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It has been too long since I posted here. Please forgive this long absence. I will be sharing several brief posts over the next several days to, hopefully, make up for my absence.
Recently I attended a YWAM North American Cities Conference in the beautiful French Canadian city of Montreal. My friend and colleague in the University of the Nations leadership team, Jeff Fountain, was the keynote speaker. I gave a couple workshops on Missional Collaboration, which were surprisingly well attended.
That YWAM leadership team and the community of city missionaries I have had the privilege to engage with on several occasions continues to inspire me. This expression of YWAM is doing deep theological reflection as a matter of daily living in their respective city ministries. This network of ministries teams in North America is doing more theologically because they are concerned with more than the “seed”, the Word of God; they are also concerned with the “soil”, the context in which they are ministering. Typically, missionaries will reflect deeply on their context, the people and the cultures represented in the place where they are ministering. But far too rarely do ministers in the North American context reflect with true missionary intent on the theology of place.
Our Student Mobilization Centre team plans to follow their lead in a couple ways.
- First, we plan to have several of our class lecture times for our mobile School of University Ministries & Missions (SUMM) in a dozen cities in N. America in coffee houses and student lounge areas.
- Second, rather than fly speakers to us, we’re going to the lecturers, campus ministry leaders, in their context. We’re inviting them to exegete their university community.
We’re starting the first week of the SUMM at the URBANA Student Mission Convention (Dec. 27-31, 2012), where all participants will also be representing YWAM Int’l at our exhibit booth. We’re partnering with YWAM Emerge, traveling with their band, doing mobilization events in cities in the Midwest and Northeast USA. So all SUMM participants will also be recruiting on this mobile mobilization school.
We welcome you to participate with us according to your ability or calling:
- YWAM: If your YWAM ministry team needs a recruiting boost, and you are praying about engaging the colleges/universities in your city, this mobile SUMM may be just right for you or a member of your team. Go here for details and application.
- Ministry/Project Leaders: If you could use interns at your ministry location, the mobile SUMM will be recruiting students for internship around the world. Go here for details and an online application.
- Student Group: If you are with a student ministry or church interested in having us do a missions mobilization and/or prayer event with live band and an awesome challenge to respond to the Call of God and you are in Madison, WI, Minneapolis, MN, East Lansing or Ann Arbor, MI, Boston, MA, New Haven, CT, Williamstown, MA, Charlotte, NC, Pittsburgh, PA, or anywhere near those major cities, contact us. We would love to invite you to an event.
UofN Student Mobilization Centre
At first I feel Christmas pressure, a negative reaction to the appearance of Santa in shopping malls. Have you noticed he’s earlier every year? What are they going to do, have him sit on pumpkins next year? I react to the World’s Way trying to press me into it’s mold. That first wave of pressure makes me resist shopping. So I put off shopping to the last week or so, until after a careful look at my budget. It’s not that I don’t want to give gifts; I just want to give freely, and without all the commercial expectation.
The Appearing of Christ at Christmas
That early phase of unholy pressure begins to fade as the date draws near. My heart warms to a different expectation. I begin to hope for the appearing of the Christ of Christmas. But then I notice the World’s reaction. Here in Madison, the Freedom from Religion foundation objects to a Christmas tree on public property and so they protest by placing a fake crèche and a baby girl doll and Thomas Jefferson figurine in the Wisconsin State Capitol. Sadly, those who reject Christ are stuck in a world without hope, a Darwinian world where survival of the fittest remains the ultimate value. The hopelessness of a purely materialist worldview will drive people to seek significance and happiness in material things, including saving the planet.
Then, the deep hope of Christ’s appearing takes new root again in my heart. Slowly, subtly, I find the grace to celebrate the birth of Christ. I realize that the expectation of his appearing is not complete in merely remembering that manger scene, where the Son of God was born 2000 years ago. He has come. He is Emanuel, God with us.
The expectation of Christmas, the Advent season, is his appearing AGAIN. He is coming. And all creation is longing for his appearing. That same longing is for the appearance of the sons of God, the Body of Christ. Not only will Christ Jesus come, he will set all things right.
Because we received the free Christmas gift
Meanwhile, the sons of God, those of us who have received the free Christmas gift of faith, are urged to “appear” with Christmas gifts. We’re called to make things right, reconciling relationships of all sorts, in his Name. We’re called to reconcile all relationships, beginning with our relationship with Him.
We “appear” as “Sons” when we love God and our neighbors. The Christmas season is the time to be reconciled with family, with our community, and with our nation (despite political differences), It is the time to be reconciled with our world. It is wrong to reject the world, the world to which Jesus was sent, because he loves the world.
Receive and Give the Free Gifts of Christmas
This Christmas, we can receive again the free gift of our world and we can choose to love it. We can love the amazing creative structure of our world, and we can help reconcile the mis-direction, the way of the World.
This Christmas, may you enjoy the wondrous appearing of Christ again in your family, in your world. Have a blessed Christmas!
Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), by Jane Vella, will challenge you to adopt principles of listening, learning, and teaching, useful for leadership, relationship, and ministry.
Vella educates adults; however, she does not simply teach. And she does not merely stick to her own cultural group. She facilitates learning in many cultures and for many different groups, mostly community development projects.
I’m personally very familiar with this kind of work and many of the places and people Jane Vella writes about. Vella’s books are important to me because my goal for summer outreach teams of interns is for the students to have the best learning experience of their lives. I want students to gain a deep revelation of who God is, His love and grace for the world, and their calling to engage the world in response to His amazing grace. Vella refers to this kind of learning as the ‘quantum’ concept, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
To teach effectively, we must listen.
To teach effectively, we must listen.To truly listen, we must ask open-ended questions.
Our Student Mobilization Centre (SMC) team is in the process of writing their own job descriptions. This is a very open process, requiring each of the members to engage, initiate, and define their contribution to the whole. That process and this book has helped me realize I need to be even more effective at listening and giving open questions when teaching.
Open questions need to be put to the ‘safe’ environment; they are usually best when posed in small groups. For example, when I teach I ask participants the question,
“What was your best learning experience?”
When forming small groups to process questions, Vella encourages teachers to define learning tasks and follow through on them so that the participants truly participate in the learning process. Defining the learning task is done when we apply Vella’s Assessment Principles, which is simply done by asking questions.
Applying Vella’s Principles
Who needs What and defined by Whom? or ‘WWW’
Vella’s key assessment principle is the question:‘Who needs What and defined by Whom?’ This assessment is best accomplished by building questions into the application process, either before or immediately after acceptance to a training program or internship. Prayer for participants and decisions about what should be emphasized in a training experience can be made with greater effectiveness when we ask the right questions, keep record of responses, and assess the information gathered. This WWW assessment is not only for training; it is also an important leadership tool for assessing the needs and capacities of our team, their staff and their projects.
Field Ministry Internships (FMI), a principal program of the SMC, is a serving/learning outreach project for university student teams. Students integrate their field of study with a cross-cultural ministry over an eight-week summer intensive. Jane Vella, her books and other web resources for Dialogue Education, have confirmed that many of the aspects of our FMI program help students gain that quantum learning experience.
