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“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
So then, as creatures of desire, created to love and be loved, we have an intent, a direction and purpose in life. We seek a vision of the good life. All our choices, actions, and habits emerge as we are pulled by our hearts toward a picture of that good life, the city, or that kingdom.
Such a vision will always include implicit assumptions, which may include some kind of answer to the following questions:
What is a good relationship?
What is a just economy?
What play or recreation do we value?
How do we relate to nature and our environment?
What is good work?
What is flourishing family?
What, therefore, does it mean to be “saved”?
Everyone has answers of some kind tucked away in our hearts. Possessing a vision of a future is implicit in the fact that we are created in God’s image. Our hopes and dreams are what get us up out of bed in the morning. Our desire for a kingdom may or may not be the same desire, or the same kingdom, for which Jesus of Nazareth went to the cross. However blurred or distorted our vision may be, the fact that we have a vision is testament to God’s creative impulse within us.
The question we must ask ourselves in the quiet place is this: Does my heart pull me toward the One who created me for good?
Your answer will lead you to live a life worthy of such a calling.
“If you work the words into your life you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid a foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last.” (Luke 6:48 Message)
Jesus said, “These words I speak to you are not merely additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.” (Luke 6:47 Message)
Sounds pretty important to me
But what was Jesus referring to exactly? What are we building and why?
Jesus was wrapping up his Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes, the DNA of the Kingdom of God, and the Lord’s Prayer, instruction on how to appeal to God for his help in fulfilling his mission in the earth. Jesus was a carpenter by trade; he used the metaphor of building to get his point across. His sermon was kind of like a builder’s “shop-talk” for the large crowd that gathered to listen to him in Galilee.
Do you find it interesting that the crowds that gathered around Jesus were often too big for the buildings of his day? On one occasion when Jesus did gather people in a house, a few determined men who sought healing for their paralytic friend “removed some tiles” from the roof, and “let him down in the middle of everyone.” (Luke 5:18 Message) Of course, Jesus healed the man because he and his friends had great faith.
The Building Process: Internal and External
Imagine walking through the trailer on the site of a major new building project. On the wall is a chart showing all the various tasks for each of the contractors. Jesus sermon was about all the tasks and tools used to build our lives, our families, our communities, and our nations. He was speaking of how to build a community which would soon be called the “Church.”
Jesus was teaching his audience about the tools of the kingdom, how to love enemies, how to be merciful, giving, forgiving, and not-judging. He said, “Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” (v.42) He spoke of the organic nature of the kingdom when he spoke about fruit-bearing, “your true being brims over into true words and deeds.” (v.45) It appears the “building” Jesus is referring to is NOT a place of worship; it’s a people of worship.
Who is doing the building?
Neil Cole, in his book “Organic Church” asks: “Do you trust laymen on their own?”
Look again at what Jesus said: “If you work the words into your life you are like a smart carpenter …” Sounds like Jesus intends for “you” to be the builder.
Unfortunately down through the ages spiritual authorities, whether they are Pharisees or modern ministers, have too often failed to trust God’s people to “build”.
Roland Allen‘s important book focuses on the fact that Paul’s missionary activity was church planting and that he quickly turned over leadership to the “builders.” Without exception, all the churches that Paul planted in the gentile world were left alone; and, in every case, God’s people managed to survive and express Christ and His church. Certainly, Paul’s missionary work produced what we call “New Testament churches.”
Paul’s “New Testament churches” seem to be different than ours. Our concept of New Testament Church keeps coming up with a “senior” pastor and a passive and mute laity. Paul’s method was to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” which is to proclaim Jesus is Lord in every family, every community, sphere of society and every nation.
A Changing World
Today’s world is very different than the Paul’s world, but let’s look at the similarities. The first century was dominated by a single world power, Rome. Today’s world also has a single world power. At the same time, the Roman world was culturally diverse, pluralist. And today, when you visit any major city, university, or shopping mall, you will see and hear people from many cultures. In fact, there has never been a time in history like the first century quite like there is today.
