Tag Archive | Missional

Embracing the Danger of the Gospel

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It’s easy to talk about living dangerously. I find there’s a lot of talk about laying our lives down for the sake of Christ, but most of us hear those verses and think they’re only for missionaries to scary countries. Or worse, we spiritualize them mean just laying down our ambitions or something important to us, nothing more. It’s hard, in our middle class, Western mind to fathom God really asking us to risk anything significant.

But Jesus calls us to lay down our very lives for the Gospel. That may mean our physical lives. Every time I travel to Africa to serve the church there, I have to count that cost. I have to lay down at the feet of Jesus my fears for my wife, my young family, and whatever else I’m responsible for every single time I go. You don’t want to see me right after that time I have with the Lord. I’m a mess. It’s not just in regards to Africa, though. I have to do the same thing on a regular basis here in the sphere of influence the Lord has given me.

For the last several years I’ve been focusing most of my time and attention in the inner city neighborhood I live in. I’ve also been pretty direct about working with people that don’t darken the doors of a church building. To be clear, there are plenty of hard-working, decent people where I live. However, there is also a fair number of people with lives that are a mess. The homeless, the drug-addict, the sex-addict, the attention-addict. The list goes on. These are the people Jesus would hang out with. But they are also not the safest people in the world to minister to.

And for the last several years, I’ve also been fairly forward about calling people to live their lives down here with us. Coming into the neighborhood, dropping the Gospel, and then leaving wasn’t going to work. Come, be a part of the neighborhood. Learn how to interact with people who have no interest in your church. Come share the Gospel here. Come make disciples here. Come live here. Give your lives.

This came home clearly a few years ago. My wife and a friend were regularly meeting at our local McDonald‘s as part of their weekly discipleship time. I received a call late one night from my wife. She was a little bit frantic. As her and her friend were leaving, someone they had never met before walked up to them in the parking lot and punched her friend and ran off. There was no rhyme or reason to it.  Now this would have been horrible in any circumstance, but our friend was nine months pregnant at the time.

I’m happy to report that other than some bruising, everyone came out okay. Our friend gave birth to a healthy, active baby boy. The police never caught the assailant.  But we experienced a wake up call that day.  There is a cost to living on mission that you rarely hear about. There is a danger that we all have to embrace.  This could have turned out much worse.

Jesus did not call us to be safe. Countless believers have lost their lives over the course of church history as they’ve tried to bring the Gospel to people who didn’t have it. In other places in the world, becoming a follower of Jesus is a death sentence. It’s only in the West we are fairly inexperienced at loosing anything for our faith.

It’s important to be very clear: Jesus does not call us to safety.  He calls us to love Him and trust Him. He also calls us to trust Him with the risk that doesn’t make sense in light of His Sovereignty. And He calls us, regardless of whether we go to Africa or live in the inner city or practice mission to the most broken or live in the gated communities of the upper class to lay down our lives for His sake and the Gospel’s sake.

For too long, Christians have talked about laying their lives down and been willing to do it in abstract ways. It’s time for us to embrace the fact that Jesus calls us to truly put our lives on the line. We need to ask the hard questions: Is God still good if my worst fear happens? Is the Gospel worth really loosing my life? If we are willing to count the reward, the answer is “Yes.”

If we embrace the danger of living for the gospel, we will find, on the other side, true life.

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.

-Jesus, Mark 8:35

Photo Credit: Danger by Doran

 

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The Danger of the Gospel

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Jesus frequently warned that following Him would cost us everything we have. In fact, he told His disciples that if they wanted to follow Him, they would have to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Him.  What that meant to first century Jews and most of the Roman world was that following Christ was a death sentence. You were welcome to do it if you wanted, but you knew it would cost you your life.

The apostles would regularly say similar things. Paul told the early disciples in the churches he planted (after being stoned–possibly to death–in the previous city) that they “must suffer many hardships in order to enter the Kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22). Paul would go on to tell his apostolic son that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” (2 Timothy 3:12). Peter would tell the churches he served not to be “surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you,” (1 Peter 4:12). Clearly the apostles understood that experiencing danger was part of following Jesus.

Yet so often the church cautions us to be safe. Under the disguise of “being wise” they caution us not to do daring things. And while some of the young and naive may have been kept from doing something foolish through this “wisdom,” the ultimate message is “don’t loose your life for the gospel.” In doing so, the church can end up on the wrong side of the Gospel.