For example, to help students feel ‘safe’ we form small teams of 4 to 7. During the first few days in the host country, we typically send small teams out on a scavenger hunt in order to expose them to the new surroundings and help them learn how to get around with some measure of independence. However, this exercise is also a bonding experience that takes place within the safety of their small team.
Another reason for small FMI teams is that they may integrate well as a short-term team on a long-term field project. In this way, the students also gain a greater level of participation in the serving/learning process. The students design their own field projects on site as they learn to observe and listen to nationals and long-term project leaders. They are taught to assess the needs of the long-term personnel and projects while they are serving.
The safety challenge for FMI is the uncertainty of a cross-cultural experience. This challenge is overcome when FMI participants are safely embedded into the long-term project team. Within that safe environment for learning, FMI participants become more deeply involved in the learning process, which raises the creativity and energy level. Participants are therefore offering more of themselves in service and learning more about the contribution God has specifically called them to make during their summer internship, and perhaps, over the course of their lives.
3. Listening: Student Participation in the Assessment
Applying the Assessment Principle is a leadership challenge. We set the example of Listening and we invite our participants into the Learning process by giving them a Leadership assignment: Participate in an Assessment.
Before reading Vella, FMI was structured with four phases:
- Orientation – an intensive seminar, like a mini-Discipleship Training School, and project preparation.
- Cultural Awareness – the first few days at the site of the field project, getting acquainted with the new surroundings/people, including a scavenger hunt.
- Ministry - while serving the field project, participants write a proposal for a 5-year ministry project.
- Debriefing – the final few days reporting, saying good-bye to new friends, and evaluating.
I have since added a fifth phase, an Assessment Phase, just after the Cultural Awareness phase and before the Ministry phase. The assessment of the project was originally assumed by the FMI leaders. However, students had little appreciation for that important phase. To better equip the student participants for leadership in learning, we now require them Listen and to document their Assessment before writing their project proposal. By doing so we are showing more respect to the field project and the community they serve. We also show more respect to the FMI students, giving them more opportunity to participate and take responsibility for their project proposal.
These are only three principles, however Vella’s books outline 7 steps for course design (PDF download). I commend this amazing teacher and her principles to you as you develop training in your context. Pay particular attention to the key words, RESPECT and ENERGY, which are at the top of my list of priorities for equipping students for the life-work and calling.
If you or your group would like to learn to apply these principles for outreach and training, please contact me. If you would like to know more about the Field Ministry Internships program, and the Student Mobilization Centre network of Youth With A Mission‘s University of the Nations, send me a note.
I am expecting quantum changes as we train emerging leaders for every arena of society in response to Christ’s command to ‘make disciples of all nations’. (Matt. 28:19)
“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.”
The noise of the one hundred students moving their metal chairs into circles was deafening. The Nairobi Church auditorium echoed with loud screeching as students from nearby University of Nairobi shuffled to form their groups according to the spheres or domains of society; arts, media, business, education, family, government, etc.
The room was buzzing with excitement. The intensive seminar, “Calling Quest 2001 – Transforming Your Nation Through Your God-given Vocation” is one of a series of seminars I have presented around the world for Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. At this event, I had the help of three of our YWAM Madison School of the Bible interns. After the first of several presentations, the students were anxious to discuss and search the Scriptures for answers to the hard questions.
Accompanying us was a team of thirteen students from Brown University, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design, UC San Bernadino, and UVA, all of whom had been prepared to lead the Domains Small Group discussions during our week-long Field Ministry Internships orientation in Switzerland. When we arrived in Kenya, they came with questions too. Ju Rhyu, one of the Brown students, brought these questions:
How can I bring transformation in a world of injustice? What is my place in this world? Though I yearn to see justice in a world with nations rejoicing, the burdens and problems that stand before me seem too daunting, too massive. AIDS, poverty, corruption – how do I even begin to think about these things?
It was the week of July 24-27, 2001. Yes, only a few weeks later the world would be shocked at the events of September 11, 2001. (Several American colleagues and I were still in Nairobi on that day. We were attending an international conference for the University of the Nations. We were stranded in Kenya and then Europe, waiting for the airports to unclog so we could return to our families and friends in the USA, and a very different world.)
Ju’s questions loom even larger in the face of a world terrorized by a few radicals. What could a few Christ followers do in the face of such evil? How could they help end the injustices of the poor? What is God’s good purpose for humankind? What does it mean to be created in the image of God? And are we called to serve the needs of the world?
Actually, we have two calls from God. Enjoying friendship with God, not merely right relationship, is our first call. Adam and Eve, the first inhabitants of the world in our God Story, enjoyed friendship with God. They were called twice. First, they were called to serve in the garden with the words “dress it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). God made human beings in His image to rule and to be fruitful under His reign with full dependence on Him. Second, after Adam and Eve disobeyed and sin entered the world, God’s call became a cry seeking his lost friends. “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
However, calling changed after the tragic Fall of humankind. Because of the Fall, our first call is not to service, but to restored relationship. St. Augustine expressed the call to restored relationship to God in his Confessions,
“Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
When we are lost and outside relationship with God, our first call is to restored relationship through faith.
Calling to do something in the world was not separated from the call of intimate friendship. Both callings are integral to our relationship with God; both are integral to the imprint of God’s image.
Sadly, most of the students I spoke with in Nairobi that summer were not able to see a valid contribution or calling beyond the domain of the church.Though many were students of architecture, business, and communications, they did not understand the God-given calling to be an architect, or business person, or journalist. They thought the call to be a pastor or evangelist was the highest calling.
What do you think?
Our Domains Small Groups continued to press in diligently with their questions. They began to understand the imprint of God, what it means to be created in God’s image. The student groups searched the daily newspapers to see what was happening in their chosen sphere of society. Then they sought the Scriptures to understand God’s ways of governing the world.
Our team of student leaders prayed together with the Nairobi students for the very real and very current needs in the domains of health care, education, business, family, etc. They began to see past the stigma and blindness to the ills of their own society. For example, though there were already ten million AIDS orphans, it was only that summer that the first newspaper article reported that AIDS was the cause of someone’s death.
After the intensive seminar, the students continued to meet weekly to study and pray in their groups. They even took prayer walks around major centers of business, education, media, etc. They became activated in God’s calling to “dress and keep” the world. One group was ushered into the Deputy Mayor’s Office to present some of their findings and discuss the need for a better sewage system.
The students began to understand the high calling of living according to God’s design, offering their gifts, skills, and natural abilities in service to their neighbors and their world. Much of our ministry to the Poor is in helping our them understand their high calling, that they are created in the image of God. This leads us to Key #4.
Key #4: Defend the Image of God in the Poor.
The Nairobi university students at that CallingQuest and other seminars conducted over the summer of 2001 were among the most privileged of Kenyan society. However, they were missing something. We too are “Poor” if we fail to know our identity and vocation, our calling in God.
Those who know God have responsibility to the Poor. We are called to define and defend the image of God in the Poor. Because we know we are created in His image and we know His voice calling us to intimate friendship and purpose in this world, we must be diligent to defend the image of God in the Poor.
The Poor are not lazy or stupid. Jayakumar Christian writes,
“A people so close to the edge cannot afford laziness or stupidity. They have to work and work hard. Most of the lazy and stupid are dead.”