And yet, the world is vastly different from the first century and any other time in history. Within the past few years, the demographic center of the Christian world has shifted from the North and West to the South and East. The new Majority Church is in the Global South. The accessibility to information technologies is rapidly changing the world, including the Arab world and China. It appears the pressures caused by the flow of information among the people in the Arab world will effectively change Middle Eastern nations and their primary business models. OPEC will likely face pressures and break up, releasing a more market-based system. Those nations will likely shift from economies based on a single product, crude oil, to a market-based economy. That change will likely also open the way for alternative energy sources; a change that is too restrictive now due to our dependence on foreign oil.
The emerging generation has more access to information and connection with “friends” than any previous generation. Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat helped frame the significance of these changes. Friedman’s book was out before the emergence of FaceBook. If Facebook were a country, the number of people on that one social media tool would be one of the five most populated nations on earth. It is second nature for most people today to collaborate for social change. This change alone will affect every modern institution including churches. The effect of these major socio-political, economic, and demographic shifts is “like a flood.”
Like no other time in history is it necessary to build on a solid foundation in obedience to Jesus. Building the people of God to do the work of God everywhere. We must trust God’s people to be the priesthood to proclaim the good news by every means, inside the domain of church ministries and outside that domain. If we do follow Jesus’ instruction and Paul’s method, what is built will be “build to last.”
Cultivating Communities of Practice, by Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), is one of several required books I read for Fuller Theological Seminary‘s MA in Global Leadership. The following are my reflections:
I have a great interest in how organizations, particularly those with Christian leadership, work and how they respond to change. This book is rich with practical insight as to how non-profit organizations, churches, and christian ministries may develop in a globalized society.
One trend I have observed helps me see the way forward. In recent years several international conferences, training courses, and outreaches have been convening around points of passion and global human need, like water, women’s issues, slavery, and children at risk. YWAM International and other Christian missions agencies have also begun to look at a new mapping paradigm for global strategy called Project 4K wherein the map is divided into about 4000 geographic units, Omega Zones, highlighting those areas still requiring engagement.
What appears to be needed is a new cross-platform, multi-disciplinary team approach to properly engage each of those geographic regions.
Through the Student Mobilization Centre‘s School of University Ministries & Missions, we are equipping field leaders who will be able to coordinate multi-disciplinary field project teams. During the past 15 months, we have presented this 12-week training program in India, USA, Korea, and Colombia. I leave today to teach on Missional Collaboration for the final week of the school. Participants in the SMC school learn how to collaborate with leaders and communities to harmonize outreach teams to serve broad-based long-term community development project goals while mobilizing students for field based learning.
YWAM’s University of the Nations operates according to what Wenger, et al conclude in Communities of Practice; that is, “useful knowledge is not a downloadable commodity.” It requires participation.
The best learning experiences are in the context of relationships, especially those experiences with others that at the same time unfamiliar and familiar. In my experience, students learn best when taken out of their familiar culture to serve and learn in a context that challenges their expectations and status quo learning experiences. They also learn best if put in a situation where they are challenged to work together with those who share their skill set, academic training, and/or missionary goals.
By cultivating these communities of learning and serving, I believe we will ourselves learn how to do world missions and how to participate as a global church in the twenty-first century. By developing this field project model of university ministry, placing students as interns into a wide array of community development projects with national leaders who require their service, we will all learn, we will become a community of practice.
By requiring students as part of their internship to research and write about their cross-cultural serving-learning experience, we will thereby share knowledge gained both with the field project leaders and with the universities and professors that sent the students. These project teams will help us steward and share the knowledge gained. These long-term community development field projects could serve as “laboratories” for curriculum development as well as cross-disciplinary field project leadership development.
By working together across cultures toward a big vision of collaborative ministries, leaders of missional communities, churches and organizations, will increase their ability and speed generating and implementing creative ideas for community development, evangelization, and training.
