My wife and I were talking before bed a few nights ago. We were reminiscing about the day and she told me about one of the neighborhood kids that had come to our house. Now, it’s not unusual for a neighborhood kid to have made their way into our house. But today, there were several. So, we have a rule at our house: we read before we get any screen time. And because we treat the kids that come over the same as our kids, they were reading with her too.
The short version of this story is one of the kids that was over was the same age as one of our kids. As she read reading with him it became obvious he was significantly behind in his reading skills. SIGNIFICANTLY. Then she moved on to another great ministry opportunity that our daughter had as she walked one of the kids from our house back to theirs. It was obvious that the day was full of both need and ministry opportunities.
And that’s what got us talking. I stood their, almost in shock. I’ve told many friends about the ministry opportunities we see in our lower income, struggling neighborhood. They always seem blown away by how many opportunities we have to serve and love people. And yet, at the end of this day, I was blown away that people could be surprised either at the need or the amount of opportunities. Having lived in this neighborhood for almost a decade, both realities had finally sunk in.
I turned to my wife and said, “You know, if the Lord hadn’t called us to plant churches, I could easily spend the rest of my life going around recruiting believers and teaching them how to do ministry in an inner city context.” And we talked. We talked about how serving in our neighborhood is really easy. We just live life and love people along the way. We open our hearts and our homes. Needs naturally show up and we meet them where God gives us the ability.
We talked about the ministry that many try to do in our neighborhood. We talked about how Christians come to our neighborhood to serve and then leave. We’re thankful for their heart, but we know how they don’t really touch the true need here. How they don’t provide male role models for the boys that don’t have any. How they don’t teach the kids that don’t know how to read. How they don’t mentor the single mom who is stressed from working a job how to love and care for her kids. How they can’t show and sow the Gospel in a way that relates to the people, mostly because they can’t earn trust in such a short amount of time.
I’m not claiming to be an expert. I’ve had a ridiculously poor success rate at reaching people in my neighborhood. But I do see the need. And I’ve learned that I have more opportunities when I’m here more. The more I become part of this neighborhood, the more opportunities I have.
So I dreamed with my wife. I talked about going around to many of the other churches in my city and maybe even other cities to tell them about what I see: about the epidemic fatherlessness that is plaguing our inner cities; about the power that love and faithfulness can have on small children when they see it regularly and not once or twice or even 12 times a year; about how believers in Jesus can help. And then I would call them to come and live there. Notice I didn’t say do something. I would call them to come and live.
And as they live and experience life and pray about what they see, they would be able to respond to the Holy Spirit and meet needs where they could. They could become the guy that reads with a seven year old who should be farther along. They could work with the guy struggling to get off drugs or teach the 19-year-old who was never parented well how to drive her first car. And before they knew it, they would be sharing life and sowing the Gospel.
That’s when reality hit. As weird as it may sound, recruiting people to live in the inner city is not my calling. Planting house churches that embody apostolic Christianity is. So while I can do my part with those around me, spending my life recruiting others to live and serve the inner city would be stepping out of God’s will for my life. I can’t afford to do that.
But what I can do is say this: Some of you this will resonate with this. Some of you reading this will sense the Holy Spirit tapping you on the shoulder as I describe the need. Some of you already know that Jesus has been talking to you about this very subject. If that’s you, then my advice to you is to give in to Him. For most, that will mean selling your current house and moving to a needier neighborhood to do what I’ve described. I say “most” because the kind of ministry I’m describing is not a drive-by type of ministry. It’s not something you can do one Saturday afternoon a month. For most it will involve leaving one place and joining another. It’s a costly and time consuming process.
This is where many will start to argue with me. Having nodded your head through the entire post, you’ll immediately begin to defend your status quo. You could be right, God could be wanting you to be where you are to do ministry there. If so, let this spur you toward be awakened to the need around you. But be very clear that the Lord has called you in this direction. It’s always tempting to play it safe and call that decision “the Lord’s,” but my experience has been safety and the Lord’s calling rarely go hand in hand.
For those who have heard the Lord clearly enough to surrender the arguments, come join me, not in my city, but in the context of need that plagues our inner cities. God will meet us there.