We too should be diligent. Our church life and worship should celebrate our relationship with Jesus Christ, our reconciliation with God. However, we also have the responsibility to minister to the Poor. We must look for ways in which the Poor have been limited in their access to love, justice, or peace.
Ministry to the Poor is not merely about access to material needs; it’s about removing obstacles and giving access to the cultural, social, spiritual, personal, and biological spheres of community.
Our outreach to the Poor should affect the whole system of poverty, the diabolical web to which they are bound. Our ministry is reconciliation. We are called to restore relationships, including relationship with God (religion, philosophy, theology), Community (political science and economics), the Environment (biology, ecology, engineering), the Wider World (sociology, international relations, justice), and Individuals (psychology, health care).
Ju Rhyu expresses her deepest desire that:
Through our time in Nairobi we would be able to teach that God reigns over and in and through all. He is Lord of government, business, science, technology, education, family, the church, arts and communications. The sacred should not be self-contained and relegated to a position of non-influence, but rather, should extend itself to influence holistically.
Goliath (pronounced: “Go-lee-at” in Spanish) was an especially big baby born to a single mom in a four-foot high cardboard box with only a straw mattress on the dirt floor of the Guatemala City garbage dump. Thousands of squatters made their home living on top of the garbage. They made their “homes” out of scraps, tires, boxes, and other discarded items found on the dump.
It was our Field Ministry Internship health care team’s first day at the clinic at the City Dump. The clinic might have closed that summer in 1991 if we had not arrived. The YWAM staff team leading the clinic were all enrolled in the first University of the Nations Introduction to Primary Health Care School for Spanish speakers. They were glad we came. Our FMI team, led by Nurse Bonnie, kept the clinic open and operating.
Our journalism and social work interns took a walk with me through the Dump community. We met a man with bright yellow eyes, a key symptom of an acute and fatal case of hepatitis, probably due to alcohol abuse. He was silent, but his facial expressions betrayed the fact that he was a dangerous man. After we directed him to the clinic, a woman told us the same man regularly beat his wife.
Smoke rose over the mass of garbage burning at the center of the dump. Our eyes began to burn and I wondered how anyone could live in this place. We continued to visit families in their “homes.” One family of twelve seemed very well settled with a larger one-room hut, probably 12×15 feet, which included a large family bed and hammocks for the smaller children.
On our return to the clinic, we almost walked passed the “box.” But we heard the whimpering of a baby inside. I stooped down to look inside. This small box was a woman’s home and she held her oversized baby, Goliath.
We were welcomed “in,” but only one of us could fit on the straw mattress on the ground next to her. I looked in the sad dark face of the woman and joined her. I held her big baby.
I didn’t know whether to choke from the smell, or cry for the conditions this baby was born into. With the help of a translator, I spoke to the woman about her baby and the Child Jesus, who was born in an animal stall.
The woman paid close attention and I sensed the Holy Spirit drawing her as my words were simple and direct. I spoke of a hope that was beyond all hope. I shared Jesus.
Goliath’s mom prayed with me that day. As I opened my eyes I could see something happened; her grin was from ear to ear. The next day, Golaith’s mom was at the clinic asking to help. She became a true follower of Jesus that day.
Key #3: Power from the Throne of God.
The third key to ministry among the poor is “Power from the Throne of God.” The Poor are powerless in many respects. The Poor are most often born into poverty, like a lottery of life. Most of us, certainly most Westerners, would likely not survive in such conditions.
The Poor are denied access; they are held in powerlessness primarily because of broken relationships. All their relationships are working against them. It’s as if they were caught in a spider’s web, a diabolical trap from which there is no escape.
The Bible says there are “principalities and powers,” or rulers of darkness, which keep people in bondage to sin and misery. The evil spirits lock the Poor out of healthy relationships, especially from “seeing” Jesus Christ.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.” 2 Cor. 4:4
The enemy keeps the Poor in the cycle of poverty, a cycle of broken relationships. Relationship is the key dynamic of the throne of God.
What do the Poor need?
They need to be connected in relationship with God and others. They need a right relationship with their family, their community, and the resources of this world.
What is the problem with sin? It separates.
Sin separates us; relationships of all kinds suffer due to sin. The poor are no different from anyone; they need to be connected to others. The connection with others should not be primarily for the sake of provision; providing food, shelter and medicines has often been used as a means of control.
The poor need to be connected with the broader community where they have been restricted from access.
Kingdom-based Responses reflect Power from the Throne of God
A kingdom-based response to poverty will reverse the “process of dis-empowerment.”
A kingdom-based response will confront spiritual powers and principalities, including “god-complexes” that pins one group of people over another.
A kingdom-based response will heal bodies and relationships; it teaches and models a more complete worldview based on Christ’s character and authority to set them free.
A kingdom-based response will challenge the principalities and powers of darkness (including institutions that are instruments of those powers).
A kingdom-based response will establish “truth and righteousness”, and proclaim that “all power belongs to God.”
A kingdom-based response will restore a person’s relationship with himself/herself. As I wrote in the previous post, poverty, ultimately, is the poverty of “being” and of “purpose.” Conversely, abundant life is the abundance of “being” and “purpose”. It is from the vantage point of the throne of God that an individual and a people may find their God-given identity and vocation conferring the essential being and purpose.
My son, Justin, was there at the garbage dump clinic with my wife, Mary. Justin was just 15 months old. I held my son that evening and prayed with him as he went to sleep. We had little to no money, only $25 USD, on the day Justin was born. For many, we would be considered poor. What’s the difference?
Key #2: A Kingdom View of the Poor.
“Line up!” shouted the man who climbed out of the Ford Econoline 350 box truck. “Stand back! Stand de vuelta!” Clowns, balloons, and face painting helped attract people from the nearby pueblos. The dry wind swept up the grey dirt as the crowd of people from Cuidad Juarez, and the surrounding Mexican border squatter villages, gathered to receive clothes, food, and other donated items. Obediently, the people stood in line and waited for the man to open to back of the truck. I have no doubt the man and the others with him had kind intentions, however my heart sunk as I watched these people reduced to pitiable passive recipients of American excesses.
The truckload of donations was part of an outreach ministry of a church on the El Paso side of the Rio Grande. It was the summer of 1990. We were in Juarez for six weeks with our Field Ministry Internship student teams of Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. On this hot July afternoon, we were assisting the American group that came to plant a church. We were asked to conduct simple health examinations, primary health care, in a makeshift medical clinic. This personal contact also gave us opportunity to ask if we can pray for the children and their families.
However, the oversized sound system and overzealous worship leaders made it difficult to pray, let alone conduct any thorough examinations in the clinic. The loud and raucous singing and music was giving me a headache.
I stepped out of the clinic to observe the open air meeting. The music continued as young American evangelists, many with clown outfits, went into the audience to pray for the sick.
Please understand, I am a firm believer in prayer and God’s power to heal.
But this disturbed me.
A small Mexican child, obviously frightened by the clowns laying their hands on him, was crying and reaching out toward his mother. Others were surrounding “Mom” and praying for her. The noise and confusion even had me anxious to leave. I wondered what this child and family would think of Jesus after this traumatic day.
