Sometimes doing the thing God called you to do will require you to get more uncomfortable than you’d like. It means stepping out beyond where you feel comfortable, safe, or even assured everything will work out okay.
It probably won’t.
Think about it. The Holy Spirit can meet you in an Acts 2 moment. You still have to step outside of your upper room and address the people who are making fun of you for being drunk.
You may be called to pray for the sick and see healings. But you still have to lay your hands on people and pray for them to recover. You still have to confront the awkward moment between when you finish praying and you have to turn and ask the sick person if they feel any difference in their body.
See, it’s all about the gap.
No matter what God has called you to, there is always a gap between what is and what we’re called to accomplish. You can hear God clearly, but you’ll still have to face the gap. The gap can hurt people. The gap can be costly. The gap is scary. You can believe what God said, but you still have to stare the gap down.
It’s those people, the people who see the gap and run with all of their might towards it, trying to jump the ravine, those people who know the odds but fling themselves at the obstacle anyways that we call people of faith.
This is the thing that separates those who are afraid from those who breakthrough–those who break through face the gap and still make the leap. They aren’t less scared. They just still jump. What has God called you to? What is the gap? What’s the scary, crazy unknown that is keeping you from doing what God is saying?
Perhaps it’s time, instead of ignoring the gap, that we face it head on.
There are churches all over the Earth looking for a way to build community. It seems everywhere I go, people want to be a part of a community, build community, or stay in community, but how to do it escapes us. A big part of the reason for that is we seek community for our own sake, and not the sake of others. This taints the community building process.
In reality, one of the most important but often neglected secrets to building community is to find it in pursuit of God’s mission. Jesus said, “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution,” (Mark 10:29-30). When we leave what is valuable to us for the sake of Jesus and the Good News, he gives us in return many spiritual brothers, sisters, mothers, and children. Community is the result of mission.
If you’ve ever gone on a short or long term mission trip, you’ll understand this. There is something about leaving everything you have, laying down your regular life, and pursuing something of the Lord together with a group of people that forms community like nothing else. Often those who do will come back longing for the same type of fellowship they had among that group of people, only to be frustrated in not being able to find it.
The secret lies not in going overseas, but finding a group of people who will lay down their lives both for Christ and His mission. I’ve watched house churches engage in mission together here in the United States in specific neighborhoods or people groups, and the same phenomenon happens. What Jesus does when we lay down our earthly lives is He begins to form family among those who have pursued it together.
So you don’t have to leave the country to find community. You find spiritual family as you lay down your life for Christ and the Gospel. As you follow Jesus in the mission He has for you, He will bring alongside you others who are pursuing Him and His mission in a similar way. And in this place, God will confront weaknesses in your life and the lives of others He will reveal places of sin or unbelief. The people with you on mission will help you bring those areas back to God for healing. You will get to do the same with them. This is where spiritual family is built–in the spiritual press of mission.
This is why I always tell prospective church planters that the order is Jesus, Mission, Church. Jesus must become the center of our lives, our source, and our leader. His leadership will eventually spill over into mission with Him and others. This mission creates a church, both in those that pursue it and ultimately as the result of sharing the Gospel. If we keep those priorities in the proper order, we will experience spiritual family.
Do you long for community? Submit yourself to Christ. Find the mission He has for you. As you do, you will find the community you’ve been looking for.
Over the years, our house churches have sought to live out the mission of Jesus. Living out this mission has not always been easy. One of the realities that we’ve learned over the years is that there are two important qualities in someone wanting to truly live out mission: They need to be simultaneously consistent and flexible.
Consistent, because many of the people that are far away from God aren’t. Their lives can be erratic, often driven by the need or desire of the moment. But if you become the person that shows up at the same place, at the same time, and consistently represents Jesus, being a vessel of mercy and a safe place in the hectic world they live in, you stand out and can be found. They know where to find you if they need you and can count on you to help in a world that seems like is always chaotic.
