Unlikely candidates?

Jesus chose the most unlikely candidates to promote his message.

Woman at well
Photo credit: More Good Foundation (Creative Commons)

Think of the woman at the well in John 4. She is certainly a person of reputation–five husbands, and now living with yet another man–worthy of a modern soap opera. She has other factors working against her too. She's a Samaritan, and she's a woman! (Look at her surprise in verse 9.) Jesus has one of the most profound conversations recorded in the Gospels with her. The woman's response is to go back to her village and tell everyone she knows about Jesus. Many of the Samaritans believe in Jesus when they hear he has supernatural knowledge about her life. Jesus stays in the village for two days, and many more become believers when they hear him for themselves. The woman has opened the door to an entire village.

The woman at the well is a classic person of peace. She's a woman of reputation (bad) and influence. She's open to Jesus' message and she invites him into her sphere of influence. Many people follow Jesus as a result.

An even more unlikely candidate is the Gerasene demoniac of Mark 5 and Luke 8. Here's a naked, crazy guy, living in the cemetery, so demonically strong that no chains can hold him. After his deliverance, and the mass suicide of 2,000 pigs, he asks Jesus if he can follow him. Instead Jesus asks him to go home and  tell everyone the story of what the Lord has done for him. He lives in Decapolis–which means 10 cities.

This man is also a person (son) of peace. He's a man with a terrifying reputation, (the people of that region have been warning their kids about the bogey-man in the tombs for years), but there's something about Jesus that attracts him–so much so that he runs and falls at his feet. Jesus meets his need in supernatural ways and he's restored to his right mind. Imagine the amazement in the ten cities when he shares his story .

How did Jesus find these people?

Jesus was always on the lookout for those open to his message. Every chance encounter might be a gateway into a new sphere of influence. He was always listening to his Father, watching for what he might be up to. I think that's why he had a deep conversation with a Samaritan woman or why he sent the ex-crazy guy back to his home town. He was in constant communication with his Father.

What might happen if we look for people of peace as we go through life?  If we develop the habit of listening to the Lord, who knows what unlikely people the Lord may point out to us.

Do you have any stories of where the Lord has shown you people of peace?

 

 

How do we recognize a person of peace?

In Luke 10, Jesus tells his disciples to find a person of peace (verse 5) and to bless their oikos (home, or circle of influence).

What is a person of peace?

A person of peace is someone who has reputation (good or bad), influence, and is open to receive us. We can recognize them because they offer us hospitality.

In Rosa's story, she had a reputation; she knew everyone and everyone was accepted by her as part of her family. When she died a couple of years ago, that became even more clear. Around 150 people were crammed into a tiny funeral parlor, and the stories they told of her life and how it had impacted them…  The kids she had semi-adopted…  The people she had befriended…  Even in her death, she opened up her circle of influence to us as the family invited us to take her funeral.

We recognized Rosa as a person of peace because she was open to our praying with her. She offered us to come to her apartment. And she opened up her circle of influence–her family and friends– to us and to the good news we brought her.

 

AHCHOO!! I hope you caught the virus

10-2b

Photo credit: Christophe Pasqual (Creative Commons)

There's a dangerous virus going around the world. Like other viruses, it's identified with letters and numbers. Unlike other viruses, I hope you catch it. 

The 10:2b virus started when a couple of friends of ours, John White and Kenny Moore, were discussing one morning over breakfast how to find more church planters for their state. As they chatted, they remembered the verse in Luke 10 where Jesus commanded the disciples (both the 12 and the 72) to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out more laborers into the harvest. They decided to try it for a week–calling each other daily on the phone. The week extended into months and eventually years of prayer together on a daily basis.

The results were so life-changing in terms of the number of people starting churches in their state as a specific answer to this prayer, they knew it needed to spread.  And so the idea of the Luke 10:2b virus was born. As John and Kenny told their story everywhere, others joined them, praying in pairs daily over the phone that the Lord of the harvest would thrust out more laborers into the harvest. Many people set the alarm on their phone for 10:02 am or pm to remind them to pray.

The virus has spread all over the world. We just infected some people in Russia where we've been for the past week or so.

Have you caught the virus? It's a dangerous one to catch. It might just change your world.

