Here’s a quick test to know if your expression of church is too complicated to multiply disciples. It’s called the “Bible on a Deserted Island Test.”
Imagine you crash on a deserted island and all you have is the clothes on your back and a Bible. You are stranded on the island and separated from civilized society. But the island is large enough to support several indigenous tribes of people. You are over time adopted by one of the local tribes and learn their language. Because they’ve adopted you, you now care about these people and want to share the Gospel with them.
Now, the million dollar question: Can you plant a church like you’re currently part of among them? Follow up question: Will they read the Bible and see the church you start in the pages of the Bible you have? Or do they have to have explanation of church history or your denomination?
If the answer to both of these questions is yes, congratulations! You have a simple, reproducible church. If the answer to either of these questions are no, I would invite you to consider what part of your church model might be baggage that slows the spread of the Gospel.
If your goal is to disciple the nations, your model of church should work anywhere.
I grew up very patriotic. It’s safe to say that I believed the United States was the best country on the face of the planet. So when I came to Christ as a teenager and started looking around the landscape of Christianity, it wasn’t hard for me to develop a very “American-Centric” or “Western-Centric” view of Christianity. In my mind, the hot spots of Christianity had gradually moved over the centuries from Jerusalem to Rome to Great Britain, finally landing in America some time over the last two or three hundred years.
About ten years after coming to Christ, I had the privilege of hearing John Cava speak about how the Kingdom of God was expanding in the nations of the world. John shared that he could go to Russia and could start a church in the amount of time most high schoolers have for summer vacation. His argument was that we should spend time engaging in the harvest where there is significant results, not just limiting ourselves to our current locations. I was stirred to see this kind of ministry and learn how it worked.
A year or two after this, a mentor of mine began taking me on trips to Africa. Soon it became clear that not only were there many people coming to Jesus in these other countries, but that my Westernized view of Christianity had led me to believe that I had all the answers and the church in the rest of the world didn’t. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had ended up spending time with spiritually mature figures in the church of Africa. Many of the people I spent time with will never be written about in a magazine or ever write a book, but they had done more than most of the Westerners who had. It was eye-opening.
I think in many of our minds what perpetuates these ideas is a First World vs. Third World mindset that we’ve inherited from previous generations. We look at the world and see the Church in the West with buildings and rights and money and education and think we must be further along than those without those things. But these are the things that puff us up, friends.
Instead, I look at the results of the church in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America and am in awe of what they are accomplishing without those things. Today, many, MANY more people will come to Christ in these regions than they will in the cultural West. And over the years, something has shifted in my heart so that I’m willing to say “If that’s true, maybe we have something to learn from the church in these areas.”
Friends, God has one church. One day it will be made up of a people from every race, tribe, language, and tongue. This church will reflect the incredible diversity of the nations of the Earth. But we as the church in the cultural West must be willing to learn from the rest of the church, or we risk walking in a kind of pride that says we have nothing to learn from anyone else.
We’ll talk about what we can learn from the church around the world in another post. For now, have you experienced learning from Christians in a significantly different culture? Share your story for us to learn.
I wanted to take a minute and update you on some events that have transpired over the last week. On Wednesday night around our dinner table our house church talked about a project in Uganda that we are partnering with House of Friends in order to spur church planting in Africa. Part of that plan involved a missionary family named the Shehee’s who live in Uganda and we know of through some mutual friends.
Thursday morning, we received a tragic email alerting us that the Shehee’s were in a car accident in which the father and mother were injured and their one-month old child was killed. Anyone who has ever lost a child or been on the mission field can know how devastating one of these things is, but to have both happen simultaneously is tragic.
That said, I wanted to share their story as far and wide as possible. Please read the letter Will Shehee wrote yesterday and at least pray for them, and if you can, give generously to help in their hour of need.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On Jan 29th, late at night, we were driving back from Kampala on a two lane highway. As I was going down a hill, a car passed going the other direction. Their lights flooded my vision for a few seconds, and then there was a semi-truck parked in my lane with no break lights or reflectors. I hit the back of it going 50 mph. Our newborn baby, Lydia Rose, suffered a serious head wound and died.
