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.
Arthur Wallis, a British “elder statesman” in the Kingdom wrote a fascinating foreword to a book by Frank Bartleman called Another wave rolls in: (formerly) What really happened at “Azuza Street?” The book describes from a first-hand perspective, the events at Azusa Street–the beginning of the Pentecostal Movement. In this foreword, Arthur described how the life of the early church quickly degenerated and was nearly extinguished during the Dark Ages. But then God began recovering waves of truth.
- In the 15th century, the Bible was put into the hands of ordinary people (Wycliffe and Tyndale).
- In the Reformation, through people like Luther and Calvin, the truth that salvation is by faith and not by works was recovered.
- In the 17th century, the Congregational Movement recovered the truth of the autonomy of the local church, and the Baptists also stood on this ground while adding baptism by immersion.
- In the 18th century God raised up Wesley and Whitfield. The Methodist movement emphasized salvation by faith as a work of the Holy Spirit, holiness, and the fact that neither ordained preachers nor sacred buildings were necessary to preach the Gospel.
- In the 19th century, the Brethren taught that the Bible is sufficient for running the church and the priesthood of all believers. The Salvation Army looked at the social implications of the Gospel. The deeper life movement recovered the potential of a victorious Christian life through union with Christ’s death and resurrection.
- In the 20th century, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements characterized the church.
Each of these waves of recovery built upon the previous wave, like a tide coming into the shore. The waves may break and recede, but the tide itself moves inexorably forward.
What will be the waves of the 21st century? It’s too early to answer that fully, but I believe that one of the waves is this: that God wants his people to be led by the Spirit.
- His ordinary people will engage with him in the harvest, following the Holy Spirit as he leads them on mission with God to make disciples. It’s no longer the DL Moody’s, John Wesley’s or Billy Graham’s, extraordinarily effective though they have been, but all of us–“an army of Billy Graham’s” that will usher in the final harvest.
- Church, too, will be in the hands of ordinary people, and therefore will become simpler and more organic, again following the Spirit’s leading. This won’t be limited to house/simple/organic church, but will increasingly be recognized across the denominations.
What other waves do you see?
Telling our story is only a bridge to an explanation of the good news of Jesus.
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Another skill it is good to have in our toolbelt is the ability to explain the Gospel simple and concisely to a not-yet-believer. I'm not talking the Santa Claus Gospel here–invite Jesus into your life and he will give you everylasting peace and joy. I'm talking about the real good news of the Kingdom–forgiveness of sin, the promise of relationship with God, belonging to a family, all dependent on a total surrender of our lives to the Lordship of Christ.
There are many different and good ways of explaining the Gospel–the Roman Road, the principles of the Four Spiritual Laws, and so on. All of them have their good points and also their drawbacks. They are tools. Useful ones. But have people in your church ever used them? Do they know how to use their story as a bridge to an explanation of the good news? Have they ever said to someone, "Can I explain to you what being a follower of Jesus is about?"
Suggested activity: Choose one pattern of helping someone to become a disciple. Make sure the people in your group thoroughly understand it and then have them pair up and practice explaining the Gospel to the other person in just a minute or two. Again, the other person is to stop them if either religious language is used or if there is something they think an ordinary person with no church experience might not understand.
No farmer would expect to reap a harvest of wheat in a field where he had not sown seed.
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Why do we believers expect to reap a harvest of souls where we haven't sown spiritual seed?
There are similar principles of multiplication behind both physical and spiritual reaping and sowing. If we expect to see people become followers of Jesus without sowing the seed of the Kingdom, we are deluding ourselves.
What does this look like? According to Luke 8:11, the seed of the Kingdom is the word of God. In Matthew 13:38, the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom.
While at the Verge conference, I had the opportunity to attend some T4T training with Ying Kai. The T4Tmovement has seen more than 1.7 million baptisms and 150,000 new churches start since 2001.
What is the difference between what they see there compared to what we see in the West? They sow seed. Not just the occasional seed here or there. They sow abundantly.
The foundation behind their training is that each new believer is trained to share the good news of Jesus in simple ways right from the day they become a disciple. And not just once or twice. Each person is encouraged to share their personal story as a bridge to the Gospel, five times per week.
Is it surprising that they reap a big harvest?
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Some people might say that Tony and I are already missionaries. Firstly, we have crossed cultures from the UK to the USA. (I sometimes wonder why here to the affluent West which is already so heavily Christianized when we would have willingly gone to any country in the world.) And secondly, we are missionaries in the sense that all of us are. John 20:21 says, "As the Father sent me so am I sending you." The word missionary simply means "one who is sent."