And flexible for the same reason. The life of someone who doesn’t know Christ can be chaotic, but even if it’s not, emergencies happen. Being open and available to serve at the right moment requires a certain amount of flexibility in schedule and priorities. Showing up to help move, babysit, or just talk when things get bad are all significant in-roads we’ve had into the lives of people who don’t know Jesus. Leonard Ravenhill used to say, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.” Nowhere is that as true as in missional living. This has required us to hold lightly to plans and schedules, so we can be available on short notice.
A consistent person will be someone who can be counted on by those whose lives aren’t consistent. A flexible person can respond to a crisis when it comes. But a consistent and yet flexible person is able to meet lost people in both situations and allows us to quickly become helpful to those who don’t know Jesus. This requires us to die to ourselves and live for Christ and His mission in a different way that non-missional living won’t.
Years ago we started serving our community at a local park. We brought food, we played with the kids that were there, and generally loved our neighborhood. The neighborhood began to count on us being at that same place every week. But emergencies and life situations started happening that couldn’t be dealt with on Sundays, so the rest of our lives had to be flexible enough to deal with situations as they came up. It was a busy season for us, but it taught us a great deal about serving people who don’t know Christ.
If you’re struggling with missional living, it may be time to look in the mirror. Are you consistent? Are you flexible? You might be one or the other. Can you be both?
Over the last ten years the Lord has taken me on a journey of learning from the church in other parts of the world. Part of this process has involved me realizing that while there are many good churches here in the United States, there are places in the Earth where the gospel is exploding unlike anything we see here. China, India, and the Middle East are the easiest examples of this. I don’t want to just cheer on the church in other countries, though, I want to learn from their example and take the lessons that are universal and apply them here.
So, in no particular order, here are a few things I’ve learned from the church scattered across the Earth:
- They take the Gospel seriously. Maybe it’s because many of my friends live in a world where the people around them don’t know Jesus, or maybe it’s just that my friends believe the Great Commission more seriously than we do. Whatever the case, I’ve been inspired by friends in Africa who travel many miles into remote villages to share the Gospel with unbelievers.
- Their lives are not their own. Needless to say there is plenty of risk in sharing the Gospel in hostile environments. Some of our friends have taken the Gospel to the least reached places at the risk of losing their lives. These are people with wives and families and yet they trusted God to be with them, and if things go badly, to be with their wives and children.
- Prayer is the foundation of all they do. I’ve never met a fruitful servant of the Lord in Africa who hadn’t given themselves significantly to prayer. The apostolic men that I’ve met in Africa spend time praying for the churches they serve as they travel to those churches. Others have regular times of prayer from midnight to five in the morning. And it’s encouraging to hear the insights they have gained and the fruit they have seen as they continue to persevere in prayer.
- Faithfulness under persecution and in the harvest has formed them. Those who I’ve had the privilege to work with came to Christ in the context of either terrible persecution or incredible awakening. Many had to learn how to follow Jesus when others resisted them. Others learned how to follow the Holy Spirit during seasons where He was moving mightily across their country. But these believers’ consistency in following Jesus during tumultuous times has lead them to be fruitful servants of Jesus.
- They do not see America as the Kingdom of God. This may sound elementary, but I think sometimes Christian Americans still believe that America is a gift to the Earth second only to Jesus Himself. While my African friends and I are thankful for the good America has accomplished, they (and I, because of their example) understand that America has a fair share of weakness. One friend I have regularly reminds us that many of his co-workers who served alongside of him in persecution and revival are now living dull lives chasing the American dream here in the US. Others have clearly warned us about the dangers of the American church condoning sexual immorality. Because they aren’t in the boiling kettle of America or American Christianity, they have helped me to see where our culture doesn’t reflect God’s Kingdom.
The list could continue, but the reality is I’ve been greatly impacted by the church around the Earth. My hope is that by sharing a few of the larger areas where the church in other countries has challenged me, it will encourage you to learn from the church somewhere else. Read a book, listen to a testimony, or better yet, go on a trip to another nation and learn how much bigger God’s Kingdom is than the church in your country.
