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Blurring the distinctives

One thing I've observed over recent years is that the Lord is blurring the distinctives between groups of Christians.

Blur
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It used to be that charismatics and non-charismatics were divided by theology. They looked down on each other–the non-charismatics thought that charismatics were flaky, all froth and no substance. The charismatics thought the non-charismatics were not fully following God. Today, I never hear those opinions. Some of the most Spirit-filled people I know would not claim any kind of "baptism in the Spirit" experience. We often teach people in non-charismatic denominations how to prophesy and they don't seem to be at all put out. God has blurred the distinctions between us.

Another set of distinctions that is increasingly blurring is that between simple/organic church and legacy churches. It used to be that legacy churches viewed those in simple/organic churches as rebellious, rejecting authority, unsubmissive. In turn, those in simple churches tended to view others as not really on the cutting edge of what God was doing.

Thankfully, this is no longer the case. Small and large churches are working together. The Kingdom has become more important than what we ourselves are doing. 

 

7 shifts towards organic

Many churches are looking to become increasingly relevant to the society around them by shifting to a more organic form of church.

DandelionPhoto credit: Michael | Ruiz (Creative Commons)

Here are some of the shifts toward organic:

  1. We're moving from being building and event focused to lifestyle and family focused. Church is no longer an event to go to or a building to assemble in. We may meet together, but church is more like a family. You don't go to family; you are family. It's based on relationship and lifestyle. 
  2. Church is missional rather than attractional. We're looking to make disciples rather than converts.
  3. We no longer need specially trained people to do all the work of ministry. Ordinary people are fully equipped to minister. The clergy/laity distinction is becoming less and less relevant. 
  4. Churches are expected to multiply out–to reproduce–rather than getting larger.
  5. Jesus is head of his church and ordinary people can be trusted to hear the Holy Spirit. 
  6. Our times together are becoming simpler and therefore reproducible. Everyone participates in what goes on.
  7. Leadership is servanthood.

What others can you think of?

The future of the church in the West

The church landscape in this country is changing.

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Ecclesiology lies along a continuum. At one end churches are  traditional, structured and liturgical; at the other end they are simple, organic, and missional. Most lie somewhere in between. But a shift is occurring. Many churches are taking steps towards the organic, missional end of the spectrum. The Lord may not lead them to move completely to that end of the continuum, but the changes they are making appear more organic than traditional. 

What is most important is that wherever we are along the continuum, our focus in on the King and his Kingdom.

What are the reasons for the shift?

  1. As the nation slides towards a post-Christian status, church is no longer at the center of social life. People no longer think about going to church on a Sunday. Across the board, denominations, missions groups and churches recognize that an attractional form of church is no longer effective for the future.  Many are exploring the concept of missional communities or simple/organic churches.
  2. The current economic crisis is affecting many churches. Just in the last month or so, we have been working with a church locally that can no longer afford to keep their building. They are therefore looking at a more organic network of smaller churches.
  3. A subtle, but increasing hostility towards Christianity is affecting some churches. For example, in New York, recent legislation means that more than 60 churches are no longer allowed to use schools or similar buildings to meet in.
  4. As churches follow the Holy Spirit, some of them are hearing the Lord leading them this way.

The definition of insanity is to keep doing what we've always done and assume we'll get different results. If the church continues the way she has been for the last several decades, we'll find ourselves in  a post-Christian society.  

Is God using this shift along the continuum to prepare us for what lies ahead?

 

 

A simple/organic contribution to global mission

Passport
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Over the past few months, we have had several people from a more traditional church background and who are in the process of leaving for the mission field visit the church that meets in our home.

The exchange has been valuable. Our “Jesus family” has rubbed shoulders with people sold out for the Kingdom who are literally giving up everything they know in order to take the good news into cultures that may be hostile to the Gospel. And those visiting us have tasted a simpler, relational style of church that seeks to follow the Holy Spirit when they come together and that is reaching out using Luke 10 principles into the different spheres of influence that people represent.

Many churches and mission agencies are using simple/organic church patterns on the mission field. These days, mega-churches and denominations do not ususally plan to replicate traditional Western styles of church when they get into a cross-cultural context. Mission sending agencies recognize that the most effective evangelism uses a simple/organic model of church that multiplies along relational lines.

Current experience shows that simple/organic patterns of church are less likely to provoke persecution in environments hostile to the Gospel.

