Ten positive signs of God at work in the church

God is at work across the nations, and I see many positive signs that he is at work here in the West too. Here's a little of what I see going on currently (in no particular order of priority):
  1. People understand the importance of listening to God and doing what he says.  The prayer movement and 24/7 prayer has an impact.
  2. Many churches are becoming more missional rather than attractional. Luke 10 principles are being applied by many across the church spectrum. Legacy churches are starting missional communities. Simple/organic churches are using these principles to produce daughter and grand-daughter churches.
  3. Churches are engaging in their communities with a resultant impact for the Kingdom.
  4. We've rediscovered some of the principles that result in multiplication rather than addition at every level. Simplicity and reproducibility are key.
  5. Discipleship that reproduces more disciples (rather than conversion) is of increasing value. 
  6. There's a blurring of distinctives between groups of people–charismatic/non-charismatic, organic/legacy, clergy/laity.
  7. Women have an increasingly equal and valued role.
  8. Legacy churches and simple/organic churches are working together with a focus on the Kingdom of God. Who knows what might happen if nobody minds who gets the credit.
  9. The separation of sacred and secular is waning. Ordinary work and its potential to be of impact for the Kingdom is valued. Church is happening in the workplace.
  10. God is working in supernatural ways; we are seeing miracles, healings and deliverances.
  11. God is raising up apostolic and prophetic leaders who serve from the foundations rather than rule from the rooftops. He is giving them his strategies and plans for their areas.
  12. We recognize that God is working in other parts of the world  and we're willing to learn from other nations.

What am I missing?

5 reasons to rethink full time, paid local leadership within the simple/organic/house church context

  1. It reinforces or creates a clergy/laity distinction. 
  2. It can cause others to aspire to "move up the ladder" spiritually.
  3. Others in the body are tempted to let the paid person do all the work (after all, they are paid to do it!)
  4. Within a network of simple/house churches, there isn't enough work to do to employ someone full time.
  5. Those who work in a secular profession for a living tend to be well thought of by outsiders (1 Tim 3:7).

However, I'd like to let the last word on this subject go to Ross Rohde, who commented in an earlier post:

The real issue is calling and obedience. Our Lord speaks into our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10). This is part of our covenant relationship with God. His calling is different for every single individual. He may call some to be full time missionaries, which has its advantages and drawbacks. He may call others to be tent makers, which has its advantages and drawbacks. Other he will call to be a plumber or investment banker, each with its own unique set of issues. But if we try to understand this as the which is better, being called full time, part time to ministry or having a "secular" job we miss the point. What we should be doing is asking God what he wants us to do and responding in obedience. If we have a friend who is struggling with this issue we lovingly help them discern what God's call is for their life. The issue is obedience to a loving Lord.

If you think of it, please pray for Tony and me. We head down to south Texas on Sunday and then on into one of the Mexican border towns on Monday for three days of church planting training. 

A book that might just change your life

Some months ago I had the privilege of reading the manuscript of Neil Cole's latest book, "Journeys to Significance." I have found myself thinking back to it and applying its principles on numerous occasions since then.

Journeys to Significance: Charting a Leadership Course from the Life of Paul (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series)

For a long time, I have prayed, "Lord, help me to finish life well."  Too many Christians start their spiritual journey with enthusiam but in the latter years of their lives lose their passion and their focus on the Kingdom.  Neil suggests that finishing well isn't something that happens accidentally, but is a decision we choose to make on a daily basis.

This book applies lessons from the journeys and life of the apostle Paul to demonstrate the development of an effective leader. Paul became more and more influential as he moved through different stages of leadership. His effectiveness increased as he learned from experience. Paul changed the world he lived in;  his influence continues today. 

Neil is uniquely qualified to write on this subject both from his own extensive studies on the life of Paul, and as one who has enormous influence that extends far beyond the organic/simple church world.

Do you want to make an impact on our world? Do you long to influence this world for the Kingdom of God?  I highly recommend this book as one that teaches the principles that will help you to do so. 


 

 

How illiterate women in India can teach advanced topics

Indian woman

A few posts ago, I alluded to the fact that some good friends of ours in India, who see many tens of thousands of new believers in their network each year, have illiterate women who are able to teach others, including Bible references. Several people have asked me to expand on this.