This brings us to the second key to ministry among the poor.
Christian ministries will always reflect their leadership’s view of the poor, their understanding of the nature of poverty. That view may be less biblical and more the prevailing view of the surrounding culture.
What is your view of the poor?
The way we approach our ministry to the poor communicates value, either positively or negatively. No matter how many dollars or valuables we donate, our posture and attitude in what we do and say communicates far more than what we give.
When Christians reach out to the poor, we too often unintentionally communicate what we think of their value.
This is what the poor “hear”:
“We are complete, you are not.”
Simply put, the goal of our outreach to the poor should be to avoid communicating that lie. Our goal should be to identify with the poor in our mutual recovery of identity in relation to God’s creative design and purpose.
How do we do that?
In order to communicate value to the poor, we must first communicate value to the volunteer serving alongside us in ministry to the poor.
This is why we emphasize “Calling” in our university student ministries and outreaches. If our outreach emphasizes the discovery of vocation in the life of the volunteer, the Christian participant in ministry to the poor, then we will effectively communicate the value of the design and purpose of God to the community in which we minister.
Then we will fulfill the commission to preach the good news to the poor.
Our aim is the same as that of Jesus’ public ministry:
“And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.’” (Luke 4: 17-19)
Our goal is to ‘set free’ the poor from their destructive relationships so they may enjoy Shalom, a Hebrew term for peace, completeness, and welfare. All of us are called by God to an abundant life of healthy kingdom relationships.
The way we reach this goal must begin with the right posture, the right attitude. We must begin by demonstrating a servant heart, the nature of our servant King Jesus.
In our outreach to the Poor we must represent a kingdom community, demonstrating the biblical story and representing God’s identity and purpose in our relationships.
Our outreach should portray the kingdom of God, which represents the character of God in all the various expressions of his callings.
God is healer, communicator, builder, author, creator, artist, counselor, teacher, etc. Therefore, these vocations are representing God’s character in community.
Outreach is best when we represent the kingdom of God in a community of servants. We represent the character of God and the holistic and interrelated spheres of His ministry.
Ministry to the Poor requires a view of the poor and a vision of the kingdom of God.
In this series, I am referring to the book: God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God, by Christian, Jayakumar.
Looking into the hollow eyes of Paulo, I wondered what we could do. Paulo was emaciated and gaunt, but with a bloated belly. His parents asked us to come see him. They worried that he would no longer eat the corn tortillas they had been feeding him. Because he was weak, his mother kept Paulo hidden in the dark corner of the small mud brick house. She feared that the sun and the warm air in the mountains of Guatemala would harm him.
It was 1991 and our university student Field Ministry Internship teams visited this mountain village to serve the Rabinal Achi people, a poor community with little or no access to health care and education.
Bonnie, a nurse and our health care team leader said Paulo was dying; he was at the final stages of starvation.
With the mother’s permission and Bonnie’s recommendation, I picked up the frail boy and held him to pray. He was light as a feather. I carried him into the sun. A member of our team ran to get some 7Up and soda crackers to attempt to rehydrate him, but he would not eat. I fed him the liquid with a tea spoon, which appeared to help him. We prayed earnestly as tears welled up in our eyes for the boy and his family. “Jesus, please heal this one today.”
The clinical name for the condition is called Kwashiorkor. The belly swells due to the lack of protein. The parents did not understand that the diet of tortillas, the only food available for their little boy, was insufficient. Paulo was not getting the nutrients he needed to survive.
We learned the next day that Paulo died. Even as I write this today, I agonize over the loss of this small child that had so little hope of survival. Even now, I want to bring a good report; I want to say, “Jesus healed Paulo!” But that is not what happened.
Paulo’s family is among the poorest of the poor. He is not merely a statistic, but he is among three billion people, almost half the world’s population, who live on less than $2.50 USD a day. Approximately 24,000 children like Paulo die every day due to malnutrition and impure water. (See Facts on Global Poverty.)
That experience, and dozens of others like it in as many countries over the past two decades, shaped my vision and passion for mobilizing university students toward their calling in Christ’s mission to a needy world. I ache to see a generation of university students offer their lives, including their studies and their careers, as living sacrifices in worship of Jesus. I long to see communities of faith, churches, devote more of their resources to mission and less to the one hour event on a Sunday morning. I long to see Christian business leaders, educators, scientists, communicators, food growers, builders, health care specialists, and families connect, conspire and collaborate to serve the world’s poor, starting with one small boy or girl in one small village.
One of the most important books I have read on the subject of ministry to the poor is God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God by Jayakumar Christian. (Amazingly, this book is not available for less than $200.00. Therefore, I will provide a brief synopsis for my next four blog posts.)
As I read this book I was challenged to understand several keys to ministry among the poor. I’m convinced these key principles are important for any ministry, any Christian desiring to serve Christ’s mission. Additional posts with stories of our ministry among the poor will follow soon.
(Note: The name “Paulo” may not be accurate, but the story is true. I may have confused this boy’s name with another we ministered to some time later.)
I read this study recently which showed that people who attend religious services are more involved in their communities than their non-religious peers. (Christian Century, June 16, 2009) It says the religiously committed are indeed volunteering more. The authors say religious people are “nicer,” more likely to help strangers and give money to panhandlers. Those who attend religious services also vote more, attend more public meetings, even protest demonstrations, and political rallies. The study says they also give more of their time and money than those who do not participate in a faith community.
Harvard University Professor James Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, has written a new book with Notre Dame scholar David Campbell called American Grace: How Religion Is Reshaping Our Civic and Political Lives. While most evangelical leaders might think there is a theological connection, these authors believe that it may not be the theology that drives people, but increased connections and the sense of community found in a religious setting. In other words, it’s not faith that promotes volunteerism in the community; it’s purely sociological, people volunteer when they are connected to real needs.
Is religious commitment directly proportional to engagement in the community? Well, yes, religious commitment does draw us out of our homes into relationships with others. However, it may be those commitments are what have been called “STOVE PIPES” or “PILLARS.”
The term “Stovepipe” refers to organizations “where the structure of the organization restricts the flow of information through rigid lines of control”, a control which may be the result of the organization’s culture. This “rigid control” could also refer to rigid funding allocation to purposes, hoarding funding for one organization or division over another.
“Pillars” or pillarization is a term of “politico-denominational segregation” coined by the Dutch reformer and Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper was an early proponent of sphere sovereignty, a concept that each sphere of society, or sector of life such as church, state, family, media, arts, education, and sciences, have their own distinct responsibilities and authority … and stand equal to other spheres of life. This Neo-Calvinist cosmology relates to the “all encompassing created order, designed and governed by God.”
Pillarization is Kuyper’s term for the tendency of the Christian community to engage the spheres to the exclusion of the non-Christian population. Pillarization is the “vertical” division of Christian society and non-Christian societies into “several segments or “pillars” according to different religions or ideologies.”
So, though those of us who are religiously committed are volunteering in community, we must be conscious of the tendency to “stove-pipe” or narrow our relationships and commitments to those with whom we agree. Rather than serve the needy and love the neighbor, we could find ourselves offering our services in a way that actually diminishes the “other”. We might fall into the stovepipe, excluding ourselves, separating ourselves, and isolating ourselves from the neighbor we are called to love.
