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God at work in the Congo

Rolland and Heidi Baker are seeing an incredible move of God across Mozambique and other countries of Africa with miracles and deliverances, healings and salvations, resulting in thousands of churches being planted. We love what they are doing and have a particular interest in it for a couple of reasons.

  1. Tony was at school with Rolland (a school for missionary kids in Taiwan)
  2. We had the incredible privilege of being there at the beginning of the revival in Mozambique. I’ll never forget it. We were in the UK when we heard about major floods in Mozambique where half the nation was under water. Rolland and Heidi were given responsibility for feeding thousands of people in the refugee camps. Within a few days of our return to the States, Tony, along with a friend who is a nurse were on a plane with boxes of medicines for medical relief work. The United Nations would fly them out to areas of higher ground where a makeshift refugee camp had been set up and they would hold clinics, distribute food and preach the gospel.

A couple of months later, Tony and I and two of our kids went back there to continue the work. Everywhere we went we would hold a clinic, deliver food and tell the people about Jesus. Invariably almost everyone there would respond to the message and ask for salvation. Rolland and Heidi would follow up with one of the pastors they had trained, and so a church would start. We also held clinics on the city garbage dump where people eked out a living by scavenging through the trash the dump trucks brought in. The filth and the stench of burning trash were indescribable. I remember Heidi kneeling on the ground hugging and loving on some of the kids. It’s a revolution of love that’s going on. What a privilege to have witnessed Jesus’ love conquering the most difficult of circumstances.

Now the Bakers are seeing God at work in the Congo. Check out this video.

The top three reasons it’s important to include women

Women are often undervalued and sidelined in the church, especially when it somes to strategic thinking and planning. Leadership equals servanthood (Matthew 20:25-28), and  we, the church, are supposed to be listening to our head, Jesus, and following what he says. Since women are used to serving, and they often hear him more clearly, it therefore seems very short-sighted not to include them. (If you have questions about the theology of this, check out a series of posts starting here.)

But there are more important reasons to include women. Here are the top three:


Photo Credit: Gerry Dincher via Compfight cc

 1.  The Harvest: When women co-labor alongside men, the workforce for the harvest potentially doubles.

2.  The Harvest: Psalm 68:11 (NASB) says this–The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host.

3.  The Harvest: Wherever we see a massive harvest going on around the world, women are often in the forefront. For example, in China, especially during the revival in the 1980′s and 90′s, female pastors and evangelists outnumbered males 3:1. In India, women apostles are responsible for thousands of churches. Women can often get into the places where men cannot go with the good news of the Kingdom. As Dr. Yonggi Cho once told us, “If you want to see a move of God, use your women.”

The easiest way to plant a house church

It’s probably not what you think!

Most Christians, especially those from a more traditional form of church background, assume the obvious way to start any kind of church is to invite a few Christians to their home for fellowship. As other believers join them and the group gets large enough, they will multiply out into two churches and so on.

This is not the best way for several reasons:

  1. The Christians will bring all their preconceived ideas about church with them. It will be more of a challenge to think in the fresh, out-of-the-box ways that simple/organic church requires. The temptation will be to do “Honey, I shrunk the church!”
  2. It is more difficult to be missional–existing believers tend to focus on the gathering. Many Christians don’t have non-believers within their sphere of influence.
  3. You are trying to create community where a natural one doesn’t exist. Yes, there is a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” with all other believers, but as you add people to a group, it will take time for people to share their everyday lives together outside of meetings.
  4. Multiplication usually occurs very, very slowly.

It is far easier to make disciples of those who don’t yet know the Lord, and to work within their existing sphere of influence. As their family and friends find the Lord, multiplying churches are the natural result. The advantages:

  1. The problems and issues that come up are those of life, not theology or ecclesiology.
  2. Community already exists and their shared lives will continue outside of the meeting context.
  3. New disciples have a natural mission field all around them and evangelism follows spontaneously along relational lines.
  4. It’s easy to create a vision and expectation of multiplication.