I guarantee you will not be disappointed!
Jesus asked us to go and make disciples of all the nations. For this to truly happen like it was intended, we need a simple and reproducible model of discipleship that empowers every believer to make disciples. We struggled for awhile in how to do this before we adopted a model of meeting in groups of two and three people. These groups read lots of Scripture and build relationships around accountability and confession, but they also spend time developing and strengthening apostolic mission in each other.
What is apostolic mission? Apostolic refers to someone who is sent as a representative of another. Jesus sends us to share His love with the same power and authority that He gave the apostles and that He Himself walked in. The mission refers to the unfinished task of sharing Christ’s love with those who don’t know Him. Part of us learning to follow Christ is learning to follow Him on the mission He embarked on of preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
Why is this so essential? A mature disciple shouldn’t be able to just know all the details but reproduce him or herself. Just like in nature, a mature fruit or flower or human or animal has the biological capability of reproduction, so it is with disciples. Disciples reproduce disciples. As Alan Hirsch and others have said, we don’t have an evangelism problem in the West, we have a discipleship problem that comes to light in our inability to evangelize and disciple others.
When we gather in groups of two or three people, it could be tempting for it to become a bible study or an accountability group. Focusing on apostolic mission keeps our eyes turned to those who have still not encountered the Lord and off of ourselves. To do this, every time we get together, we bring a list of two or three people we have been praying for individually throughout the week and we pray for them as a group. This can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 20, but it’s important.
It’s so important, in fact, that I recommend making this the first thing you do when you gather. This keeps our purpose–reaching the lost–in front of us. Everything we do within these groups of 2&3 is not just for ourselves, but is for these others who we are praying for to be a part of once they turn their hearts to Jesus. Praying for these folks early in the meeting also keeps it from being the last thing on the list that there is no time for.
As with all the other disciplines, apostolic mission will need to be walked out in greater detail in the life of the church and the life of the individual. This is just the expression of it within our 2&3 meeting. Again, make this real. Pray real prayers that move God’s heart. It’s important.
When you add all these disciplines together, it looks like the following:
And when we get the DNA right, we are on the cusp of multiplying cells of an organic organism called the church. We can achieve the multiplication of disciples, leaders, churches, and movements that we’ve all seeking.
My hope, whether you follow the format or not, is that you find what it takes to multiply.
I’m not quite sure what got into me a couple of years ago. But sometime in early March three or four years ago I became frustrated with our culture’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
If you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense. We take the date that perhaps one of the greatest apostolic missionaries since Paul died as a day to pinch people who don’t wear green and drink green beer. Even in Christian circles, we talk a good game about Patrick on his famous day, but we don’t do what he did.
So in my typical rebellious approach, I thought I would do something different. Instead of celebrating all things Irish on March 17th, I would spend some time getting acquainted with Saint Patrick’s life. Pretty quickly I found out that Patrick himself actually wrote two letters that we still possess and one of them is him telling the story of how God lead him to plant churches among the Irish.
But I couldn’t just read the Confessions of St. Patrick on St. Patrick’s day. No, no, no…that would be too easy. So instead, I went down to the McDonald’s in my neighborhood and read St. Patrick’s confession there…all while enjoying one of McDonald’s Shamrock shakes. Why would I do this? Because I became convinced after reading Patrick’s letters that if he lived today in my city, he would reach the people who hang out in the roughest McDonald’s in town. Something about reading the letter there stirs me to follow in Patrick’s example.
Now here’s the million dollar question: Why am I telling you this story?
The answer is this: I’d like you to join me on March 17th in reading the Confessions of St. Patrick. It’s the story of a young boy who is sold into slavery and while a slave learns how to pray to God and hear His voice. God then leads him out of slavery and back to his home, only to be stirred by God with love for his previous captors. He returns and lives like them in order to reach them and proclaim the Gospel to them. When I think of the nature of a missional lifestyle, it’s hard to get better than that. You can get a copy of his “Confessions” for free here.