The problem for many of the people going abroad as missionaries is that they have no experience of simple/organic church, even though that is what they plan to do on the field. So when they arrive on the mission field, they not only have to cope with a totally new cultural environment–language, customs, lifestyle; they also expect to work within an unfamiliar style of both evangelism and gathering.

This leads me to two conclusions:

  1. People who have been involved in simple/organic expressions of church in their home countries are well-suited to involve in cross-cultural mission. If they have been involved in a healthy expression of organic/simple church, they are already accustomed to Luke 10 principles of mission and an informal, home-based style of gathering. But a single simple church or even network of simple churches, even though they may be able to provide financially, may not have the resources or experience to provide the cross-cultural training and support on the field necessary for someone going out as a missionary.
  2. One of the contributions that the simple/organic movement can make towards global missions is to willingly work with mission-sending agencies, giving prospective missionaries a taste of what they are likely to experience on the field.

Are there ways we can partner together?

 

A simple story of darkness to light

Light at end of tunnel
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Yesterday evening church met at our home. Rosaura had brought along a young man, maybe 16 or 17 years old, a relative. He gave his heart to Jesus last night. This was his story.

"All my life I've felt as though I'm in a dark tunnel. I could see the light at the end, but it didn't matter what I did, I couldn't get any closer to the light, no matter how hard I tried. Tonight the light is right in front of me."

He walked into the light with Jesus and a smile from ear to ear.

The good and the bad of missions

World map 

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Tony and I have been privileged to travel to various countries in all five continents and to see missions at work first hand.

First the good:

I was brought up, in a Christian sense, on the biographies of those on the mission field. I learned from Hudson Taylor (China), Amy Carmichael (India), James Frazier (Lisuland), Jim Elliott, (Ecuador) Helen Roseveare (Congo), Bruce Olsen (Colombia) and many others. I was inspired and challenged to live a sold-out life, to be willing to give my life for the sake of the Kingdom.

During my early days as a doctor, I had the privilege of working with several senior doctors who had been part of a revival that went on in Rwanda in the 1940s and 50s. They came back to the UK with the unmistakeable fragrance of Jesus on their lives. Their message was one of repentance and living a transparent life. What a privilege to work alongside them.

I know an American lady who has spent years living in the villages of North India. She has seen many hundred churches start and trains many church planters.

Another friend, Michele Perry, runs an orphanage in war-torn Sudan. She is seeing miracles and many are finding the Lord. Whenever I feel discouraged, her life inspires me–she was born with only one leg. What excuse do I have?

This past fall we were in Southern Russia with a lady from the UK who rescues people off the street. Most of them are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from the wars with Chechnya and Georgia. She takes these people in to her center, sees them healed, trained and then sent out to various others parts of the country for the Kingdom.

Most people need no introduction to Rolland and Heidi Baker. Tony and Rolland went to a missionary school in Taiwan together. We have seen their extraordinary work in Mozambique at first hand.

I have learned much from others who have spent years on the mission field. People like Guy Muse,  David Watson, and Curtis Sergeant are profoundly influential.

We in the organic/simple church movement owe a huge debt of gratitude to the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists. Much of what we have learned about church planting movements comes from their teaching and experience.

God is using many men and women to reach out to the nations cross-culturally. They are effective ambassadors of the Kingdom who are seeing much fruit from their work. In some cases, many tens of thousands of people have found the Lord because of their impact. The lives of these missionaries are an example to us all.

 

 

House churches and persecution

Dan Hubbell

 

Dan Hubbell is an apostolic father who works in many Third World countries where persecution of believers is common. Recently, he sent me a response he had given to a church leader from a Third World nation asking for prayer that his church could find a building to meet in. 

As I mentioned in the last post, we may not be facing persecution by government authorities here in the West, but for economic reasons we may find more and more churches meeting in homes, restaurants, dorms etc. So note Dan's loving response to this brother.

 

 

Son, thank you for sharing this urgent need of a gathering place for the church of your city. 

Let me share what the Lord is stirring in my spirit in response to your prayer request: 

We are living in both a perilous time, and time of a mighty move of God in the closing days of the ages. 

What you are experiencing is happening all over the world, for believers are under great persecution and are faced with the same question: Where are we to gather as a church in our town/city that is safe from persecution from Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Communists, etc.?  This challenge from the “natural understanding” is going to get worse and worse throughout the world or better and better from the “spiritual understanding.” 