We have the privilege and opportunity of traveling to many countries around the world. Wherever we go, we train local people how to reach out to their own spheres of influence, making disciples and starting churches. We don't mind how small the group is; all we are looking for is the one or two who are "John Knoxers" for their area. (John Knox is famous for praying, "Give me Scotland or I die!") These people take what we say and translate it into their own context, sometimes with results that far surpass anything we could have imagined.
But supposing we were called to leave the West to live and work in another culture?
Here's what I would do–hopefully being led by the Lord. In this scenario, language study is happening, finances are taken care of, either by support from home or through a business venture in the new country.
- Pray! I remember a story Dr. Yonggi Cho told of starting a church in Japan. He sent what he described as "a mediocre Korean woman." She spent 40 days in prayer and fasting, and followed this by riding the elevator up and down in an apartment building, talking to the residents and helping them where she could. Within a short time, she had started a church with, if I remember the facts right, two hundred people–very successful for that nation.
- Work with local people. It doesn't matter how well we speak the language and understand the customs, we'll always be outsiders. We may become trusted and accepted in time, but it takes insiders reaching out to their friends to see a viral spread of the Gospel. We'd train local people in Luke 10 principles, giving them the skills needed to make disciples and start churches in ways that can be multiplied. A good example is Guy Muse who works in Ecuador.
- Help the poor and disadvantaged. This one would be very much as led by the Lord–I don't see it as essential, merely helpful in many contexts, especially in the Third World. I think of a couple of examples: Michele Perry, a good friend of ours, works with orphans in Southern Sudan. She takes them off the streets, giving them a home. Some of them go with her when she takes the Gospel to other villages. She has amazing stories of what God is doing. Another friend is working in a war-torn area of Russia with people who have been severely traumatized by the fighting. She brings them to her center, sees them healed, trains them and sends them out to plant churches.
What else would you do?
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We have friends in India who are seeing large numbers of both high-caste Hindus and people from other religions become followers of Jesus. They use the sacred books of those religions to point to Christ. When they have clearly demonstrated Christ within those books, they can then point them to the Jesus of the Bible. They are contextualizing the Gospel in a way that makes it understandable to those they are trying to reach.
There are pointers to Jesus in every culture.
The book, Bruchko, describes the extraordinary story of 19 year-old Bruce Olson, who sought to bring the Gospel to a murderous tribe in the South American jungle. These people had no words in their language that could express some of the concepts of a belief in Jesus. Bruce used some remarkably creative ways to bring across these ideas.
For example, there was no word to express "faith" in the Motilone language. The Indians used to sleep on hammocks suspended from the rafters of their communal homes. The best word for faith that Bruce found was the word that meant to "tie in one's hammock." It beautifully expresses faith as suspending one's life from Christ and the people instinctively understood its meaning.
Some years ago we started a church in the low income housing projects. One day, a good friend from England, Norman Barnes, visited. He clearly demonstrated the efficacy of the blood of Christ in forgiving sins to our friends there. He had them each write down the things they had done that were bad, that they were ashamed of, or issues they dealt with like anger, onto a sheet of paper. When each one had completed their list, they put their papers into a pan. He covered it with a red cloth symbolizing the blood of Jesus. He took the pan outside, removed the cloth and set fire to the paper. Then he asked them to pull their sins out of the pan. Of course, they were just ash.
The kids talked about how the blood of Jesus dealt with their sins for weeks after that. Every time a person wore something red they would remind each other: "She's wearing red: do you remember how the blood of Jesus covers the things we've done wrong."
How can we contextualize the good news for the people we come across day by day? How can this be used to reach out to other cultures too?
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How are people in simple/organic churches currently actively engaging in cross-cultural missions?
- People move with their job. Because they already are familiar with simple church principles of mission (find a person of peace and start something around them), it is natural for them to make disciples and start churches in their new location.
- People go with a traditional denominational entity or other mission sending agency. They are supported financially in full or in part by their local simple/organic church or network of home churches. Again, they understand missional principles from their experience at home.
- People within organic church organize teams to go on short-term mission trips. This provides invaluable experience to those who have never had cross-cultural experience, particularly of third world countries.
- There are a number of us who go to other nations and train local people in disicple-making and simple church principles. These people then train and work with others. This is the most effective missions I have seen. If someone local spreads the Gospel, it is not seen as a foreign religion and the news about Jesus can spread rapidly and widely. (Obviously, the Holy Spirit is the one responsible.)
What other ways are you aware of that simple/organic churches involve in mission? (I'll cover finances in a separate post.)