Thursday, March 27

Churchianity to Christianity

The longer we are engaged in missional church planting, the more I find myself going back to Reggie McNeal's, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. This courageous book first came out in 2003, and has been challenging my thinking ever since. In the book McNeal describes the church in terms of six "new realities." The related questions to each of the realities are ones we find ourselves struggling with in our own life and ministry.

1. The collapse of the church culture.
  • Wrong question: How do we do church better?
  • Tough question: How do we deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity?
2. The shift from church growth to kingdom growth.
  • Wrong question: How do we grow this church?
  • Tough question: How do we transform our community?
3. A new reformation: Releasing God's people.
  • Wrong question: How do we turn members into ministers?
  • Tough question: How do we turn members into missionaries?
4. The return to spiritual formation.
  • Wrong question: How do we develop church members?
  • Tough question: How do we develop followers of Jesus?
5. The shift from planning to preparation.
  • Wrong question: How do we plan for the future?
  • Tough question: How do we prepare for the future?
6. The rise of apostolic leadership.
  • Wrong question: How do we develop leaders for church work?
  • Tough question: How do we develop leaders for the Christian movement?
Of these six, the one that grabs my attention is #4. We are passionate about developing followers of Christ who understand the difference between religion and relationship. In our own context there are 800,000+ believers sitting in the pews of churches all across this nation. It is my conviction that followers of Christ are not made to sit in pews week after week. Their relationship with Christ calls for a response like that of Isaiah, "here am I, send me." Seek to deconvert believers from "Churchianity" to Christianity.

Which of Reggie's six points above resonate with you? What are you doing to address these issues in your own life and ministry?

Monday, March 24

Jesus' most ignored command

One of Jesus' most ignored commands is "...pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He send out workers into His harvest." Luke 10:2b (ten2b praying).

This is one prayer the Lord wants to answer. It is the first command Jesus instructed the 70 in Luke 10 as he prepared them for going out into the fields white and ready for harvest.

If I were training the "70" prayer would be an important element. But would praying for workers be the primary focus of the praying? Probably not. To me it is interesting that Jesus doesn't tell them to pray for the lost; he instructs them to pray for workers. It seems our job is to ask God to call out the laborers and send them to the harvest fields; it is the Holy Spirit's job to put those workers into contact with hearts He is dealing with.

I am more convinced than ever He is just waiting on us to ask him for workers. One of the most consistent prayers I pray everyday is for harvest laborers. Unless the Lord calls out the workers and puts it in their hearts to do the work, it doesn't matter how many people we might train. Very little fruit will remain.

Ten2b praying works. It is God's way of getting the job done. Praying for workers is something He wants to answer. He is waiting for us to get serious about praying for workers, so that He can get serious with us about sending us the workers he intends on using.

There are so many stories I could share but will limit myself to this one from Posorja...

Posorja is a 2-hour drive from Guayaquil. The first night of the training two men came. Nobody seemed to know who they were and they didn't say much. It was obvious they were visitors. As we were concluding the training I asked for people to share what the Lord had impressed upon them during our time together. Much to everyone's surprise both visitors stood, indicating they wanted to speak. The first man began to weep uncontrollably for several moments. Slowly their story got out...
My partner and I are professional fishermen from Costa Rica. We have been in Posorja for the past few weeks wondering why on earth God led us to this place. We have not been able to accomplish anything we had originally come here to do. Our plans were to go to Manta (another port city on the coast of Ecuador) and yet God strangely led us here. The first day we decided to go out and try to find an evangelical church. We happened to "discover" this church the first night of the training. We now fully understand why God brought us to Posorja. It was not for fishing permits, but for an understand on how to FISH FOR MEN. We have been wanting to work for the Lord and serve Him, but didn't know how to go about doing it. The tools we received in this training are exactly what we have been needing. We fish up and down the coast of South America and come into contact with many people in our travels. Our desire is to be effective fishers of men to all the places God takes us. We now feel prepared for the task God has called us to.
Some would call the above a coincidence. But I firmly believe this was yet another answer to ten2b praying.
Such are the kinds of things that happen when we pray like Jesus commanded.

Friday, February 28

Is Latin America Still A Mission Field? (by David Sills)

David Sills is the A.P. and Faye Stone Professor of Christian Missions and Cultural Anthropology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and Director of the Doctor of Missiology program, Director of the International Church Planting program, and Director of Great Commission Ministries. For those of us in Ecuador, David is better known as a former fellow missionary who served alongside us for several years. In one of his blog posts entitled, Latin America: Mission Force, Mission Field David shares some of the tensions facing missionaries and missions organizations serving in Latin America.