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.”
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?
Biographers and historians have conferred the title, “Father of Modern Education,” on John Amos Comenius primarily due to his contribution to modern educational methodology. Comenius was born on March 28, 1592 in Moravia, now in the Czech Republic. Much of this Moravian theologian’s writings suggest that the overarching objective of his life and work was of greater consequence than reformed educational method. The examination of the life and works of this seventeenth-century educational reformer will help us to understand if it was the intent of Comenius to influence positively the work of world mission.
Kenneth Scott Latourette writes that Comenius was “a pioneer in an educational theory which was to exert a wide influence.” Comenius’ set out to organize the teaching process in a way that “everything be [sic] taught through the senses.” He demonstrated this idea by including pictures in a textbook on foreign languages, something that had never been done before. Comenius’ chief task may be lifted from the title page of his Great Didactic, “teaching thoroughly all things to all men.” However, the purpose of his task of teaching was broader; he sought to “shape the human creature into an image of the divine.”
His proposals for universal education and the use of pictures in children’s education make him a forerunner of many modern developments in the field of education. Comenius advocated many basic principles of our modern educational system, such as “the free and universal opportunity for education of members of all classes, and both sexes.”
He is considered the first educator to have put forward the concept of international education. Comenius’ efforts on behalf of universal education earned him the title of “Teacher of Nations.”
At the time of Comenius’ birth, the Catholic Church sought to recover territories lost to the Protestant Reformation, doing so by purging heresy and burning renaissance thinkers at the stake. The pope who had the greatest influence on Comenius’ early life was Paul V, a pontiff who was intolerant of the growing numbers of Protestants in Europe, including the Bohemian Brethren. Comenius lived during the time of the first truly worldwide war, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which caused the destruction of wealth, cultural values, and freedoms the Bohemian Brethren had enjoyed. The Bohemians faced the fears and dangers of tyranny, accusations of heresy, and martyrdom. As we shall see, Comenius was not only aware of the over-reach of papal authority in previous generations; he was intimately acquainted with that tyranny in his own generation.
Exile and International Influence
The first decisive battle of the Thirty Years War between the Protestant and Catholic States in Europe directly affected Comenius when Catholic armies defeated Czech Protestant armies in 1620 at the “Battle of the White Mountain.” Comenius witnessed the horrors of Protestant leaders publicly executed in Prague and the brutal imposition of Catholicism on the total population of his people in Bohemia and Moravia. Comenius lost “all his property and library in 1621, when the town was taken by the imperialists.” All protestant clergy were banished from Bohemia by an Imperial mandate in 1624. Comenius fled to the mountains to hide, but secretly visited his congregation as often as he could. Exiled from his congregation, his home and his family, Comenius began the life of a writer who eventually had an international influence.
Comenius had an extraordinarily large circle of acquaintances, including royalty, and people from all branches of the Church. His life of travels afforded the breadth of multi-cultural relationships he developed. “I led a wandering life, I had no homeland. I was constantly propelled from one place to another, never and nowhere did I find a permanent home.” As a refugee, he came in contact with many of the intellectual leaders of his time in Germany, Poland, Sweden, England, and Holland. In 1641 he was called to London and in 1642 he traveled to Sweden and then to Prussia where he lived until the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648. After the war, he lived in Hungary, in Poland, and finally in Amsterdam until his death in 1670. Comenius maintained correspondence communicating his ideas with several learned men, church leaders, publishers, and historians. His extensive travels granted an ever-widening influence through which to share his dream.
Comenius possessed a passionately optimistic view of the future. His optimism appears to have come from his understanding of the character and purposes of God. He writes: “Focus on Jesus Christ as the Coming One, the Lord of the Future, Christus Renovator.” He apparently lived in expectation of God’s promises and at least their partial fulfillment in human history. As Comenius saw it, education was the best way out of the Thirty Years War. Comenius lived in a time when war was tearing apart the political, religious, and social fabric of Europe. His view of the world and apparently his work as an educational reformer was informed by his faith in God’s plan. He writes,
Jesus Christ is Lord. He is not only the Savior of souls and the teacher of wisdom, but the king of the Church and of the world. He will reign! What really matters, then, is to live in conformity with his coming kingdom and in this light to shape the alienated world, first within the Church, and then also in society.
Comenius’ dream was that “all men would participate in a universal civilization.” Out of his biblical view of the world, he pioneered an educational system that promised that all people could acquire the knowledge that led to understanding and peace. He called it “Pansophism”, an integrative and holistic system embracing all knowledge. If he indeed intended this system to make a positive contribution to world missions, further examination of his major published works will reflect that intent.
His major work, Labyrinth of the World and the Palace of the Heart, was written in 1623, his first year in hiding. The Labyrinth describes the “wanderings, bewilderments, errors, vanities, and miseries of all of every age and sex, in all circumstances and conditions.” It is a devotional classic written in the Czech language in which he describes “the journey of a pilgrim through the marketplace of seventeenth-century Europe.” Comenius identified with the “pilgrim” who he portrays as “an outsider, a voluntary exile, searching for a spiritual home,” and “a wandering scholar who worked in seven countries and was doggedly pursued by war and personal misfortune.”
By examining this personal disclosure, we can learn something of the difficult personal journey and profound calling of Comenius:
I came to the decision that I should first look into all human affairs under the sun and then only, having wisely compared one with another, choose a vocation and arrange for myself the things necessary for leading a peaceful life in the world. A pilgrim who wishes to visit the world in order to choose his vocation views all the ranks and occupations of mankind, and finds shams and confusion reigning everywhere, he withdraws from the world into his inner self and, as a true Christian finds solace in converse with Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals to him a society constituted by his true disciples whose lives are governed by the precept of disinterested love for one’s fellow man.
The Labyrinth reveals how Comenius saw the turbulent social system of his day and the way that God called him to love his fellow men, bringing reformation to more than the Church. Comenius took on huge projects such as his Didactica Magna or The Art of Teaching All Things to Everybody. Apparently this is a change from his earlier work. His concern was no longer only with teaching children; his vision was broadened with concern for all human beings.
Comenius was a theologian of hope, hope for a new generation. He believed a new order of society could be established, but with special devotion to Jesus Christ. He writes of the need to prepare “for generations of those and future times, a simple system of training . . . to qualify youth for the discharge of the important duties of life and fit them for their highest, their eternal calling.” He set out “to accomplish the means of disenthralling the world from the meshes of false principles in the affairs of religion and state,” and to compile “suitable educational works.”
Through the “means” of education, Comenius devoted his life to bringing peace to the church, the state, and ultimately in the world. He stood out among the Reformers as a true peacemaker. “In his day, we hardly find any theological thinker who was as energetically involved for the unity and harmony of Christians as he.” His hope was for the unity of all Christians. However, it was not limited to the Church alone; he hoped for “the integration of all civilization under the leadership of religion.” He wished to unite the warring Christian factions, “whose strife was wreaking an unprecedented havoc upon Europe of the Thirty Years War period.”