Jesus calls us to lose our life for Him. That doesn’t always mean we die. But of the original twelve disciples/apostles that followed Jesus, eleven lost their lives sharing their faith. The Romans attempted to boil the twelfth disciple/apostle in burning oil, but he miraculously survived at least long enough to pen the book of Revelation. Paul was beheaded. Stephen was stoned. Jesus–our example– was brutally murdered. My point is, while Jesus has the power to heal our bodies and even provide for us, He doesn’t create a safe space for his disciples.

Why would we follow Jesus if this is the kind of life He promised us? Who would sign up for something like this? Only people who have come to believe that Jesus’ love is the answer to life. Only people whose hearts have been transformed by His forgiveness. Only people who are convinced that there is more to life than just today or tomorrow. Only people who believe He is their great reward.

There is a danger in signing up for the Gospel. We shouldn’t hide it. In fact, we should call people to lay down their lives for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Anything else is a gospel that is too small and worldly to be called the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.

-William Barclay

The Democratization of the Holy Spirit

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As I wrote yesterday, I have a pretty long history in the charismatic expression of Christianity. I truly treasure my past because I wouldn’t have come to Christ apart from seeing and experiencing the power of God in the present. I truly believe that the power of the Holy Spirit is critical to seeing apostolic Christianity restored to the Earth.

So it was curious for me several years ago when I was reading Alan Hirsch’s book “The Forgotten Ways” that he mentioned a missing ingredient of the missional church was the Pentecostal experience:

What is still largely missing from this emergent phenomenon is any sustained and explicit Pentecostal presence, with all its passion and fire. While it’s true that Pentecostalism taught us the true value of apostolic ministry, the Pentecostals have not been a noteworthy expression of [emergent missional church], as far as I am aware. This is probably because Pentecostalism is still basking in the relative success that church growth praxis brought them.

Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways (Page 270)

I would say that Hirsch’s experience of a lack of Pentecostals or charismatic experience in the emergent missional church mirrors my experience with house churches largely outside of our network.  And while I may be off on this, my perception is that very few house churches are started with those from charismatic backgrounds.

This is sad to me because charismatics should feel the most at home in house churches.  House churches exist to allow every member of the body of Christ to participate in the gathering. The meetings are small to intentionally facilitate interaction, especially the sharing of gifts.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.” The kind of organic church Paul describes here allows for the power of the Holy Spirit to move among different members of the body.

Pentecostals and Charismatics should believe in the democratization of the Holy Spirit. That’s a big five dollar word that describes that idea that the Holy Spirit gives Himself to each and every believer. Because every believer gets a measure of Christ’s gifting through the power of the Spirit, every believer should be participating in a meeting of believers with the Holy Spirit leading like the director of an orchestra.  The democratization of the Holy Spirit means every believer can participate in the work of God.

Peter best articulates this for us in his famous message to the Jews in Jerusalem after Pentecost:

No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days,’ God says,
    ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young men will see visions,
    and your old men will dream dreams.
 In those days I will pour out my Spirit
    even on my servants—men and women alike—
    and they will prophesy.

Acts 2:16-18

What Peter is saying in this message is that a day that the prophet Joel had predicted has come to pass: God is pouring out His Spirit on everyone. Prior to this, God had poured out His Spirit on special anointed individuals, mainly kings and prophets. The Holy Spirit’s activity was unique and happened only among select people. But now, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, everyone could have access to this elusive Holy Spirit. Men and women, young and old, even the servants–all would be able to move in the gifting of God.

These are the verses that launched the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century. A desire to be filled with the Spirit and experience God personally marked places like the Azusa Street revival.  But over the last 100 years, the movement has grown increasingly comfortable with letting ‘anointed’ men and women do the hard work. It’s not uncommon for attenders in charismatic congregations to have never experienced the Holy Spirit in any way outside of the pastor or preacher’s ministry.

All of this, then, is a giant appeal from me to those who believe in the gifts of the Spirit to put into practice the democracy of the Spirit. Do you believe God gives gifts to His church? Good! Then gather believers together in their homes and have meetings like they were described in 1 Corinthians 14. Let members of the church practice sharing their gifts from the Holy Spirit with each other. Don’t be content with someone else exercising their one gift for the entire body. Keep pressing into the Spirit until every member of the body of Christ is participating in a meeting of believers with the gifts God has given them.

The result will be the strengthening of the church.

Photo Credit: Descent of the Holy Spirit by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

What I Learned from St. Patrick Today (2017)

5895370392_9965863a25_oIn case you missed it, today is my annual trek to the McDonald’s in my neighborhood to drink a Shamrock shake and read the Confession of St. Patrick. I do this regularly because of the impact Patrick’s life has had on me. Reading his story stirs my heart to live the kind of life he lived and be part of a movement that leads many people to Christ.