On one of our recent mission trips, some servants shared this incident with me: authorities in their province with whom the believers had gained great respect, told the house church leaders that if they would meet in private homes in small, family size groups of 2 or 3 up to approximately 12, depending upon the size of the house in which they were gathering, they (the authorities) would not bother them, but if they continued to meet in larger numbers than “family size”, they would have to arrest them and close the gathering. 

Isn’t it interesting that God used these authorities to remind the believers in that country that His Church/ekklesia is relational and family.  For Jesus told His disciples: “where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” 

In my discernment from the Lord, I am strongly recommending servant leaders in every nation (including the USA) to keep their gathering size as small as possible, i.e., family size like having brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, visiting, etc. 

Meeting in small family size groups does not guarantee there will not be persecution, but it is less likely.  Remember in the Book of Acts about Saul of Tarsus persecuting believers as they gathered in their homes, etc.  Church buildings and/or large house gatherings become targets for persecution.  

Also, remember the biblical understanding of the Lord’s church/ekklesia, that in any given town/city, there is only one church/ekklesia, even though they meet in multiple locations, i.e., houses, apartments, offices, factories, caves; or as in Africa, under trees, in the woods, forests, jungles; or in the USA, houses, apartments, offices, etc., throughout the town/city. 

As persecution becomes greater and greater, we will not be able to meet with all the believers in one location as they did in Jerusalem on Solomon’s Porch, but rather multiply into small family size house type gatherings. 

Even here in the United States, house churches are facing town/city ordinances against larger gatherings in any one house/apartment, etc. primarily because of congestion, neighbor complaints, etc.  So, I am reminding you that this issue you are facing is worldwide and all believers need to know this and adjust their gatherings accordingly.  By the way, we are practicing what we are advising you, son, for we gather here in our town in homes as small family size groups as well. 

James, I encourage you to again to log onto our website http://www.churchrestoration.org and search the teachings about persecution, gathering places, house churches, etc.  This will give you the biblical basis for what I have written to you in this email to you, son.

Remember that I love you dearly and faithfully pray for you, your family and other believers who gather in His Name in your nation.


For such a time as this…

Chaos
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God has used house churches in many nations to avoid persecution–think China, the Middle East. Thankfully, here in the West, we are not in that same persecuted situation. But maybe there is another reason for the rise of simple/organic/house churches.

The world situation is becoming increasingly uncertain.  Questions and confusion abound. High unemployment and, according to a United Nations report, "the failure of policymakers, especially those in Europe and the United States, to address institutional and regulatory deficiencies… adds to existing risks for the global economy." Economic chaos is potentially a real risk.

Just recently, we met with a couple who lead a legacy church. The finances are no longer there. They have to let go their building and the husband is looking for "secular" work. (I put secular in quotes because whatever job we have, we are all called to be full-time for the Lord.) They see this as a huge opportunity from the Lord to follow their calling within a simple/organic framework.

I am no prophet of doom and gloom, but if there is a major economic depression to come, many more churches may have to close their doors for lack of funding. Already across the church landscape, church leaders are being asked to cut back or find other work, and giving to missions has suffered.  While I'm fairly sure that many mega-churches, or those with their buildings already paid off will survive, simple/organic churches with no buildings and no paid staff may be one of the few options left for many others. 

Could God be raising up the simple/organic lifestyle of church for such a time as this?

 

How do you invite people to something that is Bible-based?

Bible study 

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We love to start churches with people who do not yet know the Lord. I'm often asked, "How do you do that? How do you transition a normal conversation into one about spiritual things?"

The last two posts have been guest posts by John King on Discovery Bible Studies, an interactive Bible study pattern that God is using in many different parts of the world. I came up with several questions as a result of his posts, including this one.

Me:  Give me some examples of simple ways to invite other people–especially those who are not-yet-believers–to join in a Discovery Bible Study. 

John:  The way that seems to work best for the people I have trained is to say something like, “I learned something new about God recently.” They only tell what came up in their recent DBS when someone gives permission by saying something like, “Well, what did you learn?” Jesus warns his followers, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6).

Too many believers attempt to ram the Word down the throat of not-yet-believers and wonder why they don’t appreciate it. We need to use discretion. When an interest is shown, then give them a brief summary statement about God’s character or about a blessing that he recently gave. Keeping this short is critical because they may only be curious, not open, yet. The goal is to see if that truth or blessing resonates with this person. Then if the person wants to know/experience more, she/he will let you know. Spend the bulk of your time looking for those who God is preparing to hear the gospel. These are the people who will be blessed by a Discovery Bible Study.