His passionate concerns were for the souls of all humankind, his own devastated country, and his fellow expatriates from the Unity of the Brethren. All of these things “completely engrossed his soul.” However, disappointment and failure seemed to stalk him. His greatest discouragement came in 1648 when he felt deeply betrayed by the Swedish Chancellor who failed to support the Unity of Brethren’s case in the Peace of Westphalia, a treaty that completely altered the socio-political framework of nations. No provision was made for the Protestants in Bohemia or Moravia. If they returned, they would live under the rule of the Hapsburgs with no permission to practice their Protestant faith. Rather than accept failure, the indomitable Comenius decided to work for the unity of the universal Church.
Comenius was an “apostle of reconciliation who dreamed a better future that could be built only by better men.” While war and destruction were brought through the unbridled powers of the State or the institutional Church, he argued “the only constructive task capable of really changing the world [is] molding better men by educating and inspiring them to strive after more humane ideals.” “Comenius’ inspiring motive was that of all leading educationalists, social regeneration,” writes the historian Laurie. But society, as the secularists see it, was not all he intended to reform. In his final work published in 1668, Comenius writes of his hope for “a utopian church to unite all religions in Christian love through education.” His view of the goal of schooling was “to mold students into the image of Christ.” For Comenius, Christian character, not just absorption of facts, was the goal. Comenius was an early pioneer for ecumenism, but not at any cost. He disagreed with Michael Servetus’ idea that unity could be achieved even with the Turks, if we sacrificed the Trinitarian dogma. He believed unity must be sought, but not at the cost of the truth.
Vision for Education
Comenius wrote a tract, entitled The Way of Light, with the purpose of bringing about a “national disquisition as to the manner in which wisdom, the intellectual laws of minds, may now at length towards the evening of the world be felicitously diffused through all minds in all nations.” The university is important as a teaching institution, but what is essential, Comenius writes, is “learned men in all parts of the world devoted to the advancement of God’s glory.” It is in his unique vision for the university that Comenius stands out as a true pioneer and apostolic leader in Church history. Not only did he call for universal education, Comenius had vision for his pansophic encyclopaedic college to “be found in every kingdom or large province.” His plan was for an international university that would have the same curriculum for training young men and women to embrace all knowledge, scientific and biblical, and teach all peoples of all nations the truth. His hope was that this universal education scheme would bring an end to all war and discord. His pansophic vision was to begin in Christian nations “and go from there to the Muslims, Pagan, and finally the Jews.”
Comenius understood that “neither one man nor one generation is sufficient for this great task.” To accomplish this vision, he needed a place to start. Despite the failure to raise the needed funds, his Reformation of Schools tract outlining his pansophic college vision was distributed and read throughout Europe. “It was the pansophic proposal which aroused such an enthusiastic interest in England that in 1641 he was called to that country by an influential group of churchmen and the nobility.” The English friends who invited him to England had in mind to present him “a plan for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen.” Parliament actually considered assigning the “Chelsea College, near London, as a suitable place for the Pansophic College with which the Comenian scheme was to be inaugurated.” Once again, Comenius faced disappointment and failure when the Irish Rebellion of 1641 put the plans for his pansophic college in England to an end. Parliament was permanently distracted from the Chelsea College project.
The fame of Comenius reached distant America. According to Cotton Mather, in his Magnalia Christi Americana, Comenius received an invitation to emigrate to puritan New England, possibly with a view to becoming president of the newly founded Harvard College. Mather writes:
“That brave old man, Johannes Amos Commenius [sic], the fame of whose worth has been trumpeted [sic] as far as more than three languages could carry it, was indeed agreed withal, by one Mr. Winthrop in his travels through the LOW COUNTRIES, to come over to New England, and illuminate their Colledge [sic] and country, in the quality of a President, which was now become vacant. But the solicitations of the Swedish Ambassador diverting him another way, that incomparable Moravian became not an American.”
SO THEN, WHO WAS COMENIUS?
Comenius has been remembered for the reforms that began the modern secular field of education. During his life span, his books earned him a reputation through much of Europe. He was invited first to England, and then to Sweden and Hungary to reform school systems. Comenius completed the reformation of the Swedish schools in 1648. His book, Orbis Sensualium Pictus, 1658, the first illustrated textbook, was used for 200 years. Czechoslovakia, which passed into history in 1992, celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of Comenius throughout that year. Recognition of Comenius was given in seventy other lands as well. The influence and fame of Comenius is reflected in a 2002 poll that shows over 27 percent of the Czech people consider him the most famous Czech in history. University projects, societies, and centers of language study have developed in honor of Comenius as his work has been interpreted in recent generations.
It is evident that John Amos Comenius was a pioneer in the task of world missions. With apostolic zeal, he worked toward international peace through universal education. Comenius may be remembered as an educational innovator, but he lived his life intentionally working to advance the cause of Christ and world mission. His vision was more than proud human optimism. Comenius dreamed of the equality of human races and an all-embracing community. However, he was far too experienced and too familiar with the forces that destroy and divide humanity to conclude that he was just a pious dreamer hoping for a pure utopia. His own words and his work exemplify a life responsive to Christ’s Great Commission, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations” (Mt. 28:19 KJV). His apostolic passion is revealed in this paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer in The Way of Light:
“Through the whole of Europe, of Asia, of Africa, of America, through the Magellanes [the southern parts of the present-day Chile and Argentina], and through all the islands of the sea, may thy kingdom come, may Thy will be done!… raise up men to write Thy purpose in books, but books such as Thou Thyself mayest write in the hearts of men. Make schools to be opened in all parts of the world to nurse Thy children! And do Thou raise up Thine own school in the hearts of all men in the whole world that they may ally themselves together for Thy praise.”
[From a paper I wrote in June 2004 as part of my studies at Fuller Seminary.]
© Copyright 2008 John Henry. All rights reserved.
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.
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)
How do people react to individualism, environmentalism, and poverty in Madison? These forces may be at the same time subtle and powerful. Globalization is having a paradoxical effect, connecting people and resources through technology and isolating people in reaction to the enormity of global needs. “As the [global] demand for water continues to increase, there is greater pressure placed on an already shrinking water supply,” says Joel Pedersen, a UW-Madison environmental chemist. “More people are considering the reuse of water.” While most expect individual freedoms to continue, others are sounding the alarm to warn us that individualism in Western culture is a major contributor to global problems. In Madison, research on water resources, HIV/AIDS, and global poverty is churning in the laboratories of the University of Wisconsin. How should today’s Jesus follower respond? Followers of Christ believe in community, but most have so aligned with the culture of individualism that they take little notice of urgent global human needs. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Perhaps, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, evangelical believers in the 21st century should ask “Who is my neighbor?”
This is the first of a series of posts from a study I performed in 2004 on how the Christian community can respond to the effects of globalization in the city of Madison, Wisconsin. In it I will describe the context and an appropriate missional response. As I review this study with you, I will also post some real time activities and ministries responding to globalization taking place in Madison.
Satellite television is broadcasting the notable influences of globalization as global culture industries seek ways to quicken the pace and broaden the demand for entertainment, variety, and convenience. The microchip has ushered Western civilization into a new age of ever more rapid development and information transfer. Modernism, and the “in-between” era of postmodernism, has guided individual participants toward the shared values of materialism, secularism, and individualism, with a vast array of interrelated characteristics of globalization.
