Many of you might have been wondering why my wife and I have left YWAM, after 20 plus years of fulfilling ministry on three continents, to live in a small farm house in Chetek, WI and settle for a mindless job at Wal-Mart.
The answer is not simple or short so I hope that you can read this in its entirety.
Probably the roots of our current situation go back to living in the Boston area during the years of 1993 – 1998. We felt led to the city after doing a difficult but timely pioneer work with YWAM in the nation of Hungary from 1984 – 1992.
In the fall of 1993, our family joined a Baptist church in the city and tried our hardest to embrace the work of the church. We helped with the "Kids’ Church", took part in the ministry to the homeless, taught small groups in people’s homes, preached an occasional Sunday a.m. service, attended the weekly Pastor’s prayer meeting, helped organize our church’s participation with the city wide March for Jesus, etc.
In short, we helped out where ever and how ever we could.
The Beginning of the End
One day our assistant pastor was caught by the Boston police spying on a woman in her home at night. He was a married man whose main ministry at the church was counseling and helping people with very personal problems. The tragedy of the situation is not the sin itself, but rather the fact that the church "body" had no idea of his darker side. The church "family" was completely blindsided by the event and embarrassed. The wide range of different opinions regarding the proper way of dealing with this situation reached from biblical counsel to all sorts of solutions that seemed to tear our body into different factions. The church leadership asked outside (professional) counsel to intervene. Maria and I were stunned.
At this point we started to ask ourselves the (very dangerous) question: "Just what is the church?" If church was a family – how would a family deal with a situation like that?. This situation provoked in us such a "holy anger/frustration" with church-as-we-knew-it, that we felt there must be another way.
Ironically, at this same time we were being wooed by the Holy Spirit to leave the challenging work of pioneering YWAM-Greater Boston to venture off into the Muslim world in Tajikistan to try our hand at a "church planting work" with a small team.
We could not have been more perplex if we had tried: Convinced that "church as we knew it" was broken and in need of a major overhaul we were heading out to do church planting in Tajikistan with only this one type of church background in our Christian experience!
"The answers are all in Acts."
Providently, the Lord put us together with Floyd McClung (former YWAM leader) in 1999 in Colorado to do a 10-month training school that focused on planting "cell-based churches" amongst the unreached nations. In this training period – which funny enough ended up with me working at Wal-Mart for 3 months – we caught a glimpse of how church planting could work and how church could look different. (You can keep current with the McClungs ministry at FloydandSally.org)
One major spiritual event that happened during this "preparation period" took place as we were waiting for our work visas to enter Tajikistan. We had flown into Germany at the beginning of 2000 and spent about 2-3 months waiting for the visa situation to be worked through. At this time I took daily walks with the Lord around my wife’s hometown, asking for guidance and spiritual input. Then suddenly, like a blot of lightening out of the heavens, the Lord spoke to me and said that "The answers are all in Acts."
This revelation sent me on a 2 year study of the book of Acts and God started to unveil His plan to me for “church as He wants it” and church planting in the Muslim world. Yet it was not until our feet touched down in Central Asia in 2000 that we saw first hand how a "training school" can only do so much to prepare you for life in the "real world".
Tajikistan or Bust!
Our first move in Tajikistan was to help with getting the small church we were assigned to work with out of their rented building and into homes. At the time, we knew that this move must sift through those who were serious about the Lord from those who only wanted to "hang out" with the foreigners for other fringe benefits.
Yet how many of you know that you can take the church out of the building but not get the church (institution) out of your system. The most descriptive thing I can say is that one of the team leaders arranged to bring into my home the small Bible lectern and the small vase of plastic flowers from our “normal” church and set them up in our living room. I guess that God could not speak to us with out those "tokens" of real church!!
Sad as this sounds, this has been our experience over and over again in our efforts to live and reproduce "Acts Church" again on the earth.
The second milestone in our early days in Tajikistan is really a tragic one. One Sunday morning in October of 2000 some Muslim extremists set off two bombs in a Tajik church led by a team of Koreans, killing nearly a dozen Tajiks and Russians (for more INFO).
The biggest tragedy for Maria and I was the fact that this bombing was carried out on innocent Tajik believers in large part due to the foreign presence – physically and financially – of their leaders. Other missionaries in the country brought up that the foreign leadership of the church were “flaunting” their work of saving 100,000s of Tajiks on the Internet and may have possibly provoked the extremists.
We became convinced that everything that Tajikistan needed to see a people movement to Christ was already in the country! We were more and more certain that “church-as-we-knew-it” and “missions-as-we- knew-it” were broken and needed not to be just tweaked but completely transformed.
Meeting Two New Authors
In July 2003, we headed back to the USA for an anticipated 6-months furlough which has taken us directly into the house church movement in the States and has us presently out of traditional missions and traditional church. Two major influences in our lives since 2003 have been the books of Roland Allen and Wolfgang Simson. We cannot recommend these writings strongly enough. To really understand where we are right now and where we are headed these books are essential.
Roland Allen wrote a ground-breaking missionary handbook back in 1927 that still leaves Maria and I breathless and groping for answers:
Here is a brief example of his writing:
”The continued presence of a foreigner seems to me to produce an evil effect. The native genius is cramped by his presence, and cannot work with him. The Christians tend to sit still and let him do everything for them, denying all responsibility…I should feel disposed to group all foreigners (ie. missionaries) together in one place to avoid having them reside in more places than can be helped. A visit of two or three months stirs up the Church. Long continued residence stifles it.”
Wolfgang Simson’s book Houses that Change the World spoke to our hearts that God is indeed changing the church and bring the church back into the hands of the people and back into their homes. We also bought a series of tapes from Wolfgang in 2003 on the subject of Reaching Muslims through House Churches. In those tapes he bravely spoke of the changing landscapce of missions by stating that “80% of all missionaries should come home. The sooner the better.” We have heard no such statement from any one else but completely agree with all its ramifications.
These are hard messages to hear, let alone to live out. We feel like the journey we are on now will not be fully understood for maybe a long time. We can only go forward in humility and patience, asking others to simply do the same with us.
We are not sure what the future will look like we just know that what we have done in the past (as much as we loved it) cannot be found in Scripture and we had to put our convictions into action.
The church has to be taken out of the hands of the professional and put back into the hands of the people. Missions needs to be taken out of the hands of the people and put into the hands of the apostles. We have not arrived at the answer but we are searching and asking the Lord for the answer as our hearts burn for the Muslim world.
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,