The fact that someone is an oral learner doens't make them ignorant or incapable of understanding. They just have a different way of learning. Much as today, in our culture, many young people learn by watching rather than by reading.

Each of the 50 or so topics that our friends expect their leaders to be able to teach on to others is divided down into 9 or 10 main points. Training is given several times per year. There are different levels at which a person is able to understand and impart any given topic. So a house church leader will have a very basic understanding. He/she may know several strategic points about any given topic. A local area trainer will have more understanding, probably with some references. By the time you have a master trainer who is responsible for training on a regional or national basis, they will know the topic fully, including all relevent references.

This happens because of the way a topic is taught. The trainer may speak on the topic, but by using questions and answers and making others repeat what is taught, people remember the subject matter. They are also expected to apply it or put it into practice. When they in turn pass it on to others, it becomes even more firmly fixed in their minds.

Here are a few of the topics that are taught:

The Great Commission

What is church?

God's will and purposes

Persecution

Tenfold functions of the church

Baptism

The role of women

Prayer walking: ten steps

Spiritual warfare

If people in our churches had the same grasp of these subjects at a practical as well as a theoretical level as some of these illiterate village women, we would be far more effective within the Kingdom. Now obviously, we are able to read the Bible–there is no shortage of Bibles in the West.  But there is a difference between learning with the purpose of extending the Kingdom and studying for personal blessing. Maybe we should reconsider strategic training.

What about elders and deacons?

The problem with words is that they change in meaning over the years. I would love for the word,"church," to never be used because the word itself conjures up a building with a spire, or a denomination, or a meeting. But the word is Scriptural, and we can learn to use it rightly.

The same is true with words like elders and deacons. The words are Scriptural, but their meaning has become obscured by centuries of tradition.

The word for elder, "presbuteros" literally means an older person, someone who is more mature. He keeps an eye on (oversees) what is going on in the churches. The word for deacon, "diakonos" means servant.

The question sometimes comes up, "Should every simple/organic church have elders and deacons?" There are different opinions on this. My personal belief is that these are regional functions; that a network of churches or the church within a city will have elders.Each individual house church has spiritual parents to look after it.

My reason for this belief about elders is that in Titus 1:5, Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every city. The passage in Acts 14:20-24 where Paul  and Barnabas appoint elders in every church is actually in the context of them visiting several cities (verse 20), presumable each with a city church, perhaps made up of several individual house churches. Every other reference to elders is within the context of a city (Jerusalem, Philippi, Ephesus). 

We personally do not appoint elders. We may be wrong in this attitude, and the Lord is certainly leading others differently, but we suspect that one day, a true city church will arise that breaks down the barriers that we Christians have erected to separate ourselves from each other. Then elders and deacons will come into their own.

What do you think?

 

Spiritual parents

Family meal

If the primary metaphor for church in the New Testament is family, then the primary model for leadership of an individual house church is spiritual mothers and fathers. Healthy families need healthy parents. Parents care what happens to their kids. They are always looking out for their good. They love it when their kids succeed. Their greatest longing is that their kids do better than they have done. With good  parents, there's no envy, no one-upmanship.

A good parent will not do something for their kids that they could do for themselves. They assist their kids towards maturity in every area of life. Their goal is that their kids don't remain dependent on them any longer than necessary, but that a healthy interdependence results. In a healthy family, the kids will leave home and start their own families.

A good parent doesn't dominate their kids lives. When they sit down for their family evening meal, Dad doesn't pontificate for an hour on what he's been doing at the office. Everyone shares, and everyone takes an interest in what's been going on each person's life. The parents don't talk about things that are above their kids heads, or if they do, they explain to them in ways the kids understand so that they can take part in the conversation too.

Our own kids are now our best friends. We love getting together, and with those in town, do so frequently. What a privilege!

Within simple/organic church, spiritual parenting is the natural form of leadership. These more mature believers help those in the group to listen to Jesus and respond to what he says. They encourage and equip each person to follow the vision that God has given each one. They facilitate rather than take a dominant role and train others to do the same. They are an example to those in their spiritual family. They strengthen the weak, encourage those who are discouraged, care for those with needs.

What is your experience of good leadership within a simple/organic church context?