I leave you with a quote from Theresa of Calcutta (better known as Mother Theresa):
Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right where you are…You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society – completely forgotten, completely left alone.
Have I told you I believe in dreams?
A few weeks ago I had another dream. It’s been a little while since I’ve had a dream I felt was significant enough to share. This dream was both significant, and, in praying it over, I felt like the Lord directed me to share it as broadly as I could. So here goes.
In the dream I was in a home that I remember from my childhood. It was in a small town with a very religious background. I was meeting with a house church in the home and two people who I know currently were meeting with the house church. This couple is older than me and I love and respect them both personally and in the Lord. However, in real life, several years ago, they were hurt by the church that they were part of and since that time have not been active any church, house church or otherwise.
We were sitting in a circle in the living room of this house talking about different things affecting this house church. The time was late. It was definitely dark outside, so we were probably meeting at 9:00 PM or even later. This wasn’t our normal time to meet. In fact, in the dream I knew that there had been a last minute re-arranging of our meeting time in order to make sure that everyone who was a part of our fellowship could be at the same place at the same time.
The problem was that it caused pain for some in our house church, particularly the wife of the couple I described earlier. This was compounded by the fact that I hadn’t done a great job at getting the information to everyone in a timely manner. My poor communication had caused people to make sacrifices to be there and it was inconvenient. As the conversation became more awkward, there was a knock at the door. That seemed odd because of the hour of night it was. I went to open the door and when I touched the knob, I woke suddenly from the dream.
Immediately after the dream ended, though, I had a sense of urgency that alerted me that this dream was from the Lord. Two verses immediately came to my spirit:
There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
As I’ve prayed about this dream, I feel like it has serious consequences for the body of Christ. We are currently in a season when many people are walking away from the body of Christ and are trying to pursue Christ apart from other believers. Many share frustration with the politics and hurt they’ve endured from the body of Christ. And in many ways, I’m sympathetic toward their complaints.
But we are coming into a season where in the Earth where it will be crucial to be a part of the body of Christ in a true and connected way. And this will require us to love each other in ways that will be inconvenient. We (like the house church in my dream) will need to be intentional about meeting with other believers, even if it requires great sacrifice. While this is not the full scope of laying down our lives, it’s the initial step. It’s hard to lay down your life for another believer if you aren’t willing to be inconvenienced for their sake.
But I feel like their is a promise in the dream: For the people and churches willing to love one another and lay their lives down for each others, there will be others (the knock at the door in my dream) who will begin to see us and understand that we are the true followers of Jesus. This will be part of (but certainly not the only) way that we will reap the great harvest.
Friends, the days ahead will require us to be a part of true fellowship. This true fellowship will be costly. It will mean going out of our way to include each other. It will mean giving up our safety and preference to include others. But the reward at the end of the day will be a life full of love that is noticeable to the outside word. Some will see it and hunger for the reality of Jesus in our midst.
Will you join us? If you’ve left the church because of hurt or disappointment or fatigue, will you surrender your rights to Jesus and join a fellowship where you can lay down your life? If you haven’t left a church, but have kept your life as your own, will you surrender yourself to Jesus at a new level and lay down your life for your brothers and sisters? I guarantee it will not be easy, but it will be worth it.
There is a way to guard yourself and your church from heresy. It’s called relationships.
Yesterday I shared the journey of how I came to understand that relationships centered around God’s word keep us from heresy. But different people need to respond differently to this idea. If you read yesterdays post, can I encourage you to do one of three things?
Some of those reading this post have no committed relationships with other believers. As my two year old daughter would say, “This is a problem.” You may be smart or well educated in the historical beliefs of the church, but I guarantee that if you aren’t in relationship with believers, you are opening yourself up to error, the least of which is pride.
It’s become quite popular lately to say that you can be a Christian and not go to a particular church, be a Christian and attend church on-line, or be a Christian and attend no church at all. But none of these will save your life from falling into error. Frankly, for relationships to preserve you and your church from error, you and those you care for must meet with other believers in groups small enough for others in the group to know you. And I mean *really* know you.
So, if you want to build in a firewall of relationships that protect you from heresy, begin to meet and build relationships with a small group of believers submitted to Jesus and His word. Let them know you. Get to know them. This is step #1.