Madison, the capitol of Wisconsin, is a city with over two hundred thousand residents and host to over forty thousand University of Wisconsin students. Sometimes called “Berkley of the Midwest,” the UW-Madison has a history of radical student activity. At the time of the Vietnam War, Madison was shaken by a series of student protests. Madison residents can buy organic smoothies at the Library Mall Juice cart run by Karl Armstrong, famed for his part in the 1970 bombing of Sterling Hall, which killed a graduate student of physics. Madison, proud of its progressive thinking and tolerance, powerfully influences state and national politics, philosophy, entertainment, and education. The “Wisconsin Idea” is described as the compelling need to carry “the beneficent influence of the university … to every home in the state.” (Stark 1995) With more than four thousand international students from one hundred and twenty nations, the UW impressively shapes more than Madison; it affects the world. (Bollag 2004)
The examination of how globalization has affected Madison, especially with respect to the influence of the University of Wisconsin, will help us to understand the context in which the Church in Madison is ministering. With that understanding in mind, we will discuss how the Church in Madison ought to respond and what the kingdom of God could look like in a major university community.
The Book of Acts is obviously Luke’s continuing historical account transitioning from the story of Jesus to the story of the Church. What’s somewhat surprising is the necessity to foster a theological perspective, or rather a missiological perspective, as you read the chronology of the early witnesses of the Good News to the Gentile nations. The fact is we would not be able to understand the rest of the New Testament without the Book of Acts.
Luke & Acts are primarily historical documents in nature. It is not a pure history. It comes from a limited perspective of what occurred in and outside the community of believers, which expanded throughout the Roman Empire. It should not discourage us to know that we will not find a purely objective history. It is value-based, biased, and a limited view of the events.
Our study of the Scriptures requires respect; no method of study will “correspond precisely to the conviction that the New Testament… comprises the Scriptures of the Christian Church.” (Achtemeier, Green, and Thompson: 12)
By having respect, I mean that we should employ a “critical openness” posture, listening respectfully and responding thoughtfully. We should examine the literary and historical nature of the documents, and at the same time understand their importance shaping the faith and conduct of communities of Christ followers through the centuries and in many cultures.
Hebrews is an “elegantly polished” text, which is “removed from the world of the Modern reader.” This book serves as a pastoral letter, which exhorts Christian believers, a “pilgrim people,” to “persevere” and to continue to grow. Though the letter is Pauline in content, he is not the author. Instead, the author is likely to have been associated with Paul. This author is an educated Jewish person trained in Greek philosophy and exegesis. This person is clearly an authority in the church with an important word for an increasingly diverse, though clearly the author’s contemporary Jewish audience, probably in Rome. This letter refers to the “tabernacle” more than the “temple”, with references to the “wilderness” through which the “pilgrim” community is venturing and can reach their destination “today.” This treatise, which describes the Hebrew Scriptures as “alive and active”, is clearly describing the realities and promises fulfilled through the finished work of God in Christ. The author outlines three key Christological arguments; Jesus is “superior.” Jesus is superior as the Son, the Pioneer of our Faith, and the High Priest. God has spoken in the past through angels, but now he speaks to us through his Son, the agent of God’s creation and revelation, in these “last days.” He shares our humanity, yet he is the heir of all things, who receives the promise on behalf of all human beings. As a superior pioneer, he has gone ahead of us, blazing a trail for us to follow, doing what we could not do. After the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek, he is a “perfect” high priest, who was made perfect through suffering, and can make our consciences perfect through his perfect offering made once for all.
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.
Something about that encounter on the Road to Damascus was so “utterly trustworthy” that Paul was convinced that the God of his fathers had appeared to him in the person of Jesus. God had called Israel to fulfill a purpose, which is the future for all people. This has always been the purpose of Israel’s election. Jesus is the ultimate exodus for Israel and the whole world. Israel’s destiny is summed up in the Messiah. Paul is not teaching Christian dualism and he is not launching a new movement. He is not forming a separate people. However, he is preaching a new message, one of the fulfillment of Israel’s promises, one new humanity.
Throughout his life, Paul was committed to Jewish monotheism. What changed was the depth of his understanding of that “fighting doctrine,” which declares “blasphemous” all other gods, all other philosophies, and all other political loyalties. The contrasting changes and consistencies in Paul’s identity within his faith community, his understanding of the Law, and his eschatological vision were clearly the result of his personal encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus. Paul realized a vital relationship with the One “true content” of Jewish monotheism, Jesus Christ. Paul became “known” by the God of Israel. (Gal. 4:8-11)
Saul’s self-identity as a member of the “strictest sect” of the Jewish religion has often led to a misinterpretation of Paul, the apostle of Christ Jesus. (Acts 26:5) The Pharisees were a significant social movement of nearly six thousand people at the end of the reign of Herod the Great. These ‘Separate Ones’ proselytized their fellow Jews to the end that a new community of devout followers of God, a sort of priesthood of all Jewish believers, would emerge. Consistent with the messages of John the Baptist and Jesus, many Pharisees sought to reform God’s people.
The Pharisees were not unified in their political and social aspirations, however. While the Pharisees may have all expected an apocalyptic future judgment on all of Israel’s enemies, they were divided, liberal and conservative, with different political and religious emphases. Under the tutorage of Gameliel, Saul originally identified with Hillelites, the liberal Hellenistic Pharisees. Saul evidently had a significant conversion within Pharisaic Judaism, through which he began to identify with Shamaites, the revolutionary Pharisees. This conversion had therefore narrowed Saul’s community of faith to a smaller group of “daggermen.” He was willing to use violence on anyone, even liberal Jewish “traitors”, who would not support the Shamaite’s tri-part myopic agenda for Israel, her people, her land, and her temple. This begins to explain why Saul gave approval of those who killed Stephen. (Acts 8:1, 3)
After six hundred years of captivity, the prophetic promise for Israel’s deliverance was deeply embedded in Saul’s worldview. (Isa. 46:12-13) Contrary to popular opinion, Saul’s identity in Jewish community was not defined by legalism. Instead, it was the belief that Israel was God’s people and that God had a special covenant of grace with them. Saul heard a new spin on the story of Israel’s Messiah when Stephen expounded the Hebrew Scriptures. Stephen’s rendition claimed Israel’s Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth. Then Saul witnessed Stephen looking up saying, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” As he was stoned to death, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:56, 60)
Probably enraged by Stephen’s claim that he saw the “Son of Man,” the name reserved for Israel, Saul expanded his persecution seeking permission from the high priest to arrest followers of the “Way” in Damascus. (Acts 9:1-2) Though he was devout in his understanding of the grandeur of Jewish monotheism, Israel’s election, and apocalyptic eschatology, Saul’s radical devotion to Torah had diminished his Judaism to a sect with little evidence of grace. He must have been conflicted knowing that Israel was a covenant people who “responded to God’s gracious initiative in terms set forth in the Torah.” Clearly, Saul witnessed the grace of the Spirit of Israel’s Messiah through the testimony and martyrdom of Stephen. Saul’s longing for the abundant grace of God for the community of Israel was not evident in his life, however this early encounter of grace exhibited in Stephen’s final words had implanted a seed of apocalyptic revelation.