To accomplish this, we will need to form missional communities in university settings, and cross-platform, multi-disciplinary, communities of practice at field sites where internships may be hosted and field project staff leadership may be trained.
The most essential element of this field-based learning community is the authentic cross-cultural ministry that must be the foundational intent and the fruit of the project.
Where missional communities of practice exist, the witness of the Kingdom of God will be evident in a much greater way, both in the university and at that field projects’ community. These communities of learning and leadership equipping may in turn affect a change in the whole of the Christian missionary enterprise through an integrated development model of field ministry and leadership equipping.
This book is ‘salty’. I am thirsty for more with each page turned. Even more so, I am hungry for the practical outworking of this vision within the context of my own life and ministry. That is why I am developing a seminar and a 12-week course on Missional Collaboration. The challenge to me is to deliberately form communities of practice in my ministry context, the universities of the world.
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.
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?
I read Neil Cole’s book “Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens” last summer. Cole is founder and Executive Director of Church Multiplication Associates, which began in 1990 fostering and serving organic church movements and the network he founded called Awakening Chapels. I found myself in association with Neil in 2006 when he and I were both asked to consult the leaders of the Campus Transformation Network. Neil is also author of Cultivating a Life For God, co-author of Raising Leaders for the Harvest, and Search & Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes a Difference.
This book is an appeal to Christians to go where life happens to connect with the disaffected people who would not otherwise come to church. Cole presents more than a consistent organic theme as he outlines his story and the story of a movement of simple, reproducible churches, he argues that the very nature of the church is organic and must therefore contain within the smallest grouping the complete DNA for reproduction.
The core of this book is the study of the “DNA of healthy church life and reproduction” (99-140) Cole wisely shows that the practice of Modernity, seeking a universal principle or pattern, such as Thom Wolf’s “New Testament Discipleship Pattern (NTDP),” is not necessarily wrong. Cole shows how the “pattern” must be “easily passed on by both example and teaching.” Wolf called this “napkin theology…if you can’t pass it on by writing it down on a napkin at a restaurant, then it isn’t worth writing down at all.” (110-111) Cole has benefited from Roland Allen’s “Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?” and George Patterson’s thinking about “spontaneous multiplication movements” and “obedience-oriented education” in his journey seeking the simple reproducible church model. (113)
Cole examines the organic nature of the Church in Jesus’ agri-parables and the organic nature of the Kingdom of God through agro-biology and astronomy. Seeking the basic pattern of church multiplication, Cole explains how the organic church goes beyond the popular “cell churches or house churches.” Cole shows how the scriptures consistently affirm the small group of two or three, “the ideal size for effective fellowship and ministry” where reproduction is easiest and community, accountability, confidentiality, flexibility, communication, direction and leadership are strongest. (100-102)
The DNA of Christ’s Body (D-Divine Truth or Faith, N-Nurturing Relationships or Love, and A-Apostolic Mission or Hope), like a seed, which is the “contagion” of the Kingdom of God, “must be whole, intact, and in every cell…complete in its simplicity.” (117-120) Cole warns that many churches have succumbed to Modernity’s tendency to specialize, concentrating on one part of the DNA and eliminating or segmenting out the other parts, such as “excellent preaching on Sundays, which is where we have divine truth.” Those same leaders will argue that they have small groups for nurturing relationships and a mission committee for apostolic mission, however Cole argues, “To separate each part is to destroy the whole thing.” (120)
Cole defends the “beautiful…design and order” of the organic structure of church, which is of “utmost importance.” (124-125) While some church leaders may argue that an organic structure will lead to disorder and chaos, Dee Hock, founder of VISA, author of the book The Birth of the Chaordic Age, writes:
“Purpose and principle, clearly understood and articulated, and commonly shared, are the genetic code of any healthy organization. To the degree that you hold purpose and principles in common among you, you can dispense with command and control.”
