Abundant Gospel Sowing

Love

Photo credit: david a lea (Creative Commons)

When I was a new Christian, the group of believers I was part of participated in many forms of evangelism. We were trained by some of the best organizations in the Christian world. We went door-to-door, we distributed tracts, we told people about the Four Spiritual Laws, we witnessed to our friends. And we saw fruit. We sowed abundantly and we reaped accordingly. Certainly some of those whose lives were touched are still going on with the Lord. Our lives were centered on mission.

We have lost the skill of sowing abundantly.

We were motivated by things like the story in the last post tthat tells how most Christians are "making daisy chains" rather than caring about the lost. My question; is this a good motivation for mission? provoked an instinctive response from most of the people who responded.They recognized that the message most people will receive through the story, despite the truths being portrayed is this: "Many people are going to hell. You are not doing enough about it. You are not good enough; you are guilty."

Guilt is not the motivation that Jesus wants us to have.

So how do we gain a heart to sow abundantly while not being motivated by guilt and obligation? I think part of the answer lies in these verses in 2 Corinthians 5 which I have abbreviated to clarify the message.

Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others.  Christ’s love controls us.  He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.

 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

 God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 

What motivates us for mission? Mission originates in the heart of God: For God so loved the world that he gavie his son. As we draw closer to God and get to know his heart, his love for others will motivate us. 

 

 

 

 

The fate of the original 12 apostles?

Thomasslain

Photo credit: maudandoscar

In India a few years ago, we were taken to visit a church building that had twelve paintings, each portraying  the death of one of the 12 apostles. (I think it was St. Thomas Mount in Chennai, but I've been unable to verify that via the Internet.) Those images have never left me, in part because of their graphic representation, but more because they spoke of a faith worth dying for.

Would I willingly lay down my life in order to tell others about Jesus.

There are various different traditions as to what happened to the original twelve apostles. Here's a compilation of several versions: 

  • Andrew: Preached in modern day Georgia (Eastern Europe) and Bulgaria and was crucified in Patrae in Greece. 
  • Bartholomew: Spent time in India. Crucified in Georgia. 
  • James, Son of Alphaeus: was stoned and clubbed to death in Jerusalem.
  • James, Son of Zebedee: was beheaded by Herod.
  • John, Son of Zebedee: Was exiled to the Island of Patmos and died a natural death in Ephesus.
  • Matthew/Levi: Preached and was killed (with an axe) in Ethiopia. 
  • Simon/Peter: Was put to death (crucified) under Nero in Rome. 
  • Philip: preached and was executed in eastern Turkey. 
  • Simon the Zealot: Became Bishop of Jerusalem. Crucified. 
  • Thaddaeus/Judas son of James: Preached in Edessa and Mesopotamia. Was crucified.
  • Thomas: Was a missionary in India where he was killed with a spear. 
  • Matthias: Judas' replacement. Spread the Gospel into Syria and was stoned and beheaded.

(Sources: here, here, and here).

If these traditions are true, after the book of Acts, nearly all traveled widely in order to spread the Gospel. They also, with the exception of John, died violent deaths.

What does this say to us today? Do we have a message so compelling we would risk our lives to give it to others? 

 

Was the Great Commission given only to the eleven disciples?

Reach out
Photo credit: Alvaro Canivell (Creative Commons)

What does Jesus think about missions?

The Great Commission was given by Jesus to the eleven disciples after his resurrection. Here's the Matthew version:

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

The Mark version:

And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.  Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.  These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe…:  (Mark 16:15-18)

I've heard some people say that the Great Commission was only given to the eleven disciples. It doesn't include us. Our lifestyle together should be enough to attract others. The verses that people use for this argument are ones such as John 17: 23

I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.

There is something incredibly attractive about a group of Christians relating well together. But if we believe that is all that is necessary, it gives us a great cop out. We are no longer commissioned to reach out to those who don't yet know him. 

It is dangerous to selectively omit verses that were given only to the disciples. If we applied that principle consistently, we would lose many of the teachings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels.

Personally I  I believe we need to be witnesses too. Here is some of my reasoning:

  1. Earlier in the passage in John 17, Jesus says this:  Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world…  I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.  I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 

            It is clear that Jesus is sending not just the eleven disciples into the world but also those who             believe in him through their presentation of the Good News.

          2.  In Peter's exposition of the Gospel, he says this: Then you will receive the gift of the Holy           Spirit.  This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who                 have been called by the Lord our God.”  (Acts 2:38-39)

According to Jesus, one of the reasons the Holy Spirit is given: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere— in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

I believe that all of us are called to be ambassadors, those who represent the Kingdom of God to the rest of the world. Obviously, how we do it, and what motivates us is important too.

What do you think?



 

Missions: the ugly

The last two post have looked at the good and the bad of missions. Now the ugly!

  • We have friends in India whose best church planters (and their churches) have been "stolen" by Western missionary organizations offering to pay them more money. The lure of money in a very poor culture is often difficult to resist.
  • Some of the most effective communicators of the Gospel we have seen are those who would be misfits within their home culture. Their eccentricities  are accepted when they are in a different culture and they have a boldness and faith that produces spiritual results. However, they are the rarity. Others who are misfits within their home culture end up on the mission field and produce problems for the rest of the team and/or are ineffective. They should never have gone into cross-cultural missons in the first place.
  • Some of the most committed and willing believers go to the mission field with inadequate training and little/no support from their sending organization. They return home after a few months feeling like failures.