The next post will be about Paul’s changing relationship with the Torah and the Law of the Spirit Life.
Saul of Tarsus’ dramatic meeting with the risen Lord Jesus radically completed his appreciation for Jewish monotheism. The change of his name to Paul and the dramatic changes in his ministry orientation have sometimes been interpreted as an abandonment of his zeal for the faith of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However Paul’s scathing criticism of the first century practices of Judaism and his message of inclusion to pagan Greeks and Romans into communities of faith alongside Jews is not his final verdict on Judaism, it is rather his interpretation of the sequel to Israel’s story. After more than a century of Biblical scholarship, which has both “used and abused” Paul, some have begun to reevaluate Paul’s relationship to Judaism. With these new studies, we can now better compare and contrast changes in Paul’s story, his identity before and after his encounter with Jesus. In the next several posts, I will look at the changes and consistencies in Paul’s identity within his faith community, his understanding of the Law, and his eschatological vision, which I believe are all best understood through the singular lens of his personal encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus.
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.
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.” There are major “gaps between gospel values and the practices of Christianity in ‘Christian’ Europe” and other formerly Christian territories. (See Michael Budde’s book, “The (Magic) Kingdom of God: Christianity and Global Culture Industries.” Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. 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.”
Today, the university community continues to seek truth, with the limitations of Modernism’s arrogant spirit. Finding truth requires humility and a willingness to learn from sources new and old, including learning from those who have been isolated and marginalized for their religious faith.
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.
Secular space was created when Western theology “reduced God to power and removed the sense that a good and beautiful God participates with humans. Unbelievers successfully created ‘safe zones’ so that God would not interfere with them” (See Emerging Churches, by Bolger & Gibbs, p. 192)
Modern Christians became comfortable in the ‘sacred spaces’ of the Church and their private lives. The witness of the Church was therefore weakened and reduced to a private decision, in a place set apart from the public domain. Emerging churches are countering this weakness by “removing the distinction of church and non church activities.” (Bolger & Gibbs, 107) They are synthesizing evangelism and service, avoiding differentiation between Christians and non-Christians. Emerging Churches are changing the focus from the external boundary of belief to the Person of Jesus at the center. They are more concerned about relating to Jesus in any setting, including night clubs and golf courses, than they are defining who is in and who is out.
Church communities today face a significant challenge, creating “bridges to span the sacred/secular divide.” (Bolger & Gibbs, 67) The way to do that may be for members of your church community to become the good news to their neighbors, encouraging and modeling gospel living to take place in secular spaces. The emphasis among Emerging Churches is to create “innovation” to “ensure authenticity.” (Bolger & Gibbs, 210)
Next week’s Emerging Church Pattern: Leading as the Body
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.
In addition to creating spaces for community members and friends to share struggles, Commission Groups can also be venues for sharing stories and developing ministry gifts. Emerging churches are seeking to participate in God’s creativity as “musician/composer,” “designer/dresser,” “architect/builder,” “crafter/artisan,” and “playful storyteller.” (See Steve Taylor’s book, The Out of Bounds Church: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change. ) A mid-sized Evangelical Church with the attractional model of ministry, may have staff to coordinate creative ministries and worship teams, however the focus is mostly on the Sunday gathering.
Many church goers have received teaching about spiritual gifts and those teachings are often designed to stimulate creativity and participation, however they too often emphasize the equipping of members to serve the church event. (See Tim Keel’s book, Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Narrative, Metaphor, & Chaos.) The adjustment for a mid-sized Evangelical Church community is to release the creativity of everyone, first within Commission Groups and later in the Sunday worship event. Commission Groups with testimonies of effective witness and creative worship can be encouraged to lead various segments of the Sunday event, the worship, prayer, testimonies, multi-media, drama, and even inviting a speaker. However a new formation of a mid-sized church community can release the creativity within smaller communities, or Commission Groups . Leaders of Commission Groups can be coached by a Leadership Team of the mid-sized Evangelical Church community. Not only will the members express creativity within Commission Groups, they may also be invited to lead the larger Sunday event. By doing so, the Commission Groups can show evidence of what God can do with ordinary materials, creatively reporting and celebrating ways in which they are worshipping and loving Jesus and their neighbors.
Next week’s Pattern: Participating as Producers
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
Jacob’s Well, an emerging church community in Kansas City, has a mural with the constant reminder that, “the visible church is not to be the bearer of Christ’s message, but to be the message.” (Tony Jones, The New Christians, 2008: 178) To fully embrace this pattern, local communities must dismantle the idea of church as a place, and reform it with the clear understanding that church is a people with commitment to community. The gospel message is best presented through small groups with genuine friendships, authenticity serving, loving, and giving. “The ideal size for effective fellowship and ministry,” is where “reproduction is easiest and community, accountability, confidentiality, flexibility, communication, direction and leadership are strongest.” (Cole, The Organic Church, 2005: 100-102)
Not all members are typically in one of their church community’s existing small groups. Why? Because it is difficult for people “nurtured in a culture of modernity and the unlimited sovereignty of the individual” to make themselves vulnerable within authentic community. (Bolger & Gibbs, Emerging Churches, 2005: 92) Emerging churches recognize the gospels are stories of “missional formation experiences” within small communities. (2005: 105) For them church is less about meetings and places, than an expression of kingdom values in a witnessing community.
Next week’s Emerging Church Pattern: Serving with Generosity
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.
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.
This week I’m looking at the Western Church. Many formations of the Church have emerged all over the world. However, the Western Church emerged by aligning with Roman power. This formation has resulted in centuries of failure to truly bear witness to the good news of the kingdom of God. Despite human failing, the Holy Spirit continued to pour out into many cultures, such as Ireland, with little structural support.
Today, the Western mindset tempts church leaders around the world to continue the Roman formation of structural, positional, and hierarchical or authoritarian power. Even after the Reformers re-articulation of the “Priesthood of All Believers,” most church structures continue to fail to demonstrate it. Churches in the late twentieth century have gone a step further, linking success to the capacity to meet the religious needs of members. Because leaders are presenting “church” as a spectator event, cultural christians pick and choose the church gathering that most appeals to their individual needs or wants.
Too often captive to a materialist and consumer culture, most church-goers do not see how the Western Church has been the beneficiary of institutional power, wealth, and influence. Therefore many Christians fail to represent Christ and His kingdom through community.
If we are captive, what steps should we take to break free to truly become a community witnessing to the good news of the kingdom of God?
The emergence of the church is “part of a long history of God-inspired apostolic endeavor.” (Steve Taylor, Out of Bounds Church 2005, p. 39) Before discussing formations of the Church, which I plan to do in subsequent posts, it is imperative that our understanding of “church” be distinguished from the “kingdom of God,” which is the boundary-free domain that Jesus commissioned his witnesses to proclaim. As citizens of heaven, Christ followers must remember that our formation of church communities will fall short of the ideal. However, the most effective witnessing church formations take a posture of humility and service within smaller groupings. Amid a world consumed by façade, how do we create authentic communities to best demonstrate the Church’s anticipation of the kingdom of God? (Tim Keel, Intuitive Leadership 2007, p. 117)