But I don’t just want you to read the Confessions of St. Patrick in your home. I want you to go and read it in a place that St. Patrick would go as a missionary if he lived in your city. If you’re in my city, you can message me on Facebook and we can stage a sit-in and read it together. But ask the Lord to do in you what he has done in generation after generation and raise up missionaries for the Gospel who will love God, learn to pray, and become vessels of redemption to those living in the darkest places. You won’t regret it.
And check back here on March 17th for some thoughts from my reading of St. Patrick.
This past Wednesday was my buddy Aaron’s birthday and he invited us to this EXTREMELY out of the way steak restaurant to celebrate his big day. Twelve guys joined us on an hour long caravan to talk, laugh, and have some of the best steak we’ve ever eaten.
Towards the end we each took time around the table to share a blessing with Aaron: something we loved about him, a prayer, or just a funny story. But as we were going around the table blessing Aaron, I realized what an extremely unique thing this was for so many men to be on a spiritual journey together and to feel like brothers.
I say unique, not because it’s impossible for men to be spiritual and like each other, but because statistics and experience tell us that men typically are disengaged from the church. For what it’s worth, church attendance nationally is 39% male and 61% female. My wife regularly tells me about women she talks to outside of our fellowships who wish that their husbands were friends with other men. There are even whole books written about why men hate church.
In our house churches, though, this has never been an issue. We have done absolutely nothing to attract or retain the men in our midst, but despite that fact most of our men our engaged and have their deepest relationships inside the church. What causes that? I have some thoughts:
- Men love risk. For the most part, church as we know it is typical and unpredictable. Everything for the most part continues to happen as it always has. Most church services are clean, tidy, and require very little from them. We, on the other hand, are messy. No meeting is exactly the same as the last one. In fact, a meeting we have one Sunday will be completely different from the meeting we have a year from now. I tell people who are thinking of coming to one of our house churches that fist fights have been real possibilities a couple of times in our history. The ladies (especially my wife) hates it when I tell that story…but every once in awhile when I tell it to a guy, I see his eyes light up. Men don’t want a meeting, they want the real Jesus and communitas. They are looking for a band of brothers who will go with them into battle.
- Men are active, not passive. Deep down, even the most passive, sedentary man truly wants to make a difference. They were made for more than just sitting around and listening to someone else talk. The same reason boys and young men have trouble in school is the same reason men struggle with traditional church. Men want to do something. They aren’t anti-learning, they’re anti-sitting. I often tell people that when two guys go and set out to do something, they call it a “mandate” because men build intimacy through doing things together. Men want to do something significant. It’s written on their hearts by God. And the minute we tell them to sit down and shut up, we lose them. What we’ve done, instead is encourage men to play an active part in our churches: “Teach. Serve. Evangelize. Grow. Lead. Plant a church. We need you.”
- Men actually want relationships, just not fake ones. Frankly, that’s most of what we do around here. For at least seven of our last ten years, most of our house churches have been a part of small, same gender discipleship groups we call 2’s & 3’s. Part of the purpose of 2’s & 3’s is confessing our sins to one another and praying for each other in the areas where we are weak. And while this discipline is just in general good for everyone spiritually, it has actually enabled men to build relationships around Jesus without the pretense of being perfect or all put together. This is a key to true brotherhood that often gets forgotten when we are part of churches that want us to look all put together.
Friends, we need the whole body of Christ at the table to pull off the kind of harvest the Lord has in store for us at the end of the age. This includes men and we simply cannot be content with only 39% of them.
Now, I’m not so naïve to think that these things can’t be done in a traditional church. They absolutely can. And to the degree you can add these elements into whatever type of church you’re part of, I would encourage you to do so. But our current structure is designed to give us the kind of results we are already getting. Don’t be afraid to make a change.
God designed the church to be a place where women AND men can be engaged and fulfilled. To the degree that we allow risk, activity, and true relationships flourish in our churches, I think we’ll see a resurgence of men becoming what God has called them to be.
The choice is ours: will we be the kind of church where men can engage, or are we content to go on without them?