Needed: Evangelists

Continuing my tongue-in-cheek job description for five-fold ministries:

Wanted: People with a passion to reach out to others

Job description: We have an urgent need of evangelists to meet the current shortfall. This team player has an inner compulsion to communicate the good news of Jesus to those who do not yet know the Lord in ways appropriate to the culture.  Possibility of speaking to large crowds as well as smaller gatherings. The working of healings and miracles is anticipated. Must be able to impart a passion for the King and the Kingdom. Disciple making is essential.

Potential challenges: The applicant is likely to be thrown out of some locations where he/she attempts to bring the Good News, possibly with bruises and certainly a bruised ego. He/she is then expected to “wipe the dust from his/her feet” and move on to the next location as Jesus leads. Beatings and martyrdom have occurred with this job in certain areas of the world. Must be willing to face court appearances and jail.

Qualifications: Applicant must be comfortable in worldly settings where not-yet-believers are found. Ready at all times to communicate his own story in relevant ways using culturally appropriate language, and must have the ability to train others to do the same.  Should be able to persuade others of the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Familiarity with Luke 10 principles is essential. Previous commercial fishing experience will be taken into consideration. 

Compensation: Long hours, probably no pay. No personal glory, but successful applicant will have the satisfaction of knowing that others are entering the Kingdom.

Any other thoughts about evangelists?

 

 

God uses even tragedy…

Last October we started another simple/organic church.  Initially it was composed of a few family members and a young Indian couple, both from a Hindu background. The husband had already given his life to the Lord, and was being profoundly helped by working at our company.  (Our company hires the "best person for the job," and we have had several people become believers through working there.)  We normally start with unbelievers in the New Testament, but it seemed the Lord was leading us to the Old Testament this time.  It only took a few weeks of studying the book of Ruth before his wife, who has always sought spiritual truth, decided to follow Jesus.

On New Years Eve, we received the tragic and unexpected news that Haley, a close friend of our daughter's, had died.  This girl, in her mid 20s and with a 4 year old daughter of her own, has always been a person of peace, even if she has struggled in various areas of her life. Bright and vibrant, and with huge compassion and empathy, she has always been a gatherer of people. There were over 700 at her memorial service, and we were able to recontact a number of people we have worked with in the past.  The following day, we held a "celebrate Haley's life" time at our home, and several of them came.

Last week there were 5 new people at our simple church. By now we had moved on to Jonah, a book about someone running away from God but forced to reconsider because God intervened in his life through a crisis.  One guy commented, "The last time I talked to God was 5 years ago but this tragedy has caused me to try to put my life right with him."  Another girl said, "I haven't prayed in 6 months, but I'm going to start again."

There was no way God wanted Haley to die so young, but will he use even such an event?  Of course!  "Except a grain of wheat…"  God brings fruit even out of tragedy!

Memorial

 

 

Why it’s more difficult to have community when working with existing believers

Many of today's simple/organic churches  start when a Christian with a vision of a group meeting in a home or other culturally relevant context invites his/her friends to start a church. The problem is that usually those coming only know the person who invited them; they may not know the other people involved.  It takes time to develop friendships.  It's more of a challenge to develop a sense of community, especially if the only time people get together is for a meeting. There's no natural context for community.

The dictionary definition of community includes:

  • a group sharing common characteristics or interests
  • a group of men or women leading a common life

We assume that Christians have a natural affinity with each other because the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us, and therefore community should be instantaneous.  It is true that there is an immediate bonding and recognition of the presence of Jesus when Christians meet each other for the first time. But there's more to community than that.

One of the fastest ways to develop community within a group of strangers is to share a common goal and task. Working together towards something specific provides a natural way to share life.

When you use the person of peace principle to work with a group of not-yet-believers, you are entering an existing community who already all know each other. (The person of peace is a person of influence who has a community  gathered around them. Often it's their family.) They get together naturally to celebrate birthdays or just to hang out together. They already go shopping together, or help fix each other's cars. Now they are doing what they know how to do (be family)  but with Jesus at the center.

We have seen that in several contexts. Perhaps the most obvious one was when we worked in the low-income housing projects.  Our person of peace, Rosa, accepted us as part of her family.  There was instant community because she and her relatives lived life together anyway.