After building relationships, it’s important to purge hierarchy from them. This may sound even stranger than “relationships protect you from error.” The truth is one major source of deception in the body of Christ is our constant appeal to something else other than God’s word. When a believer who is considered a leader believes a lie or practices sin, that believer, left unchallenged becomes a source for others to appeal to. He or she goes from a person caught in error to a source to be appealed to. “I can do it because Pastor X says it’s okay,” is the lie we tell ourselves.
Instead, regularly gather under the leadership of Jesus and in submission to Him and His word. Don’t appeal to another’s authority. Appeal to the authority of Jesus and the Bible. All of the areas essential to life and godliness are covered in the Bible, leaving little need to appeal to another believer. Your testimony and opinion are great, but they’ll never rival the message of God, which is living, active, and able to separate between soul and spirit. I have fundamental concerns about any believer who is swayed by someone’s authority but not by the clear teachings of the Bible. If someone isn’t willing to listen to God’s revealed word, your persuasion or “rank” in the body won’t move them.
Learn to Encourage/Challenge/Rebuke
Finally, it’s important for believers to learn to lovingly encourage, challenge, and rebuke each other. This is difficult, particularly if you come from an environment where an authority was the final word on every subject. But the grand vision of the church in Scripture is one where believers “speak the truth in love” to one another (Ephesians 4:15).
This is the most difficult step. You, while equal in your standing before God, with humility, begin to encourage them to obey God’s word or bring to their attention where they aren’t. This will also require humility on their part as well. But it’s in this way that we achieve the mutual submission that Paul spoke of in Ephesians 5:21.
This will require of you that you learn to be patient, loving, and forgiving. Others will get it wrong. You will get it wrong. But the benefit here is well tested thoughts about God and Scripture, along with well tested lifestyles that stand strong in the face of persecution from the world. Your life isn’t perfect in your eyes but flawed in everyone else’s. You know what you believe because it was formed in the crucible of committed relationships.
None of these steps are easy. They all take time and intentionality. But if you build these three realities into your life and the life of the churches you are part of, the result will be a stronger lives in the Kingdom of God.
It’s the great fear of churches of all sizes and stripes. It’s particularly feared whenever you talk much about releasing the church to be the church in small, relationally focused groups (house churches).
Who will protect the people from heresy? What if someone believes something that isn’t in the Bible and starts teaching it to others? To those who have grown up under a strong biblical teacher or someone who has watched someone go into error, this is enough to scare people away.
Our house church network has had to deal with this issue over and over again. Small groups of Christians meeting together where anyone can share are prime places for people with weird views to show up. Heretics, both of the doctrinal and lifestyle varieties1 have tried to insert themselves into what we’re doing. But in the nine years that we’ve been doing this one thing has consistently guarded us against heresy: relationships.
That may sound weird if you’ve never been part of a relationship-centric church. But over and over again I’ve watched as deep, abiding relationships around the word of God have rescued others from biblical error. Whenever a heresy has sprung up, it was dealt with not through authority and bible-beating, but friendships where one person has lovingly challenged another about a particular belief not being in the word of God.
We’ve also noticed that the number one indicator of someone who comes into our fellowship having the potential to be a problem has been whether or not they are in relationship with others. Those who come as believers in Jesus but have terrible relationships with other parts of the body of Christ (by their own admission) have over time shown that they are after their own interests, not Christ’s. Again it comes back to relationship. Having a healthy relationship with Christ necessitates having a healthy relationship to his body.
The crazy thing is Jesus and the apostles believed in this relational element to the truth. Jesus says, “Anyone who receives you receives me…” (Matthew 10:40). John, the Apostle, says, “These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us,” (1 John 2:18-19). I could go on.
The point is real, biblical truth is designed to flourish in community, not in isolation. And more importantly, real, biblical community is designed to protect the truth of Christ in the hearts and lives of His followers. Do you want to protect yourself or your church from heresy? Enter in to true relationships around God’s word.