First, a brief summary of Patrick’s life: He lived in Britain and he was the son of a deacon of the church of Rome. At 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he worked as a slave herding pigs.  Prior to this he didn’t know or acknowledge God, but during this time he began to pray a hundred prayers during the day and a hundred prayers at night. The love of God began to capture his soul and he began to seek God early in the morning in the snow because “the Spirit was burning in [him].”

It was after this relationship with God took root that the audible voice of the Lord told him to run away from his master. He escaped and joined a group of barbarians. He was later recaptured and the Lord told him he would be captive another 60 days. At the end of 60 days he escpaed and came back to Britain. After some time there, he had a vision of a man named Victoricus (an angel? the Lord?) bringing him a letter from the people of Ireland begging him to come back and bring the Gospel to them.

He said yes and  became a missionary to the unbelievers of Ireland. This is the Patrick we celebrate. It was during this time that he baptized thousands of new believers. Patrick himself speaks of ordaining many who would go and preach to a hungry people. Many of the chiefs’ daughters became celibate to follow Jesus and churches and monasteries sprung up every where.  Patrick became the catalyst for an Irish church planting movement.

Any wonder why he’s my hero? 🙂

So, here are today’s takeaways:

  1. Probably the thing that struck me this time that I had never seen before in this letter is the fact that Patrick was insistent that everything that happened to him was a divine gift. He took no credit it for it at all. He didn’t point to the ten steps that made him “St. Patrick.” Over and over again he points at how the Lord helped him when he was unable to help himself. The movement that started was God’s, not his, and Patrick was just thankful to be a part of it. In fact his words say this: I entreat those who believe in…God…that nobody shall ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing I achieved…but accept and truly believe that it would have been a gift of God.” I think many of us who hope to be part of a movement can learn from this. We need to learn to depend on God for the things we want to see happen like they are a gift from Him, and we need to not grow proud if those things actually happen. All of this is a gift from Him.
  2. I love, and I hope I never stop loving, how Patrick became a believer. He prayed a hundred prayers a day and a hundred at night. This was the season in which he said “more and more did the love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase.” This is so crucial because we always believe that apostolic mission starts with strategy and outreach. But it ALWAYS starts with prayer and a heart burning for the Lord. We cannot write this into our strategies. It doesn’t happen just because we know it’s the gateway to a movement. But we can start by praying and asking God to make “the Spirit burn within” us. Whether we start movements or not, the Spirit burning within us is crucial.
  3. I’m again reminded how supernatural all of this was. All of the crucial moments in Patrick’s life were accompanied by a vision, an audible voice from the Lord, or a prophetic word. Most movement strategies have very little room for this in their methodology. Obviously we can’t control it. But more and more I’m convinced that these are necessary to see the Gospel penetrate a hard and rebellious people.  We can’t control it, but beloved, we can pray and we can ask the Lord for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be active in our lives. As we do and begin to share the Gospel with those who don’t know Him, the power of Jesus will be displayed for all of us.

These are some things I learned today. How about you? Oh, and by the way, the Shamrock shake, while not the healthiest thing, was delicious. 🙂

On Discipleship: Apostolic Mission

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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:

Divine Truth

Nurturing Relationships

Apostolic Mission

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Discipleship: Divine Truth

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Making disciples who make disciples is part of the commission Jesus gave us as believers (Matthew 28:18-20, 2 Timothy 2:2). Jesus Himself told us to teach them to obey everything He commanded, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us that a large part of making disciples involves all of us getting into the Bible and studying it together.

As I mentioned yesterday, our corporate discipline involves 2 or 3 people gathering together and reading large amounts of Scripture, somewhere between 20 & 30 chapters a week. Why are we so determined to study the Bible? Jesus said that His very words are Spirit and life (John 6:63). The message of the Kingdom contained within the Bible is like a seed in our hearts (Mark 4:13-14, 26-27). The more we can get that message of the Kingdom into our hearts and spirits, the more of the Kingdom we see take root in our life.

So, every time our groups of 2&3 gather, we pick a section of Scripture, usually 20 or 30 chapters in a row. This section is what everyone is reading this week. This week my 2&3 is reading the book of Mark, last week was the book of Revelation. Sometimes it’s multiple books like 1st and 2nd Corinthians.  The point isn’t to finish the section every single week. Many weeks someone in my 2&3 doesn’t finish. When this happens, we start over, and read it again the following week. When everyone finishes the 20 or 30 chapters in the same week, that’s when it’s time to pick a new section of Scripture.

