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…

Commercial fishing (part 2)


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As I investigated the Scriptures on the subject of commercial fishing in the Gospels, several things became apparent.  There are several passages that talk about fishing:

  • Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-19  Jesus calls the four disciples who are fishermen and tells them he will make them fishers of men.
  • Luke 5:1-11  Jesus tells the disciples who had fished all night but caught nothing to put down their nets again into the deep and they catch two boatloads of fish
  • John 21:3-11  After Jesus’ resurrection, seven of the disciples go fishing.  Again Jesus tells them where to cast their nets and they catch 153 large fish
  • Matthew 17: 24-27  Peter uses a rod and line to catch a fish that has money for the temple tax in its mouth.

There is obviously more than one way the disciples are fishing.  In the Luke example, they were in a boat and let down their nets.  In the John example, they throw out their nets.  In the Matthew and Mark examples they were fishing from the shore.  Further investigation reveals that although in English the word net is used in every example, in the Greek, different words are used signifying different types of nets.  For example, in the Matthew and Mark examples a specific purse net is described.

Commercial fisherman (which is what the disciples were) would have understood that you use different kinds of nets depending on the circumstances and the kind of fish you want to catch.

So in terms of the harvest where we are fishers of men, there may be different ways that we approach  “catching fish.”  What may work in other nations may not be best here in the West

There is one more passage.  This comes in Matthew 13 where Jesus tells a parable.  The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net (literally a dragnet or seine which is a type of net used to catch large numbers of fish) let down into the water…

The question I am pondering these days is, “How do we ‘let the kingdom of heaven’ down into the community around us?  Especially here in the West where people are jaded and inoculated against the Gospel.  What kind of fishing net will catch a multitiude of fish?

Any ideas?

Commercial fishing

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Modern day fisherman on the Sea of Galilee

While we were in Mongolia a few years back, I had a dream which over has had a profound effect on my thinking.  In the dream I was handing a small group of people a book.  “It’s about how to be a commercial fisherman,”  I told them.  The only other thing I remember about the dream was telling them that the important principle was to fish where Jesus told them.

This dream seemed to be more than a post pizza (or in the case of Mongolia, mutton) dream and it started me thinking.  For Peter, Andrew, James and John, who were all commercial fishermen, when Jesus told them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” they would have understood this in the context of commercial fishing.  They would not have thought hook and line (ie one fish at a time), they would have assumed fishing nets catching large numbers of fish.

I started investigating the different Scriptures on fishing in the Gospels.  More about that later.

Shortly after this we went to India and one of the people we were with works with fishermen on the coast of India.  So I asked him about how they fish.  (These would be primitive fishermen, probably very little different from fishermen in Jesus’ day.) He told me that they have different kinds of nets depending on the circumstances and what they are trying to catch.  They have a funnel net which is the kind of net they use when they don’t have boats.  They also have a drag net which is maybe 800 to 900 yards long for when they have more than one boat. There are actually several different kinds of nets that are used.

So what does it mean to be a commercial fisherman in the context of Jesus’ comments to his disciples?

More to follow.

Fast multiplication: principles behind an abundant harvest

No farmer would expect to reap a harvest of wheat in a field where he had not sown seed.

Seed

Photo credit: CIMMYT (Creative Commons)

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?

 

Twelve reasons why we saw extraordinary church multiplication

Dandelion seeds
Photo credit: James Jordan (Creative Commons)

What principles allow rapid multiplication on the mission field?

Traditionally, follow up from an evangelistic meeting is done by taking people's names and addresses and asking them to attend church or go through some materials. This is usually remarkably ineffective.

In the context I described in the last post this would have been impossible because of security issues as well as illiteracy. Instead, a Luke 10/simple church pattern enabled the harvest to be conserved and then multiplied. 

Here are some of the reasons (apart from a sovereign move of God) that I believe this happened.

  1. Prayer. The local church sponsoring the meetings has a 24 hour prayer room and much prayer was raised. Spiritual warfare was essential and very, very real.
  2. A large, local church handled practical arrangements.
  3. The local pastor was 100% involved and was willing to lose some of his best people (and their finance) to start churches in people's homes. Building the Kingdom of God was far more important to him than increasing the size of his church.
  4. In a nation where there is much persecution of believers, disciples are often far more passionate about their faith than in countries where Christianity is acceptable. The harvest workers were "on fire" for Jesus.
  5. The harvest workers responsible for follow up were trained in Luke 10 principles. They were taught how to pray for the sick and how to find people of peace.  
  6. Follow up was done at a local level by gathering new believers in the homes of people of peace. The new believers were not expected to attend a church or even to go to the homes of existing believers (extremely dangerous in their context). For similar reasons, the groups were kept very small–family gatherings. 
  7. People were trained in simple patterns that were easily duplicatable–for example, what to do when they gathered together. They were also geared towards oral learners.
  8. The meetings were culturally relevant. They didn't appear Western.
  9. The Gospel was sown widely–huge numbers attended. The new believers then gossipped the Gospel along relational lines. They have an uncle in the neighboring village? They go to him, tell him how Jesus touched them and offer to pray for his needs. When Jesus answers their prayer, they start something in his home.
  10. Miracles, healings and testimonies were featured prominently.
  11. Christian terminology wasn't used. People were invited to become "followers of Jesus"  rather than to become Christians. (Actually, the name of Jesus in that language was used). There was no implication of changing culture.
  12. The evangelist, a Westerner, has a deep, committed, ongoing relationship to that nation and to the pastor he worked with. He has faith to see the nation changed. He doesn't live in that nation, but visits as the Lord provides opportunity.

 

Can missional, simple/organic church multiply the harvest? A story

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Photo credit: williamcho (Creative Commons)

Simple/organic church is a great way to not only conserve the harvest, but also to multiply it.

We have a friend who is an evangelist in countries that are hostile to the Gospel. We originally contacted him because we were interested in the large healing/evangelistic meetings that, amazingly, he is able to hold in these countries. When he discovered we are involved in simple church, he asked to spend some time with Tony and me because the Lord had told him that he was to be involved in a different kind of church. So we spent a weekend with him, explained the principles of Luke 10 and answered his myriad questions.

A few weeks later he conducted a major meeting again, but this time, instead of his usual training for the church workers who were going to be involved in follow up of those who responded to the message, he trained them in Luke 10 principles, teaching them to look for people of peace, to pray for the sick and to start churches in homes.

The people came to the meeting in buses, often 150 to a bus. The harvest workers looked for people of peace in the buses on the way home after the meeting.

A few months after this meeting we traveled with him to this country to discover what had happened. The results were extraordinary.

A typical story went like this: "I started four churches following the meeting, but the people have told their friends and relatives in other villages about Jesus and now I have eight."

Two young men, aged 24 and 26, were so excited after one of the subsequent trainings that they didn't wait for the next harvest meeting. They started spreading the Good News right away, and six months later had 700 new believers in 25 churches.

The typical results of an evangelistic crusade in the West is that around 1% of those who respond are going on with the Lord a year later. In the nation we visited, thousands of churches have started.

What might happen if new believers were followed up using Luke 10 principles?