Me: Are there any particular pockets of people you find most responsive to DBS

John: The common denominator that I see is “everyday people.” Believers who have viewed themselves as unprepared to make significant contributions to the spread of the kingdom find DBSs empowering. Different people have told me months/years after their training that what excited them is they had always assumed they were not qualified to share the gospel with others because they did not go to Bible College. These comments always take me to Paul’s statement that apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers are called to “to equip [God’s] people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12). Often, the more highly educated a person is the less likely he/she is open to the idea of the Holy Spirit speaking to everyone through the Word.

Me: You used some fairly “mature” Scriptures with this group. Do you find you can use this kind of Scripture with not-yet-believers, or would you choose something more basic?

John: All not-yet-believers will eventually need to experience a series of studies we call “Discovering God.” This is a mixture of Old and New Testament texts that allows them to discover the character of God. These passages are powerful because they will eventually replace the core worldview stories by which these people live. God can use “mature” passages to bring them to faith, but even then they will need to work through these texts to reshape their deepest thoughts and also they will need to know them so they know where to take other not-yet-believers.

Choosing appropriate passages is critical. Connecting with heart-felt needs/passions is one of the works of the Holy Spirit. Read through the proclamations in Acts and you will discover great diversity. God’s final answer for our problems is always Jesus, but we have an incredible storehouse of ways to connect with people and avoid the “one-size-fits-all” approach. 

Me: Can you describe a little more of the reproductive movements you have catalyzed? I'd love people to gain some sense of the overall picture of what you are doing and to catch a vision for what can happen through DBS.

John: God has blessed me to be able to start reproductive movements in Africa and in the U.S. I have also trained people in Asia and Europe, but I have not heard whether or not reproductive movements have begun, yet. In West Africa there has been abundant fruit borne in a formerly war-torn nation. Folks there use the Discovery approach in all their group studies. They use it with great fruit in the prison system. They use it when they train Muslim business men in a Leadership Training. Scriptures provide us with a wonderful resource of transformative themes that result in our lives being blessed. Here in the U.S. there is a multi-site legacy church that uses the discovery approach with their discipleship groups.

 

 

 

 

Guest post by John King: Keep It Reproducible (part two)

John King trains church planters in the use of inductive Bible studies called Discovery Bible Studies. This is proving to be an extremely effective church planting tool in many different cultures. I read his blog regularly.

The first part of this post, the story about how a group trained in this pattern has been able to multiply effectively, can be seen here.

The first week I had the twenty present to get into four groups of five and select a facilitator by identifying who had most recently gotten a speeding ticket. I called those four over to me, having them bring paper and pen. I gave them the 8 Questions . As I told them the questions that drive the discussion time, the rest of the participants were taking notes also. Then they returned to their groups and started the process.

Question 1—“What is something good that has happened in your life or the life of a loved one during the last week?” went fairly quickly.

Question 2—“What is a struggle or challenge you or a loved one is facing?” took more time. Since these ladies know each other pretty well, many were transparent. Little did we know that God was going to powerfully use one of these struggles!

One of the participants has cancer and has undergone multiple bone marrow transplants. She is on disability and receives food stamps. She had received a letter saying her food stamp allotment had been miscalculated. The state needed to recover almost $1,000.00 from her that had been over-paid. How could she make it while they recovered such a large amount?

Question 8—“Which of the struggles could you as a group help with by developing a plan?” set them on the course of trying to raise money. The next week the larger group was informed of the need and asked to contribute as they were able. Our motivation was increased as we were informed that someone who heard about the need agreed to match whatever was given. Almost $600.00 was deposited in their “God box!” With the match the complete need, with some to spare, was met in one week.

The passage studied in that first Discovery Bible Study was Ephesians 1:1-14. In verse 3 we read, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Their text for the second week (when the “God box” was used) was Ephesians 3:14-21. Here Paul praises God as the one “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (v. 20).

This group of ladies took the training and began living it immediately. They started inviting other friends to go through the same texts in the same way as had been done in their groups of five. Some passed on the training to the ones who were unable to attend that first week. Others trained their husbands and children and now their family devotional times are following the format. One of those families has a son who is on a travelling soccer team. The mom excitedly mentioned what she had been learning to the other soccer moms and now they plan to do a Discovery Bible Study whenever they are at practices and between games.

What happens when the format is simple and straightforward? What happens when everyone hears from God’s Word and shares what they are hearing? What happens when people begin obeying what they hear God calling them to do? They get to “taste and see that the Lord is good!”

 

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