Why do we read the Bible together like this? The main reason is it’s good to be in the Bible hearing Jesus for ourselves. As Christians we believe the Bible is the only inspired message from God and because of that, it is fuel for us to grow up into the likeness of Jesus. But in addition to that, reading large portions of the Bible together keeps us from heresy. Mutual discipleship means there’s no authorized leader of a 2&3. If we read significant portions of the Bible together in context, each believer is able to say “Can you show me where you found that in the reading?” whenever a controversial statement is expressed. One final thought about reading together like this: It eats away at our carnal independence. Many people are content to read what they want, when they want. This process asks us to be formed as disciples together.

We want to be careful of a few things. The intent of this time is not turn our 2&3’s into a Bible study. Bible studies are good and have their place. But our goal instead is to figure out how Jesus encountered us in the Scriptures and is asking us to obey Him.  This isn’t the chance for those gifted as teachers to break down whole chapters of the Bible for everyone else.

Also, we need to be careful of dead religion. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for reading the Bible but resisting the very One that the Scriptures pointed to (John 5:39). The goal is not to become an expert, the goal is meet the One who Scripture points to! But reading and immersing ourselves in truths within the Bible is the surest way to do that.

I think in the West, because the Bible is so available to us, it can become easy to grow cold to its ability to transform us. The words sound familiar and if we fail to take the words back to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to encounter us around those words, our hearts can grow dull to the Word. I believe the word of God has the power to change human hearts. Have you ever seen Chinese believers receive a Bible for the first time? It should humble us. We need to hunger for God’s word like these fiery believers who are being transformed by the Gospel.

What I’ve described here is a corporate discipline that we embrace to make disciples. But friends, the heart here is that we are soft towards God’s word and being transformed by it. We need not only to read it ourselves, but join with others and help each other find the divine truth God has hidden in its pages.

 

 

 

On Making Disciples

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The church in the West is facing a crisis of discipleship. Every Christian should understand how to lead someone to Christ and help that person become a disciple of Jesus, but many don’t. Our over-reliance on sermons and books to transfer information has created believers that can consume information but not train others in following Christ.

As a house church planter with hopes of encouraging many others to plant house churches, I found out fairly early that this was a massive problem.  After a period of time struggling with this issue, I had a number of brothers reach out to me and encourage me to read Ordinary Hero by Neil Cole. We adopted the methods found in this book over the next couple of years and we’ve seen some fantastic changes.

Before I get into the methods, though, I think it’s important to talk briefly about why we adopted a set of methods. I wholeheartedly believe that the best way to disciple another believer is life on life discipleship. Jesus invited twelve men to follow Him and be with Him, thus producing some of the most powerful disciples that we know of. This process is never meant to replace that powerful form of discipleship. But Jesus encouraged us to make disciples and every time I read the word “make” I’m reminded that there is some kind of intentionality to it. Disciples aren’t made on accident. This process is how we give intentional time and space on the calendar for what should be happening throughout the rest of the week.

Our goal was not just to make disciples,though, but to make disciples who could make other disciples. Many times a strong personality can disciple someone through solely their lifestyle, but successive generations waned after the pattern of that lifestyle was lost. We didn’t just want to pass our knowledge of following Jesus to the next generation, but set up the next generation to pass it onto several generations after us.

This required a method that was simple and reproducible.  It was simple in that anyone with a Bible who could read would be able to participate and lead a group with very little training.  Because of the simplicity, someone who had participated in a group for a very short time could easily take the methods and start their own group. It was reporducible.  In fact, a lot of conversations I have with house church planters involves me talking through this process and emailing them the accountability questions. It’s easy to start with just a little guidance.

The process looks like this: a number of us meet in in groups of 2 or 3 of the same gender across our house church network weekly. Each of these people are reading the same 20-30 chapters of the Bible each week. They also ask each other accountability questions and pray for their lost friends and family each week.  When a new believer is added to the body, they are added to the “2&3” of whomever led them to Christ. When groups grow to four people, we create two new groups of two people who continue doing the same process. It’s how we practice mutual discipleship.

We’ll look more into each of the elements of the “2&3” in the coming days. Obviously there is no silver bullet for discipleship. No process will take an unwilling saint and make him or her the next apostle to the nations. But what we’ve found is when we get believers reading their Bibles together, confessing sin to and praying for one another, and praying for those they know to come to Jesus, growth in the Lord happens naturally. This growth strengthens the churches and creates disciples who can make disciples.

Photo Credit: CoffeeShopDiscipleship-8 by 23 Images Photography