Most missionaries we know are an example to us all. They have literally given up homes and families for the sake of the gospel. They lay down their lives for the sake of those they feel called to reach.

Good news to the poor

Here is how Jesus characterized his own ministry in Luke 4: 17-21:

And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 
    "THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME,
         BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.
         HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES,
         AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND,
         TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, 
    TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD."

 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

 And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

When we lived and worked in the East End of London in the UK, at that stage a very socially deprived and poor area, historically one of the problems the churches there faced was that when people became Christians, in general, their physical/financial situation improved to the point that they could move out of the area.  That is to say, the impact of the Gospel was not just spiritual, it affected other aspects of life too.

What did Jesus mean by good news to the poor?  What would Jesus say to this beggar?

Beggar

 

 

 

 

 

 

First apostles?

First Corinthians 12: 27-28 says this: 

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:

   first are apostles,
   second are prophets,
   third are teachers,
   then those who do miracles,
   those who have the gift of healing,
   those who can help others,
   those who have the gift of leadership,
   those who speak in unknown languages

What many people take from this is that apostles hold the most important position in the church, the top of the hierarchy. Prophets are second most important,  teachers third etc. So to be an apostle is to be the most important person in leadership. Like this:

First, second, third

The problem with this view is that leadership in the New Testament is not positional, but functional. Another way to view it would be like building a house. First you need an architect, then someone to lay the slab, then someone to frame the house. Later would come plumbers and electricians etc. It's a question of function. The architect is essential to lay the plans for the house, and his work comes before the work of the electricians and plumbers, but without all these other functions, the house would not be built.

An apostle is one who is sent out (meaning of the Greek word apostello). He/she is the one who is usually the first person in a place or people group with the good news of the Kingdom. 

Organic/missional principles in a legacy environment

Mega churches are starting missional communities in many areas around the country.  (Exponential, the largest conference available for church planters, has several organic church people speaking at the main sessions this year –I've even been asked to take a workshop!) But I  haven't yet heard that many stories from slightly smaller churches.  However, here's a great story of what can happen in a more typical legacy environment.  It's slightly longer than my usual posts, but you'll enjoy hearing what God is doing.

Jim Street contacted me, and when I asked for his story, shared about Listening Posts–which are based on the Life Transformation Groups started by Neil Cole and Paul Kaak.  Here's part of what he wrote:

"I started Listening Posts after attending one of Neil's Greenhouse events. The one I attended was led by Ed Waken. I was looking for a way to engage legacy church folks in a more missional way. Some are, frankly, a little afraid of bold evangelism and many have been shaped that way by churches which have left the 'heavy lifting" in evangelism to paid staff. Further, they have been well trained by the attractional model of doing flashy things up front. 

Anyway, I thought the emphasis on listening would provide them a way to be out in the marketplace, etc. without feeling intimidated at the prospects of being "bold evangelists." (Little did they know they would find those opportunities once they got out there! ha! The Lord has sent many people our way.)

We have the same emphasis on reading scripture but have not insisted on the more direct approach to accountability. I've taken the approach that if they are listening to the Spirit as He speaks to them through the word that they will have plenty to share when they get together. We also pray for 3 people but are emphasizing what I call 'implicating prayer'…that God would use us as answers to our prayers as God wills. 

Our church is very small…about 60 members. About 40% of our adult members are currently involved. 

I approached Atlanta Christian College, where I teach in their adult program, about the possibility of engaging their students in LPs, especially as a way to get them off campus and into the community. They went for that and so LPs are a major component of their students' spiritual formation. Not sure how many groups we have there but there are many.

I have also taught LPs in almost every class I teach. Pastoral Counseling (where I teach that the church and not the pastor-as-therapist-in-residence is called to provide the care and counsel for the people.) I have suggested that LPs would be a good way to get out into the community as a way to provide such care and counsel to the lost and hurting. 

I also teach LPs in my class on Administration and Leadership, which I teach as admin and leadership of a missional movement…I use Alan Hirsch's Forgotten Ways as the text. There the emphasis is more on the missional side of ministry but, in many ways, mission through the provision of "tiny missional communities of disciples of Jesus."

I also approached a large legacy church on the SW side of Atlanta, one pastored by an old friend, about starting up these groups. They are on board and I am hearing some incredible stories of transformation as people actually sit down and read the scripture together and open themselves to the moving of the Spirit!

I spoke a couple of weeks ago to another large legacy church, a church, which at one time, was a very large mega church but which has now shrunken down to less than 400 members. They meet in a gargantuan building. The Lord impressed on me that they should start at least 50 groups by the end of January…and that's what I told them. (One very well-heeled woman has begun one with another woman I know who is a recovering drug addict with an armload of felonies…homeless, unemployed, penniless. Wow!

We are seeing people come to the Lord through this ministry, seeing people being reconciled, being transformed…people who were afraid of being seen with a Bible in a public place boldly praying in those places. 

It is a great, great thing to behold!

I am pressing on to speak in as many churches as I can as a way to encourage people in legacy pews to get out into the community where they listen to God, to one another and to the world. 

It's all about discipleship, community and mission and these little groups are helping people get that. 

Sorry, if I rambled on too much…I'm stoked. 🙂

And, it's great to be stoked at 60! "