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"...This concentrated and extended time in Latin America has shown me a great many things about the state of the church here and the region’s needs, challenges, and opportunities. Reading what much of the missions literature says about Latin America and traveling and ministering here makes me wonder whether we are talking about the same place. So often, Latin America is presented as yesterday’s mission field, a place that is now reached, so missionaries can turn their sights elsewhere. However, there are significant problems with this misinformation. First, is it is not reached. The International Mission Board estimates that there are 999 people groups in the Americas, and of that number, 690 of them are among the least reached people groups with less than 2% of their population being evangelicals. In addition, 356 of those groups are not only among the least reached, they are unengaged, which means that no one has been trying to reach and plant churches among them for at least over the last two years. Furthermore, 85 of those groups are also completely uncontacted; in many cases, missionaries simply know that they are, but not necessarily where they are or very much about them. There is much to do to reach all of the peoples of Latin American countries with the gospel. However, even though I’m advocating for the unreached of Latin America, please be very careful not to buy the lie that missions equals reaching the unreached. Yes, reaching the unreached is biblical and necessary, but the Great Commission is much broader and deeper than that, it is to make disciples among the nations (ethnic groups), baptize them, and teach them to observe everything that Jesus commanded.

The argument that Latin America is reached (which it is not) and therefore we should leave it with the national brothers and move on is misguided. Jesus did not send His church to reach and leave the nations, but to reach and teach them—everything He has commanded us. That remains to be done throughout the jungles, mountains, farmlands, banana republics, modern urban megacities, and seaport cities of that beautiful, resource-rich, and spiritually challenging area of the world that we call Latin America. Countless groups of indigenous peoples, mestizo Latinos, Asians, Arab peoples, Afro-Americans, and Jews live lost lives in a land that is counted as Christian because of the cultural Christianity surface statistics claim.

Another challenge in Latin America is the vast biblical illiteracy. Certainly, some of the most godly pastors, most well-equipped academicians, and most gifted Christian writers are Latin American brothers and sisters. However, they are faithfully serving in their ministries that demand as much of their time as the ministries of their USA counterparts do. They are both overwhelmed in the ministries they serve and are far too few in number for the task before them. Missionaries never concentrated their work on training more like them. The majority of pastors I meet acknowledge that they need training and they plead for it. It saddens me that pastors regularly ask me heartbreaking questions such as, Was Jesus saved before or after His resurrection? Which woman was it that saved Him? Is it okay for Christians to continue to venerate the earth goddess? Many churches here are steeped in animism but meet in buildings with crosses on the top so missiologists and researchers count them as Christian. I recently preached in an indigenous church that has been meeting together for 25 years. A mission agency built them a building 25 years ago, but they never returned to disciple the congregants, teach the leaders, or even to preach—they never set foot in the community again. It is no wonder that the church members still practice their traditional witchcraft and sorcery; they say that they never even knew that it was wrong to do so.

Many regions of Latin America that we have scratched off our lists as “reached” are Christian in name only; they have never been discipled but rather simply joined a church. Since the Spaniards, conquistadors, and Catholic missionaries came in the late 1400s, Latin America is the recipient of a form of Catholicism that is not only the product of the Spanish Inquisition, but is also pre-Reformational since the Reformation did not begin until 1517. And since the Reformation never made it south of the Pyrenees, even subsequent waves of Catholic missionaries were never tempered with the truth of Grace and the Solas. They imposed the harsh Catholicism that they brought with the point of a sword. Indigenous peoples became very adept at embracing the outward forms of new religions for personal gain and protection.

Reading my blog and Facebook posts about my travels in Latin America has prompted many new friends to email me about their call to the peoples of the Western hemisphere and express their frustration at not finding ministry opportunities. Indeed, many traditional mission agencies are redirecting their efforts to other areas of the world. In hard economic times, they are following the donor dollars that are more interested in the least reached places on the planet. Everyone would hopefully agree that we must reached the least reached and preach the gospel to every person as soon as possible. However, we must also conserve the hard-won advances we have made by discipling and teaching the believers that we have reached. The effort to reach the least reached would be better served by training up a host of evangelists and missionaries whom God is calling from the traditional fields we have served so long, who can go before us and go with us to serve alongside us.

