Church is not the center, Jesus is the center. God has a mission and his mission has a Church. Now that is a revolutionary idea!
Grace is the undeserved, overwhelming generosity of God, “the core of gospel.” (2005: 136) Many churches support of missionaries are an example of the generosity of members who pledge contributions over and above their tithe. Emerging churches typically have no building or salaries, and therefore have freedom to financially assist people and projects through personal connections. Because many churches maintain substantial properties and salaries, there is less flexibility with resources. However, they could explore ways to resource Commission Group projects, both locally and globally, by tithing as a church. (2005: 150) With Commission Groups serving through “grass roots initiatives, rather than planned programs,” churches could practice more of the “bottom-up involvement” of emerging churches. (2005: 143) Fostering generosity, they could encourage groups, not only to serve within the larger church community, but also serve Christ in “an unbroken link between worship and vocation.” (2005: 151)
Next Pattern: Creating as Created Beings
Welcoming strangers is very strategic. While people in your fellowship may practice hospitality, these connections may be practiced mostly in the privacy of homes, rather than celebrated and resourced as a community commitment. According to Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs, inviting strangers into community and practicing inclusion is the emerging church’s approach to sharing the good news. (Bolger & Gibbs 2005: 119) This undisguised evangelistic strategy of emerging churches is not confrontational, but invitational. Are members of your fellowship prepared to embrace the emerging church value of becoming “good news people before proclaiming it”? (2005: 145, 152)
Every Christian is adopted into the family of God through costly initiative, beginning with Christ’s sacrifice. Newly adopted babies are bonded to loving parents, unaccompanied by their conscious choice. Likewise, God has appointed men and women in his fellowship to welcome strangers as family. Welcoming strangers is also about going to where life happens, to the margins of culture, to adopt disaffected people. (See Tim Keel’s book, Intuitive Leadership 2007:98)
What may be necessary to remedy a lack of hospitality is identificational repentance, identifying with the poor while repenting from a lack of concern for the poor and needy. If we fail to be an authentically welcoming community, we cannot be a witness to the wider world. (Bolger & Gibbs 2005: 107)
Next week’s Emerging Church Pattern: Living as Community
The first of the nine patterns of emerging churches as outlined in the book, Emerging Churches, by Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibbs, is “Identifying with Jesus.”
Many evangelicals have witnessed the “seeker-sensitive” approach to church. While this approach may have been justified at one time, many today recognize that it was inadequate. A seeker sensitive approach inadvertently teaches “people to be passive spectators, objects, receivers.” (Bolger & Gibbs 2005: 172)
When he spoke to the Samaritan woman, Jesus said the “Seeker” is the Father, implying that “we are His heart’s desire.” (Organic Churches, Cole 2005: 39) Jesus is our model for living and worship. He lived the Father’s mission. His supreme purpose was not measured in the number of his followers. He did not write a book. He did not create an organization or build a building. Jesus’ supreme purpose is to bring glory to his Father. In doing so, he lived in intimacy with his Father, seeking to do that which gives his Father pleasure.
Rather than leading seeker-sensitive churches, emerging churches are seeking to identify with Jesus. This new “seeker-generating” approach is not about a place, but a Person. Rather than ask people to, “Come to us,” emerging church groups emphasize a call to be like Jesus, moving around the neighborhood, engaging the community, and extending his family to the ends of the earth.
As promised, I will now begin a discussion of the nine patterns of emerging churches, some of which many local churches are already practicing. First, I will propose a dynamic and flexible structure, how a typical evangelical church may re-structure to foster small groups as a new kind of emerging church.
Emerging churches are mostly small, dynamic, and creative communities, where innovation, intimacy, and spiritual growth are intensified. Emerging church leaders have yet to find a sustainable structure with “zero control, high accountability, and low maintenance.”(Bolger & Gibbs 2005: 209)
This is a proposal for a strategy to encourage the formation of new small groups as witnessing communities, which I am calling “Commission Groups.” I will maintain that this re-structuring will help local churches grow members to spiritual maturity, while also growing the community numerically through an outward focused posture. Servicing Commission Groups will help the members of local churches begin to re-imagine and transform into a people, “a love leaking community.” (Taylor 2005:109)
These new Commission Groups will help local churches embrace patterns of emerging churches, which will serve locally and partner globally. What is unique in this formation is the vital connection of new emerging church groups to a typically larger local church.
That vital connection is enhanced as the leadership team of the local church gives opportunity for these groups to periodically give leadership to segments of the Sunday worship event. This crucial element of this strategy is that Commission Groups will be encouraged to bring testimony to the weekly gathering of how they are doing as representatives of Jesus to their neighbors and the world. As Commission Groups begin to lead various segments of worship, including prayer, testimonies, multi-media presentations, and perhaps inviting a special speaker, the Sunday service will become a celebration of authentic community and witness to the greater glory of God.
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.
A great friend from over 20 years ago asked me this question: “Is the church to be a transformational community of believers or a reformational community of believers or both and if both which is to be first?” He writes: “Whatever is first will determine purpose, values, vision and mission.”
I think the Church will always have a core of thorough-going martyrs, who’ve carried their cross to their ultimate death to self. Others are following from a distance, like Peter after his denial of Christ. They are conflicted, knowing they need a savior and willing to make personal sacrifice, but too often out of self-righteous motives. The trick is telling the difference between the core and the cultural Christians. Jesus spoke to 500 when he ascended to heaven, but then only 120 actually obeyed and waited in the upper room.
So, transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit through the community of the atonement, those who have taken up their cross to follow Christ. Reformation may only be outer adjustments, priorities, and structures. Still, reformation is necessary. Consider Christ’s declaration that he is the “Bread of Life.” That was a sort of reformation, causing many to refocus their priorities and perhaps become core believers.
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.