What has been your experience?  Can you think of other reasons to primarily work with not-yet-believers?

Photo Credit: Tense (Creative Commons)

 

 

The church moves West (part 2)

The focus of Christian missions has historically moved west. This is the second of a three part series (here is part one) looking at this phenomenon, and is part of the foreword I have written to a new Kindle book, Greet the Church in Your House.  by Victor Choudhrie, due out in September. This book details the principles behind one of the greatest disciple making movements of our time.

 

This is a photo of Tony and me standing on the very harbor wall in Turkey (Seleucia) from which Paul and Barnabas left with John Mark to sail west on their first missionary journey. The harbor is now silted up and the harbor wall is about 100 yards inland.

 

While all this was going on in Europe, the epicenter of Christianity was sailing west across the Atlantic to the United States.  Waves of revival spread across the land as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, John Wesley and Charles Finney preached to huge crowds. In 1906, the Pentecostal Movement began in Azusa Street in Los Angeles and spread rapidly throughout the world. The United States became the great missionary-sending nation.

But even as Christianity waned in Europe and began its decline in the United States, the center of Christianity was moving west again. Initially this was hidden. When the Communists overtook China in the late 1940s, threw out the missionaries, closed the churches and jailed its leaders, everyone wondered whether the church could possibly survive. When the bamboo curtain finally lifted, the world was amazed to see the church had thrived and multiplied. Ordinary people, mainly women and children, rather than trained preachers, were spreading the Gospel, and churches were starting everywhere in the homes of ordinary people. Small and hidden, the good news was spreading like yeast in a lump of dough.

Again the focal point of the church moved west. Via Korea and the cell church movement, it has moved on to India where the Choudhries and many others like them are seeing similar growth to China. Here God is restoring disciple-making and house church planting, not as a matter of necessity because of persecution, but as a deliberate policy with well-understood theological and ecclesiological reasoning. An emphasis on the Kingdom is producing marked changes in the local community too. As other nations hear what is transpiring in India, they are inviting men and women from India to come and infect their own lands with what Jesus is doing.

Part three to follow…

God’s view of time

The church has become accustomed to measuring success by the world’s standards–not just in terms of numbers but in terms of speed. In our Western world we expect fast and instant. Think microwave dinners, air travel, Internet.

I think God views time differently.

Photo credit: Gilderic Photography (Creative Commons)

A story comes to mind; the story of James O. Fraser, chronicled by his daughter Eileen Crossman in the missionary classic, Mountain Rain.

James Fraser was a British missionary who went to Yunnan Province with the China Inland Mission in 1910. He loved to hike and climb, and it was on hiking trips into the Himalayas that he came across the Lisu people, a tribal group living high in the mountains of China, Myanmar, Thailand and India. He felt an immediate affection for them. His initial contact with them  was successful because he willingly adopted their lifestyle, staying with them in their huts, eating their food, sleeping on the ground. But nothing of any substance developed from this.

So what did Fraser do?

He prayed. Nothing happened. He became discouraged but he refused to give up. He set himself to pray through. He spent whole days and nights in prayer, crying out to the Lord for the salvation of these people whom God had laid on his heart.

Finally in 1916, he saw breakthrough. Scores of families came to know Christ. By 1918, the Lisu people had taken the Gospel themselves along family lines and 60,000 had been baptized. By the 1990s, the Chinese government admitted that more than 90% of the Lisu in China are Christians.

What would have happened if James Fraser had returned home in defeat after three or four years?

God’s timing is not our timing. If we are looking for instant success, we’re likely to fail. Within the simple church we look for multiplication and that starts slowly–really slowly–and takes time to gather momentum.

We can become discouraged and give up. Or we can choose to press through into everything God has laid on our hearts.

Are there times when you’ve been tempted to give up, but in pressing through, you’ve seen Jesus do things beyond your wildest dreams?