Should we increase community at the expense of being missional?

I was asked a fascinating question in response to the last couple of blogs on how an inward focused group can become more missional.  Basically the question was: what do you do about mission if there is very little sense of community in your group?

Here's a part of my response to the person who asked:

"It sounds to me as though you have a church of existing believers. This is rarely an issue if you are working with new believers or not-yet-believers. If you have approached this in a Luke 10 type context working with a person of peace, you are working with an already existing community. In any situation, you need to ask the Lord about it and do what he tells you. As you seek him he will lead you into more community.

Alan Hirsch also describes something he calls "communitas." It't the sort of fellowship that develops in a stressful situation or around a common task. For example, my father was a prisoner of war during WW2. Until he died, his closest friends were those who had gone through that experience with him. Maybe you could create communitas over a common project together that also reached out into your community. I think of something like working with the homeless, or with kids in need.

1 2 3 Another principle that hinders church multiplication that your comments also touch on is that of sequentialism. David Garrison covers it in his book, Church Planting Movements. You will slow down a work of God if you insist on things being done in a certain order. First we plant a church, then we make sure our meetings run okay, then we develop community, then we reach out. You are much more likely to see growth if you do all of these things together, at the same time. 

Having said that, fellowship of the kind you describe rarely comes if all you do is have meetings together with nothing else going on. It is much more likely to come in the rough and tumble of life–sharing meals outside of meetings, going to the movies together, playing games, playing with the kids.

The Lord has a plan for your group and a strategy for your area.  As you seek him, he will show you what to do.

6 trends for 2011

2011Here are some of the trends I believe God is bringing into the body of Christ and more specifically into the simple/organic/house church movement that we will see in the coming year:

  1. An increasing emphasis on the Kingdom of God
  2. Groups on mission with God, listening to what he says to them and obeying what he tells them to do
  3. Men and women working together to see women taking their full role in the body of Christ
  4. An increasing acceptance of simple/organic church principles across the legacy church spectrum
  5. Simple/organic church in the marketplace
  6. Healthier DNA–more of an outward focus in making new disciples

 

What’s the difference between a church that meets in a house and a simple/organic/house church?

All over the country, people are meeting in homes instead of in buildings as their main expression of church.  According to George Barna, that figure is about 5% of the adult population of this country!  Similar results were obtained in surveys by Ed Stetzer of the Southern Baptists and the Pew Forun.

Amazing!  Who would have thought…

However, just transferring the location of church isn't enough.  If all we do is exchange the pews for couches and the steeple for a chimney, we have done what our friend, John White, calls, "Honey, I shrunk the church!"  And we have missed out on the glorious freedom of simple/organic church.

Miniature church

We suspect that many people in house church still do what they used to do in the buildings–and usually they do it badly.  Someone has been asked to lead the worship, another person gives a talk, another is responsible for the kids.  Unfortunately, the lone guitarist lacks the professional expertise of the worship band that led worship in the building and the person who gives the sermon hasn't had hours to prepare a stimulating talk because he's been working at a job all week. To be honest, we might be better off staying in the building!

So what should we do differently?  What's the difference between a church that happens to meet in a house, and a simple/organic/house church.  Watch this space…

 

My questions about discipleship

For some years I have pondered the question of
discipleship.  I have to confess, discipling others has been something of a mystery to me.  I know the theory, but have always
had questions about it. 

Discipling someone is usually portrayed as helping a baby in
Christ towards maturity.  Maybe my questions are because I became
a Christian on my own at age 11 from reading a book and didn’t really know any
other Christians for many years. 
Yet the Holy Spirit kept me. 
Would I have benefited from some further instruction?  Undoubtedly!  But during those years on my own, I grew in Christ, having only
the Bible and the Holy Spirit to help me mature.  (I’m not even sure where I gathered the idea that the Bible
was important—the Holy Spirit maybe?)

So my question is this?  Is the process of "making disciples" literally introducing someone to a life of following Jesus (hearing and obeying him), and sharing life will help them to grow, or is "making a disciple" a much longer process that only ends when a person is mature.  I'd be interested to know what you think.