I always tell those called to Latin America but who find themselves frustrated by various mission boards, that they must follow God’s call on their lives, not God’s call on the agency. As a friend of mine often says, “The board is not the Lord.” Never compare your call with another’s to decide the right course of action. I have seen many Christians drawn away from their duty and calling by comparing themselves and their lot with others. I preached not long ago on the four kinds of men in the world: a man’s man, a ladies’ man, a selfish man, and God’s man. Each of those seeks to please someone, either other manly men, the ladies, self, or God. Whom will you serve?

Sometimes the emails I get are asking what kinds of missions opportunities are available in Latin America. A short list of some of the greatest needs would include theological education, pastoral training, university ministry, youth ministry, MK teachers, orphanages, hospital ministry, physicians, dentists, water-wells, health education, evangelism, discipleship, guesthouse ministry, vocational training, rescuing streetchildren, Christian camps, publishing, bookstores and literature ministry, reaching the influential segments of society, intercultural training and missionary orientation, church planting, and whatever the Holy Spirit has called and gifted you to do. The highest and best use of your life is to do what God calls you to do in the place He calls you to do it. Never apologize about your call. If God has given it, He knows why and He knows that you are the perfect person for the job and the perfect place for you to glorify Him.

Some of the mission agencies that have continued to maintain a strong focus on Latin America are increasingly my heroes. I could write a book on each one of them and the contributions they have made, and are committed to continue in Latin America. Some of the brighter lights in the harbor are Latin America Mission, South America Mission, CAM International, and Global Outreach International. Of course, major missions agencies like the International Mission Board, Avant, and HCJB that have made such a great impact here will very likely always have a presence, though it is rapidly diminishing. If you share my burden for Latin America, why not write an email to those agencies focusing on Latin America and thank them for their commitment to this vital region. If you have influence in the agencies that are diminishing their efforts here, why not exercise it to encourage them to stay the course and refocus on new challenges and opportunities rather than abandon the region. The needs are so great, the opportunities are so numerous, and the time is now to seize the day for Christ’s glory and the advance of His kingdom.

I would add a word of caution to the agencies that are drastically reducing their missionary personnel and resources to Latin America. I have seen several major traditional missions agencies’ offices and guesthouse properties for sale in the last few months, evidence of a dramatic draw down. Be aware that as evangelicals leave, Muslims are coming in behind us. One brother in the USA told me a sad tale of going to Latin America to help an ailing missionary pack up and move home. He said as they pulled out of town, they noticed two young Mormon missionaries moving in. Well, the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are still coming in increasing numbers, but Islam is also firmly established and still coming. While missiologists debate the exact population figures, a missionary who concentrates his ministry to reach Muslims in South America estimates that their numbers are around 21 million and growing. Leftist governments in Latin America are eager for Muslim governments’ economic resources. We have a proverb that he who pays the piper calls the tune. We dare not abandon Latin America to untrained brothers and sisters who acknowledge the threat and their need and are requesting our aid.

Rather than leave, our ministries should change. We must train theologians, prepare pastors, teach teachers, and disciple disciplers (2 Timothy 2:2). As we train them, we are ensuring their protection from the cults and false religions that will seek to deceive and win them. As Latin Americans feel called to reach, teach, and preach in their own and neighboring countries, let us train them for the work. They will do it better than we ever could once their heads, hearts, and hands are prepared for the work. We should train those called to go to the world to be the best missionaries they can be. They will be able to reach and teach in many areas much better than we could and with much easier access since they do not carry a USA passport that garners scrutinizing examination from increasing numbers of USA-hostile governments. We talk a lot about creative access, especially to Arab lands. Perhaps the most creative access of all is to stay and train Latin Americans to go to those with whom they shared the Iberian Peninsula for almost 800 years."

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So, what do you think about what David writes above? Any thoughts?

Friday, January 3

Is there a better way to impact the world for Jesus?

Dale Losch at crossworld.org asks, Is there a better way to impact the world for Jesus? And then goes on to share the following thoughts about discipleship making...

"I Have A Dream"...

I dream of a world where disciple-making is a reality and not just an ideal; where disciples make disciples who make diciples and unleash the explosive power of spiritual multiplication.

I dream of a world where all believers embrace their individual calls and all professions are employed in the cause to disciple the nations; where cross-cultural disciple-makers from secular professions outnumber vocational Christain workers 100 to 1.

I dream of a world where the church is defined as a group of fervent followers on mission to extend the Kingdom of God rather than as buildings, programs, and numbers of Christians.

I dream of a world where the good news of Jesus impacts not just a person's eternity, but all of life here and now.