1 I’m indebted to Neil Cole for pointing out that there are two types of heresy which the New Testament speaks of. When we speak of heresy, we usually refer to heresy of doctrine, which is obviously important to avoid. But the New Testament speaks equally about heresy of the life, where we live a life of error that doesn’t point to Jesus. While both doctrinal and lifestyle heresy are common, our discussion of heresy tends to focus on doctrinal heresy (i.e. believing Jesus is the Son of God, understanding how a man can be saved, what is the role of the Holy Spirit) while ignoring lifestyle heresy’s such as greed, legalism, or adultery. I believe Jesus is concerned with both doctrine and practice and to a certain extent, our practice is our doctrine (see Titus 2:1-13).
Every week, two or three of the guys in my house church eat breakfast at an inner-city McDonald’s to pray for the lost, talk accountability, and discuss what we’re reading in the Bible.
Because this is a McDonald’s of the inner-city variety, there’s always something entertaining going on: The janitor walking out of the bathroom reacting to the mess he’s found inside, some kind of fight breaking out in the lobby, or a guy on a hover board riding back and forth through lobby while never buying anything. We’ve come to call our Sunday McDonald’s experience “dinner and a show.”
What’s happened as we’ve continued to meet there week after week is we’ve become some of the regulars. Not only that, but we’ve found if we make ourselves available, we regularly have chances to share Jesus with the men and women who come to McDonald’s on Sunday mornings. As you might guess, most of the people who are there at that time aren’t believers.
So a few days ago we were sharing the Gospel with a new friend at McDonald’s. We weren’t yelling by any means, but because of the close nature of the building, you could hear what we were saying pretty clearly if you wanted to. I was sure others heard us. And I realized something: We had become part of “the show.” We are the guys who are always sharing Jesus in the midst of this already unconventional restaurant. We had become part of the unusual cast of characters that gather here.
This isn’t a bad thing. Quite the contrary, Jesus called us to be “salt and light,” (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt, in addition to be a preserving agent, is also something we use to bring out the flavor of our food. We actually make things better and more interesting as we live out our lives a salt and light. Instead of blending in or hiding, my friends and I are starting to embrace the drama we’ve been called to be a part of. We’re the Jesus guys at McDonalds on Sunday morning. My point is that instead of blending in in this environment (whether people like it or not) we stand out. Our hope is we not only get to be salt, but that in time our light will break through the darkness and people will be changed.
How about you? Somewhere, in your life, you are called to be salt and light. Neither salt or light go unnoticed. They don’t blend in; they stand out. They change the environment they enter. Aren’t you tired of sitting in the seats watching? Somewhere, it’s time for you, in your own way, to become part of the show.
Will you join me?
I forgot for a season of my life who I was and what I was called to. It wasn’t intentional. Forgetting never is. But when people who didn’t know what they were called to be began to be intimidated by me, I stepped back. I sat down. I buried my all my money in the sand for fear of losing it (Matthew 25:14-30). I turned on my flashlight but stuck it in my pants pocket (Matthew 5:14-16).
And so I forgot who I was. I forgot what I was called to. I forgot that the flashlight wasn’t just for me, but for others to find their way, too.
I also forgot about one of my heroes. He was this guy who got knocked off his donkey by a blinding light on the way to kill Christians. After being blinded, he repented and was told the path of the rest of his life. And over and over again he kept telling people that he had to complete the calling that he received when he was saved. It was the laser focus of his life. He would also tell others to not forget their calling. He even told me time after time after time: “Your calling is important. Finish it.” (See Acts 9:1-19, Acts 26:12-23, Colossians 4:17)
But now I’m remembering. I’m remembering that I cannot let people’s reactions sway me from the heavenly vision. I can’t be disobedient to it. A little older, a little wiser, I’m learning to pursue my calling while simultaneously not sacrificing others its altar.
But make no mistake, this is not some Christianized version of self-actualization. Being missional means knowing your calling. You cannot help advance the mission of Jesus if you are walking in someone else’s calling. A soldier in the wrong place during battle will not help win the war. The same is true in Jesus’ kingdom. Only a people who are intent on fulfilling their calling will spread the Gospel far and wide like my hero.
Know your calling. Fulfill your calling. It’s important. Souls hang in the balance. Remember. Don’t forget.