Some may think that Cole is arguing for chaos, but he clearly states that, “structures are needed, but they must be simple, reproducible, and internal rather than external.” (124) For internal structure, a structure based on principle and purpose, to work, we must put more faith in the DNA than in organization.
In summary, Cole simply reminds us that, like a seed, “multiplication starts with death” and “there is no resurrection without a death.” (103)
2005. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Do you ever wonder what Jesus really meant when he spoke of the “law and the prophets”? He was referring to the Scriptures, those that we now identify as the Old Testament and some other apocryphal texts. The law and the prophets refers to the testimony of God’s word to his people and the traditions of those people. These two, testimony and tradition, converge and clash at the time of Jesus.
Jesus represents that clash; he had a high regard for the law and he also challenged the teachers of the law. He said he came to “fulfill” the law, but there are looming questions that arise from his behavior. He obviously broke the Sabbath to provoke the Pharisees and to make a point about how we are to interpret the law.
Jesus announces that the kingdom has come. What did he mean by that? The kingdom is the “place” where God’s rule is evident. God rules all things, but his rule is limited by something. Otherwise, Jesus would not even need to announce “the kingdom has come near you.” What limits God’s rule? Traditions.
Jesus said, “thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.” (Matt. 7:13) When he makes the announcement that the kingdom is near, we need to see that it is Jesus who is the fulfillment of the law. The rule of God has finally come, not in written code, but in the person of Jesus. Jesus declares that the law is accomplished in him.
By saying “the law is accomplished”, was he implying that the law is actually temporary?
Now that Jesus has come, the law is fulfilled, and the law is accomplished. Do you sense the tension in Matthew’s Gospel regarding obedience to the law? Matthew’s congregation apparently needs some understanding, and so do we. We need help navigating between the amazing liberty we have received in Christ and the dangerous license that has too often resulted.
Jesus did not abolish the law. In fact, he calls for an adherence to the law, which is “greater than the Pharisees.” How do we live free from the law and at the same time under the “rule of God” as citizens of the kingdom of God?
Jesus rules his kingdom. Jesus critique of the Law is not so much about obedience to a strict set of Pharisaic laws, but rather the heart motive behind that obedience. Jesus critiqued the traditions of the Pharisees, which made the Law of “no effect.” Jesus sought to reveal the underlying kingdom values reflected in the law, while also unmasking the dangerous effects of tradition. Jesus calls us to a deeper obedience, a new way of life in the kingdom of God.
Books about the Emerging Church are everywhere. Thoughts about the Church are just as varied. What should be included in the discussion is revelation of the Kingdom of God. Perhaps we should look at the Early Church to get some of our ideas and at the words of Jesus to get some ideas about the Kingdom of God.
Today, I believe we can be like the Early Church, which had a clear missionary impulse with no intended cultural, linguistic, or hierarchical center. After the risen Christ told five hundred on-lookers to wait, only one hundred and twenty decided to be present the day the Spirit came in power. However, as they poured into the street, the Spirit empowered the witness of the tiny new church to speak the seventeen languages of the cultural mix in Jerusalem. Peter then spoke with a newfound courage and the community quickly became a network of three thousand. Their un-programmed witness continued as they met new friends in homes.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But what is it like in heaven? What should it be like on earth? Do we even know what we are praying?
The Jews who heard Jesus, even his own disciples, thought Jesus was making a political declaration. They thought the Messiah was coming to kick out the Romans and give them political liberty. But that’s not what Jesus was sent to do. The people of that day needed to repent, change their thinking, for the Kingdom of God is far more universal. Some reading this may need to repent of the same false idea. The Kingdom of God is not represented by a political party or a new kind of government. We’re not turning the government over to a savior, no matter who we are privileged to vote for.
It is also important to change our thinking, our understanding of “church,” to distinguish the church 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.
The way to bear witness to the kingdom, is to have vision for the kingdom. To do that, I believe the Father intends that we ask for his vision of the kingdom and his vision for a dynamic, fluid, and distributed Church, which bears fruit that will last.
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)