I dream of a world where every city on earth has a vibrant community of reproducing disciple-makers who will infuse all of society like yeast permeates dough.

And I dream of a world where to be a Christian is to be known as a lover of God, of people, and of life.

In short, I dream of disciple-makers from all professions bringing God's love to life in the world's least-reached marketplaces...

It is first and foremost a dream of unleashing the power of real disciple-making. It is based on the conviction that this is exactly what Jesus told us to do, and if we will do it, the Great Commission will be completed in our lifetime.

To get a copy of this thought-provoking book click:
A Better Way: Make Disciples Wherever Life Happens



There's a Better Way from Crossworld on Vimeo.

Tuesday, December 10

What if church is something meant to be less permanent and more fluid?

House churches are not permanent structures. They were never intended to be ongoing "home versions" of church. The idea that "church" is something solid, permanent, or institutional, is more what we have fashioned the church into becoming over the centuries, but not what is described in the book of Acts.

Felicity Dale over at Simply Church once shared ideas from the World House Church Summit held back in November 2009 in New Delhi, India. In particular, I found interesting what was shared in regards to house churches ceasing to multiply when they become permanent structures.

House churches should be neither independent, nor permanent. If they are they will not multiply, but will only have shifted people from the pew to the sofa. Instead, they should be an interdependent network. Each house church is a debriefing center and a sending center that sends people out.

A starfish has no brain or head. If you cut off the arm of a starfish, it will grow into a new starfish. A house church does not require a CEO or a commander. Any of the people in it can multiply it out. The leader is more of a facilitator that cares for the household...

...Church planting is a process. Jesus stayed a few days in Samaria (John 4). Philip, the evangelist, preached the gospel powerfully there and many sick people were healed and baptized (Acts 8:4-13). Then Peter and John (apostles) came and worked with them too (Acts 8:14-25). Different people used their different giftings to see the church there come to maturity (Acts 9:31).

I have to confess that it has taken us 10 years to understand what Felicity shares above. Most of the church planting types I relate to are focused on starting churches. Once we have something up and going, we think, "Great, let's now look around and see who else we might train who might start another one." We have this mindset of permanency. If the house church continues to meet regularly, it is good. If it dissolves after a few months, that is bad. Or is it?

As I reflect upon this, nearly every single church plant connected to our house church network that I can think of, resulted from Christ followers not staying in their home assemblies. Instead, these laborers were discipled, and then sent out to make more disciples. When we make new disciples, churches are planted. The longer we stay together, the more comfortable we get with one another. Soon we want this to go on forever. We want our kids to experience the same we have experienced. We inevitably start organizing, programming, and hiring people to do what we do not have the time to do. Soon, we become the focus of ministry. What we have set into motion begins to define who we are. Before long, 10-20% are the ones engaging in some level of church ministry, while the rest become consumers. Is this what Christ really intended for His Church?

What if the church is something meant to be less permanent, and more fluid? What if we understand Christ's declaration, "I will build my church", to be about his Universal Church (all the saints throughout history), and not the building of local church assemblies? In reality, we are the ones out there trying to build His church. We are the ones trying to do Christ's job for him! Rather than equipping/sending centers; we have organized, programmed, and structured our churches to the point that permanency is what is seen as normal; when in reality, from the viewpoint of Acts, quite abnormal.

Part of the problem is that we have it in our heads that church--whether gathering in a house or a temple--is something solid that must visibly survive if it is to retain its value . In Acts we see the church as more fluid, more about "seeking first the Kingdom"--not the local ekklesia. The above Acts scriptures indicate a church-on-the-move. She is more about being the church in a lost world, and less about going to an organized, programmed, structured place.

I wonder what would happen if there was some way we could reboot our understanding of Jesus and His Church to be more in line with the concept of debriefing and sending centers, and less as permanent structures? Are permanent structures less able to multiply than those which are fluid? What do you think?

Friday, November 15

Have we turned Christianity into a religion?

Once upon a time, Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples of the nations, baptize, and teach them to obey what He had commanded. Jesus instilled within each the full DNA to accomplish the assigned task.

For many years his Church was on course for completing the task. Servants like Peter, Paul, and their companions pointed us in the way. The blueprint clearly found in the pages of the New Testament.

However as the Kingdom grew, so did the desire to control and monitor all that was happening. God has certainly not ceased to work through His Church, but in a real sense, his divine methods and purposes have been substituted for man-made religion, programs, dogmas, denominations, and church-related organizations. Simply stated: we are the divided body of Christ.

