Principles or techniques?

Which work best: principles or techniques?

This past weekend I had the privilege of speaking at a Momentum conference in San Francisco. (If ever you have the opportunity to attend a Momentum conference, I highly recommend it. It was warm, inviting, participatory with plenty of time for the Holy Spirit to lead–and he did, in extraordinary ways.)

One of the speakers was Ross Rohde, author of  Viral Jesus: Recovering the contagious power of the Gospel  who blogs here.

Ross shared about the danger of turning success into a technique. Someone listens to the Lord, obeys him and sees outstanding results. Others, seeing their success, assume that if they copy what that person did, they will get the same results. The problem is, all they have done is copy a technique without listening to the Lord, who may have a totally different strategy for their situation.

Principles, on the other hand, apply in any context.

An example: you hear about someone who has great success starting a church in their local Starbucks.  It’s easy to think: here’s the answer to our group’s problem with reaching out.  Everyone in our home church should spend time in a coffee house.

It may or may not work–I’ve come across wonderful churches that have started out of the harvest when the Lord told a group to change the place where they get together to the local Starbucks. The technique is in always using the local coffee house for evangelism.

The principle is that if you want to see people become disciples, you have to get outside your Christian ghetto and into a world that so desperately needs Jesus.

How do you avoid techniques? The answer is to listen to Jesus and do what he says.

 Photo credit: pierofix (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…

The church moves west (part one)

Over this past month, I’ve had the privilege of writing a foreword for a book written by one of my mentors in the faith, a church planter in India named Victor Choudhrie.  The book, due out in September , will be available on Kindle and is called Greet the Church in Your House. It describes the principles behind one of the greatest church planting movements of our time.

Here is part of the foreword–a birds-eye view of how the epicenter of Christianity has moved over the centuries:

Photo credit: Irina Patrascu (Creative Commons)

The spotlight on the center stage of Christianity is no longer focused on the church of Europe and the United States.

The epicenter of Christianity has arguably been moving west throughout the course of church history. The early church began her journey in Jerusalem, and although the gospel spread eastwards to India via Thomas, the apostle, and south through the Ethiopian Eunuch to Africa, its primary influence traveled in a westerly direction towards Europe. In the book of Acts, for example, we see Antioch and Ephesus becoming centers of missionary activity.

Soon, the hub of church history moved west again to Rome where it remained for several centuries. Under the Emperor Constantine, the church, the vibrant body of Christ, became an institution. Gone was The Way, the dynamic lifestyle that won disciples who modeled their life on Jesus. Instead, copying pagan religion, holy priests in sacred buildings dominated Christianity.

The Dark Ages followed the collapse of the Roman Empire and saw Christianity at its lowest ebb worldwide, with increasing corruption in the church and little to no understanding of the true nature of the gospel. However, a true remnant always remained.

The Reformation of the 16th century moved the core of Christianity northwest again to Germany, Switzerland and Britain. Firstly, the Bible was translated into the common language through the work of Wycliffe and Tyndale. The invention of the printing press made it available to ordinary people. Key New Covenant truths were rediscovered when Luther and Zwingli declared that salvation comes through faith; it cannot be earned. Other truths such as the priesthood of all believers, baptism by immersion, holiness and the social implications of the gospel followed in subsequent centuries.

To be continued…

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.