Miraculous Movements

Erich Reber, a friend of Wolfgang Simson, is a Swiss prophet with a remarkable ministry. For example, God warned him in advance of both 9/11 and the London tube bombings. In the Starfish Manifesto, written in 2008, Wolfgang writes:

In a vision in 1991, God showed him [Erich] the sequel of the last harvest. According to his vision, it will happen in four phases: first God is going to visit the eastern Block countries (Russia etc. 1991 -1993), then God is going to bring in a huge harvest in Middle and North India from 1996 onwards. The third phase will be God visiting first the soft-Islamic, then the hard-Islamic nations, and finally, as the last phase, Europe and the West. All of this seems to be coming true. What happened after the Soviet Union went out of business in 1991 is history. Since 1996, as many empirical researchers have since shown, there is an unprecedented spiritual harvest in Middle and North India. The number of newly planted house-churches has already reached several hundred thousand. Today, one of the most fascinating developments is the increasing number of Muslims finding Christ: many thousands of new churches have developed in nations like Bangladesh,Indonesia or Pakistan….

For many years, ever since being involved in an incredible move of the Holy Spirit in an Islamic country which resulted in thousands of house churches planted, I have watched what God is doing in the Muslim world with keen interest. Imagine my excitement when I was asked to endorse a copy of  Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus by Jerry Trousdale.

I devoured the manuscript, unable to put it down. Story after story described how God is reaching out sovereignly to transform the lives of those who are seeking him. Dreams, visions and miracles are drawing Muslims to the person of Jesus. Imams, sheikhs and even entire entire mosques are embracing a lifestyle of following Jesus. But Miraculous Movements does more than tell stories. This isn’t happening in a vacuum. The book describes the principles involved–principles that we can all use, not just to reach out within an international context, but right here at home too as we interact with our neighbors.

This book is destined to become a classic! I give it my highest recommendation.

The changing face of missions

We just returned from  a two week trip to Taiwan, an island off the coast of China. Tony’s parents originally were called to work in China, but when the Communists took over just a few weeks after they arrived, they moved to Taiwan where Tony’s father, a doctor, opened a clinic. Tony was born in the capital city of Taipei and lived there (with a few years break at a British boarding school) until he was seventeen. So our family has many natural ties to the island.

Taiwan is a small, mountainous island that has transformed itself into a first world nation over the past couple of decades. It is very beautiful; the people are friendly. The main religion is Buddhism/Confucianism.

We were invited to speak to the Taiwan Missionary Fellowship, a group that involves nearly all the missionaries on the island. Well over 50% of the missionaries were there, and despite a huge variety in theology and church backgrounds, there was a sense of unity and a desire to work together across all the mission groups and churches. Even though Taiwan has a very traditional missions history, and the vast majority of the churches there are based on a Western model, there was great openness to our message that could have been both threatening and controversial. Our main teaching for the five days we were there was on following the Holy Spirit into the harvest and bringing the new disciples together in small groups/churches.

It seems that right across the board, many missions groups recognize that traditional patterns of church planting on the mission field (erect a building and train a pastor) are not just prohibitively expensive, but there are far more effective ways to reach out in today’s world. Some groups we met had already  begun to adopt Luke 10 patterns of church planting and many of the others were eager to explore organic principles they could use in reaching out.

From there we went to a much smaller city in the south of Taiwan where we spoke in a traditional Baptist church. Again, our message was on being willing to trust the Holy Spirit as he leads us outside the walls of our church to reach out to a world that desperately needs him. The lady pastor, who has been at the church for only three years and has already seen the church more than tripled in size, was so hungry to learn more. Again, she was open to non-traditional methods in reaching out to the world around her.

Following this we had a couple of days at the beach, and then back to Tony’s old school–Morrison Christian Academy, which his parents helped to found, for its 60th reunion. This school has been a huge support to the missionary community, but may now be moving into its most effective phase. It has a vision for training up the next generation of Taiwanese leaders. Here is traditional missionary work at its best.

Two things strike me from our trip. The first is that Taiwan is unusual; I don’t think I’ve ever before come across such a high degree of unity and collaboration within the missions community of a nation. We know that God has commanded his blessing where there is great unity. Who knows what God might do there. The potential is enormous.