Etta’s side of the vehicle was completely smashed in. Her legs were pinned. It took over 20 minutes to pull her out. Four bones were severely broken, including her femur, tibia, knee cap, and collar bone. My ulna was also broken.
Obviously, this is the hardest thing we have ever had to walk through, but the grace of God has carried us and given us strength. There are many sources through which that strength-ening has come, including many of you.
First, thank you so much for your prayers. 2 Cor. 1:10-11 “He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” Prayer requests have been sent out from our friends here to their networks, who forwarded it to all their prayer networks. People are literally praying for us from all over the world. We are all so aware of the indescribable grace of God which has come to us through your prayers!
Secondly, God has surrounded us with an amazing community of friends and family. In-credibly, the accident happened in the middle of the three week visit of both mine and Etta’s mothers. God knew we would both need the comfort that only a mother’s love can give. Our team in Tororo has rallied around us. From the time they brought us from the accident to the hospital, they haven’t left our side. They have been a lifeline of strength and comfort.
There are also three truths from the Word of God that always bring peace and even joy to our hearts in the midst of the storm.
First, God is sovereign over life and death. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die”. Acts 1:7 says that those times and seasons are fixed by God’s authority. When we are tempted to think about all the things we should have done differently, and blame ourselves or the other drivers, we remember that God fixed this moment in His heart, and it wasn’t because of some so-called “accident” or mistake. That revelation of the knowledge of God has saved us from tail spinning into the dark place of regret and blame, and given His perfect peace.
The second truth which has brought grace (divine strengthening) to us is the reality of heaven. Heaven has never been so real to us as it is now. God saved our sweet innocent girl from a life of suffering. Her spirit is in paradise forever. God showed me a picture of her spirit in the bosom of the Father, He was incubating her with the greatest love she could ever receive. When we feel sorrow over her physical death, we think about where she is right now and feel surges of joy. What a beautiful childhood she will have!
And the third truth is the corresponding hope that we feel, that we will one day be to-gether. Christian hope is not merely “thinking of”, but the present “certainty of” a future reality. That life is but a vapor, and in just a minute we’ll meet Her at the gates of the heavenly city, never to be separated again.
God did not abandon us or forsake us in our greatest time of need. So many miracles have happened. Right after the accident so many people ran up to help. Etta’s legs were com-pletely pinned between the seat and the front of the car. After they finally busted the door open, they attached ropes to two semi’s in front and behind and pushed the front of the van off of her legs. Meanwhile a pastor from Tororo had been traveling behind us and witnessed the accident. It was as if he appeared out of nowhere to help us. My phone was destroyed so I had no way of calling an ambulance. The pastor knew Jesse Digges (my ministry partner) and called him! Jes-se was there with the van by the time they got Etta out.
Most hospitals in Uganda don’t have “emergency” in their vocabulary. We kept pressing them to do an x-ray, etc, and after 7 hours of only basic first aid at two different hospitals, God sent us a true hero to advocate. Jill Robinson was an ER nurse in America for 18 years before becoming a missionary to Uganda. She found out we were in her city, Mbale, from a friend of mine. She and her husband rushed out to find us as soon as she found out. She knew exactly what needed to be done, and the culturally sensitive way to get them to do it. She is also good friends with an American PHD physical therapist who can help us with recovery, and who also knew the best orthopedic surgeon in Uganda, just 2 hours away! They transferred us, and we are finally getting professional care from an amazing team of Ugandan nurses. The doctor is a Ugandan MD who since has taken excellent care of us completing both surgeries safely. Jill the American nurse hasn’t left our side and and was present during the surgeries, she stayed in a hotel next to the hospital. We had never met her before. That is Christian love!
Please continue to pray for us. We have a long road of physical therapy. And even more, the grief of losing our little Rose after having her only a month. Thanks for all of you who have been praying and who have offered to stand with us financially (we don’t have health insurance). A friend of ours is setting up a GIve Forward campaign.
We echo the words of our Father in the faith, Job, when he lost his children: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.'” Job 1:21