Instead of the simple obedience to the commands of Jesus--love the Lord your God, love one another, seek first His kingdom, abide in me, go make disciples, do this in remembrance of me, etc.-- the church has set up different standards for governing what it is Christ said to do. We have turned Christianity into a religion. Complete with hierarchy in our churches, organizations and institutions. We have added rules, regulations, expectations, and interpretations which go way beyond the simple commands of our Lord. Isn't this the same kind of stuff the Pharisees were condemned for by Jesus?

However, all over the world today, there is an emerging breed of believers ready and willing to exchange Institutional Christianity for a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation--a people for God's own possession (I Peter 2:9). A return to the reality that all God's children are empowered to be active participants in the Great Commission and the coming of God's Kingdom upon this earth.

Today we get bogged down in a never-ending debate about who, what, when, and where, and how things can and should be done. Instead of just doing what Christ said to do, we now have formal written documents, clauses, guidelines, interpretations, and definitions for everything. Clutter.

Thom Rainer writes in Simple Church: Returning to God's Process For Making Disciples
"[Jesus] stepped into a complicated and polluted religious scene. It was cluttered with Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, Zealots, and Essenes. He did not play by their rules. He could not stand their hypocrisy. He preferred spending time with tax collectors and sinners."
Is anything different today? How does Christ react to all we have made of his Church? His Bride!

Why can't we just get back to being the simple first-century, Spirit empowered disciples meeting in homes, by river sides, under Mango trees, spurring one another on to do those things Jesus commanded us to do?

Thursday, October 10

What does Scripture actually say about the church, the Bride of Christ?

One of the most common questions I am asked in church planting training is: at what point do we start taking the new believers to church? This question always frustrates me, but I understand the paradigm struggle many face with house churches being "real churches."

The response I am tempted to give is, "what I hear you asking is at what point do we stop making disciples, and allow them to just start attending church services?" Of course, I bite my tongue before saying this, but it reflects the difficulty we have of understanding the who, what, when, where, and why of the true nature of the New Testament ekklesia.

A large percentage of the legacy church planters we train see house churches as yet another way to reach people for Christ and grow their church. The real goal in people's hearts is, 1) win people to Christ, 2) get them into our church. House fellowships are merely a stepping stone to help grow existing churches.

Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart...Scriptures like Acts 2:46 only reinforce the conviction that church took place in the temple. Houses were merely where Jerusalem believers ate and fellowshipped. Back to our original question...

The standard response we generally give is to try and briefly explain our understanding of what Scripture teaches about the church, the Bride of Christ.

1) Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthins 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2 describe churches as meeting in homes. This was the standard. The norm. Small groups meeting in homes allows not only them, but us, to minister personally to one another. Special church buildings, programs, services, and crowds didn't show up onthe scene until several hundred years later.

2) Ephesians 2:19 teaches we are "fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household..." We are truly family. Families take care of each other, watch out for each other, and some 50+ other "one anothers."

3) Acts 2:42 teaches that continuosly the church engaged in at least four primary activities: 1) devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching, 2) to fellowship, 3) to the breaking of bread, and 4) to prayer.

4) I Corinthians 14:26 describes what they were instructed to do when they gathered: "When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." Everyone is encouraged to participate and bring something of edification to the gathering. Church is not a spectator sport where only a few perform and the rest are spectators.

5) Hebrews 10:24-25 teaches us the reason for gathering, " and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." The main reasons we are admonished to gather is to, 1) stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 2) encourage one another. If our gatherings do not encourage and motivate us to truly love one another and perform good deeds, then something is out of line and needs to be corrected.

There are many other passages that relate to the who, what, when, where, and why of the church. A few that amplify and describe the above in greater detail are I Corinthians 11-12-13-14, I Peter 2, Acts 2:42-47, and I Timothy 3.

If any existing church is able to closely mirror these values and characteristics, then by all means, feel free to encourage those young disciples to be part of such a church. But if not, we strongly encourage church planters to not try and short-circuit the task by handing them off to a church that is something other than a true NT ekklesia as described in Scripture. In those majority cases it is best to focus on continuing to make disciples, baptize those disciples, meet with those disciples in their homes, and teach those disciples to observe all that CHRIST commanded.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 9

Guayaquil De Mis Amores

193 years ago Guayaquil gained her independence from Spain. October 9 is Guayaquil Day. View some historical and current photos of the city where my wife and I have lived and served for 27 years.