The second is that God is up to something, not just in Taiwan, but in many other nations too. In several of the nations we have visited recently, there’s a renewed sense of anticipation, an expectation that God is about to move in ways they have only dreamed about. As missionaries adopt new patterns of making disciples, remaining only on a very temporary basis with any new church and training local people in principles of church planting movements and releasing them to do the work, God is moving in powerful ways.

 

Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 3)

In our own situation, Tony had a great inroad into the community as a family physician. He would often ask his patients when they presented with a problem, “Have you thought about praying about this situation?” Their usual reply was, “Oh yes doctor, but my prayers don’t seem to be going anywhere!” Tony would often lead them to the Lord there in his office, and then refer them to a home group leader who lived near them. There was much marketplace evangelism of that type that went on.

Perhaps of as much interest is what happened as the UK movement matured. As time went on, greater and greater emphasis was put on church government. Apostles and prophets were recognized, and they competed to bring churches “under” them. Often the input of these mature leaders was valuable, but there was definitely some empire building going on. In the beginning, the main movement was unified, but fairly early on, it split, primarily over issues of law and grace, into two main streams. These streams each held their own conferences and week-long camps which attracted thousands of people to live under canvas for a week to hear well-known speakers. Whole churches would attend these gatherings. Those who emphasized “law” were very influenced by the shepherding movement from over here. The “grace” faction was much looser and less structured and probably less influenced by the shepherding movement. There were other streams as well whose historical roots were different. This division was competitive and unhelpful.

We are now 30 years down the road, and to be honest, what remains there is really just another version of what existed before, but on steroids. Most of the new churches are the British equivalent of a megachurch.

There is really only major group that is pressing forward and continuing to start churches and that is New Frontiers with Terry Virgo as the apostolic figure. (I am not as familiar with groups like “Salt and Light” with Barney Coombs so forgive me if I miss out a group that is going well.) Most of the others, especially over recent years have had some fairly major problems and have faded. If you are interested to know more of the history and personalities involved, the following websites may be of interest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charismatic_Restorationism

http://intotruth.org/res/restuk3.html

A few years ago, we spent some time with John Noble, a highly respected elder statesman of the British House Church Movement, and we asked him what went wrong. His reply to us was interesting. He said that the splits occurred because the leadership became arrogant. (The national leadership was initially known as “The London (or Magnificent) Seven” which became “The Fabulous Fourteen” before it split down the middle as described above.) His other comment was that it also “majored on minors.”

So what can we learn from the British experience. First, this is very different. We have a theology of staying small and multiplying so there is not the temptation to try to build megachurches. The leadership, rather than being young and inexperienced is older, and those who are of the younger generation and seeing extraordinary things happen (I think of groups such as Campus Renewal Ministries and Campus Church Networks) seem to have the wisdom to seek their advice. We have a theology of a servant leadership that lays down its life for those it is seeking to serve.

As I look across the nations, the potential in what is happening in this country is incredible. In nations     where church planting movements are happening, the individual believers are very missional. Right from the day of their conversion, they are taught to tell their family and friends about how they have met Jesus. They are encouraged to pray for miracles—and these are occurring. In several of these movements with which we are familiar, around 85% of new churches start around a miracle. There is extensive training for these new believers which teaches them how to start churches. (We spent Thanksgiving with a couple from India who are seeing extraordinary things happen in that nation. I interviewed them extensively, and when I have finished transcribing the interview, will post the results here.)

So can we see what is going on in this country become missional? Absolutely! We are beginning to hear increasing numbers of stories of people stepping out in faith and seeing churches start with unlikely people and in unlikely places. God could be in the process of raising up an army of ordinary people who will go out to a nation that desperately needs Him to spread the Good News. We need to spend time seeking Him that we become those who extend His Kingdom.

Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 2)

Question: Tony and Felicity, what was your experience during the emergence and growth of the HC movement in the UK? I’m guessing that it started out in ways that are similar to what we’re seeing in theUS: believers migrating from legacy churches to HCs. But as it progressed, did you see a shift, or signs that evangelism per se was ramping up in the houses?”

Our own situation was fairly typical. In 1971, we were involved in the start-up of a church in our medical school and had the “distinction” of being thrown out of Intervarsity as a result. In 1977, that church sent us out into the very poor and socially deprived area of the East End of London where we started another church. That grew, probably 50% by conversion (many of Tony’s patients became Christians) until it was one of the largest churches in the area. We started in homes, moved into church basements, a factory and various other places as we grew.

These were extraordinary times. The presence of God was very strong in our midst. Sometimes we would find ourselves flat on our faces on the floor. We would never dare to go into a meeting with unconfessed sin because the Holy Spirit was likely to reveal it publicly. I remember literally running to the meetings because I would not wait to get into God’s presence. We saw the supernatural at work, the gifts were frequently used and many people became Christians.

However, and also fairly typically, the church then went through a split. A couple of years later it merged with another church. It is still in existence and going strong.

There were many values that we learned in that move of God that are relevant to what God is doing here today. Let me list some of them in no particular order of importance:

  • Church is built on authentic relationships
  • Non-religious Christianity—a spiritual life lived from the presence of Christ within, rather than keeping a set of religious rules.
  • Involvement in the community
  • Team leadership
  • The value of worship and praise
  • Cross-cultural

But did the church grow from new believers. I have tried to research the statistics, without being able to find anything definitive. Here is a graph from Christian Research.org.uk, the website of British pollster, Peter Brierley.

The graph shows that whereas the traditional church has declined considerably over the past 20 years, the non-institutional churches (which include the house churches) have remained relatively stable in their numbers.

The above graph shows the growth of the Free Independent Evangelical Churches, of which the house  churches would be a major component (taken from The Battle for Christianity in Great Britain by Erroll Hulse.

So we are left with our subjective impressions. Tony and I have discussed it, and have come to the  conclusion that the house church movement in the UK did become more missional. Many of those who went to house churches were actively seeking to reach out to unbelievers. However, the difference is    that it was an attractional type of growth (come hear our special speaker). Perhaps it was easier to invite someone to a meeting than to create a friendship.

Commercial fishing (part 2)


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As I investigated the Scriptures on the subject of commercial fishing in the Gospels, several things became apparent.  There are several passages that talk about fishing:

  • Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-19  Jesus calls the four disciples who are fishermen and tells them he will make them fishers of men.
  • Luke 5:1-11  Jesus tells the disciples who had fished all night but caught nothing to put down their nets again into the deep and they catch two boatloads of fish
  • John 21:3-11  After Jesus’ resurrection, seven of the disciples go fishing.  Again Jesus tells them where to cast their nets and they catch 153 large fish
  • Matthew 17: 24-27  Peter uses a rod and line to catch a fish that has money for the temple tax in its mouth.

There is obviously more than one way the disciples are fishing.  In the Luke example, they were in a boat and let down their nets.  In the John example, they throw out their nets.  In the Matthew and Mark examples they were fishing from the shore.  Further investigation reveals that although in English the word net is used in every example, in the Greek, different words are used signifying different types of nets.  For example, in the Matthew and Mark examples a specific purse net is described.

Commercial fisherman (which is what the disciples were) would have understood that you use different kinds of nets depending on the circumstances and the kind of fish you want to catch.

So in terms of the harvest where we are fishers of men, there may be different ways that we approach  “catching fish.”  What may work in other nations may not be best here in the West

There is one more passage.  This comes in Matthew 13 where Jesus tells a parable.  The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net (literally a dragnet or seine which is a type of net used to catch large numbers of fish) let down into the water…

The question I am pondering these days is, “How do we ‘let the kingdom of heaven’ down into the community around us?  Especially here in the West where people are jaded and inoculated against the Gospel.  What kind of fishing net will catch a multitiude of fish?

Any ideas?

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